Theresa In Wonderland

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Thankfully, the Festive Season comes but once a year and, as surely as Christmas means Christmas, it’s time for All Change Please! to delve into the world of literature and present its own special pull-out double issue, long-read, twisted, fractured and satirical updated version of a well known classic, such as it has done in years gone by with Twenty Fifty One and The Gove of Christmas Present. So without further ado – look out behind you!  Here’s All Change Please!’s annual political pantomime…

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, it was a warm and sunny July afternoon and Theresa was sitting lazily in the beautiful back garden of the house in her Maidenhead constituency, contentedly admiring her new pair of very expensive summer sandals.

All of a sudden, and much to her surprise, a white rabbit with pink eyes ran by exclaiming ‘Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting. I’ll never get to be PM’. That’s curious, Theresa thought – That rabbit looks just like Michael Gove. She strode purposefully across the garden just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit hole. Just in front of the hole there was a small sign that read ‘BREXIT’, and pointed towards the hole. In another moment down she went after the rabbit, never once considering how in the world she would ever get out of it again. Suddenly she found herself descending at great speed. As she fell she began to worry that when she reached the bottom she was probably in for a very hard Brexit indeed.

1sw-Alice_drink_me.jpgDown, down, down Theresa fell until she could go no further, when suddenly there was a thump and she found herself in a long, low hall which she recognised as the corridor of Number 10 Downing Street. There she came across a small three-legged table on which there was a bottle marked Blue and Yellow Brexit. I’m certainly not drinking that, she thought, but perhaps if I give it a good shake and mix it up it will turn in to a nice Red, White and Blue Brexit? Or even better, an Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat Brexit that one day will become a successful West-end musical. What a shame I didn’t study more art in school then I would understand how colour theory works.

***

In the distance Theresa caught a glimpse of what she first assumed to be Larry, the Downing Street cat, sitting at the top of the stairs. As she approached him however, she realised she had been mistaken. This cat had very long claws and a great many teeth.

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‘What’s your name?’ Theresa asked politely.

‘Why, I’m Nigel, the UKIP cat.’

‘Ah!’ said Theresa. ‘Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here? What sort of people live about here?

‘In that direction,’ the cat said, ‘lives a Hatter, and in that direction lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad. But at least they are not immigrants.’

‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Theresa remarked.

‘Oh you can’t help that,’ said the cat: ‘We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’

‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Theresa.

‘You must be,’ said the cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’

Suddenly the cat vanished and then re-appeared as UKIP Leader several times, finally beginning with the end of the tail and ending with just the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone off in search of America.

***

1s--De_Alice's_Abenteuer_im_Wunderland_Carroll_pic_26.jpgAt the top of the stairs Theresa found herself in front of a door marked ‘Cabinet Room’ How curious she thought, to have a room specifically to keep a cabinet in. She opened the door and entered. At the end of a very large table, the March 31st Hare and the Mad Hatter were having tea: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep. Theresa couldn’t help noticing the uncanny resemblance that the Mad Hatter had to Boris Johnson, that the March 31st Hare had to David Davies, and that the dormouse had to Philip Hammond.

‘No room! No room!’ they cried out when they saw her coming.

‘There’s plenty of room!’ said Theresa indignantly, and she sat down in the large, important looking chair in the middle, reflecting that this was now indeed a post-truth world. Theresa lifted the pot to pour herself some tea, but the tea dripped out from the bottom onto the cabinet table. Ah!, she thought, at least now I know where all the leaks are coming from.

‘Well,’ said the March 31st Hare. ‘What do you have to say? Say what you mean.’

‘I do,’ Theresa replied hastily. ‘At least I mean what I say – that’s the same thing you know.’

‘It’s not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hare. ‘You just announce policies that come into your head, and a few days later say you never meant them.’

‘So,’ said Theresa, ‘you mean that if I say ‘Brexit means Brexit’ I don’t mean what I say?’

‘Exactly!’ replied the Hare, ‘What you really mean to say is that Brexit means whatever the EU decides it means.

‘That’s curious’, interrupted Boris the Mad Hatter. ‘Whenever I say what I mean, No 10 always says I didn’t mean to say it. Which is a very mean thing of them to say. But enough of this nonsense. Let me ask you a riddle instead. Why is a Grammar School like a White Elephant? Can you guess?’

‘No I give it up,’ Theresa replied. ‘What’s the answer? ‘

‘I haven’t the slightest idea,’ said the Hatter. ‘Well, except that perhaps a white elephant is also something that isn’t worth having but still costs a lot to maintain?’

***

1sJohn.jpgTheresa left the cabinet room, declaring she would never go there again and that it was the stupidest meeting she ever was at in all her life! Just as she said this she noticed a tree with a door leading into it. That’s very curious, she thought, but everything’s curious these days. I think I may as well go in at once. She found herself at the entrance to a garden, and noticed that there were 27 EU leaders all in a bit of a state, dressed as playing cards. She introduced herself to the Queen of Hearts:

 ‘My name is Theresa, so please your Majesty,’ she said very politely, but added, to herself, ‘Why, they’re only a pack of cards, after all. I needn’t be afraid of them!’

After a game of croquet, the Queen of Hearts, whom Theresa couldn’t help but notice bore more than a passing resemblance to Angela Merkel, offered her some bread and jam and a piece of cake. Theresa declined the JAM, saying she could just about manage to afford her new leather trousers perfectly well without it, even though she knew very well that there were many others who couldn’t.

‘You couldn’t have it if you did want it anyway,’ the Queen said. ‘The rule is JAM tomorrow and JAM yesterday but never JAM to-day.’

