Prison Break Time

 

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The curious similarities between prisons and schools have recently been the subject of a number of Blog posts, including Rough Justice by All Change Please! and Learners Voice by Graham Brown-Martin. Indeed it seems almost too much of a co-incidence that Michael Gove has moved from being in charge of schools to being in charge of prisons.

Perhaps more surprising is Gove’s for once very sensible acceptance of the recommendation that education needs to be an important part of life in prison, and to this end he has endorsed “in-cell technology, such as iPads, so prisoners can learn independently”.  All of which seems at odds with the general approach to the use of IT in schools which is that it is unhelpful to learning. At the same time some prisoners will only be required to spend the weekend in jail.

Rod Clark, chief executive of the Prisoners’ Education Trust, is reported to have said: “For too long, schools in England and Wales have languished in a pre-internet dark age, with children struggling to find a computer to type on, let alone gain internet access.”  However, this was quickly corrected as he continued: “I’m sorry, I’ll read that again –  For too long, jails in England and Wales have languished in a pre-internet dark age, with prisoners struggling to find a computer to type on, let alone gain internet access.”

In further developments All Change Please! can’t help wondering when it will be announced that in future Judges will be able to decide whether to send convicted criminals to prison – or instead for more serious offenders, to schools?

After being sentenced John ’Stick-em-up’ Smith said:

“I knew robbing banks might land me in the Nick one day, but my sentence is well out of order – I’ve got to spend the next ten years in a school where there is no wi-fi access, no Skype and laptops are banned. I just don’t know how I’m going to cope with being completely cut off from the world like that – I was maybe expecting solitary confinement in prison, but at least with fast fibre broadband in my cell. And I have to attend five full days a week, not just at weekends. And then there’s all that homework and the rigorous academic EBacc… It’s just inhumane – my lawyer has advised me to appeal to the court of human rights.”

Meanwhile in the Queen’s Speech it was also announced that semi-autonomous “reform prisons” will result in groups of prisons being run by a single governor in the same way that academies have turned into chains of schools.

All Change Please! imagines this will make it easier for the poor and non-academic to make a smoother direct transition from Primary and Secondary Multi Academy Trusts to Multi Prison Trusts. Indeed, to increase CEO salaries, MATs will doubtless be encouraged to share resources and administration systems by building Reform Prisons on the same sites as Academies.

Image credit: The US Youth Justice Coalition

Up, up and away…?

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If 1967 was the Summer of Love, then 1976 was the Summer of Hot. Forty years ago, the 1976 UK summer produced the warmest and longest-lasting average temperatures since records began: the sky was always blue and the sun shone brightly for months on end, resulting in drought conditions that prompted the provocative slogan ‘Save Water, Bath With A Friend‘. There’s never been a summer quite like it since.

1976 was also the same year Concorde took to the skies with supersonic speed, the space shuttle Enterprise was unveiled in California and the new Intercity 125 trains took to the tracks. James Hunt won the World Motor Racing Championship, and Jobs and Wozniak founded Apple, though no-one paid much attention at the time. The futuristic Pompidou Centre was nearing completion in Paris. Star Wars was coming. James Callaghan became Prime Minister. Brotherhood of Man won the Eurovision Song Contest while Jonny Rotten quietly muttered a rude word on live TV. Things were definitely on the up. And OFSTED was just a twinkle in some aspiring Tory politician’s eye. Yes, those were the days. We thought they’d never end.

And it just so happens that it was in September 1976 when a young, keen and eager All Change Please! spent a week observing in a typical comprehensive school as part of its far from left-wing Marxist PGCE course. Initially it was surprised that what was going on hadn’t changed much since it had been at school itself, as much as five years before. It noted down in its special file that while there were still some disaffected students being pushed through inappropriate O level subjects that ended with written examinations in the school gym, there were some promising and enterprising Mode 3 CSE courses that had been set up by some of the teachers, often responding to local needs. There was a growing awareness that traditional teaching wasn’t working well enough for all, and project-based learning and problem-solving were the new kids on the block that seemed to hold much promise for the future. The one obvious thing really holding a few of the children behind was a problem with basic literacy and numeracy, but surely that would get sorted out soon enough and things could really start to move ahead at supersonic speed?

Fast forward, or so it seemed, to the late 1970s and All Change Please!’s first teaching post and the first computers were arriving in schools – Commodore PETs and RM 380Zs, and the slightly geekier kids and their teachers were getting excited. There was talk about the day not so far away when it would be possible to read a book on a computer screen, create electronic artwork and perform complex calculations in the blink of an eye. And what was it going to be like when you could link these computers into a network? And just think of the potential these machines might have for helping children learn. The future was surely just around the corner…

At the time it’s probably a good job that no-one told All Change Please! that it was never going to happen, or it might just have given up and gone home. It never guessed that by the time it retired there would still be children who found reading, writing and arithmetic difficult, that there would still be a knowledge-based curriculum with problem-solving, child-centred, project-based learning being viewed with great suspicion and distrust, and that most computer-aided learning programs would be largely a waste of time, simply replicating tired and detested traditional approaches to teaching and being given the silly name of MOOCs. And worst of all that the curriculum and examinations would be dictated not be educationalists any more, but by The Party.

