Terminal Report

school-assemblyA typical English School from both 1968 and 2014

All Change Please! has just received a copy of a speech made at the end of last term by the Headteacher of a school near you.

Well boys, as the end of the Michaelmas Term draws nigh here at the Michael Gove Academy Comprehensive Free Grammar High School it is time to reflect on the past year. I must of course first highlight the outstanding number of students who achieved entrance to an Oxbridge College, and with the record number of Open Scholarships being awarded. Our A level and GCSE grades were also the best ever recorded. As you know I dislike highlighting the success of individual departments, but this year the results in English, Pure Mathematics and Science were exceptional. Meanwhile on the Sports field we excelled in Rugby, Cricket and Rowing, easily out-playing all local and national sides.

But I must also of course mention the recreational subjects such as Art, Music and Drama that provide you with some well-earned respite from the demands of your academic studies. In Drama we were enthralled by the performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar put on by the English department and the Middle School. I must confess I dislike modern, populist interpretations of such classic works, and so I was delighted that it was set in Ancient Rome and performed in Latin. Then of course there were the exciting annual visits to see the Gleaming Spires of Oxbridge and Cambridge, and the outings to the Houses of Parliament and the Old Bailey.

It is of course sad when members of staff leave us, and it is with such regret that at the end of this term, due to the decline in numbers taking the subject, we must say goodbye to Miss Paint, our part-time art teacher. We also say farewell to Mr Word, Head of ICT, as of course there is no longer any need to learn how to use computers, but he will shortly be replaced by Mr Coding. Meanwhile our Careers Master, Mr Jobsworth, is also retiring, fortuitously as it happens as funding for his post has been withdrawn by the government. His strong, ideology-led  left-wing bias will be greatly missed. However, with everyone now bound for a Russell Group University anyway and a job for life, this will allow greater funds to be made available where they are really needed. And indeed we have been fortunate to secure the services of Dr Wu, who next term will be teaching us all how to speak Mandarin.

But Christmas is also a time to think of others, less fortunate than ourselves. So let us pause to think for a moment about those children who attend so-called 20th Century schools and are often forced against their will to work together, or ‘collaborate’ as I believe the term is. They are regularly asked to do projects and solve creative problems, but fail miserably in doing so due to their complete lack of knowledge and lack of rigor. And as a result they are quite unable to write essays or participate in their school Debating Societies. These poor souls will likely spend their sad and miserable lives perhaps running businesses, working demeaningly in the Creative Arts, or becoming popular entertainers or social workers.

So, let us end with our traditional Christmas Cheer. All together now:

Three hearty cheers for Gove!
(For who?)
For Gove –
(Why, what did he do?)
I thought you knew;
He saved our schools from the future!
3 Cheers for the wonderful Gove!

original-winnie

“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.” (AA Milne)

Of course, as we all know, in reality Michael the Gove was a Minister of Very Little Brain.

Lower image credit: Ernest H (no relation) Shepard

Little Diss Trust

1-380814854_615413d2d3_z

Every year thousands of tourists from all over the world visit Britain to soak up its history. Countless heritage visitor experience centres provide a glimpse of what our life was like in the past. The latest addition to these highly profitable venues are of course our schools where the public can immerse themselves in what it was like to receive a English education in the 1950s.

Elizabeth Truss speaks about curriculum reform
https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/elizabeth-truss-speaks-about-curriculum-reform

All Change Please! will leave it to others to challenge the reliability of the use of PISA statistics in Ms Truss’ speech, but meanwhile here a few responses to some of the other statements she made:

“Whatever pupils want to do after school, and whether vocational or technical training is right for them, a solid academic core helps them get there.”

So why does the ‘core’ need to be academic? Indeed isn’t it precisely because the core is academic that so many non-academically orientated children fail to grasp the very basics of spelling, grammar and times-tables?

“..our EBacc prioritises the subjects employers value.”

Not according to most businesses who want so-called ‘soft’ skills – creative problem-solving, communication, team work and collaboration.

“Good schools are taking advantage, providing activities like debating, public speaking, negotiation – a school in my constituency is offering business mentoring, for example.”

So why have you removed the speaking and listening component from GCSE? And why isn’t business studies part of the National Curriculum?’