The Queen then demanded that she played a game with her. Theresa studied the cards in her hand and saw she held the Joker – I’ll have to play my Trump card very carefully, she thought.

Suddenly the Queen shouted out: ‘Now show me your cards!’

‘But if I show you my cards,’ Theresa explained, ‘then you will have a considerable advantage and will easily win the game.’

‘Hmm! I suppose you believe you’re in charge around here?’ said the Queen sarcastically.

‘Well I am the Prime Minister of Wonderland.’ said Theresa, which quite surprised her because up to that moment it hadn’t really occurred to her that indeed she now was. At this the Queen got very annoyed and muttered something about making sure that Teresa might still have her piece of cake, but she certainly wasn’t going to eat it too.

1s-John_Tenniel_-_Illustration_from_The_Nursery_Alice_(1890)_-_c06543_05.jpg‘I’ll tell you something to believe,’ the Queen continued: ‘I have twice been named the world’s second most powerful person, the highest ranking ever achieved by a woman, and the most powerful woman in the world for a record tenth time. I am the longest-serving incumbent head of government in the EU, the senior G7 leader and I’m seeking re-election for a fourth-term.’

‘I can’t believe all that!’ said Theresa.

‘Can’t you?’ the Queen said in a pitying tone. ‘Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.’

Theresa laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said: ‘one can’t believe impossible things.’

‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before Brexit.

Then the Queen asked Theresa: ‘Have you seen the Mock-exam Turtle yet?’

‘No,’ said Theresa. ‘I don’t even know what a Mock-exam Turtle is.’

‘Come on, then,’ said the Queen, ‘and he shall tell you his history,’

The Mock-exam Turtle duly told his story and spoke of his education: ‘When we were little we went to school in the sea. The master was an old Turtle—we used to call him Tortoise—’

‘Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn’t one?’ Theresa asked.

‘We called him Tortoise because he taught us,’ said the Mock Turtle angrily: ‘really you are very dull!’

‘And how many hours a day did you do lessons?’ said Theresa, in a hurry to change the subject.

‘Ten hours the first day,’ said the Mock Turtle: ‘nine the next, and so on.’

‘What a curious plan!’ exclaimed Theresa.

‘That’s the reason they’re called lessons – because they lessen from day to day.’

***

1s-John_Tenniel_-_Illustration_from_The_Nursery_Alice_(1890)_-_c06544_02.jpgPresently, Theresa found herself attending the trial of the scurrilous Knave of Hearts who was accused of stealing the Arts from schools one summer day and taking them quite away, and who looked suspiciously like Nick Glibbly. Glibbly read out various items of fake-news press-releases claiming that the Arts were still flourishing and GCSE entries had increased, except of course he carefully neglected to mention that the figures he was quoting included AS levels. After Glibbly had presented his evidence the King announced that the jury should consider their verdict.

‘No, no!’ exclaimed the Queen. ‘Let’s write the front page headline of the Daily Mail first – verdict afterwards.’

‘Stuff and nonsense,’ said Theresa loudly. ‘The very idea of it. You can’t have the sentence before the verdict.’

‘Hold your tongue,’ said the Queen turning a shade of UKIP purple.

‘I won’t!’ said Theresa defiantly. But at this the Queen completely lost her temper.

‘Off with her shoes!’ she shouted furiously at the top of her voice.

But Theresa found the thought of losing her shoes so traumatic that it bought her to her senses with a jolt, and she suddenly found herself back in the garden, where her strange adventure had begun. She immediately looked down and to her great relief found her shoes were still firmly attached to her feet.

‘Ah! there you are Theresa dear!’ said her husband. ‘Why, what a long time you’ve been away!’

‘Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!’ said Theresa. ‘I had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible. Would you believe I dreamt I was Prime Minister of Wonderland?’

‘But my dear!’, said Philip kindly. ‘Don’t you remember? You are the Prime Minister of Wonderland…’

***

Christmas Day Quiz Question. How well do you know your Lewis Caroll? All the quotations and references above were based on text taken from ‘Alice in Wonderland’, except for two which were from ‘Through The Looking Glass’. But which were they?

***

With thanks to Lewis Caroll. Illustrations by Tenniel/Wikimedia

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7-Up + 300

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

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

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

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

This year’s Top 3 most read posts were:

1. Pass Notes: Art Attack! 

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

2. Little Miss Morgan

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

3. No Minister! No, No, No.

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

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

1. Curriculum Noir 3 

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

2. What a Wonderful World

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

3. Twenty Fifty One

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

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

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

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 7up image credit: Flickr/Kevin Dooley

Pass Notes: A History of Art Attacks

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L.H.O.O.Q.,  Marcel Duchamp (1919)

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

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

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

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

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

Ah yes. I blame that cheeky Michael Gove chappie.

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

So whose fault is it then?

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

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

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

Proceed, I prithee. I’m listening…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Glibbledygook: The Impotence of Curriculum

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All Change Please! recently discovered that there was a new intern working at the Df-ingE who was asked to produce the first draft of the speech that Nick Glibb gave last week to Association of School and College Leaders. After many hours re-assembling thousands of shredded strips of paper it has been able to restore sections of the original draft along with Nick Gibb’s comments and amendments…

The Impotence of Curriculum

Would you believe it – there’s an ‘r’ and an ‘a’ in Importance. This just proves my point that more spelling tests are needed in schools. Of course I suppose it might be some sort of joke about my lack of power and the fact that, despite what some people seem to think, everything I do or say has to stand up for approval by a woman? No, surely not. And let’s be clear – there’s nothing dysfunctional about my curriculum. So let’s make it:

“The Importance of Curriculum”

Right, that feels much more satisfying. OK, let’s read the first paragraph.

