Breaking News… Miss Piggy to be new Education Secretary

1s-18957873998_b800ba5bb0_zEducation Secretary… Moi?

New PM Theresa May or May Not has announced the appointment of Miss Piggy as Secretary in a State about Education to join her Muppet cabinet. She will also be known as Justine Greening. It is believed Miss Piggy attended school in her youth, does not have any children and has a background in business, economics and accountancy, making her ideally qualified for the post. Meanwhile her earlier role of Secretary in a State about Transport means she should be in a good position to sort out the long-standing problem of school buses.

Kermit the Frog was unavailable for comment, but it is known that he continues to be unclear about their current relationship.

Meanwhile former education minister Elizabeth Trust Me I’m A Politician has been given the job of Justice Secretary, which, with this video clip in mind, is a little worrying, especially for Miss Piggy:

 

And so now with BoJo at the FO we can rest assured that Little Britain has a great future ahead as a world-class Heritage Theme Park in which visitors can experience first-hand what it was like to live in the last century when all pigs were equal, but some more so than others.

 

Image credit top right: Flickr/SimonDavis/DFID

Now this is what I call a Textbook

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In days of old, when teachers were bold, this is what a school textbook used to be like.

Before the not-missed-at-all Miss Truss was given her marching orders she made a number of speeches in which she advocated a return to the regular use of the  textbook. As such she was simply providing yet another example of the DfE policy-making process as being ‘Come up with a vote-winning bit of spin and don’t actually bother to think about the implications of implementing it’.

The problem is that the production of textbooks is now very different from the way it was back then in the days when everything was apparently wonderful. In those days school budgets were more bountiful and publishers could afford to employ armies of reviewers, editors, proof-readers, picture researchers and designers, and authors were carefully chosen as being recognised experts in their field. Their royalty rates, although never more than 10%, meant that reasonably good sales over an extended period of time would provide an adequate return on their considerable efforts. And there was a wide variety of small, independent publishers looking to specialise in a range of subject areas and age-ranges and to take risks on books that might or might not be particularly successful, providing something of quality and value had been produced.

But of course, like everything else outside the DfE, things have changed over the past fifteen or so years. For a start there are now just a couple of really big educational publishers, considerably reducing choice. Authors are now usually relatively inexperienced, foolishly hoping that being published will look good on their CVs and as a result prepared to work for next to nothing – often just a share of 5% on a work that will probably be out-dated by a curriculum change before its first reprint. Content is now all about delivering the narrow requirements of the specification with an emphasis on teaching to the test, rather than providing a broader, more pedagogically sound coverage.

Meanwhile manuscripts go through largely unchecked by subject specialists and desk editors. Picture research budgets have been slashed, and page-by-page design is a thing of the past. Titles are focused on the main subjects that have the biggest GCSE entries and the most extensive book-buying habits, such as science, maths and geography. And as prices have risen, classroom sets have become increasingly expensive and unaffordable. No wonder so many teachers have chosen to produce their own content more suited to the needs of their own learners and their preferred teaching styles.

There are, however, some things that Ms Textbook Truss might have suggested that would have been more worthwhile. The knowledge-base of most subjects has now become so extensive that it has become increasingly difficult for teachers to cram everything in to the limited number of periods a week they have with each class. As such, high quality independent study support resources of the electronic kind would be a valuable development. Unfortunately at present these are usually produced by new-media companies with little or no pedagogic experience, and more with the intention of winning an award for the cleverness of largely superficial so-called ‘interactive’ animation than with actually assisting learning. So something to improve the standards of electronic resources would have been something really worth speaking about. At the same time, there are teachers in many non-core subjects who could usefully be guided towards the more effective use of support resources within their lesson planning.

But wait, wasn’t Truss missing a trick here? Just think about it: ‘Text’ and ‘Book’, ie a Book of Texts. Not the ‘No need to think or plan, ready-made just pop-in-the-microwave, everything blended into in one easy-to-open package NC/GCSE/A level course of study’ that they all are these days, but surely if we are heading back to the golden age of the 1950’s, what’s really needed are books that contain a series of learned academic discourses on the subject in question? No engaging photos or artwork or course, except maybe four pages of black and white ‘plates’ placed on their own in the very centre of the book. And if these were produced as e-books they could be distributed very cheaply to all children to read on their smart phones on the bus on the way home…

If that doesn’t raise academic standards, All Change Please! doesn’t know what will…

Curriculum Noir: Who Stole The Arts?

