Test Your Academic Strength!

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‘Strong’ it seems, is the new ‘good’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And of course there’s also comparative judgement

Image credits:  Top  Flickr/jimjarmo   Middle  Wikimedia Antoine Taveneaux

Emergency-Classroom 10

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All Change Please! recently found itself spending some time in the A&E department of a major regional hospital. The scene was chaotic – ambulances queuing up outside and a constant stream of patients being wheeled in on trolleys and parked two abreast in corridors as the hours ticked slowly and painfully by until their condition could be diagnosed and a place found for them on the wards. The clue is in the name: Emergency, but unless you had a life threatening condition it was more a department of Accident & Waiting. The nurses and carers were attentive, patient and dedicated, though how they can work in such a stressful environment shift after shift is a mystery. And, it being early in the morning, there weren’t even any drunks to deal with.

The scene will of course be a familiar one to anybody who has visited an A&E department, as this confirms:  Portsmouth ambulances late to two life-threatening incidents, says report.  While this one is even more shocking.

All Change Please! has to admit that whatever the current crisis is in schools in terms of forthcoming teacher-shortages, stressful SATS and the inappropriate EBacc, it pales into insignificance when compared with the current battlefield conditions in our NHS A&E departments. Just as it’s easy to blame the teachers, so it’s easy to blame the medical staff, but the real problem is essentially severe overcrowding and under-staffing – two immediate and very practical administrative and financial problems that someone somewhere should be sorting out as a major priority. As a civilised, wealthy country our citizens we shouldn’t be experiencing something no better than a Third World A&E service. Especially as by 2030, demand for A&E services is expected to rise by 57%.

Why do we allow this to happen in our most important public service? Provided we have food, warmth and shelter, our next priority is our health, followed by our security and education for our children. So why do we prioritise our desire for over-sized cars, luxury kitchen extensions and long-haul holiday travel at the expense of the dwindling provision for healthcare, the police force and schools? It just doesn’t make any sense. Why do we allow our elderly and long-term sick to suffer the way we do – especially as there’s a good chance that one day we will end up just like them? We witness the sad demise of our own parents and elderly relatives, and just accept there will be nothing better for ourselves.

And why were some 80% of the extraordinary nursing and care staff at the hospital from Europe and Asia? Without them the health system would collapse completely. Because of our ‘every child must become an Oxbridge academic‘ approach to education the UK is unable to recruit, train and retain enough staff from its own population, while at the same time failing to equip them with the necessary caring and empathetic skills, and in the ability to communicate and work in teams.

At least there’s nothing yet in schools that is the equivalent of a typical A&E department. But wait, perhaps there should be? Little Jenny only scored 2 out of 10 in her recent spelling test. Send her immediately to stand in a long queue outside Emergency Classroom 10 where her memorisation skill deficiency can be assessed by a specialist and she can be intravenously drip-fed the appropriate programme of academic study. Soon she’ll be able to spell disestablishmentarianism correctly, even though she’ll have no idea what it means and will never use the word once in her life.

Meanwhile there’s been a nasty Maths SATS pile-up and Slightly Bigger Johnny has just failed to avoid falling over and hitting his head on the expected floor standard. Sound the siren, put on the blue flashing lights, plug him into the maths rate monitor and get his mind tightly bandaged up to protect him from the real world so he can concentrate more effectively on becoming far more numerate than he will ever need to be. Unfortunately it sounds like just the sort of thing some daft future secretary of state for education might just come up with.

What’s needed is an online petition to make it a requirement for all MPs to have to spend a day once a year working in a school referral unit, an evening helping the police deal with the disorderly, and a night in A&E…

For anyone too young to remember, Emergency-Ward 10 was one of British television’s first major soap operas, shown between 1957 and 1967 on ITV

Image credit: Flickr/Greg Glarke

Talking ’bout Generation Z

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All Change Please! recently came across a number of articles that served to remind it exactly how out of date our schools and the current curriculum is.

First there was this ill-considered reporting of a finding that students do less well in academic examinations if they have used computers while studying. Duh! When will it be finally realised that perhaps it’s the curriculum and the methods of assessment that need to change?

Today’s young people – born and growing up in this Century and known as Generation Z – are just not the same as we were when we were young. They have a substantially different mindset that sees the world in ways we often find it hard to imagine and engage with. This article gives a least some interesting insights, as does this report.