Thank you for inviting me to join the ASCL curriculum summit today. Developing a well-thought-through, challenging school curriculum is central to the running of any school, and this is a topic I am always keen to impose my narrow, ill-informed views on.

No – that needs to read:

“Developing a well-thought-through, challenging school curriculum is central to the running of any school, and this is a topic I am always keen to discuss.”

We all want our children to grow up to be happy, independent, economicaly literate, employable, caring and confident citizens.

Oh no we don’t! We want them to be as obedient, pliable and silent to make it as easy as possible to keep them in order and make as much money out of them as possible when they become adults. But perhaps best not to include that.

So why does our curriculum quite unnecessarily prepare, examine and fail them as if they were all going to become university professors and masters of a wide range of academic subjects that do not exist in the real world?

You cannot be serious! Delete and change to:

“There was a widespread feeling that qualifications, in particular GCSEs, did not represent the mastery of a sufficiently challenging body of subject knowledge.”

Since 2010, pupils’ future life chances have been sacrificed for an illusion of DfE success, which served short-term political expediency.

Err, just a slight alteration here:

“Before 2010, pupils’ future life chances were being sacrificed for an illusion of success, which served short-term political expediency.”

Of course, planning for these new examinations is placing a significant workload on teachers for the next 2 years. This will be made even more demanding because instead of engaging and inspiring children with the subject they love – the subject that they went into teaching to communicate – it will mean a lot more teaching to the test of irrelevant factual knowledge to completely disinterested children who will see the content as completely meaningless to their lives.

Ah, well, with a little bit of editing…

“Of course, planning for these new examinations is placing a significant workload on teachers for the next 2 years. But as workload burdens go, I hope that secondary school teachers will see this as a chance to re-engage with the subject they love, the subject that they went into teaching to communicate.”

On the topic of performance measures, there have been concerns amongst ASCL members about our aspiration that, in time, 90% of pupils will be entered for the EBacc. The key concern appears to be the challenge of teaching all academic subjects to all pupils, in terms of both recruitment of teachers and achieving success for lower attaining pupils, and in the significant reduction of access to courses in the Arts and other non-academic subjects.

A bit of damage limitation is obviously required here so let’s just tweak that slightly to read:

“On the topic of performance measures, there have been concerns amongst ASCL members about our aspiration that, in time, 90% of pupils will be entered for the EBacc. The key concern appears to be the challenge of teaching modern foreign languages to a much larger proportion of pupils, in terms of both recruitment of teachers and achieving success for lower attaining pupils.”

A well-rounded, broad education is the entitlement of every child, irrespective of birth or background. It will enable them to discover their individual interests and abilities and nourish the desire to continue learning throughout their lives.

You might think that. I couldn’t possibly say so. Change to: 

“An academic education is the entitlement of every child, irrespective of birth or background.”

In today’s highly competitive global employment market it is increasingly essential that our children learn the skills of the workplace that will last them a lifetime – such as collaboration, communication and problem-solving – as early as possible. It is the luxury of living in today’s world that there is no rush to start developing the ability to come up with pretentious academic twaddle such as ‘the great conversations of humankind’ and  ‘intellectual hinterland’.

No, it’s the other way round, stupid! 

“It is the luxury of living in today’s world that there is no rush to start studying for the workplace. 

All pupils can be afforded the time and opportunity to be initiated into the great conversations of humankind, and develop an intellectual hinterland which will last them a lifetime.”

The Social Market Foundation have recently published a report establishing that:

“We find stark inequalities in access to the highest quality teachers resulting in poorer pupils being taught by poorer quality teachers. This provides an explanation as to why educational inequality in England persists.”

This will of course come as no surprise to teachers, who, had we listened to them in the first place, would have provided the basis for a series of policy initiatives that might actually have made a real difference to under-performing children instead of all the EBacc, Academy and KS2 English SAT nonsense we have wasted tax-payers’ money on.

Look, let’s be honest – you’re not really cut out for this sort of work, are you? Change to:

“The structural reforms undertaken by this government have created extraordinary school success stories, which force all of us to revise our expectations about what children, particularly those from deprived backgrounds, can achieve.”

Sadly All Change Please! believes the intern is no longer with the Df-ingE.

Happily All Change Please! was meanwhile amused to learn that Glibb got one of the English Test questions incorrect:

“The BBC’s Martha Kearney asked him whether the word “after” in the sentence “I went to the cinema after I’d eaten my dinner” served as a subordinating conjunction or a preposition. Gibb incorrectly identified it as a preposition.”

Poor Mr Glibby – he obviously feels inadequate because he wasn’t forced to learn unnecessary rules of grammar at school. He went on to explain:

“This isn’t about me. This is about ensuring that future generations of children – unlike me incidentally, who was not taught grammar at primary school – we need to make sure that future generations are taught grammar properly…so that when they are asked to write at secondary school, when they go to university and are asked to write an essay, it isn’t a struggle to construct a properly grafted and grammatically correct sentence.”

There’s nothing wrong with children learning the basics of grammar and being tested on it – it’s the ridiculous extreme of the current tests that’s the problem, and the sense of failure it gives them. And all because the DfE loves PISA…

And finally, the other day Little Miss Morgove had another of those difficult speeches to make at the NAHT conference, in which she successfully convinced everyone of the full extent of her considerable ignorance about the reality of schools, teaching and learning, and which prompted the following meme to circulate worldy widely on the interwebly.

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Top image credit: Flickr/thedailyenglishshow

Mr Vaguely Squeezed to Death On TV…

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In which Mr Vaguely writes a colourful report on the Arts,
which everyone completely ignores.