Sadly, as time wore on the optimistic Summer of ’76 dissipated and by late ’78 had somehow transformed into the Winter of Discontent and the subsequent inauguration of Thatcherism and the riots and inner-city ghost towns of the early 1980s, leading inevitably to the situation and circumstances we find ourselves in today. Even Concorde eventually ran out of steam.

The Information Age that was so clearly on the horizon in the 1970s is only just now getting under way. It’s finally beginning to disrupt the way we think, act and live our lives, and to fundamentally start to change the way we do things, and to have a much greater impact than the industrial revolution ever had on the agricultural age. It’s something our education system could and should have been preparing for since the late 1970s, but it hasn’t. Instead our top-down administrative-led organisations and political systems stuck their heads in the ground in the belief that IT and globalisation wouldn’t actually change anything in the future – or perhaps with the fear that it might. After all IT was believed to be ‘just another tool’ that helped automate existing processes, but wouldn’t actually change them. As a result things are now evolving so quickly that our 20th Century systems and infrastructure just can’t cope with them. And Education seems intent on refusing to accept that the world is not the same as it once was, and continues to fail to develop its thinking about what needs to be learnt when, how and by whom. The time for debate about whether teaching should be traditional or progressive has long since passed. What really needs discussing is how our schools are going to completely re-invent themselves to meet the very different needs of future generations.

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Meanwhile, gazing through doubtless rose-tinted sunglasses, back in daily life in the summer of 1976 shops were shut on Sundays which gave everyone a welcome day of rest and family life. Working hours were more reasonable and there were no such things as performance targets. Houses didn’t cost the earth, especially for first-time buyers, enabling those in their early 20s to become home-owners. Public transport was cheap and plentiful, even if like now, it didn’t always run on time. There was less to choose from in the shops, but goods were made in Britain, and there were no complex calculations needed every year to work out which were the best and cheapest energy, tele-communications and insurance providers. And most of all and there wasn’t the pervasive atmosphere of fear, hate and conspicuous greed being thickly spread by politicians and the media. But neither were there flat-screen, multi-channel colour TVs, digital cameras, instant access to the world via mobile smart phones and tablets, online shopping or other ‘modern conveniences’ that somehow for some reason we can’t seem to live without today. 

So was daily life better in 1976 than it is today? It’s impossible to say – some things have got better, and some things have got worse, and it very much depends on one’s particular individual circumstances at the time. It’s just that we did things differently then.

In Education however, it seems that most things have not only stayed the same but have got worse. And that goes for everybody, no matter what their circumstances.

So All Change Please! is just going to go to the beach instead, and stick its head in the sand…

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Image credits: Flickr Commons/ Roger W, Derek Gavey, LetsGoOut

 

Twenty Fifty One

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‘Tis the season to be merry, but that’s not so easy given all the current financial cuts to public services and the DfE’s educational policies. Accordingly this year’s All Change Please! Longread Festive Post is an extract from Chancellor George ‘Ozzy’ Oswell’s little known dystopian novel Twenty Fifty One, which he wrote some 36 years ago in 2015 as an exploration of the impact of what he anticipated would be a never-ending period of austerity, hate and terror. In this fragment, recently recovered from a partly vapourised copy found near a memory hole, we learn about the work of MiniFed – the Ministry of Education – and its continuing attempts to obliterate the idea of progressive education from history.

Some have suggested that there might have been a deliberate connection with George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty Four, by co-incidence also written 36 years earlier in 1948. In case there are those (like All Change Please!) who have not re-read 1984 since they were at school, here’s a very brief re-cap…

The plot of 1984 involves Winston Smith, who while carefully maintaining a facade as a loyal outer party member, suspects that his true allegiance lies with the discredited Brotherhood who used to meet at the Chestnut Tree Cafe. O’Brien, an Inner Party member, lends him a copy of the supposedly destroyed writings of the Brotherhood, but he is secretly a member of the Thought Police. Eventually Winston is sent for treatment in a correction centre, where he learns to fully appreciate the care of Big Brother.

Along the way we learn that:

  • Room 101 is a torture chamber in which prisoners are made to confront their worst fears.
  • The telescreen is a two-way TV screen in every room that includes a surveillance camera that watches what everyone is doing, hence the phrase ‘Big Brother Is Watching You’.
  • The speakwrite is an automatic dictation device.
  • There is a state of permanent war with Eurasia.
  • The Party has three main slogans, which exemplify the idea of Doublethink:  WAR IS PEACE,  FREEDOM IS SLAVERY,  IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
  • The developing minimalistic language Newspeak uses contracted forms of old english intended to remove all shades of meaning to make thinking more automatic and controllable.

Essentially, Winston lives in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance and public manipulation of information, overseen by a small, privileged elite that persecutes individualism and independent thinking as thought crime. 1984 is not just a commentary on the emerging communist states, but of any totalitaritarian system in which a single party has excessive, unchallenged power.

