Meet the New Learning. Same as the Old Learning.

Oak is a high density timber and is a common symbol of strength, endurance and knowledge. It grows slowly, but surely at its own rate. As a result of their size and longevity Oak trees are often associated with honor, nobility, and wisdom. In 1651, the future King Charles II hid in an oak tree to escape the Roundheads, or so it is told. Unsurprisingly therefore, it is used as the symbol of the supposedly ‘strong and stable’ Conservative Party.

Last Monday, the 20th April, ‘The Oak National Academy’ was launched. According to the decidedly weak and wobbly Df-ingE, who have funded it:

“This brand-new enterprise has been created by 40 teachers from some of the leading schools across England, backed by government grant funding. It will provide 180 video lessons each week, across a broad range of subjects from maths to art to languages, for every year group from Reception through to Year 10.”

Now in the current situation it could be argued that anything is better than nothing, and to be fair it has been put together in great haste. Initially there will be a lot of relieved parents and children directed towards its use. But the fact is that the on-line academy is pretty much a complete travesty of what on-line or e-learning, or indeed just learning, could and should be like.

Like the EBacc and National Curriculum it suffers from being highly academic and factoid recall-based, and thus is irrelevant and inaccessible to the majority of children. It’s largely dry and uninspiring, or as many children will come to describe it: ‘BORING’. Is it any wonder that apparently two-thirds of children have not participated in any formal on-line lessons since the schools closed? And the format is well known as an approach that has already been seen to fail with many university-based MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) showing massive drop-out rates.

The best academic teachers uses clever analogies and stories in an inspirational, passionate way that makes each lesson memorable and life-changing. They communicate at multiple levels to explain difficult concepts to the least academically-able, while at the same time pushing the most academically-able further. Sadly there is very little evidence of outstanding teaching being presented here. It’s also unforgivable that while there are lessons available for learning Latin, there are none at all for Music, Design & Technology, or ICT/Computing.

But the real shame is that as far back as the early 1990s, with the emergence of what was called ‘Multimedia’, many educational technologists were asking the question: ‘How can these more immersive computer technologies provide new and powerful learning experiences that cannot be achieved through traditional classroom teaching?’ And during the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st Century many new research and development projects produced a number of products that pointed the way ahead, pioneering interactive animations and simulations, learning management systems, web-based e-portfolios and collaborative assessment systems, and, more recently, machine-learning interfaces that prompted students to think for themselves.

We’ve had some 30 years to develop the potential of the use of on-line learning in schools, but this appears to be the best we can do. In the months and years to come, sadly this, and other similar solutions, will be used to judge the potential of on-line learning, and will, at best, be seen to have been a failure: at worst, it might come to be adopted nationally in an attempt to reduce the need for real, live teachers.

Traditionalist academics and politicians have failed to understand that new technologies drive change and need to be used in new, more appropriate ways than simply trying to automate the past. They bring new challenges and opportunities that have the potential to extend and enhance our survival, if we use them wisely. Today, with the access they now have to knowledge and information from around the world, children should be learning how to learn for themselves.

As far as the current reality of on-line learning is concerned it’s as if early 20th Century film-makers decided that the cinema would be best suited to filming the printed pages of existing books, and then when the Talkies came in, to capturing the authors reading out aloud the books they had written. Indeed there’s nothing that the Oak Online Academy provides that wouldn’t be better delivered as a conventional textbook, and which could be provided to all children without the need for access to laptops, tablets and broadband connections.

 

Images by Manfred Antranias Zimmer and Public Domain Pictures via Pixabay

 

‘D’ is for…

Long after the letters A, B and C, ‘All Change Please!’s Absolutely Absurd Alternative A to Z of Educashun’ turns its attention to the letter ‘D’.

For any new readers, ‘All Change Please!’s Absolutely Absurd Alternative A to Z of Educashun’ takes a mildly humorous look at the way things are in our schools and sometimes compares them to life on the parallel universe of Planet Urth.

Dancing (in the street)
There are some schools in which children are required to move from lesson to lesson in silence and to strictly keep to left or right of the corridor and stairs. But not on Planet Urth where children and teachers are expected to joyously dance down the corridors. What’s more they arrive at the next lesson too tired to misbehave.

Deep Learning
The term ‘Deep Learning’ means that academic theory is studied alongside the development of what, at the rate we are going, look more likely to become more practical 22nd Century skills. Unfortunately however many traditional teachers seem to think that Deep Learning just requires drilling down even further to deliver more and more knowledge in greater and greater depth.

