Gordon Bennett!

James_Gordon_Bennett_Vanity_Fair_15_November_1884

The exclamation of surprise ‘Gordon Bennett!’ is possibly a version of ‘Gor blimey’, which is itself a corruption of ‘God blind me’. It is also thought to be derived from the name of John Gordon Bennett Jnr (born 1841) – pictured above in Vanity Fair in November 1884  – who ran the New York Herald and was well known for his outrageous Playboy life-style and newsworthy publicity stunts. All of which has hardly anything to do with the following post, but it was difficult to find any other image that would be in any way appropriate. Meanwhile…

Man who doesn’t teach creativity tells us nothing new. A reviewer reviewed.

Unless you happen to be a politician who should but doesn’t know better, All Change Please! tries to avoid making personal attacks on individuals, so will refrain from naming the author – the traditionalist’s very own behaviour guru – of a recent TES book review that has been widely and enthusiastically Tweeted over the last week by the traditional classes, and to which one can only surely exclaim ‘Gordon Bennett!!!’.  Although All Change Please! has never personally met the reviewer, it’s sure he’s a very nice man and an excellent traditional classroom teacher, and the books, articles and posts and articles he clearly enjoys writing are joyfully provocative, not unlike All Change Please!‘s. And of course he has a perfect right to express his own opinions, even when they are wrong.

However, if you only read one of his reviews, then don’t read this one. It’s his recent joyfully provocative TES review of Sir Ken’s Robinson’s latest publication Creative Schools: the grassroots revolution that’s changing education‘. He starts by making the quite reasonable observation that, although the great man has spent 40 years working in education, he has never actually taught in schools, and as a result in the past he has offered little in the way of practical remedies or strategies for change or advice as to exactly how the Arts can be resurrected in education – although what the reviewer doesn’t mention is that this book is his attempt to do so. Neither does he refer to one of Sir Ken’s major concerns, shared by the vast majority of teachers of all persuasions, that schools are being increasingly driven by commercial and political agendas and children are being tested to distraction. At least the review does not reiterate the traditionalist’s entirely misinformed belief that Sir Ken claims that learning to dance is more important than learning to read, write or add up.

However, the reviewer does trot out a different traditionalist’s claim, that schools are already alive with the sound of the Arts, and we really don’t need any more because it is distracting kids away from their pursuit of more and more knowledge and entry to Oxbridge . There are perhaps a few schools left – and by happenstance, it seems the one where the reviewer teaches – where creative activities are indeed plentiful, but the point he misses is that increasingly the provision of such courses in schools are being diminished in favour of those that will produce academic league table EBacc success. And even where the Arts remain there tends to be little sense of continuity, progression or co-ordinated assessment across the creative disciplines. What Sir Ken is primarily doing is trying to ensure that such provision is not further depleted.

The reviewer goes on to dismiss the thought-provoking comparison between schools and prisons which All Change Please! has already discussed here. Schools are of course much nicer and better places to be in than prisons, but the point that he seems to miss is that they are both highly structured and de-personalised in approach, have a one-size-fits-all captive audience and are several steps removed from the everyday reality of life in the outside world. And parent’s evenings/visiting hours, the playground/exercise yard and ‘recreational activities’ don’t sufficiently set them apart.

Then we come to the traditionalists’ use of so-called evidence. All Change Please! has already expressed its doubts about evidence here. Educational evidence is notoriously unreliable and rarely proves anything once and for all. It makes useful and interesting suggestions, provides clues and raises questions, but no more than that. And for every reference source a traditionalist makes, somewhere there’s an alternative study or set of data that contradicts it. Indeed while the reviewer triumphantly proclaims:

‘Cherry picking like this to advance a cause is the worst kind of fundamentalism. You can lasso any data set carefully enough and torture it to say what you want. Pulling out every school in alignment with your own tastes and claiming it represents the truth of education is wilful ignorance. Perhaps he doesn’t know what goes on in schools other than the ones he gets invited to?’

he then goes on to do exactly that and pick his own cherries that support the traditionalist’s view of the world. Perhaps he doesn’t know what actually goes in lessons in the Arts? Perhaps he hasn’t had the experience of seeing how the Arts can transform the lives of children who are struggling in more formal, traditional learning environments?