But now, here’s the recovered extract from Oswell’s 2051:

Wisdom Smith paused, sitting back from his desk piled high with ink pencil-splattered exercise books and well-worn, brown paper covered, traditionally printed textbooks. Often he wondered why he bothered – just 2% of the children in his class would obtain the necessary grades to get in to a RussUni and become top ranking inner-party members, and only 13% would end up doing well enough in their EBacc exams to become middle party members like himself. The rest would have to make do with the worthless, low-status Pass-Level EBaccs (commonly known as PLEBs). Of course the officially- announced MiniFed figures stated that 90% of children were awarded the full High-level EBacc, and that each year the percentage rose as a result of an increase in Party control, but he knew that just couldn’t be true. In reality all MiniFed were doing was ensuring that the majority of the population remained uneducated, and that power would remain in the hands of the academic elite.

Wisdom decided he’d done enough marking for one evening. Somewhere in the back of his mind he still felt it hadn’t always been like this – once he had found teaching rewarding. Furthermore he had this notion that once long ago in the dark ages there used to be devices with the letters of the alphabet laid out in neat rows that you tapped on and the words somehow appeared on a screen in front of you and could be easily sent to someone else. He’d spent hours in the school library trying to find a reference to such magic, but without success and he had presumed it must just have been something he dreamt, along with the images of countless Unteachers, long since vaporised out of the profession. But if he squeezed his mind hard enough he thought he could vaguely remember some miraculous devices called – what were they? – smart-phones and iPads – long ago denounced as the disruptive work of The Blob and written out of history. Now there was just the Siri Speakwrite machine. 

And then surely around this time of winter there had been a festive holiday called Christmas which he dimly recalled as having been a jolly celebration but was now universally called Black Friday, followed immediately after by Cyber Monday when the tradition was that everyone went madly shopping and spent all their savings on worthless junk, though no-one seemed to know quite why or how it had started.

Suddenly the telescreen blared out, reminding everyone it was nearly time for the daily Two Minute Hate. As usual it began with a short video sequence from one of The Party’s most reviled conspirators and leader of the Robinsonhood who had once published a wicked, blasphemous book called Creative Schools: Revolutionizing Education from the Ground Up’, all copies of which had long since been vaporised. Just in case anyone was watching him, Wisdom dutifully shouted out the required number of Hates.

After the Two Minute Hate there was news item announcing the wonderful news that provision of ArtsEd in schools was to be doubled from one whole school former assembly time a week, to two (even though Wisdom knew that not so long ago it had been three sessions a week). This was followed by news about the great success of the latest bombing raids in Middle Eastonia. Finally, to calm the cheering masses down, a short nostalgic documentary followed, celebrating the very first Michaela School – now of course there were thousands of them spread all over the country.

Wisdom reflected again how the identical neat blue uniforms had obviously been the inspiration for the regulation blue overalls all party members now wore. And for perhaps the first time, Wisdom noticed the phrase KNOWLEDGE IS POWER on their school sign, which had become the first of the MiniFed’s own slogans, followed by BEHAVIOUR IS STRICT and EVERYTHING IS ACADEMIC.

As he gazed at the enormous poster on the classroom wall reminding everyone of the slogans, some alternative versions began to occur to him. He wondered if he dared write them down in his secret diary in case Big Ofsted was watching, as another large poster on the wall continually reminded him it was. The last thing he wanted was a visit from the Thought Police. Sometimes he wondered if Big Ofsted did actually exist, or if it was just another propaganda invention created by MiniFed and just there to perpetuate the culture of fear, obedience and hate. 

Nervously, as a spy-drone hovered near the window, he wrote down his alternative versions:

ACTION IS POWER

LEARNING IS MESSY

EVERYTHING IS AWESOME

As well as teaching, Wisdom worked part-time re-writing education history, closely following the instructions he was given from above. It was indeed he who had drafted the now universally accepted text blaming the Robinsonhood for the disastrous and rapid decline in standards that children were exposed to in the late 20th and early 21st century as the result of widespread progressive education, and that as a result Robinsonism must be completely and finally eliminated. Indeed the history books and journals now recorded the successful rise and victory of Govism which was gratefully welcomed by the entire teaching profession who had been clamouring for such reforms for decades. Of course, few people realised that Gove himself had never actually existed, having been a clever invention of the MiniFed propaganda department. 

Wisdom left the building to attend his compulsory weekly Hour of Code session. Everyone was required to spend this time in the attempt to try and learn trying to learn how to code in two different out-dated programming languages. There seemed no sensible reason for this as the vast majority did not possess the necessary aptitude, and there was hardly anyone able to teach it. However it had become an established tradition introduced in the Govian era even though no-one knew why or saw any purpose in it.