Briefly, and generally speaking, today’s teenagers are:

  • True digital natives, unencumbered by memories of the 20th Century
  • Highly proactive and entrepreneurial
  • Have a sense of unsettlement and insecurity in terms of the future.
  • Globally and environmentally aware
  • Communicating and sharing information in a highly visual way
  • Highly IT literate and able to adapt and personalise products
  • Seeing school as an important social gathering
  • Often experiencing inappropriate and unsuccessful use of new technologies in the classroom
  • Using digital devices to facilitate and control their growing independence.

But what about the children who for one reason or another are not able, or do not wish to access the online world and become self-starting entrepreneurs?  MrArtist, our Generation Baby Boomer guest blogger, observed:

“Interesting the big point seems to be how the walk home with friends has become the social place for face to face interaction. In a no-man’s land, where teachers have been released from their poor attempts at learning how to teach with technology, and pre when parents start attempting to have their own ineffectual influence on the student’s time and on-line activities.

In this digital and ‘social’ world, I wonder and worry about the poor unfortunate lonely kid. You know, the one that doesn’t have friends, or has weird parents and consequently becomes either bullied or an outcast (or maybe that was me/you?!). I’m sure it still happens. I can remember some of them; the teacher’s pet girl who was an unfortunate shade of ginger, freckles and teeth. The odd-looking vicar’s son who walked the perimeter of the playground, alone, clutching a book looking down as he paced, like a priest until break was at last over. The boy that always smelled of urine and would have had friends if anyone could have got close enough. And then there was that poor RE teacher who just didn’t stand a chance from day one.

My thought is, apart from that unfortunate kid (or teacher) maybe not being allowed a phone, what friends would they have to be with on Faceboot, Twatter or What’sAppDoc?

I can only think the loneliness of the long distance sufferer is only amplified by modern technology and social connectivity? But then again, maybe there’s a Faceboot group for that? A special place for Nerds, Dweebs and Loners? Isn’t the internet wonderful? A place for anyone and everyone. Anything goes these days, even socks with sandals and cardigans is cool these days (except my kids tell me “cool” is not cool to say these days!). In any case, no one needs to be an outcast any more… assuming they’re allowed a phone and access to the internet, any website is free for them to revengefully troll away to their heart’s content within any freely available comments section!”


So how are we taking Generation Z’s learning and social needs and wants into account in our efforts to prepare them for their futures?  Kenneth Baker’s latest report has the answer – we’re completely failing to prepare students for the digital revolution of course:

“The government’s White Paper has a firm commitment for students to focus on seven academic subjects at GCSE – English language, English literature, maths, two sciences, a modern or ancient language, geography or history, plus probably a third science. This is word-for-word the curriculum laid down by the Education Act of 1904, though it added three subjects – drawing, cooking for girls, and carpentry or metalwork for boys.”

Baker identifies the key skills and attributes for work-ready students:

  • Good reasoning skills
  • The ability to examine and solve problems.
  • Experience of working in teams.
  • An ability to make data-based decisions – they are “data savvy”.
  • Social skills – particularly the confidence to talk to and work with adults from outside school.
  • The skills of critical-thinking, active listening, presentation and persuasion.
  • Practical skills: the ability to make and do things for real.
  • Basic business knowledge.

None of which are even dreamt of in Nick Glibb’s philosophy.

And Baker goes on to provide an eight-point plan for the Digital Revolution:

  1. Primary schools should bring in outside experts to teach coding.
  2. All primaries should have 3D printers and design software.
  3. Secondary schools should be able to teach computer science, design and technology or another technical/practical subject in place of a foreign language GCSE.
  4. The computer science GCSE should be taken by at least half of all 16-year-olds.
  5. Young Apprenticeships should be reintroduced at 14, blending a core academic curriculum with hands-on learning.
  6. All students should learn how businesses work, with schools linked to local employers.
  7. Schools should be encouraged to develop a technical stream from 14 to 18 for some students, covering enterprise, health, design and hands-on skills.
  8. Universities should provide part-time courses for apprentices to get Foundation and Honours degrees.

It’s just a shame Mr Baker did not have the same insights when he drafted the subjects of the National Curriculum nearly 30 years ago – if he had, we really would have a world-beating education system by now.