With the focus on the unwelcome forced academisation of schools it’s important not to forget that there is still the problem of the impact of the EBacc on the Arts and many other subjects.

Ed Vaisey, government secretary in a state about Culture, Media & Sport recently launched a multi-coloured white paper that painted a glorious pictorial vision of arts ‘at the heart of everyday life’ and that ensured that everyone would be able to access culture ‘no matter what their background’.

Apparently, according to the White Paper:

“All state-funded schools must provide a broad and balanced curriculum that promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils. Experiencing and understanding culture is integral to education. Knowledge of great works of art, great music, great literature and great plays, and of their creators, is an important part of every child’s education. So too is being taught to play a musical instrument, to draw, paint and make things, to dance and to act. These can all lead to lifelong passions and can open doors to careers in the cultural and creative sectors and elsewhere. Without this knowledge and these skills, many children from disadvantaged backgrounds are excluded from meaningful engagement with their culture and heritage. The national curriculum sets the expectation that pupils will study art and design, music, drama, dance and design and technology. New, gold-standard GCSEs and A levels have been introduced in these subjects.”

Well that’s all fine and dandy then, isn’t it? What’s all the fuss about? Everything is wonderful! Except that we all know that in reality it just doesn’t work like this, and that in order to increase a school’s league table position an increasing number of children are being persuaded to take EBacc subjects instead of those in the Arts. And at the same time provision at KS2 and 3 is being cut back drastically. It doesn’t sound like he read the NSEAD’s recent survey does it?

One has to feel a bit sorry for Ed Vaguely, the longest serving Minister for Culture, Media & Sport. He’s obviously passionate about the provision and promotion of the Arts, but somehow the Df-ingE keeps getting in his way. And of course he’s under contract to keep repeating the same old tired nonsense that the Df-ingE keep spinning in the belief that if they keep saying it loud enough and long enough it will actually become true, or at least people might start to believe it. Actually one doesn’t have to feel sorry for Ed Vaguely – he should be willing to stand up for himself and the Arts and challenge the bullies at the Df-ingE, which isn’t exactly difficult to do given their current record of ‘U’ Turns. After all it’s a White Paper, not a White Flag.

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Anyway, the other night there was Mr Vaguely on Channel 4 News, telling the artist known as Bob & Roberta Smith (AKA Patrick Brill), film producer Uzma Hasan, George the Poet and Jon Snow how wonderful everything would be now that he had published his sparkling new Colouring-in White Paper. Of course such a debate needs a lot more more than 10 minutes and 30 seconds, but here are a few things that were and weren’t said about the future of Art & Design education…

While Uzma Hasan asked about funding and George the Poet talked about the importance of community arts, Bob and Roberta Smith entered the conversation (at around the 3 minute mark) briefly mentioning the impact of academisation before moving swiftly on to the fact that, under the extremely complicated EBacc and Progress 8 accountability measure, Arts subjects are all in what are known as Bucket 3. This gives them significantly less weighting in the final accountability calculation, thus encouraging schools to enter students for the academic subjects with the double and triple word scores of Buckets 1 and 2. All subjects are created equal, except it seems that some are considerably more equal than those involving the Arts.

Ed Vaguely countered with the usual mis-information about the genourous committement of the Government making a little bit of extra pocket money available for Music and Arts in schools, until Bob and Roberta point out that this was just for optional after-school and Saturday clubs. Given that understandably most children can’t wait to get out of school at the end of the afternoon, it’s only going to be a precious few who benefit from this provision.

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Vaguely then switched the conversation to the Government’s statement about the need for more students to take Science and Technology subjects (All Change Please! continues to wonder what these mysterious ‘Technology’ subjects actually are, and why they don’t include Design & Technology or Information & Communication Technology?), and pretended that doing more of these subjects didn’t mean doing less Arts subjects, despite the fact that for most students it does. He then made the interesting statement that: ‘Everything I talk about is the link between Science and the Arts, because you can’t have successful Science and Technology without Creativity.’ Indeed, that’s very true, and it’s just a pity Messers Morgan and Glibb had their fingers firmly stuck in their ears while he was saying it. Perhaps you need to shout more loudly Ed? And to keep on reminding them about the findings of that recent NSEAD survey?

Bob and Roberta Smith then deftly challenged with what he called the Benedict Cumberbatch syndrome in which the growing concern is that the Arts are becoming the elite preserve of the wealthier middle-classes who can afford to back their children in their studies, mainly in the independent sector. Back in the 1970s (when All Change Please! was at college) studying a practical Arts degree, funded by a Local Authority, provided an education pathway that provided many children from working-class backgrounds with a route to a successful future well-paid career that has since made a significant contribution to the economy. What was it the government were saying about the need to increase social mobility?

At this point Jon Snow joined in the attack by telling Mr Vauguely that: ‘What you say is wonderful, but the problem is you are squeezed to death by the people who surround you.’

Somehow Vaguely managed to decompress himself, draw breath, and reject the idea that Academies are abandoning the Arts, even though that’s exactly what they will need to do if they are minimise the number of students choosing Bucket 3 subjects.

Back to Bob and Roberta who reminded us that Art was about more than just producing future Artists, and used the D word to effectively remind us that without Drawing and Design, in the future the country will fail to make any products to sell to other countries.

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As Ed Vaguely became increasingly vaguer, he repeated his belief that – no, by now we had all guessed he didn’t really believe it himself – he repeated the DfE’s belief that the Arts were not about to fall off a cliff, and there’s nothing wrong with increasing the number taking Science and Technology subjects, except they are and there is.