The MiniFed were of course experts in Doublethink propaganda. They continually repeated completely misleading statements that simply reversed the truth, such as:

  • Thanks to the education reforms of the past 5 years, significant progress has been made in raising standards in England’s schools.
  • Poor quality qualifications have been removed from performance tables so pupils are leaving school with those most valued by employers and universities
  • New, gold-standard GCSEs and A Levels will equip young people with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the modern world
  • The introduction of the EBacc has had no effect on Arts education
  • There is no recruitment crisis
  • There has never been a better time to be a teacher

Over the years Wisdom had come to understand that there was no point sitting around waiting for the Robinsonhood to rise up again – the Party was just too strong and clever to ever allow that to happen. The only thing he could do was to quietly break the rules as often as possible when no-one was looking. He now realised that while the Nationally-imposed Party Curriculum defined what must be taught and tested, it did not include a list of things that must not be taught and need not be tested.

Unfortunately the fragment of recovered text ends here, but there a few people still alive who remember reading Oswell’s novel, and have provided the following account of how it ended:

O’Glibbly was a smooth-talking member of the Inner Party who Wisdom believed was, like himself, an undercover member of the Robinsonhood. One day Wisdom foolishly decided to show him his forbidden diary with his alternative slogans, but O’Glibbly then revealed himself as a secret agent of the Thought Police. As a result Wisdom ended up in the OFSTED Re-education Centre Classroom 101, where he was forced to confront his greatest fears – supervising hours and hours of cover lessons with no work set, week-long mindless exam supervision sessions, writing endless lesson plans that would never be used, and compiling copious irrelevant data about his pupils. After being suitably brainwashed he was allowed to return to a compliant existence in the spreading Michaela Chestnut Tree Academy, for which he is now grateful.

So how well did Orwell and Oswell’s novels foresee the world as it is today, in 2051? As inventions and innovations of the 20th century showed, it’s relatively easy to predict the future – it’s working out the timescales involved that’s difficult. Although the projected dates of both Orwell and Oswell’s novel titles were intended to be notional rather than precise, it’s interesting to consider that while Orwell’s future took some 70 years to materialise, Oswell’s had become a reality by 2020.

In many ways their predictions were worryingly accurate, but there were several things Oswell missed, or perhaps chose to miss. First that it was not so much Big Ofsted that would be watching, but Big Data that came to define the learning experiences of most children, with each telescreen question delivered by the Pearsonalised Quick Smart Total Teach And Test system (known as TOTAT), finely adjusted to match the global levels of knowledge recall expected of a child born on that particular date.

And secondly that Ofsted had of course realised that informing teachers that they were being watched made them too careful about giving away any secret association with the Robinsonhood. Instead they decided to permit teachers to have access to networked computers (though smart phones and tablets are still considered to be far too disruptive for children to use), and promoted the Doublethink message that teachers would no longer be observed in the classroom – while in reality, every email they sent or received, every internet search they made and every blog post they read was closely and secretly monitored. As a result, many more teachers suddenly and inexplicably ‘left’ the profession, mysteriously to never be seen or heard of again, leading to the severe teacher shortages that dominated the latter half of the second decade of the century.

Which means of course that if you’ve read this far, you can probably expect a visit from the Thought Police in the very near future….

Until then, Merrymas and Hapyear one and all!

Image credit: Flickr: Tim Rich  / Shepard Fairey / Tristram Shepard

Now We Are Six

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jones: Oh, the National Theatre, I thought you meant the Grand National and there was a horse called Stoppard who was a good jumper, and there were two other horses they’d had to put down.  (from Beginners Please! in which Smith and Jones are discussing the merits of Nick Glibbly’s suggestion that all children need to be able to understand plays performed at the London Doner Kebab Warehouse)

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

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

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

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

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

 

And finally:

“Now We Are Six”

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

Author: A.A. Milne

Image credit: Wikimedia

Schools should keep children away from the Daily Mail

8074294232_4e69b89084_k-1s“What do you mean, where’s the switch to turn your slates on?”

Up to its usual trick of simply re-drafting articles written by other newspapers, that devious, despicable, malicious Daily Mail recently produced some shouty headlines proclaiming:

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The subsequent article states that Bennett said that the cost to taxpayers when iPads are broken is ‘horrific’, and that he even believes there is ‘absolutely no need’ for children to have access to the Internet, adding: ‘Kids are kids – they will see things you don’t want them to see.’

Apparently Bennett also criticised teachers who told children to use the internet to complete homework, which he described as like ‘sending them to a library without a librarian‘. He also added that it was a teacher’s duty to point out mistakes on the web.

However, a few days later, the Great Behaviour Saviour ‘Please don’t call me a Tsar’ Tsar took to the TES to earnestly inform us that he didn’t actually say any of those things the Daily Mail said he did. Which makes it all a bit confusing – who is All Change Please! to believe? Anyway, based on the Tsar’s myth-busting TES article here’s All Change Please!’s surprising suggested set of alternative up-dated attention-grabbing headlines…

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But of course it’s all come too late to prevent the Df-ingE getting all excited and using it as an excuse to launch an investigation into the impact of allowing mobile phones in the classroom, which apparently includes ‘tablets’, even though they are somewhat different devices with far more educational benefits. Quite why an investigation is needed is a bit of a puzzle to All Change Please!, because it seems fairly obvious that if lessons and the curriculum are relevant to children’s needs, interests and abilities and are well planned and delivered then they won’t have any desire to become distracted in the first place? And if a teacher can’t manage to insist that mobile phones must be kept switched off during lesson times, then maybe they shouldn’t be in the classroom in the first place? Perhaps it’s the impact of allowing teachers in the classroom that needs to be investigated, and it’s the poor teachers who should be banned instead of the mobile phones?