Finally the reviewer throws in an attack on the Free School movement of the 1970s (which bears no relation to Mr Gove’s current Free School offering). But you have to actually check out the link to the article he provides here to learn that these schools were few and far between, and mainly set up to provide deprived inner-city children with at least some sort of relevant education as an alternative to playing permanent truant from their allocated education establishment. These are not the type of schools Sir Ken is promoting. They did not set out to attempt to specifically provide an education in the Arts, and nor do they in any way represent the approach of today’s more progressively-orientated teachers.

That’s the problem with traditionalists – they are so utterly convinced they are absolutely correct, and that anyone who sees things differently has been ideologically brain-washed, soviet-style by loony-left training colleges into deliberately depriving children of a purely knowledge-based route into academia. Children do indeed have a right to an academic education if that’s what suits them, but they also have an equal right to a creative, technical, practical and vocational one too. And while so-called ‘progressive’ teachers acknowledge that to be the case, traditionalists don’t seem to be able to.

Other than that, I enjoyed the review. And in the interest of balance, I look forward to reading Sir Ken’s response to the reviewer’s own next book.

 

Image credit: Wikimedia

 

 

Way To Go?

 

If you’ve not watched it – in which case you really should – WIA is a BBC comedy satire of and about the BBC, being made for the BBC, by the BBC and by an amazing coincidence being shown on the BBC. Here, All Change Please! is proud to present its own slightly more educational version…

Voice Over: As it’s the day after yesterday and the day before tomorrow, today’s the day Nicky Moregove, Nick Bowels and Nick Glibb and various other people who are probably not as important as they’d like to think they are, are all meeting in Michael Gove, the new office suite at the Df-ingE.

Nicky Morgove: So anyway I think you should know I’ve been watching that great W1A fly-on-the-wall reality tv show. I must say it has given me a revealing insight about what it’s actually like to work at the BBC. And I really like the idea of them appointing a Director of Better.

Nick: Err.. Can I just point out that actually…

NM: No, you can’t Nick. So I was thinking we should maybe do some similar PR work to help try and convince teachers that we’re really quite normal, friendly types who want to work with them, even if we’re not. I’m mean, we’re totally listening to what they are saying, it’s just they’re not saying the right things.

Nick: Yes, but…

NM: Please be quiet Nick. As I was saying, as a result I’ve invited Perfect Curve, the same PR company that works for the BBC, here to outline in broad strokes some suggestions we can all take away with us to digest, circle back round and bring up again later. So I’ll hand you straight over to Siobhan Sharpe from Perfect Curve.

SS: Hi everyone! Thanks Nicky. Go Academies! Go Free Schools! Yeah. Well, we’ve thought about this a lot in an agile, brainstorming sort of way and kicked a whole shed load of ideas round the duck pond before coming to the conclusion that the decisions I made beforehand were the best anyway. 

So building on this new BBC post for Director of Better, we came up with this concept that it would be really cool if every school was required to appoint a Head of Better to its Senior Management Team. But then we thought, hey, well if we’re going to do that, at the same time we could rebrand the Headteacher as the Head of Outstanding, and then to establish some sort of career progression by having middle managers called Head of Good and Head of Requires Improvement. Oh, and, you’re really going to like this guys, we’re going to rename Teachers as Learning Opportunity Engineers to make it all sound a bit more sciency and researchy.

Ensemble: Yes, very strong

Ens: I’m totally good with that

Ens: Sure yeah, way cool, OK. No worries. Say Again. That’s mental.

Nick: Err, I hate to be the one to problematise things, but I’m not going to beat around the Basil Brush, but we do have a recruitment crisis in the profession you know, so I don’t know exactly where all these Super Heads of Outstanding are going to come from?

Ens: Ah yes, no, good. Very good.

SS: OK, cool, yeah well, we’ve done some major conceptualisations about that too. 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.