In Victorian times, Deep Learning was what happened when young children were sent down the mines to learn how to dig for coal. In today’s only slightly more modern times children are now subjected to deep knowledge learning in every academic subject they study. This means they never get to see the clear light of day either.

On Planet Urth they initially experimented with opening up old coal mines and transforming them into underground classrooms in an attempt to promote even deeper learning, but the idea quickly fell apart at the seams.

Meanwhile Deep Learning is also a term widely used in the development of Artificial Intelligence. It is based on artificial neural networks, deep belief networks, recurrent neural networks and convolutional neural networks in which computer models learn to accurately perform classification tasks directly from images, text or sound suited for hybrid multicloud environments that demand mission-critical performance, security and governance. But that’s all just a bit too deep for All Change Please!

Deputy Dawg

 

All schools on Planet Urth have at least one Deputy Dawg as part of their Senior Management Team. Training for this role consists of watching endless re-runs of the popular 1960s TV series of the same name in which Deputy Dawg has to protect his produce from Muskie and Vince, battling with some of the peculiar locals and trying to please the Sheriff. However Deputy Dawg is on friendly terms with them most of the time, except when he has to perform his duties as a lawman and keep them from causing trouble. Deputy Dawgs patrol the school corridors muttering ‘Dagnabit’ all the time, which for some reason is thought more acceptable than ‘God Damn It’, even thought that’s what they are actually thinking.

Design Education

All Change Please! looks back, having spent its entire working life advocating Design Education. As a result all schools successfully deliver an exciting and stimulating co-coordinated programme that combines developing skills in interdisciplinary open-ended problem-solving, creativity and communication in a way that enables children to effectively understand and apply the knowledge they have gained elsewhere in the curriculum and fully prepares them for the unpredictable changes that lie ahead for them in the future. As such All Change Please! considers its life to have been both fulfilling and entirely worthwhile.

Michael Gove? Who is he? Nick Glibbly? The EBacc? Oh yes, wait, it’s all starting to come back now.

More morphine, nurse…. quickly!

Design & Technology

Someone once made the mistake of asking what ‘Design & Technology’ meant and they were told that Design & Technology meant Design & Technology, and was quite unlike Design Technology which is confusing as both words mean the same thing. And then it got shortened to DT which doesn’t mean anything to anyone in the real world, unless perhaps you have a Dorchester postcode. Of course in most schools D&T still really means woodwork, metalwork and sewing. For a while it meant cookery and nutrition as well, but it doesn’t anymore as they quit a while ago to go off and form their own group.

Dewey, Dewey and Dewey

A clever American man called Dewey was responsible for perhaps the most major change in thinking about education during the 20th century. Yes, it was Melvil Dewey who invented the Dewey Decimal System in 1876 which meant that libraries could store their books on shelves and then actually manage to find them again later. By allocating a numerical code to each subject and sub-division he led the way for the atomisation of knowledge that made it much easier to simply tick off what one knew and what one didn’t.

Melvin Dewey is often confused with another American, John Dewey (1859-1952) who in the early 20th Century came up with some crackpot theory of progressive education and was never heard of again. However, fortunately John Dewey wrote plenty of books on the subject which can be easily found using the Dewey decimal code 370.1

Another little known fact is that the middle name of Miles Davis, the famous jazz trumpeter, was Dewey. He often used to point out that the notes one didn’t play were just as important as the ones you did. Perhaps the facts we don’t teach children and that they discover for themselves are just as important as the ones we do?

Df-ingE

The Df-ingE is a ministerial government department dedicated to making a complete mess of everything to do with providing a world-class education, training and care for everyone, whatever their background. It consistently fails to ensure that everyone has the chance to reach their potential, and live a more fulfilled life. It has absolutely no idea how it will also create a more productive economy, so that our country is fit for the future.

When invited to comment, a Df-ingE spokesperson didn’t say: “When invited to comment, my prestigious academic Russell Group university degree has successfully prepared me to blindly repeat exactly the same statements over and over again in the belief that if a lie is repeated often enough people will start to believe it.”

Dictionary

At school, All Change Please! distinctly remembers being told: ‘If you don’t know how to spell a word, look it up in the dictionary’, which always struck it as being a bit daft really, because the dictionary is in alphabetical order, and if you don’t know how to spell a word in the first place, the chances are you’re not going to be able to find it.

 

Disobedience

Disobedience involves doing or not doing something that someone in authority has told you to do and is keeping a close eye on you at all times to make sure you do, or don’t. And because adults are older than children, for some reason that seems to automatically give them that authority. Now of course there are many occasions when the instructions that adults give children are sensible, appropriate and essential but it is unwise to assume that by definition all adults are sensible and always understand what is appropriate and essential.

