Remember, remember…


Now what was it I was supposed to remember?

 When All Change Please! were nowt but a young schoolboy it was regularly asked to learn poetry for homework, or to read Chapter Whichever for a geography test the following morning, neither of which it found in any way easy. Initially it spent long hours doing what it could, but before long thought better of it and found something more interesting to do as it never really saw the point of trying to remember some incomprehensible 18th century verse or the number of cabbages grown in some distant country it had never heard of.

Of course it was all too easy for those who seemed to have some sort of amazing, just-read-it-once verbal photographic memory, but the trouble is that if you are good at doing something, it is difficult to understand and appreciate how others can find it almost impossible. And that’s one of the problems with traditional academic learning, in that it’s largely taught by people who find remembering large volumes of words on pages easy-peasy. Meanwhile they also seem to believe it’s just a matter of endless hours of practice, or some strange, never properly explained concept called ‘trying harder’, or ‘doing your best’ whatever they might involve. It’s as if that if you don’t happen to share their god-given super-powers, they don’t want or see the need to give you any techniques to help you develop them for yourself.

Indeed for some time All Change Please! has wondered why no-one ever suggested any methods of helping make the recall of verbal information a bit more achievable, and indeed why we still don’t now. For example, the other day it came across this article which suggests a whole range of techniques:

How to never forget the name of someone you just met: The science of memory

Remembering stuff is all about making strong connections between sequences of synapses. And one way of doing this (and which apparently dates back to the Greeks and Romans) is to construct a ‘Memory Palace’ which essentially associates vivid visual and spatial cues with whatever it is you want to remember. Another is to use the Peg or Link system. To recall a passage of text there is the ‘First letter text method’. Of course it’s a matter of choosing the appropriate method, and the ones that work best for the individual.

As well as understanding more about our short-term ‘working’ memory it would also seem a good idea if we learnt a bit more about the different types of memories.

The science of memory (and 4 uncommon ways to enhance it)

For example:

Declarative memory: Facts and knowledge, like the capital city or your birth date.
Episodic memory: Memories about life events, like your last birthday party or your first day of school.
Procedural memory: Your own how-to manual, essentially. Memories about how to ride a bike or cook your favorite meal.
Semantic memory: Meanings and concepts that you’ve learned, especially useful for reading.
Spatial memory: Your map of the world, inside your head. These cover your environment, landmarks and objects.”

You’d think teachers would know about and apply all this sort of stuff, wouldn’t you? But if they do, they don’t. Instead traditional teachers persist in clinging on to the idea that every child learns in exactly the same way, and it’s that some are just lazy and all they need to do to succeed is to try harder. Perhaps instead, as the article above suggests, the Classroom of Tomorrow will have a coffee machine, fresh rosemary, portions of blueberries for every child and an area in which to sleep or meditate?  And schools will become places where you go to learn how to learn.

Of course all this doesn’t only apply to how to remember things. Think back – were you ever given any practical suggestions as to how to run faster or jump higher? Or how to actually ‘be more creative’? No, just keep trying, and one day you may, or may not, somehow get it.

Meanwhile the important question now is whether All Change Please! will manage to actually remember to get round to publishing this post?


Image credit:

The Joy of Trending

1-Screen shot 2014-02-15 at 18.25.20

Just in case you didn’t know already, All Change Please!‘s alter-ego curates two Flipboard magazines created especially for students of the Creative Arts, Design and Technology.  All Change Please! recently managed to catch up with itself and asked what they were all about.

First of all, can you explain what a Flipboard magazine is?
Flipboard is an app that works on a variety of tablets and smart phones, although the magazines can be viewed on any PC with a web browser connection. The app brings together images and articles from the web selected by the curator into what are known as magazines. The ‘pages’ can then be easily ‘flipped’ through. An image and the first few paragraphs of an article are shown, which gives just enough of an idea to know whether it’s something one wants to look at in more detail before opening the original source web page. The results look stunning on screen, and it’s a pleasure to use. And of course, it’s all completely free. There are a few advertising pages within the articles themselves, but they are not obtrusive or offensive. As you’d expect it is available worldwide, anytime, anyplace.

How easy is it to create a magazine?
Very simple. So easy that even a teacher could do it, let alone a student! Of course it would be great if teachers of Art, Craft Design & Technology started to create their own personalised magazines for their students that directly supported their courses. Students could then flip the pages they found particularly interesting into their own magazines. Even better, similar to the way students use sketch books as a reference journal to collect together things that interest them, they could create their own magazines and share them with each other. And perhaps their teachers could then flip the best finds to create a bespoke departmental Flipboard magazine.

