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.

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

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

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

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

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

And of course there’s also comparative judgement

Image credits:  Top  Flickr/jimjarmo   Middle  Wikimedia Antoine Taveneaux

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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Lord Gnasher does his business

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Lord Nash is Parliamentary Under Secretary in a State for Schools and, by complete coincidence, a donator of £300,000 to the Tory party. He was a successful venture capitalist for 30 years, and therefore is eminently qualified to know everything there is to know about teaching and learning and the world of education, as All Change Please! has previously revealed.

Wishing to share his extensive experience and expertise in the classroom Lord Gnasher recently gave a speech on “what is relevant in business to education” at a conference. According to the TES he advised that:

“…schools could also learn from business by embracing “standardisation” through multi-academy trusts (MATs) – particularly in the areas of curriculum content and lesson planning.

“I think in the past too often teachers have confused their individuality with their professionalism,” he said.

“Being a professional means embracing accountability, standardisation and consistency, although of course we want our teachers to be inspiring.”

Using standardised content would allow teachers to focus on delivery and differentiation, and would reduce workload, he argued. He said it was impossible to “run an organisation of any size and any diversity, efficiently and effectively if you haven’t got consistent procedures”.

In another amazing coincidence Lord Nash also runs the Future multi-academies chain and his wife is a governor at all four of Future’s schools, including being chair or co-chair at three of them.

And as Philip Hammond gets down to the business of meeting the urgent need for a dramatic increase in the Post-Brexit technical skills and training, don’t be fooled by his spin-worthy budget announcement of supposedly all-new revolutionary and ambitious T-Levels, which by means of a magical change of name and throwing loadsa money at the problem will instantly make everything wonderful again, just as a string of remarkably similar initiatives over the past 20 years hasn’t.

While the majority of non-academic children who will be increasingly branded as Grammar School and EBacc failures continue to become completely alienated from the whole formal education system by the age of 16, simply extending the length of their second-class ‘practical’ courses at the local Tech isn’t going to be terribly effective: it’s not more quantity that’s needed, it’s more quality.  And some mention of the vital need to develop collaborative problem-solving and transferable learning skills might have been encouraging, given that the forthcoming increase in automation is going to mean that today’s students are going to need to able to adapt to work across multiple trades and professions during their lifetime.

Not unsurprisingly, while..

‘The proposals will include a “bridging provision”, so if someone chooses to go down the T-level route but decides they want to change and opt for a more academic education there will be some flexibility in the system.’ (iNews)

it sounds very much like a one-way bridge. What we also need is flexibility for someone who has chosen to go down the academic route but wants to change for a more technical education.

 

Meanwhile another businessperson – Gavin O’Meara, the CEO at FEnews.co.uk has been far more sensibly telling it like it really is…:

“Schools need to offer more vocational subjects at an earlier stage. Generally, these subjects are not offered until GCSE level and most young people don’t take anything vocational until 6th form or college. There are many young people who don’t take any vocational subjects throughout their school career! Even when vocational subjects are taken at GCSE, A Levels or College they are often not seen as ‘intelligent’ subjects or they are seen as easier options to more traditional subjects such as History or English Literature. This mindset is completely wrong and needs to change.

We not only need to offer more vocational subjects from a younger age so that people can study topics which will help them to get a job, we also need to change the general conceptions and assumptions that people hold of vocational subjects. They should be regarded as equal with other subjects by Universities and employers rather than ‘cop outs’.

Schools need to stop pushing University onto students as the be all and end all of having a good career. 60% of young people aren’t interested.”

and O’Meara ends with four easy-to-grasp key points which should be simple enough for even the most academic professor, businessperson or member of the Df-ingE to understand:

• Encourage vocational subjects, not just academic.

• Include more vocational training throughout the school career.

• University is not for everyone. Encourage apprenticeships and alternative pathways.

• Get social! Add social media to the syllabus and encourage young people to build their own brand.

And last but not least on the subject of business and education, do enjoy watching this clip of Lily Eskelesen Garcia, an actual former teacher who now works at the US National Education Association leading 3 million teachers. It’s not just what she has to say that’s inspiring, it’s the way that she says it – an outstanding example of public speaking.

Meanwhile this is what Garcia had to say about the need to stop the high-stakes testing obsession in public education and move toward educating the whole child. Are you listening Lord Gnasher? No, we didn’t think you were…

Image credit: Wikipedia

7-Up + 300

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

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

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

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

This year’s Top 3 most read posts were:

1. Pass Notes: Art Attack! 

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

2. Little Miss Morgan

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

3. No Minister! No, No, No.

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

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

1. Curriculum Noir 3 

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

2. What a Wonderful World

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

3. Twenty Fifty One

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

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

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

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 7up image credit: Flickr/Kevin Dooley

Pass Notes: A History of Art Attacks

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L.H.O.O.Q.,  Marcel Duchamp (1919)

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

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

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

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

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

Ah yes. I blame that cheeky Michael Gove chappie.