Meanwhile there has also been the Mail’s stunning ‘right to know’ expose about the exact same Behaviour Tsar’s alleged misbehaviour in allowing the nightclub he managed to become too noisy, even when it wasn’t open.

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Interestingly though the headline writer somehow failed to add a final, and rather important, bullet point taken from the article, which should have read:

• However he denied all charges and accepted compensation for unfair dismissal.

Meanwhile in other news that proves that you don’t have to be mad to be a headteacher but it probably helps, it seems that these days what really matters is the size of one’s pencil case and ruler. And then there’s this suggestion that all children should be learning the same thing and the same time in the same way.

All Change Please! decided to undertake some virtually unreal digging, and somehow managed to convince itself it had found the following letter in the archives of the Times newspapers.

Dateline: September 1915. The London Times Letters page.

Sir. – It has come to my attention that schools are now in the habit of providing children with these new mass-produced pencils and notepad devices which seem to becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to the tried and tested slate. I have been so informed that they often use them as a distraction to play noughts and crosses on, and to write messages to each other which often contain offensive words and rude comments about their teachers. In some of the worst and most unruly schools they have also used them to draw rude depictions of famous women on. It is my opinion that they are used far too often as a pacifier by teachers who can’t control classes. Whilst I am convinced these new pencil and paper devices are no more than a passing fad, writing on them should only be allowed with the greatest caution and only when supervised and directed by an academically well-qualified and experienced teacher. Of course it will also be essential to regularly check that pencils and associated carrying devices are of the correct length and of uniform colour, adding significantly to the teacher’s workload.

There is no research evidence to support ideas that using pencils and paper aids a child’s education, and the cost to taxpayers of replacing these throw-away items on a regular basis is horrific. There are those who say children should be given pencils and paper because they enjoy learning with them, but the reality is that they just enjoy using pencils and paper. Parents who allow their children to stay up late writing and drawing with the result that they arrive at school tired should have scholarship money withdrawn.

The traditional slate is of the ideal size, proportion, weight and appearance to work with, and it is my sincere hope that one day schools will sensibly return to some sort of similar device that can be used with or without one of these new ‘pencils’.

Meanwhile I am also of the firm belief that there is absolutely no need for children to have access to encyclopedias from which they are likely to learn about things we do not necessarily want them to. Teachers must cease telling children to refer to them to complete their homework, which is like guiding them to a library without a librarian. Teachers also have a duty to point out the frequent mistakes that occur in them.

Finally I would like to support the appointment of the new schools’ behaviour tsar, despite the fact that he was apparently previously sacked from his position as a Soho ’Free and Easy’ Drinkshop manager after he allegedly failed to control the disorderly working classes who refused to sit still and in complete silence whilst enjoying the specified refreshments and entertainment made available at the correct time, and as defined by the National Consumption Curriculum. Apparently the complaints all came from a single teacher who routinely complained about noise coming from adjacent rooms, even when they were empty.

Yours, &c.,

No Change Please!

 

Image Credit: Flickr/Angus Kirk

 

200 posts that failed to change the world

5679642883_24a2e905e0_zJust checked. Yes, pretty much still the same as always.

When it was young, all All Change Please! wanted to do was to change the world. And as it grew into middle age it still wanted to change the world, although it had decided that changing education would probably be enough to be getting on with for now. And now, as it eases into retirement and becomes ever closer to being no more than a long forgotten series of ones and zeros drifting blissfully unaware in The Cloud, it still has vague hopes that someone, somewhere is still reading its rants and raves.

For today, believe it or not, All Change Please! is 200 posts old, and as it deftly removes its invisible cloak of modesty it can reveal that over the years its ramblings have had over 20,000 views, though how many viewers actually stopped to read and think is, of course, another matter.

Quickly picking up All Change Please!‘s well thumbed copy of ‘1001 Blog Posts You Must Write Before You Die‘ in an attempt to come up with a good way of making its celebratory post a bit longer, it glances through the introductory advice, which by a remarkable coincidence says that the great secret to getting more readers is to give a post a title with a number at the start. So observing the number of successful books that now seem to begin with a number, All Change Please! waits with keen anticipation in the hope that ‘200 posts that failed to change the world‘ will shortly start trending on Twitter.