So what’s special about AC:DC and All Things Design?
There are a lot of amazing images and fascinating articles on the web about everything to do with Art, Craft, Design and Technology. Some are very superficial and others are inappropriate for some reason, so the problem is finding the ones that are just right for students of the subject. The content of these two magazines is carefully chosen to be exactly right for students between the ages of about 14 to 18. AC:DC  Art, Craft Design & Communication is aimed more broadly at all areas of Art & Design, while All Things Design is more for those doing 3D Product design based courses. But a lot of the material is suitable for both. As well as delivering inspiring images and ideas, the diversity of the material will considerably widen students’ awareness of all the wide variety of creative arts and design activities that are currently going on, as well as the historical and cultural dimensions of Art and Design. It’s intended to be playful, surprising and ask questions and arouse curiosity. Both magazines are updated on a near daily basis, so there’s always something new to discover.

I’ve heard a rumour that you’ve recently been trending?
Yes, that’s correct, though only in a modest sort of way. Until a couple of weeks ago about 250 people had viewed All Things Design at least once. Then someone who had over 600 followers tweeted it, and the numbers suddenly started to shoot up. After 3 days it had become 500 readers, but then suddenly on the 4th day it became 2000 and by the 7th day it was 5000. It then continued to grow but at a slower rate, but a week later it had climbed to over 7000. It’s very exciting to watch something trending online and to see the numbers escalate so quickly – one of the new, must-have experiences of the 21st Century! Especially as from some of the comments it was clear that these readers were coming in from all over the world. But it is still important to keep it in perspective, given that there are some 100 million global users of Flipboard!

It’s been interesting to try and analyse exactly what happened from the limited data Flipboard makes available. But it seems that it was just one link that proved to be particularly popular:

Olympic Skier Wears Mariachi-Inspired Race Suit for Mexico

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So it was probably the combination of sport and fashion – a lethal cocktail of two extremely popular searches – that drove it onwards and upwards. Meanwhile as it started ‘trending’ a clever little algorithm buried deep on the Flipboard servers went into action and featured it on its ‘Flipboard Picks’ pages, so that then extended its exposure even further.

Surely every child should be learning about how things go viral on the internet. Or to put it another way, perhaps every child should be explaining to their teachers how things go viral on the internet?

And finally, why is there a photo of a large inflatable plastic duck on the cover of All Things Design?
I’m glad you asked me that! When I was an Industrial Design student we got fed up being asked to design high-end consumer goods that didn’t solve any problems that really needed solving. Someone suggested we might as well be designing yellow plastic ducks, so that’s what we did – we created a series of renderings, technical drawings and production models for what we called Yellow Plastic Duck Technology. If you look at some of my previous publications there’s often a photo somewhere of a yellow plastic duck – so it’s become somewhat of a personal signature!

So what are you waiting for? Click on the covers below to check the magazines out, and then make sure you subscribe! And if you are a teacher, pass the links on to your pupils before they pass them on to you!

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And finally… here’s some helpful advice to help you set up and maintain your on-line life more effectively – you are keeping up now, aren’t you?

Licensed to Meddle

pink_floyd_meddleThe cover of Pink Floyd’s Meddle album represents an ear. If only politicians would start listening, and stop meddling with things they don’t understand…

As most All Change Please! readers will doubtless be aware, Tristram (absolutely no relation) Hunt recently came up with the wonderfully meddlesome idea of making all teachers apply for re-registration every five or so years. And that single idea has confirmed what many of us had already begun to realise, that the Shadow Secretary for Education has just as much insight into the wonderful world of teaching and learning as Michael Gove does. Which is, of course, absolutely none at all.

It’s almost as if there are legions of highly qualified and experienced teachers on the dole queue all lining up ready and eager to take the places of the ranks of our supposedly incompetent teachers. The reality is that in many schools it is often a question of whether to employ an under-performing teacher or no teacher at all.

The shame is that this story could have been spun a completely different way. All Change Please! would therefore instead like to announce a new scheme to give teachers the opportunity to improve their practice through a period of extended professional development and support, intended to enable them to update their knowledge and skills. Suitable candidates for these opportunities will be selected by a team of professionals who will visit schools to assess their suitability for the programme.

See, it’s really not that difficult, is it?