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“Mr Marlowe?”

I looked up from my desk. In front of me stood Delores Anass – I knew her little sister from when I was at college. She was the art teacher from the local school and a tall, beautiful blonde – the kind that makes you want to go to life-drawing classes. There was no doubting she had all the necessary qualifications for the job. She gave me a million dollar smile I could feel in my hip pocket.

“I need you to find something for me. The Arts have gone missing from our school.”

I tried to resist asking, but it was about as useless as a D grade GCSE certificate. “When did you see them last?”

“Oh, about a year ago I guess. All the children were happily singing and dancing and painting wonderful pictures, and now they are all so dull and listless. I think it’s got something to do with this new curriculum and more rigorous examinations. Of course I hope you understand there’s nothing left in the budget to pay you with.”

“Well, trouble is my business, but I’ll see what I can do and then we’ll find a way to work something out. Do you run life-drawing classes by any chance?”

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I said farewell to the lovely lady and the next morning I put on my jacket with the leather elbow patches and slipped quietly into the school, posing as a pre-Ofsted inspector. She was right. There was no sign of the Arts anywhere. Just rows and rows of silent, obedient children staring solemnly at washed-out whiteboards or aging computer monitors that should have been retired long before they qualified for a state pension. No paintings on the walls, no posters announcing drama productions or concerts. The buildings and furniture had obviously had a great deal of expense spared on them. It was if someone had turned out the lights and everyone had gone to sleep, big time. Clearly something was badly wrong. Suddenly the loud, jarring school bell that signaled the end of playtime rang somewhere inside my head as I realised I’d seen it all before, and it meant only one thing. The infamous, arrant knave of hearts who stole the arts, Big Mickey Gove himself, had to be somewhere in the picture.

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Delores suggested I talked to the Headmistress, Ms Trust. She was dressed smartly, the sort of woman you just know will be good at evidence, facts, lies, damned lies and statistics. When I asked her if she knew where the Arts had gone she went as white as chalk-dust and trotted out a well-rehearsed speech about raising academic standards and providing opportunities for all, and I quickly guessed the Gove Mob had already got to her, doubtless promising her more money to become an Academy. She sure was one lady I’d like to see at the bottom of a lake.

It was getting late, but on my way downtown I stopped in at the local Painteasy. The front of the shop was filled with cans of unimaginative pastel shades of household emulsion and dreary colour scheme chooser charts, but the man at desk recognised me and pressed the button under the counter that opened the door to the secret studio workshop at the rear of the premises. The windows were high up, so you couldn’t see what was going on from outside, but inside the space was full of excited children hooked on the hard stuff, completely intoxicated from various forms of real learning – totally absorbed with experimenting, taking risks, working together and making things happen. And best of all you could freely ask for any type of Arts activity you wanted without fear of being told you were missing out on yet another worthless academic qualification.

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I bumped into the Painteasy Director, Edward G (aka Ken) Robinson, and asked him if he knew what was going on with formal education. “We’ve never had so many kids visit us after school” he said. “I just feel sorry for all those we have to turn away. It’s the Gove Mob. They’re back in town, and they’re driving the Arts even further underground.”

So my hunch was right. But I also knew there was nothing I could do about it. Not on my own anyway. I was proud to be a member of the Blob, but the Blob had fallen into the cleverly laid trap of thinking that if it somehow became more academic it could raise its status with the Mob and things would get better, but all it got them was some extended prose.

Somehow the Blob needed to stand up for itself and fight back. It was time for it to start sending out the message that there’s more to life than words and numbers and knowing stuff, and that it’s through the Arts that children learn to understand that there can be more than one correct answer and that there are many other ways to see, experience, interpret and judge the world that go beyond writing essays and solving quadratic equations.