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

Glibbipedia Hacked!

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In which Mr Glibbly searches for the internet but fails to find it.

This is the story of Mr Glibbly. As you are probably already aware, Glibblys are well-known for the often thoughtless and superficial things they say in a smooth and slippery sort of way.

Mr Glibbly is a politician, which is an ideal profession for a Glibbly. Mr Glibbly is a very important man, because he decides what millions of our children will have to learn in our schools for many years to come. The country can’t afford for Mr Glibbly to get it wrong. But the problem is, although Mr Glibbly knows a great deal about a lot of things, he doesn’t know anything at all about teaching and learning or how to use the internet. And that’s quite a problem.

A little while ago, Mr Glibbly was due to give a speech. It was going to be a very important speech, and he thought he would show how clever he was to everyone who was listening. So Mr Glibbly decided to explain why you couldn’t learn anything from the internet. Here’s what he said, in his usual Glibbly sort of way:

“Say, for example, you are reading an article about nuclear energy, and come across an unfamiliar term: radiation. So you Google it. But the first paragraph on the Wikipedia article mentions another unfamiliar term: particles. So you look it up, but the definition for ‘particles’ uses another unfamiliar term: ‘subatomic’. The definition of which in turn contains the unfamiliar terms ‘electrons’, ‘photons’ and ‘neutrons’, and so on and so forth in an infinite series of google searches which take the reader further and further away from the original term ‘radiation’.“

Silly Mr Glibbly. He didn’t realise that what he said would reveal his entire lack of understanding about how to search the internet and how good teachers teach. Would you believe it – Mr Glibbly thinks that a good education for the 21st century is exactly the same as the one they had back in the 19th Century?

Now, as everyone (except it seems Mr Glibbly) knows, if you ‘Google’ something, you don’t just only click on the link to Wikipedia. It can be a useful starting point, but you are almost certainly going to need to check out some of the other links. If you search for ‘Radiation’, all you have to do is look a little way down towards the bottom of the first page of results and there is a link to a site called ‘Radiation for Kids‘.

And there, had Mr Glibbly had any digital skills and understanding at all, he would have found the following ever-so simple explanation that even All Change Please! can understand:

‘Radiation. All objects radiate energy and heat, even your own body. However, the radiation coming from hotter objects is more intense than that coming from cooler objects. Radiation leaves an object in the form of waves. The hotter an object, the shorter the wavelength of this radiation.’

And there are plenty of other similar sites that perfectly adequately explain all the other terms Mr Glibbly referenced, and each without the need to search for the meaning of other words.

Now sadly it is true to say that in some schools children are not properly taught the skills of using search engines, appropriate search terms or to be able to critically assess the value of the information they find. That’s a pity, because that’s one of the really basic skills everyone needs in the 21st Century. But fortunately there are plenty of other capable and confident children who know how to find pretty much anything they want to learn about on the internet. Quite unlike Mr Glibbly.

But meanwhile let’s re-write what Mr Glibbly said and substitute the word ‘encyclopedia’ (you remember – those big books we used to use when we were at school) for ‘Wikipedia’…

“Say, for example, you are reading an article about nuclear energy, and come across an unfamiliar term: radiation. So you look it up in an encyclopedia. But the first paragraph mentions another unfamiliar term: particles. So you look it up, but the definition for ‘particles’ uses another unfamiliar term: ‘subatomic’. The definition of which in turn contains the unfamiliar terms ‘electrons’, ‘photons’ and ‘neutrons’, and so on and so forth in an infinite series of encyclopedia articles which take the reader further and further away from the original term ‘radiation’. “

So it seems the problem Mr Glibbly described is not specific to the internet, but to the transmission of knowledge in general. But of course what Mr Glibbly doesn’t understand is that teaching involves rather more than just standing at the front of rows of obedient children reeling out lots of old-fashioned facts for them to memorise. Indeed, let’s re-write his paragraph yet again…

“Say, for example, your teacher is telling you about nuclear energy, and uses an unfamiliar term: radiation. As you, unlike many others in your class, are not afraid to look stupid by admitting you don’t know what radiation is, so you put your hand up and ask. The teacher explains what it is, but in doing so uses another unfamiliar term: ‘particles’, so up goes your hand again, and so on with all the other terms until the teacher can’t stand it any more and just tells you to be quiet and in future pay more attention to what he’s saying.”