To begin with we’ve been looking at the name DfE. By adding an exclamation mark at the end – DfE! – it gives more emphasis to the E, which of course stands for Education, which is what it’s all supposed to about, even though it isn’t. Then we need to change the name a bit to make it more engaging and compelling, so in future the acronym will stand for Damn Fine Education. And then of course it’s got sound as if it’s a synergetic, collaborative, character-building sort of organisation, so, as we learnt from the 2012 Olympics, finally it needs to become Team DfE!

Ens: I so love it!

Ens: Brilliant. No brainer…

Ens: This is all going terribly well.

SS: Then of course there are the SATS. So where we’re heading on this one is like to ask the question, ‘What’s the best day of the week?’ And our focus groups all told us ‘Saturday’. So we thought: SATurday? So in future children will all attend school every SATurday specifically to take new weekly SATs. Nicky told us that kids love doing tests and showing off how much they know, so they’ll be pleased. It’s a win-win thing of course because while the teachers are looking after their children for them, hard working parents will be happy as they will be able to take on extra work to help pay their mortgages.

Ens: Ah yes, that all sounds most SATisfactory!

Ens: No way. Cool.

Ens: Totally awesome.

SS: Meanwhile using our contacts at the BBC we’ve pitched some ideas for some new TV shows to increase the profile of Learning Opportunity Engineers in the community. 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! And to cover inclusion, diversity, social mobility and equality, they’re bringing back Top Of The Form, but renamed ‘Top Of The Class‘ in which children from upper, middle and lower-class backgrounds will complete against each other to see who is actually the most entitled to get to a Russell Group University.

And of course in order to be completely transparent there will be a TV mockumentary that shows what it’s really like to work as a member of Team DfE! A bit like W1A is named after the BBC’s postcode, it’s going to be called ’Sanctuary’ after the name of this building. In fact they’ve already started work on it.

Nick: Ah I wondered what that camera crew were doing over in the corner.

SS: There’s just thing left to sort out though – the show will need a suitable voice over. With W1A of course we were able to get a previous Dr Who to do it. But we thought because it’s about schools, maybe we should like get The Master to do it, but he wasn’t available. So can anyone suggest someone who’s known to be highly devious, omnipresent and obsessed with total control and domination?

NM: Yes I can – in fact I think we’re probably sitting in him right now. Well thanks Siobhan. Of course we’ll to check it out with the DC, but I’m sure he’ll be on board with it. I mean it’s all about one-nation education isn’t it?

SS: Hey wait Nicky that sounds really good – One Nation Education – we  must use that somewhere. ‘All for ONE and ONE for all’. Wow this is just so cool. Way To Go! Yay!

NM: So that’s all good then…

Voice Over – now confirmed as Michael Gove: So as the meeting ends, Nicky, Nick and Nick put away their distractive mobile phones and go off to enjoy a well earned break where they can fully digest their take-aways before their next meeting, where they hope they will be a great deal more distracted than they were at the last one. Over the next few weeks they are going to need to consider how well they will adapt when they all become wealthy, famous and respected, well-loved TV personalities. Hmm. Seeing as the whole education reform thing was my idea in the first place, it seems to me like there’s no justice in the world. But now I’m the Lord High Executioner, just you wait, I’ll be doing something about that. I’ve got a little list…they’ll none of them be missed.

Just a spoonful of knowledge

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While some of the newly set-up Free Schools aim to provide a more enlightened approach to teaching and learning, others offer a very traditional academic curriculum, providing a service to parents who for some mysterious reason want their children to suffer such an education. In these Free Schools knowledge acquisition and recall is the focal point of the curriculum, and facts and figures are regularly spoon-fed to students. Of course that’s great for getting good grades at GCSEs and A levels, but the problem is that when their pupils eventually get out into the real world they are going to find it doesn’t quite work like that, and they are likely to lose out in the employment market to applicants who can already demonstrate high levels of fluency in problem-solving and communication skills, IT capability and a willingness to collaborate and create.

But if a school is going to insist on offering and delivering an intensely academic approach, it might as well do it properly, which is what this free school appears committed to doing.