At the same time though, All Change Please! can’t help lamenting the passing of the real book title, and is pondering setting up a ‘Real Book Title’ campaign. Just imagine, for example, if the marketing departments of the publishers of some of our greatest authors had managed to convince them otherwise we might now be reading:

  • 1,984 Things That Might Happen In The Future by George Orwell
  • 501 Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • 250 Grapes by John Steinbeck
  • 42 by Douglas Adams
  • 15th March by George Elliot
  • 007 by Ian Fleming

And here are a couple that obviously did get through:

  • 1001 (Arabian) Nights
  • 101 Dalmations by Dodie Smith

Meanwhile, as a result, perhaps not unexpectedly given All Change Please!’s years in educational publishing, it can proudly reveal that it has come up with yet another great idea for a book that is never likely to see the light of day. It’s cleverly and provocatively entitled ‘1001 Things You Don’t Need To Learn At School Anymore‘, and essentially it contains 1001 facts that can now easily be looked up on the internet when you actually need to know them. So for example, it’s no longer necessary for everyone to remember the names of the planets and the order in which they orbit the sun (just search for: names, planets, order).

But the real value of the book lies in something we really should be addressing, which is identifying the things children do now actually need to learn at school, which in the above example might be that the Earth is one of a number of planets that orbit the sun. The internet has created a new hierarchy of knowledge and understanding that ought to be changing everything we teach and learn in schools.

Or, to take another example, it’s not important for children to know that Michael Gove is the Secretary of State for Education. But what is essential is that they, and their parents, know that the irrelevant curriculum and out-dated assessment methods he is imposing are seriously damaging their futures.

But for now, All Change Please! just plans to keep taking its pills…

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Rest assured that All Change Please! will resume normal service later in the week when it will comment wisely on Gove’s latest series of pronouncements.

Infotragic?

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In All Change Please!‘s Campaign For Real 21st Century Education post it discussed the skills and learning involved in so-called 21st Century Education. Then in Memorable Open Online Coffee it looked at how online learning was shaping up. It’s easy to get the impression that schools as we know them are about to go the way of the dinosaur. In this post it wonders how far away we are from the moment of meteoric impact.

To begin with though, many thanks to Alison Morris, who kindly suggested that All Change Please! might like to feature the impressive infographic above that she had recently created. As with all good Infographics it’s creatively visualised to make a series of fascinating facts more accessible, interesting and informative, and this one is no exception. But the problem with most Infographics is not the graphics, it’s the info. Facts From Figures. Lies, damned lies, and statistics. It all depends on who you ask, what you ask them and which data you choose to present. Doesn’t it Minister?

Even taking into account the figures in the Infographic above are from USA schools, All Change Please! finds them a bit unlikely. Indeed the figures quoted in the first listed source were obtained from a survey that ‘spanned 503 web-based interviews with US pre-K-12 teachers’, i.e. 503 teachers who were already internet users. And it needs to be noted that the Infographic was commissioned by an organisation called Online Universities, who provide a promotional online resource for students interested in going to college online.

Now, of course All Change Please! belongs to a bygone era when the only educational technologies it had available when it first started teaching were paper, pens, pencil and ink, some well-worn textbooks, and occasional access to a slide and film-strip projector and OHP (Overhead Projector for the uninitiated). It happily relied on Banda machines and Gestetner stencils at a time when photocopiers and VCRs (Video Cassette Recorders) were still something yet to be. My, how times have changed. Or have they?

In the UK the figures in schools are thought to be more like a twenty to thirty percent positive uptake of new and emerging educational information technologies. Meanwhile many schools still ban the use of mobile devices, while a good number of teachers still reluctantly only use computers for their own admin work. It’s true that some teachers love technology and use it effectively, but most of the ones All Change Please! meet use it poorly, or not at all, and have yet to understand how to adjust their pedagogy accordingly. That’s not to say that students don’t potentially benefit from educational technologies, more that they are often discouraged or prevented from doing so. Few schools have good wi-fi access in every classroom.

In reality too many UK schools still rely on computer suites inherited from the 1990s, where IT is isolated in a single space. There is of course the BYOD movement. What does BYOD stand for you probably aren’t particularly wondering?  Why, ‘Bring Your Own Device of course’. One day, maybe, today’s smart phones will be as cheap and disposable as a pocket calculator, but until then the problem with BYOD is that children from poorer households – and those not willing to risk their child accidentally losing their device on the way to and from school – will be excluded.  And, as previously mentioned, in many schools it’s still a case of LYODAH (Leave Your Own Device At Home), which, in case you are wondering, is an acronym All Change Please! just made up. One day the uptake may indeed be this high, but it’s not yet.

And then there is the need for an e-portfolio system that is a great deal more sophisticated than children uploading Word files or answers to endless Multiple Choice Questions. While the lessons learnt from the e-scape project are being embraced in a range of developments taking place in various countries across the world, no further development work is currently being done in British Schools.

As the Music Industry and the High Street retailers have already discovered, the Information Technology revolution goes beyond the simple automation of existing practice. It turns it on its head and drives fundamental change, and at present there’s very little sign of that happening in education, where it’s still very much a case of new technology but old learning.

So to summarise, the tragic reality is that at present there is considerable confusion about what children should be taught, how they should learn, how their work can be monitored and assessed, the role of the teacher in relationship to online learning and the sort of electronic devices that should be used. Hardly a recipe for the dawn of an exciting new era of educational provision in an advanced technological age is it? Perhaps the future is a little further away than some of us would like to imagine?