In each example – the internet, the encylopedia, the teacher – it’s exactly the same problem. It’s not the technology or having the knowledge that makes the difference, it’s how well the writer or presenter can explain the specialist terms in ways that can easily be understood by the non-specialist. Mr Glibbly can’t be so clever if he hasn’t realised that yet, can he?

Meanwhile Mr Df-ingE continues to try to attract high-flying academic graduates into the classroom at the expense of people who actually know how to effectively communicate the underlying concepts of their subject and to engage children in the classroom. Perhaps what Mr Glibbly should be doing is to try and somehow help break the cycle of large numbers of children pursuing academic subjects through to university only to discover that the only job they can get is teaching children academic subjects through to university only to discover, and so on… If there was less emphasis on theoretical academic subjects for all it might help a bit with the teacher recruitment crisis too.

Meanwhile it might be a good idea for Mr Glibbly to discover how to use a search engine to learn a thing or two about what education is really all about. And to listen more attentively to what the teaching profession is telling him.

Many people say that Mr Glibbly isn’t really the most suitable person to be in charge of determining the school curriculum. What do you think?

Image © Tristram Shepard

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.

Now We Are Six

NowWeAreSix

Ever since All Change Please! celebrated its first birthday, it’s been waiting until it could fully reveal the extent of its intellectual middle-class up-bringing by using the title of the book of poems by AA Milne it was bought up on, and to point out that its alter-ego is not the only person to spell their surname that way. Anyway, finally, today’s the day…

As has become the tradition on this great annual celebration – in future doubtless to be recognised globally as All Change Please! day – it has become customary to review what’s been hot and what’s not over the past twelve months.

Rather than building the suspense way beyond the unbearable and then dragging out the final moment of truth for as long as possible by making you wait until the very end of the post to find out, All Change Please! will immediately reveal that and winner of The People’s Vote, i.e. the most read post of the last year, is…

Mark My Words…Please! which helps confirm All Change Please!’s assertion that examiners should be paid more for their services.

Meanwhile curiously the Number 2 spot is taken by Left, Right, Right, Right, Right… which was first released in July 2012, and and is followed onto the turntable by the Number 3 spot by another Golden Oldie, even more curiously also from July 2012 Are Janet and John now working at the DfES?.  For some unknown reason these somewhat dated posts just keep on giving, and All Change Please! can only assume that there must be some tag or keyword in there somewhere that keeps on coming up in searches. There must be a Ph.D. somewhere in there, as people keep saying these days.

Other posts that did better than others during the year included Fixated by Design, Virgin on the ridiculous, New A level D&T: Dull & Tedious and Goves and Dolls.

But now it’s time for All Change Please! to reveal its own favourites for the year in the pathetically vague hope of improving their stats a bit. As so often happens in life, what All Change Please! reckons to be its best works are generally ignored, while the ones it dashed off in a matter of minutes and that it didn’t think anyone would be particularly interested in them prove to be the best sellers – which makes it a bit of a shame seeing as they are given away for nothing.

So, if you kindly will, please take a moment to click again on some of these:

Goves and Dolls: All Change Please!’s 2014 Festive gangster satire, written in a Damon Runyon-esque stye

Way To Go: in which Nicky Morgan seems to think that the BBCs WIA spoof fly-on-the-wall comedy series is for real.

And the two Alas! Smith and Journos posts: Have you ever Bean Green and Beginners Please

Meanwhile, here are a few of All Change Please!’s favourite bits:

I expect all the schools requiring improvement will be given those special tape measures now?’ (Jones from Have you ever Bean Green)

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

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.  (from Beginners Please! in which Smith and Jones are discussing the merits of Nick Glibbly’s suggestion that all children need to be able to understand plays performed at the London Doner Kebab Warehouse)

Swashbuckling Pirate Queen Captain Nicky Morgove has recently vowed to board so-called coasting schools, make the headteacher walk the plank, and academise the lot of them to within an inch of their worthless lives. With Nick Glibb, her faithful parrot, perched on her shoulder squawking ‘Progress 8, Progress 8…’”  (from Pirates of the DfE)

‘So the thing is like that with the DfE, in branding terms it’s really boring. It’s like politics and funding and pedagogy. I mean, who’s interested in all that stuff? So what we’re talking here is like major brand refresh surgery.’