Here’s an extract from one of their Knowledge Organisers which ‘organise all the most vital, useful and powerful knowledge on a single page.’  This Year 7 example is taken from a unit on Apartheid South Africa that deals with ‘the timeline, activists, quotations and political and legal vocabulary.’

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Ignoring the fact that all the facts above can actually be easily found on the internet as and when needed in life, All Change Please! just couldn’t resist coming up with its own Teacher Training Knowledge Organiser taken from its Unit on the History of British Education:

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 20.56.14The fact is that there are just two facts everyone needs to take away after reading this post:

1. Nelson Mandela was central to the success of the South African Apartheid movement in the latter part of the 20th Century.
2. Michael Gove was central to the collapse of the English education system in the early part of the 21st Century.

Meanwhile the entirely fictitious All Change Please! Academy has commissioned a series of Knowledge Disorganisers in which completely random facts and figures are assembled together to promote thinking about completely new ways of creatively connecting the world together in the future.

Have a good Easter, that is if you are not too busy marking GCSE Coursework.

 

Image credit: Flickr/Ginny Washburn

 

Education At War / Gove-centred learning

1S-8091867592_81f1b1790d_cUK teaching and learning is coming crashing down…

Last week Civitas, a right-of-centre think-tank commissioned by Herr Gove to report on education standards, announced it is to call for a new inspectorate for academies and free schools. Calling for the scrapping of ‘Sixties-mired’ Ofsted, apparently it will argue that ‘the Education Secretary’s wish for schools to develop their own approaches to teaching is being held back by child-first orthodoxies among inspectors, who are stifling innovation‘.

Well, not surprisingly this seemed to make Head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw just the tiniest bit cross, or as it was widely reported in the media he was ‘spitting blood‘, and that he had even fallen out with The Great Dictator himself.  Of course perhaps General Von Wiltshirehoffen should have known better than to announce that he would not hold back from criticising under-performing Free schools and Academies, and consequently preventing the complete ethnic cleansing of the entire left-wing in education. Even more surprisingly he apparently also said: ‘extreme educational philosophies’ had no place in modern schools, that some of his critics want  ‘children to be lectured for six hours a day in serried ranks’. and that such ‘rote learning would not produce successful learners who can think for themselves‘.

So is General Von Wiltshirehoffen in reality a Marxist Enemy Of Promise Double Agent in disguise? Anyway it’s good to know the enemy are busy fighting their own internal battles. Well, they were for a few hours anyway, because later that day Herr Gove said he fully supported General Von Wiltshirehoffen and would immediately execute exterminate dismiss anyone who said they didn’t, and then they both sat down together and had a really nice cup of tea and agreed they would be jolly good chums again, forever and ever.

But wait, they thought it was all over, when on Monday along comes David Green (Who’s he then?), the chief executive of Civitas, who clearly has no intention of allowing a peace process to erupt. Writing for The Spectator he is heavily critical of Wiltshire and Ofsted and promotes the need for a knowledge-led approach to learning in order to increase the performance of children who come from disadvantaged homes. So, if Herr Gove is true to his word, presumably one day soon there will be a knock on the door and David Green will never be heard of again.

Meanwhile All Change Please! was puzzled by the last phrase of Civitas’s original statement. First, what are all these unidentified ‘innovative approaches to teaching‘ that are being stifled? Presumably these involve traditional, old-fashioned approaches combined with a little help from computer-generated online knowledge-based, multiple choice questions, and a selection of dull and boring video clips, and based on the belief that all children are both created and grow-up equal, i.e. their needs are all exactly the same at any one point in time and space. And secondly, when Civitas criticises ‘child-first orthodoxies‘ is it really suggesting that the children should be seen to be of secondary importance in schools?

1S-Screen shot 2014-01-28 at 12.22.39Which came first? The children or the system?