What Gove, and now Hunt, seem entirely oblivious to is the damage they are doing to teacher morale and long-term recruitment. In perhaps justifiably criticising and attempting to take action to deal with a minority of under-performing teachers, they speak and act as if their concern is with the standards of the entire profession. As a result, teachers have inadvertently been made to feel that they are all incompetent Marxist Enemies of Promise, and, despite the fact that they know quite well that nothing could be further from the truth, are well aware that that is how they are now perceived by the general public.

The problem though is that historically teachers have never really stood up for themselves. Time and time again they foolishly, naively but totally unselfishly continue to put the children first and struggle on regardless of all the government initiatives that succeed in somehow making their a job more difficult and time consuming to do, and erode their social and professional status.

Now there is really only one option left. Passive Resistance. If all teachers refused to teach the new national curriculum, refused to teach when an Ofsted inspector was in the classroom and refused to apply to renew their licenses, then there would actually be very little a government of any party could do about it.

Meanwhile, along with every teacher in the country, for the first time ever, All Change Please! finds itself wondering what UKIP’s education policy is…?

And finally, here’s a much more appropriate policy suggestion: Breakdown Cover…

Pass Notes: Design & Technology


Above: from Apple Store talk by Jason Schwartz of Bright Bright Great [BBG] on the love story between design and technology in the real world

So, what do you make of the new version of the requirements for Design & Technology in the National Curriculum now they are just about set in stone – well wood, metal and plastics anyway?

Well, robotics, electronics and 3D printing all sounds very exciting and good for the future of British engineering and manufacturing? Everyone seems to be very pleased about the new D&T curriculum, and it has been backed by the design industry. And none of that horticultural nonsense? Surely you’re not going to be the only one to say it’s not good news?

I’m afraid I am – it’s not good news. It continues to offer a very narrow view of design and designing based on 3D industrial design and engineering. While it is true that a minority of children might, as a result of their school experience, end up working in these fields, the vast majority won’t, especially girls, and for that matter many boys. As with most subjects, it’s a ‘just in case’ approach should you end up wanting to be an engineer. As such it fails to offer the majority a broader educational experience that in the future can be transferred into other areas of life.

Although the latest version is in some respects better than the one published in February, it’s not really much of a change from the existing one, except for the inclusion of robotics and 3D printing. Meanwhile the ‘design industry’ have absolutely no idea of what actually goes on in schools, and seem to think that simply changing the curriculum a bit is going to suddenly improve the quality of teaching and learning. Perhaps if they actually got more directly involved it might start to make more of a difference.

I thought somehow you might say something like that. Now I believe in these circumstances it’s traditional to begin by endlessly discussing what design and technology actually is all about. You first…

Well, everything, apart from nature itself, has at some point been consciously designed by someone. So that includes 3D industrial and domestic products, but also spaces and places, such as interiors and buildings, and information, such as sales brochures, signs, computer user-interfaces, etc. So Design and Technology is about creating products, environments, information and systems that work well, and are easy and satisfying to use. And when you do that, as for example Apple does, you can make a real profit, so it’s central to business success too. These days sustainability has become really important too. Meanwhile to design something you need to find out what people need and want and the materials and technologies available to satisfy them. And you need some design skills too.

So what exactly are these design skills of which you speak?

Designing involves complex high-level, creative, open-ended, real-world problem-solving, collaborative team work, developing instructions and specifications, matching objective and subjective data, communication and thinking about and planning the future. Not to mention understanding how business and marketing work.

OK, so that’s what professional designers do. What happens in primary and secondary education?

Well, it’s not just professional designers, but really anyone trying to solve a difficult practical problem that works and people value needs design skills. So it’s something everyone will find useful, throughout life, and therefore worth learning about when you are young. And it’s also good to be able to identify examples of good and bad design when making choices about which products, places and communications to commission or select.

So what’s, err, the problem?

For mainly historical reasons, the very narrow view of design that schools have taken and applied mainly to engineering and 3d industrial design has meant that they teach very little about understanding and meeting people’s physical and psychological needs and wants, and even lower levels of skills of designing and creativity. It’s actually much easier to teach and develop design skills through communication and spatial design activities, mainly because ideas can be generated, explored and developed much more quickly when you are not trying to work with expensive and highly resistant materials.

And then there’s the other important issue that no-one seems to be mentioning which is that most existing D&T teachers – not to mention Primary teachers – don’t come from an engineering design background, so there’s going to need to be an awful lot of professional development work needed, not to mention a considerable investment in hardware in schools.