Of course this extends into later life, by which time it becomes more acceptable, and sometimes necessary, to challenge someone’s authority and take personal responsibility for one’s behaviour, especially when there is much less risk of being observed or ‘found out’. But this isn’t something we prepare our children for, and they tend to grow up in the belief that those in authority are always correct, and they fail to sufficiently develop the skills of positive disobedience and flexible interpretations of rule-making and breaking.

On Planet Urth there is an organisation that provides an annual award for any person or group that successfully engages in ethical, nonviolent acts of disobedience in the service of society, and in their schools children are encouraged to consider situations in which disobedience is acceptable and desirable for the common good. Actually it so happens there’s an identical award made by MIT on Planet Earth, but sadly here any positive disobedience in schools is just not up for discussion. The only place it might be found is in the Creative and Performing Arts where the weirdos, artists and misfits tend to hang out.

Dunce caps

A dunce is a person considered incapable of learning.The word is derived from the name of the 13th Century Scottish Scholastic theologian and philosopher John Duns Scotus.

In their continuing bid to improve academic standards, traditional teachers have been demanding a return to the good old days when under-performing school children were required to wear special pointed caps to denote their lack of ability. They had to sit or stand in the corner as a form of humiliating punishment for misbehaving or for failing to demonstrate that they had successfully remembered what they had been taught. Dunces are often humorously shown wearing dunce caps with a large capitalized “D” on them.

In contrast, on parallel Planet Urth, more progressive teachers believe that Duns Scotus actually recommended the wearing of conical hats to stimulate the brain – so-called ‘thinking caps’ – and this led wizards to adopt the use of pointed hats to denote how clever they were. What a Wizard idea!

 

Dunteachin

All Change Please! used to work with someone who used to remark: “I love my job. I hate my job.” By which he meant he loved working in education but hated senior management whose intent seemed to be to making his job as difficult as possible to do. But that’s all over now, as we’re both Dunteachin, enjoying our retirement and reflecting on how things were so much better in education in the pre-National Curriculum, Ofsted, League Table world of the 1980s.

Fortunately though All Change Please! has not quite Dunbloggin yet and, unless anything more interesting happens first, will be back soon to see if it can make up some unsuitable nonsense about the letter E.

In case you missed them, there’s more merriment to be found in ‘A’ is for…, ‘B’ is for… and ‘C’ is for…,

Mr Glibbly plays all the wrong notes in the wrong order

The use of the word ‘Bollocks’ on the cover of the Sex Pistol’s 1978 infamous album is generally thought to be a negative reference to the so-called ‘progressive’ music of the time…

Overture
Mr Glibbly, the Df-ingE’s current Secretary in a State about the school curriculum, recently woke up one morning feeling kind of blue. He had been told that the Fabian Society Report criticising the lack of provision for Arts education in UK schools was about to be published. To help stave off his rather crotchety, downbeat feeling he opened a pack of quavers – his all-bar-none favourite breakfast – and to try and cheer himself up he turned on Classic FM. And that gave him an idea. On the very same day as the report came out he would triumphantly pitch his grand-piano sized plan to improve music education! News about all those special model ‘music by numbers’ lesson plans and music hubs would sound truly uplifting and strike a chord with everyone, and they would clap and cheer at the end and as a measure of its brilliance shout for an encore, quite deafening out anything the Fabian report might have to say. Mr Glibbly never misses a beat does he?

Next Mr Glibbly invited lots of important sounding professional musicians to work together to come up with exactly what should be taught in schools in order to do it ‘Mr Glibbly’s Way’. Sadly of course he accidentally on purpose forgot to include more than a couple of actual real teachers on the steering panel. If he had, perhaps they might have told him that there was a lot more to music in schools than learning how to read music and how to re-create and appreciate great pieces of classical music written by dead white men from the Western world.

The sound of music goes well beyond what appears to be Mr Glibbly’s understanding and knowledge of 17th and 18th century forms of music, let alone modern music education. Like most politicians, he quite wrongly assumed that what had been good for him would be good for everyone in the country.

First movement
Here’s a mix-tape mash-up of some of the things he said:

“My own love of music began in primary school almost by stealth. As we all filed into assembly there’d be a piece of classical music playing in the background: Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra; Saint Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals; Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf.”

“Singing in the St Edmund’s Parish Church Choir in Roundhay, Leeds, gave me a lasting love for choral music. The delight I still feel today when I listen to ‘Zadok the Priest’ or Allegri’s ‘Miserere’ can be traced back to my schooldays.”