‘They’re terribly excited about ‘Strictly Come Teaching’ in which B-list celebs are paired up with classroom teachers to see how really strict they can be in classrooms up and down the country. We love Strictly!’  (from Way To Go).

‘However, instead I am allowed to prescribe you a course of new scientifically unproven Govicol, but I should warn you it’s rather indigestible and you will have to be spoon-fed it. And what’s more it not only has a nasty taste but has a whole range of unpleasant educational side-effects. (from Nice work).

‘We were most interested to learn that Junk Modelling did not involve making scale replicas of boats’, a spokesperson for the Chinese government didn’t say. ‘The delegation offered to send us Michael Gove and Elizabeth Truss to advise us further on a long term basis, but we said No thanks – not for all the D&T in China’.  (from Chinese Takeaways)

 

And finally:

“Now We Are Six”

When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six
now and forever.

Author: A.A. Milne

Image credit: Wikimedia

Smarter Than a Smartphone?

Screenshot 2015-09-16 21.31.42Is the OECD trying to wash its hands of new technology?

The OECD, and the Media, seem to be suffering a bit from OCD at present.

Just in case you are wondering – the OECD is The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that promotes policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. And OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which is a mental health condition where a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive activity.

According to the media, the OECD recently published a report of a global study in which it claimed that:

‘Investing heavily in school computers and classroom technology does not improve pupils’ performance….Those students who use tablets and computers very often tend to do worse than those who use them moderately.’

The think-tank says frequent use of computers in schools is more likely to be associated with lower results in reading, maths and science.

“If you look at the best-performing education systems, such as those in East Asia, they’ve been very cautious about using technology in their classrooms,” said Mr Schleicher, who, according to Wikipedia, is no less than a German-born statistician and researcher in the field of education and the Division Head and coordinator of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment and the OECD Indicators of Education Systems programme. So there. It is thought that a long time ago he once attended school himself, so of course knows everything there is to know about teaching and learning.

But the real problem is that, like most of the world, the OECD is obsessively, compulsively, desperately clinging on to the idea that what we need is higher and higher standards of memory-based, essay re-called 19th Century Academic education for everyone because that’s the only way disadvantaged people will ever get a decent job – and seem to want to wash their hands of the whole messy business of real learning.

But wait – is this yet another example of media spin? Yes, of course it is. Because if you actually read the rest of the article, and maybe even the report itself, it continues:

“If we want students to become smarter than a smartphone, we need to think harder about the pedagogies we are using to teach them. Technology can amplify great teaching but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.”

Well that sounds fair enough, although of course what the OECD still doesn’t get is that teaching needs to change as a result of the technology – it’s not just about amplifying what’s already there. Mp3 files never made the music any louder…

Still ‘Smarter than a Smartphone‘ is a really catchy catch-phrase (despite the fact that children are already far smarter than any actual smartphone), and apparently what the report actually discovered was that Technology can be a useful tool in class, enabling teachers to ‘tap into specialised materials beyond the standard textbooks and to run innovative learning projects in class’. Well, after 30 years or more of the use of IT in schools, who would have guessed that?

Meanwhile, according to the BBC’s coverage of the report, Keysborough College principal John Baston said there was no point using technology in schools if teachers were not taught how to use the devices effectively in class.

“The computers are there to enable you to help improve teaching, but it can’t create by itself quality teaching,” he wisely said.

Then Mark Chambers, chief executive of Naace, the body supporting the use of computers in schools, said it was unrealistic to think schools should reduce their use of technology:

“It is endemic in society now, at home young people will be using technology, there’s no way that we should take technology out of schools, schools should be leading not following.”

While on the Surface Microsoft spokesman Hugh Milward said:

“The internet gives any student access to the sum of human knowledge, 3D printing brings advanced manufacturing capabilities to your desktop, and the next FTSE 100 business might just as well be built in a bedroom in Coventry as in the City.

Even Tom ‘I never said we should ban iPads‘ Bennett is reported to have said:

‘There might have been unrealistic expectations, but the adoption of technology in the classroom can’t be turned back.”