Then there is the stated NC Purpose of Study and Aims, which are themselves quite acceptable – it’s just a pity that the Key Stage specifications that follow do not match up and deliver them. As such the document has simply become yet another example of spinning a classic ‘technological fix’ to what is the real and more difficult problem of recruiting, training and retaining creative, enlightened, inspiring teachers. Like this one:

So what’s to be done?

Hmm. Sadly not a lot. Unless we start to pay proper attention to the development of design skills, all localised 3d manufacturing will do is enable us to produce a load of novelty electronic gizmos that no-one really needs and that are frustrating to use. Rather than persisting with the glorified DIY approach of most D&T departments, it might be better to focus on developing a Design Thinking approach across other areas of the curriculum, such as Art and Design, Drama, English, Business and Enterprise and IT, where open-ended creative problem-solving and extended project work is accepted as part of the learning experience.

But I would have thought that after more than 20 years of D&T being in the National Curriculum and the chance to improve things even further in the latest revised orders, all this would have been sorted out by now?

Yes, you might indeed think that, but it’s not. Oh, and by the way, horticulture hasn’t gone away – it’s still there, but just at the end.

Do say: “Design and technology is an inspiring, rigorous and practical subject. Using creativity and imagination, pupils design and make products that solve real and relevant problems within a variety of contexts, considering their own and others’ needs, wants and values.”  (from the D&T Purpose statement)

Don’t say:  “Pupils will use mechanisms such as levers, sliders, wheels and axles in their products. From the age of seven, pupils will use mechanical and electrical systems, such as series circuits incorporating switches, bulbs and motors. At secondary school, pupils will use advanced design techniques such as mathematical modelling and biomimicry. They will learn to use specialist tools, such as 3-D printers, laser cutters and robotics. Pupils will be taught to incorporate and program microprocessor chips into products they have designed and made.  (from the D&T Programmes of Study).

And finally:

with the days of the book-end, the pipe rack and the key fob well and truly behind us, All Change Please! is proud to announce the next generation of classic Year 7 D&T projects to deliver the new requirements for the National Curriculum, soon to be appearing in a school near you…

The Brief: A cereal manufacturer want to include a free gift inside every box of cereal it sells. They have asked you to come up with ideas for an imaginative toy or gift.

The toy or gift can be made in any size, material and colour you like provided it is no bigger than 8 cms in any direction (the maximum size our 3D printer can manage) and is made of bright green plastic (which is the only type of ‘ink’ we can afford to obtain).

© Tristram Shepard/Ruth Wright 2013

Image credit: Alexis Finch


It’s… Michael Gove’s Flying Circus


A prototype GoveAir flying machine: ‘No frills, no fun, just facts’

All Change Please! has learnt that GoveAir‘s CEO has announced plans to introduce a new fleet of ‘Back to Basics’ 21st Century flying machines, based on a random pick-and-mix assemblage of components from different countries across the world.  However, it remains to see if the idea will ever actually take-off.

The Heath Robinson-influenced specifications were drawn up over the weekend by a group of representatives from various passenger organisations and focus groups, and include the general requirements for important things such as wings, windows and seats, though it is thought these may eventually be red-penned by the CEO. To keep costs down further, curved surfaces or indents will not be allowed, and this will also apparently help ensure architects and designers don’t get any richer than they already are. Existing pilots, more used to flying modern so-called progressive planes, will be re-trained on Spitfires from the 1950s.

At the same time, flight times will be extended to last a whole day, and pilots’ holidays reduced. They will also be required to take on extra administrative duties, including collecting ticket money and refuelling the planes.

Pilots are naturally bitterly opposed to the plans and are likely to join rival airline marxyJet. According to GoveAir, this will fit in well with their plans to introduce easily re-programmable robot pilots over the next five years.

Controversially the Nation’s children will be expected to be on-board during the test flights. The CEO of GoveAir explained:

“Things have changed since the 19th century, and parents are just too busy now to look after their own children. And with the current completely unforeseen demand for extra school places it will help reduce the need for new school buildings. We also feel it is important to bring more rigour into flying, and to encourage youngsters to become pilots themselves we will be sending a letter of encouragement to all those who manage to survive the experience.  Of course, it would have been much simpler to rely on updating the current design of airplanes which has been successfully evolving over many years, but where’s the Daily Mail headline in that?”