“We want to make sure their lessons are of the very highest quality and pupils leave school having experienced an excellent music education so those who wish to do so can take up opportunities to pursue musical careers.”

“This new model curriculum and the new money for our successful music hubs will make sure the next generation of Adeles, Nigel Kennedys and Alex Turners have all the support they need in school.”

“As well as ensuring all pupils can benefit from knowledge rich and diverse lessons, it is hoped that the curriculum will make it for easier for teachers to plan lessons and help to reduce workload.”

But music education is about so much more than knowledge of the classical repertoire and being able to sight-read music. It’s just a pity Mr Glibbly doesn’t believe you can learn anything useful from Wikipedia, because if he did he might have discovered that:

“Music is an art form and cultural activity whose medium is sound organized in time. General definitions of music include common elements such as pitch (which governs melody and harmony), rhythm (and its associated concepts tempo, meter, and articulation), dynamics (loudness and softness), and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture (which are sometimes termed the “colour” of a musical sound). Different styles or types of music may emphasize, de-emphasize or omit some of these elements.”

Music and Meaning
Music is a reflection and statement of contemporary cultural values, not just those of the past. Meanwhile it’s important for children to learn that music has different meanings to different people in different situations, and that playing and listening preferences often serve to reinforce social status and belief systems while at the same time representing a rejection of alternative points of view. Which is of course exactly what Mr Glibbly is trying to do at a time when, according to recent research, more than two-thirds of young people are already active musicians, singing, playing an instrument or making music on a computer – mainly outside school, and therefore his control.

Music and Motivation
Mr Glibbly seems to want everybody to be able to read music, play a ‘proper’ musical instrument and become a member of an orchestra: but just because people can read the Daily Mail out loud, it doesn’t mean that they are all going to want to become creative writers. To appeal to and motivate the majority of young people, modern music education needs to be relevant to music they are listening to, otherwise they are likely to switch off faster than they can say ‘Alexa, play something different’.

Music and The Arts
Meanwhile perhaps if Mr Glibbly had taken his fingers out of his ears and opened his eyes for long enough to hear and see what was been happening during the 20th Century he might have noticed that in an increasing number of works, music has moved away from being a single discipline: dance, drama, design, fashion, performance art, film and television are now created with close reference to each other. Mr Glibbly doesn’t seem to have got as far as Modernism yet, let alone Post-modernism.

Music and Technology
And something else that seems to be missing in the space between Mr Glibbly’s ears is the fact that a good understanding of and a capability and confidence in the use of digital technologies in one’s area of expertise is now essential, as it is in just about everything these days, and particularly in music where it has been particularly disruptive during the past 20 or so years. It is not acceptable for traditional educators to avoid their obligations and responsibility and, as they often do, use the excuse that children know more about the new technology than they do, so they will leave it to them to teach themselves.

Yet learning about music technology is not mentioned anywhere in Glibbly’s model world. Indeed he reveals his own lack of understanding of contemporary music technology when he writes:

“Forget Spotify: I want every child to leave primary school able to read music.”

Doesn’t he know that there is plenty of classical music on Spotify, and that the service enables users to explore and access a wider range of music than ever before in order to discover what they do and don’t like? And anyway why should listening to Spotify prevent any child from learning to read music?

Of course, at the same time new technology enables the creation of music without the need to be able to read formal notation in a way that is far more likely to encourage children to want to learn more about the academic theory of classical music. The opportunities for children to develop their creativity, confidence and self-esteem through experimentation, composing, performing and recording their own music, rather than failing to match the standards of professional classical musicians, have never been greater.

Coda
And last, but by no means least, is the purpose really to create a new generation of ‘Adeles, Nigel Kennedys and Alex Turners’? These people will emerge whether or not they learn to read music in school: music education needs to meet everyone’s needs.

The Sex Pistols sang ‘Don’t know what I want but I know how to get it’:  Mr Glibbly clearly does know what he wants, but fortunately it seems he doesn’t know how to get it: his new model scheme, unlike the music national curriculum, will not be compulsory. And, if every child is to learn how to read music – not just those attending the special music hubs – then there’s the little matter of finding the money to pay for all those music teachers

Whatever, one thing is clear – Mr Glibbly’s plan is certainly not the Very Model Of A Modern Music Curriculum…

“Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” (Charlie Parker)

“If this word ‘music’ is sacred and reserved for eighteenth and nineteenth century instruments, we can substitute a more meaningful term: organization of sound.” (John Cage)

Encore

Eric Morecambe with Andre Preview ‘playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order’.

 

Getting IT Wrong

All Change Please! recently came across a fascinating post about an article written by one Samuel Moffat some 50 years ago – in 1968 – that anticipated the future use of computers in education.