You won’t believe what Vaguely said next. Well actually you probably will, because let’s be honest we’d all been waiting for him to say it. Yes, that’s right – he crossed his fingers behind his back and tried to get away with the: ‘There are more people taking GCSEs in Art than there were before.’ routine. Yeah – just like David Cameron has never benefited from an offshore tax haven? It’s that classic bit of Df-ingE mis-information that conveniently forgets to explain that the subject entries only increased because the numbers  of students taking equivalent BTEC courses in Art & Design have fallen drastically as they’ve switched to taking GCSEs instead. The much more honest version reads: ‘There are far less people taking examination courses in Art than there were before’.

Teaching of the Arts in schools may or may not be falling of a cliff, but there’s certainly a super-sized black hole in Bucket 3 that’s leaking Arts subjects as fast as you can say Vaisey by name, vaguely by nature.

Meanwhile in other overlooked and left behind news:

A recent report by the House of Lords ‘Overlooked and Left Behind’, has concluded that: ‘Non-academic routes to employment are complex, confusing and incoherent’ and recommends that instead, the final four years of schooling should be redesigned so that more pupils can pass recognised vocational qualifications on a par with A-levels.

Somewhere hidden deep inside Sanctuary House, without bothering to actually read the report, a solitary Df-ing E spokesperson rolled a dice and as a result issued Standard Response No 4 which goes:

“We have introduced a more rigorous curriculum so every child learns the basic skills they need, such as English and maths, so they can go on to fulfill their potential whether they are going into the world of work or continuing their studies.”

Well, that’s all OK then. Problem solved. I don’t know why these Lords bother to waste their time writing these reports?

All Change Please! wonders if the Lords’ approach could perhaps pave the way for the end of all external examinations at the end of KS4, and in doing so end the whole EBacc fiasco. And of course creating new courses for non-academic routes to employment wouldn’t cost anything, because millions have already been spent on their development 10 years ago. Anyone here have a copy of  Tomlinson’s ‘New Diploma’ handy?

Screenshots courtesy of C4.

Lord only knows?

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

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

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

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

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

Other excellent contributions to the debate included:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Minister! No, No, No…

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So, the Great EBacc Consultation is over, and doubtless the Df-ingE are in a whirl having been inundated with a whole digital cement mixer load of responses that they are going to have to sift through very closely if they are to find any particularly helpful solutions as to how they can persuade 90% of children to order the Full All-day English EBacc.

Last week, social media was alive with the sound of distraught teachers and senior managers blogging their responses – such as this one that All Change Please! wrote with Teacher Toolkit – expressing their deepest concerns and fears about the destructive impact of the EBacc-Bomb

Meanwhile, it’s certainly not all over. It’s difficult to see the Df-ingE backing down and admitting their proposal was both undesirable and achievable. To help them on their way though it would be useful if MPs were now made more aware of the implications of the Df-ingE’s aspirations for the schools in their constituencies and be encouraged to start asking some awkward questions in the House. Given the emerging teacher shortages, the key issue is exactly how the Df-ingE proposes to guarantee that there will be enough qualified and experienced academic EBacc subject teachers to provide an adequate standard of teaching for 90% of all children?

With this in mind, All Change Please! has written a letter and left it on the table. It can be downloaded here and viewed below. Feel free to borrow, re-draft, edit, adapt or do whatever you like with it, providing it ends up being emailed to your local MP as soon as possible.  (Do make sure you make it clear that you are one of their constituents). Find the contact details for your MP here.

Of course there is one simple approach that could solve all the problems. Entering children for the EBacc is not a legal requirement, and if all headteachers in a local area got together and agreed not to play the game, the whole thing would simply extinguish itself. League table accountability is all relative, and so each school’s position would remain exactly the same.

But of course that’s unlikely to happen. Somewhat more probable is that in a few years’ time, when a growing number of parents confront the reality that their children are likely to fail all their EBaccs and are being prevented from taking other subjects they might have succeeded in, many schools might decide that the best way forward will be for them to develop a reputation as a successful non-EBacc school that offers a wide range of Arts and vocational courses. In which case it won’t be long before there will be two types of schools: those in which all students take the academic EBacc (previously known as Grammar schools), and those that decide to continue to offer non-Ebacc subjects (previously known a Secondary Moderns). Perhaps that’s been the Government’s intention all along?

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Meanwhile here’s what All Change Please!‘s letter to your local MP says…

Dear…

I would like to bring your attention to a number of matters arising out of the DfE’s recent consultation process on the implementation of the policy that 90% of children should take the full EBacc GCSEs. In the first instance the consultation did not invite views on the desirability of such a policy, but asked a series of limited questions as to how it could be best achieved. It should be noted that this measure did not form part of the manifesto on which the government was elected.

There are many reasons why the policy is both undesirable and undeliverable.

First, to clarify, under the new proposal, pressure is to be placed on schools to enter 90% of children for GCSE courses in English language and literature, maths, two sciences, languages, and history or geography.

The average number of GCSEs taken by children is 8.1 (and not 9 as Nick Gibb has claimed), while those from less affluent backgrounds take less. This leaves most children with just one further subject option, choosing from subjects such as a second foreign language, religious education, art & design, design & technology, engineering, music, drama, business studies, economics, PE and, if not chosen as one of their two sciences, computer science. The result of this will be that many of these subjects will cease to be offered as class-sizes will no longer be viable. Losing courses in design & technology and engineering will restrict the growth of inter-disciplinary STEM subjects nationally. Teaching of the Arts in schools will be seriously diminished at a time when our world-leading Creative Industries make an increasingly significant contribution to the economy. The non-EBacc subjects will also be less likely to be chosen for A level, further increasing their disappearance from schools.