“Pupils who haven’t yet achieved a C at GCSE will keep studying Maths.”

But as they don’t have to do an exam at the end they probably won’t bother to turn up to the weekly lesson.

“By 2020, the vast majority of young people will be studying maths right up to 18 – every one of them achieving the highest standard they possibly can.”

Just because they study something does not mean they will achieve the highest possible standard they can. But of course as you’re not a teacher you couldn’t be expected to understand that.

“The earnings return for a level 3 apprenticeship in engineering or manufacturing is double that of arts, media or business administration apprenticeships.”

But if your interests, abilities and talents lie more in the creative and performing arts or business, you’re unlikely to make very much money following a career – or even get a job – in a STEM subject.  And the arts, media and business also make a very substantial contribution to the UK economy, or at least they did before the EBacc was introduced.

“Our new design and technology courses focus on the practical application of science. It will expose students to the most exciting and transformative technologies – 3D printing, robotics, biomimicry, computer-aided design.”

So why did you remove any specific reference to these exciting and transformative technologies in the final version of the revised curriculum?’

“Coding – one of the essential skills of the 21st century – will now start at age 5. We are aiming to develop one of the most rigorous computing curricula in the world, where pupils will learn to handle detailed, abstract computing processes and over-11s will learn 2 programming languages.”

Coding is the new motor-vehicle maintenance. It’s now mostly done by a computer via someone much cheaper in India. Being able to code, even at a detailed and abstract level, in itself is unlikely get anyone a worthwhile job in the future – a much wider, creative problem identification and solving skill-set that identifies and meets needs and opportunities in a business context is what’s really required, and which unfortunately our children will not be prepared for while at school.

“People say that technology has transformed the world. But it’s actually made writing more important – so much of the new technology requires written communication. I think it’s right schools focus on getting the basics right”

So much so that new technology – in terms of predictive texting and voice recognition and activation – is about to fundamentally challenge the very nature of written communication. Perhaps that’s what we should be debating and working out ways of preparing children to deal with?

We are indeed fortunate, are we not, to be able to rest assured that our Heritage Education Curriculum is safe in the hands of the National Truss.

Image credit: Dullhunk  http://www.flickr.com/photos/dullhunk/380814854

Vive la langue française?

6078576560_074b78704b_z

La semaine dernière Toutes Changer s’il vous plaît! was en vacances en France having le bon temps. Beaucoup, il ya many années Toutes Changer s’il vous plaît! has étudiéd le français à l’école, ‘just in case’ il could be utile un jour. Malheureusement, ce n’ est pas être le case, et il estime that it wasted beaucoup de temps et d’efforts pour peu de return, mais il est surprised combien vocabulary il se souvient encore après tout ce temps.

Eh bien, that’s quite enough of that. So, why do we spend so much time teaching children French at school? Back in the mid 20th Century France was probably the foreign country you would be most likely to visit, and it was considered essential for entry to Oxbridge. And apparently if you learn one language it makes it easier to learn others. Going even further back it was the official court language, which of course the ‘educated’ needed to be able to speak. But these days we travel globally, and the vast majority of people we meet speak at least some English, or know someone who does. If they don’t, then Spanish, German or Mandarin would be likely to be far more helpful, especially for business purposes. And then of course there is also Google Translate, and all those clever little apps that are now nearly as good as the legendary Babel fish, that make learning a language much less of a necessity.

For the vast majority of children of course their work or leisure time is unlikely to require GCSE level fluency in a foreign language. While All Change Please! supports the idea of all children perhaps learning some useful everyday French, or even better German or Spanish, at a young age, it wonders if five further years of academic study to GCSE (England) French level for everyone is really appropriate?

Meanwhile, according to this article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/10126883/Why-learn-a-foreign-language-Benefits-of-bilingualism.html  there are a number of wider benefits to learning a foreign language. These include:

  • improved test scores in maths and English
  • the development of multi-tasking skills
  • a possible delay in the onset of dementia
  • improved memory recall
  • becoming more perceptive
  • more logical decision-making.

Maybe, agrees All Change Please!, but these benefits are hardly acquired uniquely by learning a foreign language and can be gained in other ways too, and in the context of a somewhat wider skill-set.