All Change Please! suspects that the concept of ‘child-first’, or ‘child-centred learning’ is completely misunderstood by those whom it suits to do so. They believe it means allowing children to do exactly what they like, when they like and not imposing any order or notion of discipline or sanctions for misbehaviour, when in reality it involves a flexible, yet strongly structured, scaffolded approach to learning, focusing on and prioritising the interests, abilities, and learning styles of the students, rather than the needs of those involved in managing the educational process, such as teachers and administrators – and of course politicians. Thus it recognises the learner as an individual, rather than a future mass-produced widgit (ie a small gadget or mechanical or electronic component device). Which is not to say the needs of the teachers and administrators should be ignored, but just not prioritised over those of the children.

Then there is the curious belief, again strongly promoted by Civitas, that it is the local authorities that have been solely responsible for promoting ‘discredited, out-dated progressive child-centred learning‘, as if setting up Free schools or Academies will, entirely all on its own, completely by itself, without anyone else’s help, solve the perceived problem and enable teachers to get back to those so-called innovative methods of whole-class teaching.

But wait, there’s more… will you welcome please The Employers with a completely different priority. For them it’s not schools or children first, it’s the future economic success of their own businesses, or as they prefer to call it…’the country‘. Sadly, while the great and good generals, politicians, company directors and academics all appear to be having great fun scoring points of each each other in the name of education, it’s the innocent children and teachers in the trenches who are being slaughtered on a daily basis.

What’s really needed is some sort of balanced consensus that meets the differing needs of the children and the country, delivered within the realistic constraints of the schools, the managers and the teachers.  Surely that’s what the politicians should really be trying to achieve?

Meanwhile, the one clear approach that seems to be winning through can only be described as Gove-centred learning, and surely destined to produce a country full of Mini-Me Gove replicants. And in seems that in Australia it’s already happening….

“The clue about the approach Pyne is seeking to follow this week is in the snappy new glasses he unveiled at his Blue Room press conference. They are remarkably like those of Michael Gove, the current British secretary of state for education, who is busy prosecuting a culture war in English schools. This combines a radical commitment to setting up new schools outside of the framework of local government or professional regulation, while simultaneously trying to make exams harder, the curriculum more “fact” based, and leftie social workers named as the root of all contemporary evil.”

Image credit (top) SDASM Archives

Image credit (middle): Flickr vivido/rosefirerising

What if…?

Malcolm McDowell in a still from Lindsay Anderson’s classic 1968 film ‘If’

There have recently been some rumours that nice Mr Gove may be heading for the Treasury in a late-summer re-shuffle. What if these reports prove to be correct….?

Dateline March 2013. Budget Day.

Today Chancellor Gove announced that the only way to avoid rising levels of inflation was to introduce a new much more rigorous hard currency, which will consist of pounds, shillings and pence, just like in the good old days of the 1950’s, before he was old enough to remember what it was actually like.

However, the new currency will only be available for use by a relatively small percentage of the population who know their twelve times table off by heart by the time they are eleven years old – a preparatory measure he cleverly introduced during his time as education minister. The rest of the population will be expected to return to a softer, more vocationally orientated barter system.

Chancellor Gove then went on to confirm his intention to set up a series of ‘Free’ banks, able to choose their own interest rates and employ anyone they want – formal qualifications in finance will not be required. “We have all used money at some point in our lives” he said “so it is something we are all experts in already.” However he revealed that he has asked the new education minister to introduce a weekly double-dip lesson in Economics in our schools. It is also expected that in future, retired members of the armed forces will be recruited to help ensure the security of the banking system.

Meanwhile there is also to be a major overhaul of credit repayment schemes. In future, monthly modular repayments, with opportunities for extensions, will be banned. Instead debts must be paid off in full in a single installment at the end of a two year period.

Finally, existing banks that succeed in awarding excessive bonuses to five or more directors will be awarded the prestigious eBancc certificate, which will help ensure entry into Higher Banking.

On Twitter, the former ‘GoveMustGo’ hashtag has been replaced by #SendGoveBackToEducation.

So let’s just hope Cameron doesn’t do a U turn on his recent statement that Osborne is “not going anywhere”. You can say that again.

And please, in the meanwhile, no more quantitative sleasing.