To enforce the policy, the number of entries a school makes for the full EBacc is to be given a more prominent role within the Ofsted framework, and schools that do not follow the requirement will appear lower down in school league tables. Headteachers will therefore be placed in the difficult position of having to decide whether it is better to enter individuals for examinations in subjects in which they are likely to achieve a low EBacc GCSE grade, or for those which they show more interest in and aptitude for.

It has recently been predicted that the number of children achieving good GCSE passes in the ‘more rigorous’ academic EBacc subjects is likely to fall by some 23%, with the result that there is also likely to be a substantial increase in the number of disaffected students who see themselves as being failures when entering the 16-19 phase of education. Furthermore they will not have had an adequate experience of problem-solving creative and technical subjects on which to base appropriate choices of further and higher level courses.

Despite this, the DfE have stated that: “We know that young people benefit from studying a strong academic core of subjects up until the age of 16”. However, there is no evidence to support this statement as being applicable to 90% of children. Meanwhile there are many outside the DfE who would support the statement that there are many children who benefit more from following Arts-based and vocationally-orientated GCSE courses, with the latter providing a better preparation for apprenticeships.

At the same time there are also an increasing number of employers who are removing academic qualifications as an entry barrier, and are seeking those with a greater understanding of the way in which business, industry and commerce works. The DfE have also stated that ‘Our reforms are leaving pupils better prepared for further study and more ready for the world of work’. While the former may be true, the latter is certainly not.

There are also issues regarding the inclusion of Academies in these measures, which do not appear to have been considered. A particular feature of the Academy movement is a school’s freedom to follow its own curriculum to meet local and community needs, which this proposal contradicts.

The DfE have also stated that the 90% entry rate is not a school-based figure, but a national one. There has been no indication as to how head teachers will or can be supplied with the necessary figures that will inform them of the percentage of children that will be required to be entered in their individual school.

While every school should meet the entitlement for all children to take the full range of EBacc subjects if they wish, there should not be external pressure for them to do so. In the longer term this measure is likely to produce a two-tier system, in which there will be two types of schools: those in which all students take academic EBacc subjects (previously known as Grammar schools), and those who decide to continue to offer a wider range of non-EBacc subjects (previously known a Secondary Moderns).

Finally, and most importantly, it is difficult to see how the current policy can actually be practically implemented as presented. Although denied by the DfE, the current teacher shortage in many subjects will soon be exacerbated at secondary level as an increased number of children move into the sector. The key question therefore is exactly how does the DfE propose to guarantee that there will be enough suitably qualified and experienced academic EBacc subject teachers to provide an adequate standard of teaching for 90% of all children? The substantial costs of recruitment, re-training and retention of the necessary work-force does not appear to have been considered or calculated.

Can I therefore strongly urge you to challenge the DfEs proposal to introduce the requirement for 90% of children to take the full EBacc, both in terms of its desirability and practicality.

Yours sincerely

[Name and Name of Constituency]

Image credits: Flickr/Howard Ignatius and Tim Morgan

 

D&T: Design & Transparency?

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Your country needs you to do D&T

Last week the Df-ingE issued one of their spin-ridden press releases about the new D&T GCSE. Let’s take it apart and see what, if anything, is holding it all together.

‘A new, gold-standard design and technology (D&T) GCSE to help produce the next generation of James Dysons and Tim Berners-Lees has been unveiled by Schools Minister Nick Gibb.

So, gold-standard, eh? All Change Please! always assumed that accolade was reserved for real, hard, academic subjects of no practical benefit? And while a couple of Dysons and Berners-Lees might be useful in the future, the thought of an entire cloned generation of them is actually a bit alarming.

‘The new design and technology GCSE will give students the chance to develop their own design briefs and projects and could lead them to producing anything from furniture for disabled people to computer-controlled robots.

‘The chance to develop their own briefs and projects maybe, but in reality most teachers will find a way of narrowing things down somewhat in order to make things more manageable. Meanwhile given the breadth of the design industry, the distance between furniture and robots is not actually that great, and pupils will quickly come up with a much wider range of possibilities that may prove difficult to shoe-horn into the assessment criteria. Oh, and could someone kindly let the Df-ngE know that Tim Berners Lee is not and has never been an industrial designer.

‘Industry experts, including those from the James Dyson Foundation, have been closely involved in developing the new GCSE content, ensuring it meets the future needs of employers.

All Change Please! isn’t entirely convinced that the James Dyson Foundation – or indeed many industry experts – was exactly ‘closely involved’. It knows for a fact that most of the content came from a small working party who put a great deal of effort into challenging the Df-ingE’s original horticulturalist nonsense. It might help meet some of the needs of some employers, but the high percentage of academic content will put most students off, and anyway it’s not part of the EBaccwards, so that will put the rest off too.

‘This is a rigorous qualification which will require students to have a sound grasp of maths and science, and which will undoubtedly stretch them to further develop the kind of knowledge and skills so sought after by employers and universities.

Ah yes, the maths and science content. Design is neither an Arts or a Science subject but a subtle mixture of the two, which just goes to show how much the Df-ingE understand about what they’re messing with. In reality designers get on with the designing and consult specialist mathematicians and scientists, and indeed a wide range of other specialists, as and when appropriate to the requirements of the work they are doing.

‘Internationally-renowned designer James Dyson said: Design and technology is a subject of fundamental importance. Logical, creative and practical – it’s the only opportunity that school students have to apply what they learn in maths and science – directly preparing them for a career in engineering. But until now, this subject’s tremendous potential has not been met.