At one level, it is extraordinary to see what the author got right:

  • children sitting at a PC with a keyboard and screen, wearing headphones
  • on-screen questions, assessed and scored by the computer
  • one or more IT suites in every school, including primary schools
  • individualised learning, with support for pupils who need more help
    children can work at their own speed
  • a global network of computers (though seemingly limited to the US) facilitating remote access to teachers
  • the prediction that computers will soon play a significant and universal a role in schools as books do today.

And amusing to see what he got wrong:

  • the computing machines mechanically load and control external film and slide projectors, tape recorders and record players
  • a boy being allowed to work all day on a science project.

The predictions are remarkable for the time, given that there were no calculators, photocopiers or video recorders in schools in 1968!

But at another level, it means that we’ve had at least 50 years to work out, agree and implement the most effective ways of using computers in school – something that so far we have pretty much failed to do. Although a few schools have effectively adopted the concept of ‘computer-aided learning’, there are still far too many where the approach is to ask for PCs to be removed from classrooms and the use of mobile phones to be banned.

As with most aspects of our working and domestic hours, IT has proved to be much more than being ‘just another tool’ as it was frequently described in the 1990s. That was a bit like saying that the introduction of the combustion engine driven car of the early 20th century provided ‘just another way to get from A to B’. Or that on-line shopping would never take off, and that people would continue to buy physical music CDs forever… And at the same time, IT was widely seen as a cost-saving method of automisation, rather than something that would begin to fundamentally change the way we live our lives.

Unfortunately, in many schools, the old-fashioned penny still hasn’t dropped. Most teachers still see Information Technology (IT) as ‘just another tool’, and continue to misuse it to attempt to deliver an automated, out-dated curriculum in an out-dated way. Like it not, IT will at some point significantly disrupt the processes of teaching and learning. And the problem is that while many educationalists continue to pretend it will one-day just go away, they are failing to define and demand what is an appropriate new pedagogy. As a result, big business and politics are rapidly moving in to make those decisions for them, and instead of computers being used to effectively support the ways we teach and learn, it is increasingly taking over and replacing our input into the process, if for no other reason that computers are cheaper to run than teachers are to employ.

IT still provides an extraordinary opportunity to discover new and better ways of learners acquiring knowledge, behaviours, skills, values, and making informed decisions about conflicting options. In the palm of our hand we now have the extraordinary potential to access in-depth information and ideas from around the world, to be able to collectively communicate with each other, and to manipulate vast amounts of complex data. Yet our current education system continues to prioritise essay-writing and answering Multiple Choice Questions – sitting isolated in the school hall – as its only method of assessing  achievement and capability.

At the same time, fifty years on, we have still to determine the way in which our children should be most effectively taught about IT and how to use it for themselves. The current, entirely unacceptable, excuse for not doing so appears to be along the lines of not seeing the need to bother because ‘the children understand more about it than we do’. To be fair, there is also a shortage of suitable teachers, and especially those with up-to-date experience of coding. But not everyone will need to be able to write complex computer programs in the future, just as not everyone needs to be able to design and construct an internal combustion engine to be able to drive their car.

However, children do need to learn to become capable and confident users of IT, to know about the way it impacts their lives, and how and when to use it, and perhaps more importantly, when not to use it. Unless we start to address the core issues in our schools we are likely to end up with a future society where individuals might potentially suffer from poorer cognitive function, reduced capacity for deep thought and contemplation, reduced ability to concentrate, increasing levels of pathological narcissistic behaviour, lower levels of empathy, an increase in depression and loneliness, and a whole host of physical problems stemming from the constant release of cortisone from the stress response together with an addiction to dopamine. Banning the use of mobile phones in schools will do nothing to help prevent this.

The world has moved on since 1968. Sadly education in England hasn’t.

Knowing exactly what it would say, All Change Please! didn’t bother to invite comment from the Df-ingE, and as a result, their spokesperson didn’t write…

‘As politicians and civil servants with no experience of the real world, we know all there is to know about education and the processes of teaching and learning and therefore do not intend to waste any time listening to anyone else. Our well established and highly successful educational policy involves continually repeating: ‘Thanks to our reforms, the evidence proves that we are providing the first-class world-beating education system demanded by employers and universities’ – a statement that readers of the Daily Mail appear to actually believe.’

Stripping down STEM

All Change Please! is getting all STEAMed up about the latest government announcement…

Most of us would agree that for the U.K. to survive in an apocalyptic Hard Brexitland future we are going to need considerable expertise in technology and engineering in order to create innovative new products and services to sell to the world. That is, of course, everyone except for the D well and truly f-ing E.