Were you there at the time? Are you happy for your child to fly with Gove Air? Please send us your comments and experiences…

Facts contained in this post loosely based on the following sources:

Image credit: Flickr Redteam

How does your D&T garden grow?


Mary, Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.

Once upon a time, a young Michael Gove probably enjoyed learning, reciting and being tested on an innocent little nursery rhyme that was all about a pretty little garden. However, its origins are apparently steeped in history. According to some sources, Mary is ‘Bloody’ Mary Tudor, and the ‘garden’ is thought to be a reference to the growing number of graveyards filled with all those who refused to agree with her. Meanwhile the silver bells and cockle shells were actually references to torture by thumbscrews and, well you can guess for yourselves what part of the body cockle shells might be attached to. And ‘pretty maids’ it seems were actually an early form of the guillotine.  (Other interpretations are available from all good websites)

All Change Please! hardly needs to spell it out, does it? Today “Bloody’ Michael Gove is creating an increasing number of graveyards that accommodate all the positive developments that have taken place in education over the past 50 years, and is doing so by inflicting the torture of new EBacc and NC specifications and applying them to various sensitive parts of the profession. And if you still disagree, to mix my nursery rhymes, here comes Ofsted to chop off your head.

During the past few days reaction to the proposed Design & Technology National Curriculum has been largely one of disbelief, and focused mainly on the inclusion of gardening and cookery. As far as All Change Please! can discover, a number of conservative Middle England organic gardening concerns launched a full-scale Thatcher-esque ‘Task Force’ to persuade the DfE to include food and gardening as part of the National Curriculum to promote a more healthy future lifestyle for our children. Now of course All Change Please! has no problem with that as such – it’s just a pity, and entirely inappropriate, that D&T should be expected to deliver it.

All Change Please! has also heard ‘on the grapevine’ that references in the new curriculum to sustainability were not permitted, and indeed there is no mention of it anywhere in the whole document, so in the immediate future it seems unlikely to be included. But of course there is absolutely nothing to stop teachers adding it into the mix themselves.

Meanwhile it seems that at a D&T conference on Wednesday 13th there was a growing awareness and acceptance that perhaps the current delivery of the subject in most schools was not working effectively and had failed to sufficiently move forward in recent years. Indeed the strong reaction against the inclusion of horticulture merely reflects the wider community’s refusal to even consider change. These days survival demands rapid evolution to meet new challenges, not standing still and putting up the barricades.

It remains important however for the DfE to receive as many objections as possible to the current proposals, but at the same time simply criticising the inclusion of horticulture and suggesting that it should be simply thrown onto the compost heap are unlikely to achieve anything – food and horticulture are not going to go away. Instead it will be helpful to clearly articulate what the practical issues of implementation are, and as such how they might be potentially detrimental to the future of art, design and technology education and subsequent HE and career progression. The objective needs to be to clarify that the knowledge and skills involved in growing and cooking food are different (but no less worthy) disciplines to creative design-led problem-solving and that as such they need to be staffed and accommodated accordingly.

In All Change Please‘s last post ‘Are Bill and Ben working at the DfE?‘ it promised its consultation re-draft of the D&T proposals, and indeed they are available here D&TNCEdited (pdf download). It is interesting to see how, that with just a few changes of terminology and the removal of the exemplification, the content suddenly sounds a great deal more acceptable, if still far from ideal. While it remains a missed opportunity to actively prompt and inspire the further positive development of D&T, at least now it no longer reads like something written in the 1950s.

And finally, here’s a Christmas Cracker of a joke sent in by Roberta from Manchester:

                ‘Why did Michael Gove include horticulture in Design & Technology?’

                ‘Because he thought it was a STEM subject…’

Followed by the adaption of the saying “You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” by Dorothy Parker, and submitted by a reader from Hereford:

                “You can take a horticulture but you can’t make her think.”

Image Credit: Kira Jones Designs

So what does it all add up to?

Could this be a new, bright red iPad?

The news over the weekend of the proposed revision to the Primary National Curriculum probably hasn’t escaped your notice. But just in case it has…

To begin with, All Change Please! openly admits it knows very little about primary education, but long, long ago it did actually attend a primary school, which of course makes it an expert on the matter.

Now this may come as a surprise – even a shock – to regular readers, but All Change Please! actually thinks that some of the content of the proposals are a good idea: every child does needs to acquire a certain level of basic skills in English and Maths, and that certainly includes things like punctuation and times-tables. Well, it’s never done me any harm, anyway. At least not as far as I’m aware.