At one level the Blob had no choice but to do what the Mob told them, but at the same time it had to find ways to be more disruptive, and behave like only a Blob without any defined shape or size can, silently seeping into tight corners and crevices of the curriculum where and when no one is looking. That’s what the Mob hates the most about it – the Blob has no fixed structure, no clear rules, no 100% reliable way of formally assessing what it’s doing.

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The next day I called back in on Delores, and told her what I’d discovered. I tried to fob her off by saying I would write on my blog that one day the Blob would overcome the Mob, but it fell about as flat as an academic’s mortar board that’s lost its tassel. She began to sob and saying goodbye took a long time, but eventually I managed to drive off into a sombre, stormy sunset that reminded me of  the ink stains on a school boy’s well-used tie.

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As I drove, I found myself recalling the words of that great crime writer Raymond Chandler that somehow seemed to sum it all up:

“Without magic, there is no art. Without art, there is no idealism. Without idealism, there is no integrity. Without integrity, there is nothing but production.”

Because that’s exactly what our schools have become – factories of mass produced memorisation of out-dated facts. What’s needed right now in education is a little bit of real magic and a lot less political sleight of hand.

I decided I must re-read some of Chandler’s novels. Now what they were called? Let’s see, there was The Little Sister, Trouble Is My Business, Farewell My Lovely, The Big Sleep, The Lady in the Lake, The High Window and The Long Goodbye.  And I wondered if I could somehow work the titles into my next post..

 

Image credits: emilano-iko / dinohyus / jjjohn / dinohaus

 

What Ho! Gove

Television - JEEVES AND WOOSTER

Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster and Stephen Fry as Jeeves in the 1990s Granada TV series

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10755585/Michael-Gove-puts-whizz-bang-back-into-A-level-science.htm

Wooster: I say Jeeves, this Aberdeen Angus Gove chappie certainly seems to be sorting the nation’s education out with a bit of a whizz and a bang! According to his latest speech there’s going to be more exciting experiments to do in school science. Sounds like we’ll soon all be jolly clever again and take up our rightful place as best in the world in everything! Of course, speaking personally, I couldn’t do with any more education. I was full up years ago!

Jeeves: If you say so, sir.

Do I detect a note of incredulity in your voice Jeeves? I mean these lucky young blighters will be doing more practical work and learning more about British History, and really having to knuckle down to it if they are going to get to University. Tally Ho! I say. In my day it was all reading stuff from textbooks and writing long and boring essays.

Indeed, sir.

Come on then Jeeves, out with it. I’m all agog to know what’s going on in that inscrutable mind of yours?

Well sir, it’s just that I can’t help noticing that although science lessons will as you say include more experiments, what will really count is an ability to write an essay about them sitting alone in the school hall. So actually being good at collaborative, practical work in the way that real scientists have to be won’t matter very much. Oh, and perhaps you ought to know that Elizabeth Truss recently made a speech in which she advocated a return to the use of proper traditional textbooks instead of worksheets.

Ah, well yes, I suppose I hadn’t thought about it that way. As for this loony Truss woman, she’ll get no support from me.

I should think not, sir. And it’s not just in science either. I mean, asking A level Art students to write an essay seems to be a tad inappropriate, to say the least.

You mean essays in Art are where you’d really draw the line, eh?

Oh, very droll, sir.

And what’s this I read in the old Daily Twittergraph? Seems this Hoover chappie Dyson is really sucking up to Gove – He says he’s ‘looking forward to helping shape the new Design and Technology GCSEs’. I jolly well think there will be quite a bally lot of hot air expelled when he realises that all that will involve is deciding what our budding young entrepreneurial designers will have to write an essay or two about.

Quite so, sir. And the problem is that simply making something harder to achieve doesn’t actually mean that everyone will get better at doing it, does it? All it means in practice is that more children will fail to achieve the necessary standard.

Point jolly well taken. Still I suppose there’s always work for the unfortunate outcasts down the mines. What?

If you say so, sir.