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

So whose fault is it then?

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

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

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

Proceed, I prithee. I’m listening…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A State of Atrophy

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On the basis that good design is so simples that children can do it and so there’s no need to employ experienced professionals, the Queen has launched a competition for teenagers to design a trophy for a valuable engineering prize.

Meanwhile it is believed that to save money the Government are also considering launching various competitions for teenagers with big boxes of LEGO prizes for the winners, including unpaid cabinet internships (except for winners from Scotland). Design Challenges include:

  • A Powerpoint presentation of a completely new economic model for post-Brexit Britain.
  • A poster featuring a highly memorable slogan that will fully persuade Remoaners that the future is going to be wonderful.
  • A new education system that will prepare children for mass unemployment from 2020 onwards.
  • Innovative NHS resources made from old cereal packets and sticky-backed plastic
  • An attractive and environmentally sensitive 3 metre high barrier to separate Britain from Scotland, to be known as Sturgeons Wall.
  • Portable survival shelters for all foreigners currently living in the UK.
  • A cheaper alternative to Marmite.

In reality of course, All Change Please! has no doubt that a group of teenagers – the ones that will inherit the current mess – would probably come up with far better solutions to these latter challenges than the so-called adults in charge at present.

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Meanwhile in other news, Wikipedia politely describes the advent of ‘F*ck Me‘ Shoes as “a derisive slang term for women’s high-heeled shoes that exaggerate a sexual image. The term can be applied to any women’s shoes that are worn with the intention of arousing others.”

At the recent Tory Party Conference however, Maggie May – well known for her enthusiasm for new shoes – kicked off her speech by walking on stage wearing a new exaggerated style of footwear. These were an aggressive pair of extremely hard steel-capped boots, to be known in the future as ‘F*ck You’ shoes and worn with the sole intention of intimidating others.

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And finally, in some Breaking News, former accountant and All Change Please! favourite Nick Glibbly is in the running for a Nobel Trophy for mathematics after today announcing the results of his years of research at the Df-ingE that have let him to the startling and unexpected conclusion that “We need to recruit sufficient numbers of teachers to match the increasing number of pupils.

Fool’s Gold

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“In a further bid to learn from the Olympics, the Df-ingE recently announced that in future educational institutions would be awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze medals…”

Now you could be forgiven for assuming that this was the start of yet another All Change Please! post making pertinent analogies between the way success at the Olympic Games and the Education Games are rewarded, – but on this occasion you’d be utterly wrong. Because this time it’s for real…

Yes it seems that someone in the Df-ingE has been secretly reading All Change Please! on an iPad hidden in between the pages of The Beano, but hasn’t yet realised that linking the Olympics and Learning is not an entirely serious suggestion.

English universities to be ranked gold, silver and bronze

All Change Please! had to check the calendar just to check it wasn’t April Fools’ Day as it read the DfE’s latest Billy Whizz-bang proposal to award gold, silver and bronze medals to universities.

Presumably Gold medals will be mainly awarded to a select few Russell Group Universities that can manage to do lots of theoretical research and occasionally also provide a few tedious academic lectures. The rest that offer ‘high levels of stretch’ will get Silver medals, except of course for the former Polytechnics (that still tend to concentrate more on practical, useful things and services that people actually need) who will get consolation ‘must try harder’ Bronze medals. And after the Gold Medalists have paraded through the streets of their home cities in an open-top bus and had a high-speed train named after them, they will then be allowed to increase their fees accordingly.

And how long will it be before a similar system is applied to schools? Presumably there will be Gold Medal Schools (aka Grammars), Silver Schools (Comprehensives), Bronze Schools (Technical Highs) and Secondary Moderns (Failed to qualify)?

 

So, while – according to the Sunday Times – “May fires Brexit starting gun“, this is another leading education story that seems to set to run and run with Team Df-ingE clearly on track for another record-breaking disqualification in the credibility event.

Team Df-ingE are Going for Gold

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In a few days time our TV screens will be saturated with coverage of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, and All Change Please! can’t help but be reminded of its very first post, published on the 28th October 2009 – so long ago that Labour were still in power. Sadly little has changed since then, except that ‘Gold’ has now been re-cast as ‘EBacc’. Here’s an extract:

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.

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.

Since then, Nick Glibb’s Team Df-ingE’s EBacc has if anything made the situation even worse, as the latest announcement by the Olympic Games Committee reveals:

“In the latest attempt to further increase standards at the Olympic Games, and to provide greater opportunities for less wealthy athletes to win gold medals, we are announcing that in future 90% of athletes will be expected to enter for a broad and balanced range of seven gold medal competitive speed running events. Participants wishing to enter for further non-running based ‘soft’ bronze competitions and recreational team sports may do so if they wish, providing they still have enough time and energy left.”

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“Just think, if we’d been allowed to enter for the Shot Put instead of the 400 meters we might have won a medal!”

Lower image credit: Flickr/TiareScott