But sadly, that’s where the good news ends, and the proposals start to fail to add up. These days basic skills in English, maths and scientific knowledge together with some historical names and dates and exposure to a foreign language are not nearly enough on their own as a preparation for life. But start assessing and publishing the results of easily-assessable basic knowledge tests, and schools will quite naturally place an excessive amount of emphasis on them at the expensive of a wider understanding and range of experiences. Somehow we still need to find a way to have a balance of factual recall, and learning to learn through contextualised and personalised first-hand experiences. And then there is the problem of defining an age by which children need to have acquired these skills and knowledge, and what to do about those who become ‘left behind’?

Proposed primary curriculum: what about the pupils?

Letters: The trouble with Michael Gove’s primary school proposals

But surely the biggest problem of all, and the one so often neglected by new government curriculum policies through the ages, is the need for high quality in-service training for teachers, which, in the current economic climate just isn’t going to happen. Or, as the Daily Mail subtly puts it:

Thousands of teachers go back to school to learn basic maths and grammar so they can deliver tough new lessons

Ah well – perhaps it’s all not a problem after all. Because these proposals don’t apply to Academies, and the intention is that before long all schools will become Academies (i.e., two negatives become a positive?). So what all it really adds up to is another bout of political/media spin in nice Mr Gove’s campaign to become the next Prime Number?

And finally – it seems that aliens have landed… well this writer seems to be living on a different planet, anyway:
Proper education will do much more for the poor

Image credit: Fotolia

Oh, Lordy Lord *

Yesterday I attended a seminar at the House of Lords, somewhere I’d never been before. In terms of the nation’s heritage, it’s grand and impressive inside, if somewhat reminiscent of a public school. It’s well worth a visit, especially as it gives one some important clues as to why politicians seem so stuck in the past rather than looking towards the future.

In many ways, the session I attended was little better. It was entitled ‘A New Vision for Design Education: is design learning at school fit for purpose?’, and organised by the ‘Associate Parliamentary Design & Innovation Group‘, whoever they are. It was a gathering of the great and the good in the field, all very eloquently expressing the purpose and benefits of design education. Here’s the question I asked the panel:

“All the values and aspirations expressed here today were initially identified and developed in the 1970s. It didn’t succeed then in scaling itself up and being embedded in the curriculum, so how and why should it now, particularly in the context of the current political ideology in which Schools Minister Nick Gibbs recently welcomed the decrease in the time that pupils studied subjects such as Art and Design, Design and Technology and Drama as ‘an encouraging trend’?”

Sadly no-one really responded to this challenge, although one of the panel did say something about it being important not to be pessimistic, which I regret to say I still am. No-one really said anything that had not been said already during the past 35 years. It was all largely about preparing students for life in the last quarter of the 20th Century rather than the first quarter of the 21st Century, and as a means of recruiting new designers for the old profession. The potential impact on design education of the rapid shift towards on-line learning, and how the industry itself will need to respond to the changing circumstances of a population being able to design and make things for themselves at a local level using CAD and 3D printers, was not mentioned.  And I didn’t notice anyone in the audience with an iPad, and neither was I aware of anyone providing a live commentary via Twitter.

On the positive side it was good to hear everyone essentially in agreement about the importance of design education, and an emerging consensus that a lot of the problem was that the message was not being co-ordinated and driven by a single body, though there were no suggestions as to who this might be, let alone any volunteers. Strangely no-one mentioned the fact that design education provides an almost perfect fit with the wider specification for what are currently referred to as 21st Century Skills.

However I did learn one thing I didn’t know before. Apparently no current member of parliament has the faintest idea what design is all about (OK, well we have all already guessed that). Except for one, who owns a 15% stake in his family wallpaper and fabric design business. Any idea as to who it might be? No? OK, here’s a clue:

* Lordy Lord – as in the expression used to “express frustration, exasperation, worry, or tiredness”. Pretty much sums up my response really.


Image credit: Oliver Quinlan

The sound of teaching

In recent posts I have written about the need to move away from a culture in which academics tend to became teachers who prepare children to become academics, and that we need to develop a new relationship between teachers and the world of work, in which it is important for them to keep up-to-date with the practical realities and experiences of the present day that they can then pass on to their students.