Ah, so let’s admit it then, this isn’t really a course in design and technology at all – it’s really just a fancy new name for Engineering. And it’s also the only opportunity that school students have to apply what they learn in all their school subjects, not just Maths and Science.

‘The James Dyson Foundation has spent 4 years advising the Department for Education on every level of D&T education – and today we can finally unveil a GCSE qualification to be proud of.

That’s just four mentions of James Dyson so far. And it’s just a pity that the Dyson Foundation didn’t spend those 4 years suggesting creative ways of making the 1960s maths and science content more interesting, relevant and accessible to a wider range of children, or perhaps advising that 21st century digital making now ought to be at the centre of the content.

‘One that will inspire invention from students and teachers alike. That will nurture a creative mind-set and passion for problem solving. That will appeal to more youngsters than ever before.

Oh no it won’t, because the written paper will serve to exclude more youngsters (‘youngsters’???  N.B. All Change Please! strongly advises not calling them that in class) than ever before. Hmm. Just one other problem here, and that’s the teachers. Forgetting the current severe shortage of D&T teachers at present, most of the rest are well past their make-by date CDT teachers, formerly known as woodworkers and metalworkers, usually recognisable by their particular lack of inspirational invention, let alone creative mind-set and passion for problem-solving.

So in the interests of transparency, let’s just do a bit of re-wording, and what we end up with is this rather more honest press-release:

‘Design and Technology is a terribly important subject because in about 20 years’ time a successful designer or engineer might emerge as a result of having taken the subject at school, even though most successful designers and engineers tend to study completely different subjects, or leave school at 16 and do something practical instead. And when we say terribly important, of course we mean not as important as academic subjects, which is why we’re not including it in the EBacc.

Because the specification we have developed is terribly, er., quite important and will effect the lives of hundreds of thousands of children over the next five to ten years, we first asked a junior minister to write it up over the weekend, based on her own experience of CDT in the 1970s. We then got James Dyson – yes that James Dyson – and Tim Berners Lee to agree to say we had consulted them, but despite this, the D&T subject association insisted on trying to improve it, so we let them alter one or two bits to keep them happy. Oh and did I mention James Dyson? We did try to get Isambard Brunel to contribute, but he wasn’t available.

A lot of people in the consultation said that they thought the written paper was a bad idea, but we couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about, probably because we don’t really understand what design is all about in the first place. As a result we’re still insisting on making half the exam based on a written paper even though it’s a highly unreliable indicator of design and technological capability. Of course a written paper in Art & Design might not be so appropriate, because that’s a different sort of design which is just about making things look nice, isn’t it? I mean you wouldn’t want to end up being someone non-PC like Jonny Ive of Apple and going to Art School now would you? Apple’s motto is ‘Think Different’, and we certainly don’t want that.

Meanwhile the reality of course is that not a lot has changed in D&T. Pupils can choose their own problems to solve which, between you and me, I think will be a bit of a disaster, because many of them will not involve a great deal of the maths and science they have to somehow include.  Then we’ve removed the requirement to specialise in one material, except of course that most D&T teachers are still specialists in one material. Then there’s the addition of the word ‘iterative’ which sounds rather trendy and up-to-date, and the phrase ‘exploring, creating and evaluating’. Most teachers never understood the design process anyway, so this will really confuse them. So the chances are we’ll still end up with a load of projects in which children make furniture for their bedroom, a new outfit for themselves or an automatic goldfish feeder.

Which is a good thing, because of course the last thing we want to do is to really change anything – our motto is ‘Moving forwards by going backwards and all thinking exactly the same’.

Nick ‘Dyson’ Glibbly

And here is Teacher Toolkit’s ‘It’s So Rigorous; We Don’t Want You To Do It! response… http://teachertoolkit.me/2015/11/17/designtechnology/

Image credit: Flickr / Eva Renaldi

 

 

Alas Schools & Journos: Beginners Please!

alas-smith-and-jones2Once more, All Change Please! is privileged to eavesdrop on Mel Smith, as the man who thinks he knows everything, and Griff Rhys Jones, as the man who knows he knows nothing, as they discuss the latest developments in education.

As the scene opens, Mel Smith is reading his newspaper – the Evening Standard – and speaks in a posh voice:

Smith: “Ah have you seen, there’s a new Stoppard opening at the National, I must book”.

Jones: “A new what at the where?”

Smith:“It’s a new play by Tom Stoppard – you know he did ‘Jumpers’ and ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’.”

Jones: “No, I can’t say I do.”

Smith: Well there you go then, that proves Nick Glibly’s point, you haven’t had a proper education unless you can appreciate the sort of plays they put on at the National Theatre.

Jones: Oh, the National Theatre, I thought you meant the Grand National and there was a horse called Stoppard who was a good jumper, and there were two other horses they’d had to put down.

Smith: No No No! What old Nick Glibly said the other day was that studying English at GCSE was crucial to enable people to enjoy the theatre as adults.

“I think it’s hard to really appreciate a play at the Donmar [Warehouse] or the National Theatre if you haven’t studied English to GCSE…Studying English literature to the age of 16 helps you to understand a demanding play by David Mamet”.

And he also said that schools must teach pupils the “fundamental principles” of core subjects in a way that will enable them to read around the subject for leisure as adults.

“That’s the purpose of education in my judgement, in every subject. Can you read a geography book after you leave school, can you read further history books by famous historians after you leave school?

“The purpose of school is to provide that grounding to indulge and read around those subjects as you go through adult life.”