STEM, as all All Change Please! readers will be familiar with, is an acronym for the study of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Meanwhile All Change Please! has also long been a supporter of the campaign for the acronym to become STEAM, with the A representing The Arts which are required to enable students to develop skills of creativity and to acquire an understanding of human psychological and emotional needs.

While the US seems to grasp the concept that STEM, or STEAM, involves the necessary study of the relationships between the component subjects involved, here in the U.K. we have consistently mis-understood it simply as the isolated study of the separate academic subjects involved. And, given that Design & Technology typically plays no part in STEM, many of us have often wondered where the missing Technology and Engineering subjects are?

Well at least now we know. According to yesterday’s D no f-ing clue whatsoever about Education announcement:


So if there is no Technology or Engineering in STEM, that leaves us with just Science and Mathematics. Thus, to ensure the government cannot be accused of misleading the country, can we now look forward to the STEM initiative being more accurately renamed as S&M?

All Change Please! can’t wait for the newspaper headlines:

 

Let’s ask the Magic 8 Ball

9775164755_65c81a60c2_z.jpg

Yes, as unbelievable as Brexit sounds, today, the 28th October 2017, is All Change Please!s Magical Eighth birthday. And that means it’s time for All Change Please!’s surprisingly regular annual Review of the Year post…

To begin with, regular readers might have noticed that All Change Please! has been a lot less prolific than in previous years: instead of an average of posting once a fortnight, it’s been more like once a month. Except for February, April and May when seemingly absolutely nothing happened to inspire All Change Please! to take pen to paper, or rather finger to keyboard. However the world of education seemed to come back to life a bit more during September and October…

So what were All Change Please!‘s greatest number of hits of 2016-17?

1. The Blunders of Government

Way out ahead in the prestigious Number One ‘Top of the Posts’ spot was the runaway ‘The Blunders of Government’ which featured a dialogue between Sir Humphrey Appleby and a compendium of Education Secretaries from the past 7 years.

2. Theresa in Wonderland

Some way behind was All Change Please!’s Christmas special which identified the close connection between Mrs May and Alice, with Nigel Farage in the role of the Cheshire Cat, and The Queen of Hearts (deftly played by Angela Merkel) boasting that sometimes she believed as many as six impossible things before Brexit.

3. Problem still unsolved….

In which it was revealed that students place little value on creativity and problem-solving, largely because the schools they go to don’t either.

 

But as always, what appeals most to the bloglovin’ public rarely reflects All Change Please!’s own favourites of the year which included:

4. Fun-filled gender-fluid self curated personas at the Df-ingE 

Cool. No problem. Read again?

5. Pass Notes: What is GCSE Irritative Design.

Your cut-out and weep guide to D&T…

 

Meanwhile, All Change Please! got to wondering about who invented the Magic 8 Ball and when, and how it worked – and not for the first time managed to find everything it wanted to know on Wikipedia.

“The Magic 8-Ball is a toy used for fortune-telling or seeking advice, developed in the 1950s and manufactured by Mattel. It is often used in fiction, often for humor related to its giving accurate, inaccurate, or otherwise statistically improbable answers.

An 8-ball was used as a fortune-telling device in the 1940 Three Stooges short, You Nazty Spy!, and called a “magic ball”. While Magic 8-Ball did not exist in its current form until 1950, the functional component was invented by Albert C. Carter, inspired by a spirit writing device used by his mother, Mary, a Cincinnati clairvoyant.

The Magic 8-Ball is a hollow plastic sphere resembling an oversized, black-and-white 8-ball. Inside a cylindrical reservoir contains a white, plastic, icosahedron floating in alcohol dyed dark blue. Each of the die’s 20 faces has an affirmative, negative, or non-committal statement printed in raised letters. These messages are read through a window on the ball’s bottom.

To use the ball, it must be held with the window initially facing down. After “asking the ball” a yes-no question, the user then turns the ball so that the window faces up, setting in motion the liquid and die inside. When the die floats to the top and one face presses against the window, the raised letters displace the blue liquid to reveal the message as white letters on a blue background.

The 20 answers inside a standard Magic 8-Ball are:

It is certain

It is decidedly so

Without a doubt

Yes definitely

You may rely on it

As I see it, yes

Most likely

Outlook good

Yes

Signs point to yes

Reply hazy try again

Ask again later

Better not tell you now

Cannot predict now

Concentrate and ask again

Don’t count on it

My reply is no

My sources say no

Outlook not so good

Very doubtful

All of which leads All Change Please! to the inevitable conclusion that it’s Mrs May’s Magic 8 Ball which undoubtedly forms the basis of current government policy-making and Brexit negotiations…

If you have been…  keep watching this space!