So I was interested to read this item in yesterday’s paper:

Essentially, it seems that having been refused permission for time off to undertake a professional engagement, a music teacher took sick leave in order to go on a piano-playing tour in America, and it also subsequently emerged that she had lied about her academic qualifications.

Now I don’t want to condone the mis-truths she appears to have told, but the point is that when teachers are offered positive commercial experiences outside the classroom during term-time, it shouldn’t be necessary in the first place for them to have to lie in order to be able to undertake them. It is also interesting to note that, despite having misled the school about her qualifications, there is no indication in the article about whether or not she was a good teacher  – perpetuating the myth that having a Phd and an MPhil somehow by definition makes one a successful teacher – and even more so than having completed a teacher training course!

‘The schools are alive with the sound of teachers
With lessons they have taught for a thousand years…’

Going for Gold

Did you see this recent news item?

2012 Olympic Games Medal Shock!


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

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

This attitude is by no means new, and has been something that as a society we have been dearly clinging on to for centuries, while other countries seem to have been able to move on and value technical and vocational education in a far more positive way. Somehow we need to bring about a major shift in the way we perceive and value education in the UK, and re-naming schools as ‘academies’, making A levels more difficult and getting more people to study subjects such as English and History to degree level is not the direction we should be going in. In just about every area of business, commerce, health, defence, housing, farming, etc., there have been changes during the past 60 years on a scale that make them unrecognisable from the way they were in the 1950s. The single exception is education where, apart from the largely inappropriate use of computers, little has altered except in name. If the UK is to remain, or even become, in any way competitive in the global market place, it’s much too late therefore for a slow, evolutionary incremental shift in public opinion and institutional structures, curriculum and teaching method. We need to think the unthinkable. Nothing less than a short, sharp revolution in needed.

I have no grand plan or costed strategy for development, but here are a few of the sort of things we ought to be currently considering:

• We need a shift away from the idea that we all attend compulsory full-time schooling between 4 and 16. It’s always struck me that the single most inappropriate environment for a 14 year old is to be required to sit still in silence for hours on end listening to adults who think they know everything.

• The traditional school structure and organisation is entirely outmoded for the modern age. We need to develop institutions that facilitate a more effective daily mix of exposure to teaching styles and learning experiences, essentially including independent learning.

• Students need to be given and take more responsibility for their own learning, utilising the innovative possibilities of innovative computer technology, rather than simply using IT to reinforce and automate traditional approaches.

• The use of the slogan “What have you learnt today?’ could be used to prompt a genuine approach to lifelong learning for all in which the act of learning something new everyday is recognised and valued by individuals and employers.

• How can all intelligences and abilities come to be seen as being equal, and none more equal than others? The emphasis on academic education is only appropriate for the roughly 5% of the population who are suited to it. We need some sort of single national award system that recognises a relevant comparative ‘gold’ standard across all courses.

• In this day and age are we really still unable to teach every child how to achieve basic standards in literacy and numeracy? Standards have improved slightly over recent years, but there’s clearly something badly wrong here that needs sorting out.

• We need to introduce of a valued certificate or ‘qualification’ of basic achievement that recognises the practical application of reading, writing and arithmetic in daily use, alongside a similarly valued certificate of personal learning and creative thinking/problem-solving skills, both taken at any age when the learner is ready.

• Currently teachers have five training days a year which are mostly spent on being introduced to new administrative procedures. There needs to be a major investment in effective and compulsory in-service training / CPD (Continuing Professional Development) for teachers to enable them to keep up-to-date with their rapidly changing subject knowledge and with the new substantially different methods of teaching and learning afforded by developments in IT.

• By narrowing the range of knowledge and understanding that is now examined we have successfully raised the number of students gaining A level passes and going into Higher Education. We have steadily improved the number of children who get five GCSE A* to C grades. But when are we going to start doing something for the other 50% of learners who have limited qualifications and remain alienated by an education system that has little to offer them?

• In terms of a quick fix, one of the problems is that children’s attitudes towards school and learning is heavily influenced by their parents’ experiences. Most of today’s parents were at failing comprehensive schools in the 1970s and 1980s and remain unconvinced of the value of education. Today’s children, who have grown up in a narrow assessment-led National Curriculum culture, will become parents in the next two decades. How do we ensure that they will have a different, more enlightened view of education to pass on to their children?

Ironically, sadly all these things are probably somewhat ‘academic’. It’s difficult to see future governments or administrative organisations initiating or welcoming change on this level. Somehow we need to find a way to take control of our own future learning and growth.