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

Smith: Well, not according to him. Apparently the core EBacc subjects are ‘the primary colours of an educated person’s palette’, which makes it a bit strange that they’re not including Art as one of the subjects.

Jones: He doesn’t know what he’s talking about does he?

Smith (losing the posh voice): No, you’re absolutely right, he’s obviously got no idea at all. In fact he’s stark, raving bonkers. The whole education policy is a complete farce, and he’s just an understudy behaving like a prima donna, trying to upstage Nicky Morgove to put himself into the limelight by making a scene. I wonder who prompted him to do it?

Jones: He’s really not thought this through, has he? I mean let’s face it, if everyone in the country wanted to go to see plays at the National or this Doner Kebab Warehouse place, they’d get booked up so far in advance it would be donkey’s years before anyone could possibly get a ticket. And anyway, as Drama isn’t included in the EBacc there won’t be any actors around to play the parts will there?

Smith: Still you can’t blame him for jockeying for position, even if he has fallen at every hurdle.

Jones: No I suppose not. Anyway, can’t hang round here chatting all day.

Smith: Where are you off to then?

Jones: I’ve got a ticket to see Warhorse run in the 19:45 at the National…

 

Blackout

Curtain

 

What, do you mean you’ve never been to the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden? Or never seen a play by David Mamet?

Fixated by Design

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So as the academic year desperately drags to its inevitable conclusion and teachers’ thoughts turn to escaping for a long, hot summer somewhere nice, it’s kind of the DfE and Ofqual to set everyone some holiday homework. Yes, with typical impeccable timing, the latest draft GCSE D&T specifications have just been published for consultation, due for return by the 26th August.

Along with the consultation forms, the specifications can be downloaded from here and here.

Generally, for Product Design-fixated teachers everywhere, the draft looks very encouraging. There is a clear approach to the use of explore/create/evaluate iterative design processes and of multi-materials and technologies. And the slightly odd jumble of proposed contexts from the previous drafts has been replaced by a list of suggestions for ‘contextual challenges’ that essentially read as ‘anything that does not prompt the use of a specific material, technology or discipline’. As expected though, coursework, or NEA (Non Exam Assessment) as it is curiously now known, is reduced to 50%, with a 50% completely inappropriate written paper: if Art and Design can be 100% NEA, why can’t D&T?

All that really remains is for one or two important details to be sorted out and clarified, and for the Awarding Bodies to get busy over the summer starting to develop user-friendly final specifications and examinations. Oh, and of course over the next couple of years, an awful lot of CPD to help the more traditional single-material specialist teachers who will have to develop a somewhat broader approach to delivering coursework, and to work out what the word ‘iterative’ actually means.

Obviously it’s up to each individual to decide for themselves how they wish to respond to the consultation, but here is All Change Please!‘s list of things it thinks would be worth mentioning, which you may or may not agree with, but you are welcome to include in your response if you wish – though do make sure you suitably personalise your comments!

1. It’s important to send a positive message supporting the multi-material, iterative design approach, and the specification as a whole.

2. On page 3 the explanation of the word ‘prototype’ is generally helpful, but the understanding of ‘product’ less so. A prototype might not need further design development as such, but simply require the use of manufacturing technologies not available in a school workshop. The final ‘outcome’ of design practice is likely to be a ‘proposal‘ rather than an actual finished, saleable object, except perhaps where the item is a ‘one-off’.

3. On page 5, point 7, there is a requirement for ‘at least one prototype and at least one product… based on a brief they develop..’. This lacks clarity, and possibly confused thinking on the part of Ofqual. It needs to be replaced with ‘at least one prototype or one product’ (which is how it is expressed in 2. in the Introduction).

4. In the Technical knowledge and understanding section the content seems a bit muddled. Ideally there would be a clearer distinction between the general, broad core of knowledge of materials and tools and a more in-depth knowledge of certain areas or aspects, chosen by the student.

5. In Designing and making principles (9) again some clarification is required. Ideally it should read:… ‘one design brief and at least one design specification‘ (as distinct from a manufacturing specification). It would also be useful to add.. ‘even though the design requirements might change during the development of the design’.  And presumably they mean ‘from their own consideration of…, supported by those identified by others‘, rather than a separate brief and specification for a problem they have identified and a separate brief and specification for a problem someone else has identified? Are students expected to undertake one or two pieces of coursework?

6. On page 7, re. ‘use different design strategies’, the term ‘design fixation‘ is not currently in common usage in D&T. It does of course mean fixated by a single design idea, rather than with design and designing itself!

7. Then, still on page 7, ‘design and develop at least one product…’ Again this needs to read one prototype or product. The explanation of innovation, provided at the bottom of the page, needs improvement. It would be more appropriate to use the word ‘creative’ to cover something new or novel, and perhaps unusual or unique. The word ‘innovation‘ indicates a design that will potentially lead to the widespread adoption a new type or class of product as a solution to a problem.

8. And re. ‘appropriate materials and components…‘, again there is the confusion between ‘one prototype and one product.’

9. While it is good to see the links with Science and Maths at the end, thus helping establish the contribution of D&T to STEM, it’s a shame there are no links with Art & Design (the clue is in the name!). This would help identify the important aesthetic dimensions of design, which are not otherwise directly mentioned.

And last, but by no means least, while the specification potentially succeeds in encouraging a high quality, rigorous, intellectual and academic learning experience in design & technology, it does little for students who have traditionally sought the D&T department as a refuge where they can make potentially useful artefacts and develop valuable workshop skills. What’s also urgently needed are alternative specifications to meet their needs and wants.

Please forward this post to any D&T teachers you know!

 

Image credit: Flickr/ ji young Yoon