And apparently in a rare moment of common sense never witnessed before, England’s own schools minister Nick Glibbly said:

“We want all schools to consider the needs of their pupils to determine how technology can complement the foundations of good teaching and a rigorous curriculum, so that every pupil is able to achieve their potential.”

Though All Change Please! suspects he didn’t understand what he was really saying and probably had his fingers crossed behind his back.

But anyway, now that the blame can as usual be laid clearly and squarely with the teachers, let’s hope now that there’s a proper review of the way in which new and emerging information and communication technologies can be effectively used in the classroom to promote and enhance 21st Century learning in schools, along with a substantial investment in CPD to help teachers adapt to the new methods and how the curriculum will need to substantially change as a result.

All Change Please! is keeping its fingers crossed in plain sight, but doesn’t hold out a great deal of hope as it continues to obsessively and compulsively write more and more posts about the subject.

 

Image credit: Flickr/Tina M Steele

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

 

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

1-141247338_bd29e3064c_oWho writes the most ridiculous nonsense of them all?

This week’s prize for the most irresponsible piece of journalism has been awarded to 61 year-old blonde bombshell Carole Malone from the Daily Mirror, who obviously knows all there is to know about schools as she probably recently drove past one.

So, as an avid Daily Mirror subscriber who faithfully believes everything it reads, this is what All Change Please! now firmly knows to be true:

1. England’s top 500 state schools are now better than the top 500 public schools. Despite the use of just a little bit of statistical distortion.

2. That’s fantastic news.

3. Children from deprived, working-class areas are now getting as good an education as kids at Eton. Yes, really.

3. Teachers viciously opposed Michael Gove, and were responsibly for him being unjustly sacked.

4. Now there’s no such thing as grade inflation anymore.

5. And students now only take serious, traditional academic subjects that enable them to find jobs. Well anyway, to get to university and keep the unemployment figures down a bit while they run up a huge debt.

6. In the past some children who could have got A*s only got G’s or U’s, probably because teachers used so-called ‘progressive’ methods.

7. However, at the same time, these teachers mysteriously managed to beat the exam board system and somehow got them to award the ‘thickest’ kids A* grades just for turning up to school.

8. Jeremy Corben is ‘stupid’ because he thinks academies have failed, because a single set of highly dubious manipulated statistics undeniably prove once and for all that they are a great success.

9. Teachers believe that all exams should be banned on the basis that no pupil should be made to feel shame or disappointment for getting a low grade.

10. Shame drives children to work harder.

11. What we need are Chinese teaching methods.

12. Children need to be studying for 12 hours a day, and shouldn’t expect to enjoy any of it.

So, thanks Carole for feeding your readers all that misinformation. But maybe in a few years’ time, instead of their children getting accepted into Oxbridge, they are going to be just a little bit disappointed when their children fail their new more academically rigorous GCSEs and find there’s no other option other than to become a NEET. Still, never mind, it will all be their teacher’s fault won’t it?

Meanwhile it was good to see in the online vote that around 70% of your readers didn’t believe you when you claimed that state school kids now get an education to match private schools. But what is disturbing is that you seem to have managed to convince some 30% that they do. Oh! Carole…

 

But wait! It seems Carole is not alone. Here’s the Express’s James Delingpole, who obviously also knows all there is to know about schools because he’s read Carole’s column in the Mirror. He seems to be a rather confused man, because he’s celebrating the success of fellow parents’ children in passing some GCSEs and thus gaining entry to exactly the sort of useless non-academic vocational courses that the Government so despises. And then there’s the usual nonsense:

“It was all such a far cry from the bad old days of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, when the main job of the education system seemed to be to teach your kids virtually nothing, reward them with absurdly overgenerous exam grades, and then pack them off to run up huge debts at “uni” reading something utterly pointless like media studies.

Our schools were hijacked by progressives in thrall to trendy theories like “child-centred learning”, “non-competitive sports days” and the “all shall have prizes” ethos.

…It is terribly old fashioned – and that’s why we parents like it: because it has restored to education an almost Victorian sense of purpose which we thought had been destroyed forever.”

“That same sense of purpose from a long-lost golden age when the majority of children left school at 10 and went straight to work in the factories”, he didn’t add. Oh! James…

 

Background image credit: Flickr/starleigh