And while we’re talking about learning different languages, what about coding languages? The jury is still out as to whether everyone needs to learn how to code, and, while it might provide lucrative employment for a few gifted students, like so many other things, the repetitive, boring day-to-day, factory-level work will be out-sourced to another country where they do things cheaper. So what we really need is what other countries can’t provide – at least for now – that is an agile, creative approaches to the solving and implementation of complex and innovative IT solutions that successfully utilise well-designed user interfaces. Do we really need a generation of children capable of nothing more than whatever the coding equivalent of Franglais is? Hmm. Perhaps it will come to be called Codlish?

Meanwhile, All Change Please! is pleased to be able to say that it drank le bon vin, took un bateau pour un château et de manger quelque chose beaucoup de gâteau

Le All Change Please! got by with a little help from Google Translate and Tricia Translate.

Image credit: Fickr, wiseige  http://www.flickr.com/photos/whizzer/6078576560

Getting IT Right – again

All Change Please! is still the tiniest bit concerned about what seems to be a distinct lack of debate concerning what schools should be teaching in terms of IT. The broad media message is that spreadsheets, databases and presentations are now Out, and that coding is In. The first question no-one seems to be asking is exactly what level of coding needs to be taught? Clearly some basic principles should be established during primary school, but flogging away at dead computer languages through secondary school is going to be about as relevant as learning Latin, and indeed probably even less interesting and fun. I first raised this in Rasberry Pi in the sky back in March. And indeed here is some evidence of what all pupils will be doing if we are not careful: 12 Things to do with Raspberry Pi. It’s not that there is anything particularly wrong with this Boys’ Own construction kit approach as such, providing it is just a small part of a much wider programme of IT-related learning.

Next question:  how essential is it actually going to be for everyone to be able to code as the 21st century progresses? Back in the late 1980s if you wanted to use a PC you needed to have some understanding of DOS – and then along came Windows. In the mid 1990s if you wanted to set up a website you had to learn html – and then along came a variety of iWebGoLiveDreamWeavery programs that more-or-less did all that for you. And just a couple of years ago if you wanted to create an electronic multimedia textbook you needed to be able to apply some fairly heavy-duty coding – now you can use iBook author. So I’m not entirely convinced that in the future everyone needs to be fluent in high-level programming languages. Though obviously at the same time we do urgently need to find ways to attract and encourage our more capable students – and especially girls – to consider working in the IT industry.

Meanwhile the flavour of the month appears to be ‘Create your own App in your bedroom and make a fortune‘, which I have to say I find a little dishonest, in that the average student probably has probably got as much chance of doing so as they have of winning the ‘X factor’ or ‘Britain’s got talent but I just hope this isn’t it’. Creating successful apps involves a great deal more than a good idea – thorough market research into user needs, wants and behaviours is required, along with some high-level coding expertise, an Apple developer account, a US tax reference number and a substantial marketing budget. If we really are to become a nation of enterprising app-builders we need to be teaching coding in the context of creativity, risk-taking, on-line collaboration, business management, venture capital and crowd-sourcing, along with user-interface design and information metrics.

We also need to be seriously questioning whether IT as such should be ‘taught’ as such in the current formal education system, particularly given that, by and large, the BBC Model B/Microsoft Office raised workforce in place to teach it often have little or no experience of the reality of the fast-moving, agile and highly competitive IT industry. The anticipation in the late 1990s was that IT would soon simply become embedded in the curriculum as a whole, with a properly coordinated scheme in place that ensured appropriate coverage and progression over the years – which of course never happened. Would it perhaps be more beneficial for schools to focus more widely on how to effectively use IT to learn independently, rather than how to create new content?

Meanwhile outside the school system, those who are sufficiently interested and motivated (aka ‘geeks’) should be offered guaranteed access to regular informal sessions to develop their expertise, alongside an online collaborative network of professional programmers and designers who recognise the need to themselves participate in the life-long learning community. Now that really would be 21st Century Learning.

These may not be all the questions that need asking (or indeed the right answers) but at least All Change Please! is asking them…

*Older readers might recall that Getting IT Right was the title of a series of KS3 ICT textbooks and support materials All Change Please! was the series editor for back in the late 1990s.