Well there’s only one thing to do about it Jeeves. If we’re going to put an end to all this rot I shall have to send this blithering imbecile Gove a strongly worded note. Have you got your telegraph pad handy?  Take a message:  @MichaelGove  Emplore you rethink current policies STOP Stop talking through your hat STOP Just stop everything you are doing at once STOP Advise immediate resignation STOP   There, if that doesn’t do it, nothing will.

Indeed, sir. I’m very much afraid probably nothing will. However, I’ll attend to the matter at once sir.

Well I’ll be dashed! Would you believe it? I’ve just been reading this short story called ‘The Custody of the Pumpkin’ by this PG Wodehouse novelist writer chappie, and there’s a line here that reads ‘It has never been difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine…’ That seems to rather well describe this pompous rotter Gove down to a tee doesn’t it? And it would make a jolly good line to end a post about his policies with, wouldn’t it?

Indubitably it would, sir.

There’s No Supporting Truss

10be4873-12a7-8222-9dd2-048b1da0f96a-2“Err…  Is this the place where I can exchange our existing education policy for a new one?”

Truss…No Support. Get it? No? Oh well, please yourselves then. As All Change Please! sadly and uncontrollably weeps at the lack of academic rigour of its latest blog post title, it suddenly realises that now it will have to write something about Elizabeth Truss, Education and Childcare Minister. But, by an amazing co-incidence, All Change Please! learns that she recently made a speech in Oxford about social mobility, the economy and education reform. So that should be good for a few laughs and revealing responses, as was the case with Little Diss Trust

If you are desperate you can read the full text here. But to save you the bother, here are a few choice extracts, together with some of the alleged text it is believed got deleted at the very last moment.

Truss: Until we agree that doing well is an unequivocally good thing – and that it is attainable by all – we will continue to waste talent. So – let’s make 2014 the year we abandon the limiting beliefs holding us back, and help our country to rise.

I repeatedly hear in the education debate some children are just ‘non-academic’. What does ‘non-academic’ even mean? It’s certainly true that some disciplines like maths or reading come easier to some than others. But the vast majority of people can master them – just as all students can benefit from vocational skills, too. Yet there’s this idea that some pupils are ‘not academic’.

Well, I’m just hoping and praying that someone doesn’t get round to asking me what ‘academic’ actually means, let alone ‘non-academic’. Of course if they did ask I would just have to find another way of avoiding the explanation that an academic education is essentially a highly theoretical one, and only involves the development of a very limited range of the repertoire of skills we actually need in life. It tends to focus on studies of what people have thought and done in the past and why, and on gaining a largely non-practical understanding of the natural world works, and all tested and accredited through written knowledge recall. This differs from vocational and life education which has a primary focus on preparation for the workplace and everyday living. Not a lot of people know that, and neither did I until someone explained it to me the other day.

Oh dear, this all just goes to show that my own highly academic education, which culminated in me doing Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford, has left me with a very narrow view of what the working world and real life is really like. Anyway, to explain it as simply as possible to the great mass of uneducated plebs – oops, perhaps I better not say that in public – that we need to get to vote for us, I’m pitching it to suggest that by definition ‘academic’ means something that is very difficult and demanding, while worthless ‘vocational’ skills are easy-peasy to acquire and require no effort. Which is all a lot of nonsense really if you think about it.

Can you imagine if we took the same attitude to driving? If we labelled people as ‘non-drivers’ because they found it difficult, the first few times they got behind the wheel? It would be nonsense: most people manage to pass their test eventually. It took me 3 goes. I understand it took my boss 7. But he decided he needed to be able to drive and he practiced hard and got on with it. We need the same attitude towards academic attainment – particularly in maths, where the more you practice, the better you get and the more you will earn in your future career. Just as we would never say only a handful of people have the innate ability to learn to drive, we should find it unacceptable to say maths is just for a talented few.

Did you see what I did there? I misleadingly compared academic learning with driving, which is of course a practical, entirely non-academic skill. And one that you are tested in when you think you are ready and not on a single, one-shot fixed date in early summer when you’ll be suffering really badly from hay-fever. Meanwhile, what I’m really saying here is that for the academically able, they will continue to find getting to University easy, and everyone else will all just have to work a jolly lot harder in order to do so and feel even more of a failure than they already do.