Perhaps the first real sign of a tipping point will only come when we manage to tip Govosaurus* and its off-spring into the nearest landfill site ready for their fossilised remains to be dug up by archaeologists in the millennia to come.

* according to Wikipedia (who else?) a Gorgosaurus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorgosaurus  was, like many other dinosaurs, essentially a ‘terrifying lizard’ from the distant past. Thus All Change Please! feels perfectly entitled to apply the term ‘Govosaurus’ to a terrifying lizard-like education secretary from a bygone age.

Image credit:  OnlineUniversities.com “http://www.onlineuniversities.com/teachers-love-technology

Memorable Open Offline Coffee

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Today’s mystery acronym is MOOCs, which know-it-all All Change Please! can proudly reveal stands for Massive Open On-line Courses. And when they say Massive, they really do mean Massive – the size of enrollment often ranges from 10,000 to 80,000 students.

Such things have been called into existence for two main reasons. The first is to enable access to learning to anyone, anywhere, anytime, which is of course a great idea. And the second is to enable Universities to market themselves as being at the forefront of the use of new technologies, and if they just happen to generate some extra funding to compensate for the reduction in full-time student numbers, then that’s all to the good too. Having said that, they do require a lot of initial up-front investment, except that seems to be increasingly being supplied by commercial publishing companies who are obviously going to prescribe their own online textbooks, and as a result the courses are somewhat likely to become more Closed than Open.

Meanwhile, clearly any A level student about to make a decision to apply to university needs to be well informed about the variety, type and quality of MOOCs being offered by different institutions and of the impact they are having on the more traditional lecture and tutorial content of the courses. It appears that there is not just one species of MOOC in existence, but a diverse range of the gargantuan creatures. Donald Clark – quite possibly the Darwin of MOOCs – has recently identified the following taxonomy of mutations and cross-species:

• transferMOOCs – the transfer of existing courses into an online format
• madeMOOCs – less formal, including software driven interactive experiences
• synchMOOCs – have fixed assignment delivery times, course start and end dates
• asynchMOOCs – have no fixed assignment delivery times, course start and end dates
• adaptiveMOOCs – uses algorithms and data analytics to provide personalised learning experiences
• groupMOOCs – small, collaborative groups of students that come together for short periods of time
• connectivistMOOCS – MOOCs that attempt to harvest and share knowledge, rather than teach pre-defined knowledge
• miniMOOCSs – short-term and intense courses in specific subjects, often commercially run

http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/moocs-taxonomy-of-8-types-of-mooc.html

http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/moocs-more-action-in-1-year-than-last.html

http://futurelearn.com/

http://theory.cribchronicles.com/2013/05/12/participate-or-perish/

Although currently the play-thing of Higher Education establishments, MOOCs are an approach that can’t at some point be ruled out for secondary education, because computer terminals are cheaper than teachers, especially as it’s administrators and accountants that make the decisions these days. And just as with any style of teaching and learning, on-line courses suit certain types of students, but by no means all types – indeed course-completion rates are apparently low, with many students complaining they found the courses ‘boring’. On-line learning is also clearly most appropriate for knowledge transfer, and not so good for practical, experimental and creative work. But do the administrators and accountants know that?

Now All Change Please! has nothing against MOOCs – apart perhaps from their rather silly name – providing that is they don’t end up being the be-all and end-all of education, in which the poor sit in front of a computer terminal all day and the wealthy get to be taught by real teachers. MOOCs have a positive contribution to make, but it’s only a contribution and not a substitution for the real thing. Indeed just the other day All Change Please! enjoyed its own disruptive variation in the form of a Memorable Open Offline Coffee in town with two former colleagues, both from different subject disciplines. Over the course of two hours current educational theories of learning, Lord of the Flies, Postmodern Design and Music, and Dark Matter were all rigorously discussed and debated. As we departed we all agreed we had each learned and understood more in the past two hours than any textbooks, day-long series of lectures or on-line courses could have provided.

While one day computer technology might facilitate such a rich and compelling dialogue, All Change Please! suspects it’s still some way off. There’s the possibility of video conferencing, but it somehow just isn’t the same as real-life interaction and cappuccino. But that’s how people really learn – not just by being ‘taught’ facts, or even doing practical work, but informally discussing and exchanging ideas and information with the opportunity to explore challenging questions with people they know personally.  Teaching and learning at its best is a two-way, almost mystical process of an exchange of brain waves that produces permanent change in each other’s minds.

It seems that Plato bloke really knew what he was talking about when he said:

‘The teacher must know his or her subject, but as a true philosopher he or she also knows that the limits of their knowledge. It is here that we see the power of dialogue – the joint exploration of a subject – ‘knowledge will not come from teaching but from questioning’.

Another Massive Mocha anyone?

Don’t say:

‘A Mini Mooc was a popular beach buggy made in the 1960s.’

‘Don’t Mooc now! is a terrific film made in the early 1970s’

‘It’s a mooc point, but…’

‘Have you ever watched the Moocs of Hazard?’

Image credit: All Change Please!