 

 

Image credit:  Flickr/David Bergin

Open-ended Complex Policy Solving

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“Mr Glibbly: Please just get rid of this stupid, unworkable EBacc policy – we don’t want anything in exchange for it”

You may, or may well have not, noticed that All Change Please! has been strangely quiet recently. That’s mainly because there has been Very Little Change Please! about in terms of education over the past few months, and also, as several commentators have noticed, the world of politics is now far more self-satirical than your actual satire can ever be.

Anyway, All Change Please! has recently been thinking about all these proposed Governmental Policies that have recently issued forth and then been sent back in again because they weren’t working or indeed wanted, and started wondering who actually writes them and whether they have the faintest idea what they are actually proposing?

In most organisations, institutions and businesses, everything starts and ends with policy. A policy is a positive principle to guide decisions and achieve required outcomes. Policies tend to be determined by those ‘at the top’, to be put into practice by Senior Managers and passed down through middle managers to the worker-ants below. Policy determines what should and shouldn’t be done, what is and isn’t acceptable, and most importantly, if funding will be provided for it. If something contradicts policy, it just can’t be done – it’s as simple as that. Policy says No! This often makes innovation within management structures difficult, because any significant change is likely to involve reviewing and rewriting policy.

Good policy statements are crucial to success, and it would therefore seem to make sense to invest time, resources and expertise into ensuring they are going to be effective, appropriate, and above all, deliverable. Yet in practice, that’s rarely what happens. Most policy statements, while perhaps laudable in their intent, are prepared with little reference to the practicalities of their implementation or the effect they might have. They are often written by academics, administrators and civil servants with little experience of reality or how to actually set about successfully solving complex, open-ended problems. Too many high-flying academic students leave school and Russell Group Universities for senior positions in management or politics with next-to-no understanding or experience of real-world problem-solving and communication.

Indeed the policy-writing process seems to be: identify the problem, consider options, make decisions, publish and implement. This bears a certain resemblance to what is known more widely as the problem-solving process – but with one major difference, in that there is no attempt to model, test, evaluate and iterate possible solutions before and while they are being implemented. Further difficulties often occur when a policy is then briefed and specified because those charged with doing so are insufficiently trained or experienced in defining and effectively communicating the parameters of what can and can’t be done to achieve the desired outcome.

Here’s an insider account account of the policy writing process: The Mysteries of Government Policy. To summarise the author’s account of the way it works:

1. Ignore all past documents on the subject to give yourself a fresh perspective.

2. To upset stakeholders, send the draft out for comment but delay consultation until after the draft has been finalised and too late to change.

3. To ensure it is already out-dated, delay publication by taking as long as possible to respond to comments to the consultation in full.

4. Maximise publicity for the policy release, but try to ensure no-one knows it was written by you.

5. Sit back and watch as people discover that the policy is almost impossible to implement and creates more problems than before it was decided that a new policy was needed.

Meanwhile back in school, let’s take the familiar example of a Behaviour Policy. Often carefully and clearly worded by the SMT it’s published in the handbook and staff and students are expected to abide by it. Except of course in many cases they don’t. That’s because in the reality of the classroom, corridor and playground it’s not as simple as that. To be successful, a good policy needs to be supported on a daily basis by SMT who will need to spend time evaluating how well it is working and what the problems are, and then developing and continually evolving the policy as circumstances change. There also needs to be opportunity for staff and student participation in the process. It may well be that both staff and students need assistance or training in understanding how to apply the policy and how it only works if everyone follows it. If only creating Government Policy worked this way…

Similarly, a manufacturing company would never proceed to invest in the production of a million or so newly designed widgets unless it was absolutely sure they worked properly, that there was a popular market for them, that they could be effectively distributed, and made and sold profitably. And future models would be continually updated to increase sales or encourage repeat purchases. But for some reason this rational approach just doesn’t seem to apply to Government Policy-making.

And here’s OFSTED’s Amanda Spielman announcing that perhaps their policies over the past 25 years have not been successful as they should have been, and in future a bit more participation with teachers and researchers might just be a good idea.  But as Michelle Hanson points out, the damage has already been well and truly done.

Until a way is found to improve the way the Df-ingE formulates future government policy through stakeholder participation, extensive trials, rigorous evaluation and a commitment to support long-term support and review, desirable change in what goes on in our schools is unlikely to happen. And in the meanwhile it seems crazy that at present there is no structured or coordinated programme of teaching and learning problem-identification and problem-solving for all children in our schools. A little bit of creativity wouldn’t go amiss either. But of course that can’t happen until it becomes policy…

 

Image credit: Flickr/Policy Exchange

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.