Meanwhile the key phrase I used, in case you didn’t notice, was that my boss ‘decided he needed to be able to’ drive. I’m therefore completely ignoring the fact that, unlike the practical and extremely useful skill of driving, most children quite rightly don’t recognise and accept the fact that they need to struggle against the odds to gain purely theoretical qualifications that probably won’t get them a job. And naturally I won’t be one of the lucky teachers who ends up working in deprived city-centre estate schools trying to get the children to sit still and listen while I try and fail to convince them otherwise.

In the 21st century and beyond, skills pay the bills. And even more so in the future. The new economies are growing. There are more consumers today in more countries across the globe than at any other point in history. And at the same time, technology is transforming industry after industry – creating new ways of making, earning and learning.

Tee-hee, ‘Skills pay the bills’ – that’s a clever catch-phrase that one of DfES interns came up with for me, isn’t it? Perhaps sometime he could explain the logic of this to me, again just in case someone ever asks. Surely the new highly theoretical academic curriculum we are promoting means that even fewer children than ever will acquire any practical, technical or creative skills, and it contains no business education whatsoever (despite the latter being the most popular university degree subject). So that means that they’ll actually have less skills to pay the bills? I don’t get it, do you?

We need to believe that if England started producing vast numbers of nuclear engineers or top-flight mathematicians – more of the world’s leading companies would want to headquarter here. But we need to go even further. We can be the enterprise capital of Europe. And we can combine the commercial flair which has always been one of Britain’s strengths with advanced science, maths and technology. Napoleon called us a nation of shopkeepers. Why can’t we be a nation of coders, analysts, inventors, entrepreneurs, creators as well – selling our skills to the world?

Well there’s an obvious answer to that last question isn’t there? The reason why we can’t be a nation of all those things is called Michael Gove. But don’t tell anyone I said that.

This optimistic vision is ambitious. And our ambition must be to out-educate the rest of the world. And everything we’re doing aims to make sure that high-quality schooling – an excellent academic education – is seen as a universal necessity, not an option for the few. History will provide a more meaningful, chronological immersion in the past. Geography will include more specific knowledge of people and places. Design and technology will expose children to the most exciting new technologies – while computing will give them the technical ability to innovate and create in a digital world.

This is just so much fun isn’t it? All I have to do is to speak these words out loud and it will all just happen as if by magic. Won’t it?

Or our reforms to improve the quality of teaching – expanding programmes like Teach First, so that top graduates from the best universities are working with more children than ever before.

Note to self: get ‘Tough Young Teachers‘ taken off the air immediately. It’s all very worthy of course but, I mean, we don’t want prospective graduates realising that teaching is not just about long holidays and preparing able students for entry to Oxbridge, do we?

Every reform is based on this idea: giving every child, no matter where they live or what their parents do, the sort of high-quality, rigorous, rounded education previously reserved only for the few. Our ambition must not just be to catch up with Germany and Poland but to overtake them. Not just to learn from the Asian tigers but to surpass them – do it better, smarter, more creatively. Take our fantastic cultural heritage and combine it with the most advanced computing and science. Our ambition must be to out-educate the rest of the world. We are very aware that this is not an overnight job. The Secretary of State has been clear it is a decade-long project – which then must be built on.

Oh God, another six years more in this job and then, just like the dreadful tower-blocks of the 1960s that no-one ever wanted, everything we’ve done will have to be quickly demolished and replaced by something far more sympathetic to the way in which real people want to live and learn. Sometimes I wonder why I bother?

Now All Change Please! isn’t one to gossip, but did you know that apparently Ms Truss’s father is a left-wing professor in mathematical logic, and refused to campaign for her? And that allegedly in 2009 she nearly got de-selected when it emerged that in 2005 she had allegedly been having an affair with a married, allegedly Tory MP? Well, that’s if you believe anything you allegedly read in The Sunday Times anyway.

And finally, if Ms Truss becomes a wealthy woman as a result of her parliamentary career, will she set up a Truss Fund for her two children?