Teaching and Learning in LA LA Land

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No face, no name, just a number?

First All Change Please! would like to wish all its readers a very happy New Year.

Well, of course when All Change Please! writes ‘very happy’, it doesn’t mean it is full of optimism for education in 2013. In fact if anything, perhaps it should read: All Change Please! would like to warn all its readers of something to be afraid of in 2013. Very afraid of.

So what is this LA LA Land of which it speaks? La La Land is known as a state of semi-unconsciousness where everything is removed from the real world, and quite deranged. Most of us would probably agree that the ‘La’ in La La Land stands for the craziness of Los Angeles, or, if you work in government, Local Authority. But if you work in education, it seems like there’s something even more wild and wacky to worry about –  the wonderful world of Learning Analytics.

So what exactly are Learning Analytics? Apparently: ‘the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs’.

To explain Learning Analytics as simply as possible, each and every time a student visits a website, how long is spent there, which on-line tests are undertaken, the number of mistakes and attempts made, the time taken completing each online exercise, the time of day and day of the week, etc., the mouse click or keyboard command is electronically grabbed by a great database in the cloud and silently compared to trillions of other bits of data obtained from other learners. As a result it  becomes possible to make individual predictions about exactly where each learner is struggling and succeeding, what exact nugget of knowledge they need to review or acquire next, what digital resource they might find particularly helpful, and what courses – and careers – they are most likely to succeed at in later life.

It sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? Indeed, just think about Amazon and the way it cleverly keeps a record of all the books and DVDs you’ve ever browsed and then sends you completely inappropriate recommendations for things you might like. And how those annoying animated web page ads keep trying to recommend something you once showed an interest in and purchased several months ago. Except Learning Analytics claims to be poised to go way beyond that…

It all sounds very convincing doesn’t it, especially if you are an administrator charged with reducing the monthly teacher wage bill? And in the current economic situation, anything that saves money is bound to be a big winner.

However, here’s what Tony Wheeler has to say:

At a time when we’re all anticipating and working towards an education appropriate for the 21st Century that utilises the freedom of the world wide web for learning how to learn for one’s self, it’s alarming to think that coming up fast on the rails is an educational control tool beyond all previous control mechanisms, subverting the notion of ‘personalised learning’ into its own quality-controlled, mass-produced, impersonal education system that perpetuates the myth that knowledge is King: “I know something you don’t and I have analysed how to pass it on to you down to the smallest nanobyte and now technology lets me measure you in infinitely microscopic blinks so that if you deviate from the predetermined track even by a millionth of an electronic bit we can nudge you back and make sure you all come out exactly the same shape and size”.

And don’t think it stops at the learners – this technology can be used to track teachers, managers and indeed administrators. Anyway, not to worry, you can’t see this coming to a school near you soon? These teachers certainly don’t seem to be bothered about it at all:

Teacher predictions: what will 2013 bring for education? http://www.guardian.co.uk/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2012/dec/31/education-in-2013-teacher-predictions

Perhaps they had better think again: Pearson buys SchoolNet  http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/apr/26/pearson-buys-schoolnet

Indeed All Change Please! controversially suggests that in just five years’ time, there will only be half the number of teachers, and that children will spend half their time at school plugged into a Pearsonalised electronic learning analytic interfaces.

And entirely without the aid of sophisticated date-driven analytics All Change Please! confidently predicts that Learning Analytics is a subject it will be writing a lot more about in 2013.

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I am not a number, I am a free learner.

Image credits. Top: Derrick Tyson http://www.flickr.com/photos/derricksphotos/2329246714  Bottom: Paul G http://www.flickr.com/photos/the-g-uk/5654023124

Now we are three…

Yes it’s the 28th October 2012 and All Change Please! is three years old today, and growing fast. No longer in its Terrible Twos, it’s learnt to stand firmly on its own two feet. More importantly it is starting to ask important questions such as who, what, where, and, most frequently, why on earth not? Socially, it enjoys making others laugh and being silly. As a result its proud parents are convinced it is highly gifted and have started saving to ensure it will gain a place at Oxbridge in the not too distant future, providing, of course, that it gets to go to e-ton first.

It just doesn’t seem like three years ago that out popped Going for Gold, its very first post, when it announced that the London 2012 Olympic Selection Committee had decided only to award gold medals for outstanding performance in the 100 meters for fear of dumbing down the games. In the end, of course, that didn’t happen. Well not in sport anyway, but it certainly has in education where it has become a case of winning an academic eBacc gold or facing the disgrace of going home empty-handed.

Meanwhile this year’s most widely clicked-on posts have been:

A brief history of dates
Flippin’ Tech
iAuthor: mind over machine
Living in the past

Which is a bit of a pity really, because  All Change Please‘s favourite posts have been:

Invisible learning
Are Janet and John now working at the DFES?
A return to O levels: what really happened
Carry On…Up The Conservatives
Froth always follows function at the Fab Lab cafe!

Whatever, as the late and somewhat off-beat broadcaster John Ebden used to sign off:

If you have been, thanks for listening.’

Photo credit:  Leo Reynolds