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

A New Grammar Comprehensive in Every Town

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All Change Please! is perhaps best known for its satirical announcements of surreal Df-ingE policies that attempt to reveal them for the nonsense the real ones are. But this time All Change Please! has a truly serious suggestion to make.

Before it does so though it is important to be aware that Df-ingE policy is never derived from even its lack of understanding of the reality of teaching and learning going on in our schools. Much of what they do involves little more than a re-branding exercise in which the name is changed but the processes of teaching and learning remain the same. It’s all politically-motivated spin intended to reassure its loyal Daily Mail readers that the government is successfully putting the Great back into Britain so that the electorate will put the Tories back into Government when the next general election finally occurs.

But currently it seems that Mrs May or May Not is facing considerable criticism of the new school funding arrangements and of her run-it-up-the-flagpole policy of reintroducing grammar schools. So without further ado, here’s All Change Please! very helpful suggestion…

All Change Please!‘s proposal is that Mrs May or May Not should announce the introduction of special new ‘Grammar Comprehensives‘ in every town. These will be existing comprehensives or academies that agree to set up special grammar-school streams in which the academically-able will be exclusively taught. That way every child will potentially have access to Russell Group universities, and individuals can easily transfer across streams at any appropriate time. Selection for the stream will be sometime during the first term, based on teacher assessment rather than test, thus meaning that wealthy parents will not be able to play the system by paying for extra tuition. At the same time, the money saved from setting up new grammar schools can be diverted into re-balancing the school funding crisis for all.

If the idea were to be adopted it could be spun in the Daily Mail as a brilliant innovative Tory initiative that will both significantly improve social mobility and save school budgets. It really is a win-win solution!

Meanwhile, once the sign at the school gates has been suitably altered, of course schools, teachers and students will simply and quietly get on with what the majority of them have already been doing for years anyway. And all it takes is a change of name.

But perhaps All Change Please! should keep its idea to itself, lest the Df-ingE start to get a reputation for doing something sensible and thereby help the Tories get returned in the next election? So for now, perhaps better to keep the suggestion to yourself….

Image credit: DC Thompson

No-levels 4U

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‘Now That’s What I Call Learning’ Vol 1954

All Change Please! has recently learnt that following on from the introduction of new Tech-levels, the Df-ingE have just announced an award for those who students do not manage to achieve A-levels or T-levels. They will be taken by around 50% of teenagers and be known as No-levels – also referred to as FA-levels. There will be a special FA* award to recognise the achievements of those who have been unable to produce any evidence at all of having learned anything from their complete failure – an essential skill deficiency required by many British companies.

Employers have welcomed the new No-level qualification, saying that it will make it easier for them to identify potential staff who will work for next to nothing on zero hours contracts for job opportunities that will become increasingly difficult to fill post-Brexit.

To help explain the new No-levels to the target group of learners – who obviously will have difficulty reading – the Df-ingE has delved deep into its archive and re-published a helpful, slightly updated, mobile-phone friendly information graphic from the mid 1950s…

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“They think it’s all over…it is now!”

Meanwhile in another leaked social-exclusion-busting policy intended to help the Tory party better connect with its grass roots, it is believed that the Df-ingE are proposing to introduce a new approach to School League Tables. At the end of every school year, or season, the bottom performing 10% of ‘Premier League’ Grammar Schools will be relegated to become ‘Championship’ Technical schools, from where the top 10% will be promoted. And similarly the bottom 10% from the Technical Schools will be demoted to be ‘League One’ Secondary Moderns to be replaced by the most successful from the lower league.

To make the Government’s education policy even more popular, schools will participate in televised ‘Top Of The Form’ type play-offs for promotion. There will be a special knock-out examination for schools with the highest number of FA* level students, to be called the FA* Cup.

To increase funding, the various leagues will be sponsored by successful Multi-Academy Trusts. Headteachers will be renamed Managers – and doubtless be sacked at frequent intervals – and Ofsted Inspectors will in future be (politely) known as Referees.

A spokesperson for the Association of School Managers said: “It’s a completely absurd idea – it shows just how little the Df-ingE understand about teaching and learning. Next they will be suggesting something completely ridiculous such as lowering the entry pass marks for pupils of Grammar School …”  Oh! Wait a minute.

 

Image credits: From Odhams Children’s Encyclopedia, first published in 1954  – the internet equivalent of the day (minus the pornography)

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