School Island

All Change Please! has somehow recently managed to obtain a recording of one of Alan Partridge’s audio memos – intended for his assistant Lynn to type up – which he regularly used to record ideas for possible new TV shows to pitch. Here’s the transcript:

“Another TV idea: ‘School Island’. A group of children who don’t know each other are isolated in a secondary school for five years. In this unreal situation they are not allowed access to mobile phones or gain any other information about what is currently happening in the outside world.

As they compete to see who can gain the highest grades and most qualifications they are required to undertake a series of ridiculous meaningless and often humiliating challenges, such as seeing who can sit still and stay awake the longest, remember and then write down the most facts, wear exactly the correct school uniform, etc. These will be determined and set by the programme directors – to be known as senior management teams and politicians.

The children will be continually monitored by the hosts – let’s call them teachers – and TV cameras who will watch their every movement, manipulating the participants to cause maximum distress and mental illness to help increase viewing figures. The audience will vote to decide which children should be excluded for bad behaviour.

The winning children will be offered lucrative deals (at their own expense) to attend Russell Group Universities.

Lynn – please check if anything similar has already been done before.”

And finally, do make sure you watch this clip that provides worrying evidence of the devastating impact of the knowledge rich curriculum on the limited working memory.

Much Ado About D&T

We may be living in more modern times, but at present all is not well in the world of Design & Technology – it seems there is a spanner in the coursework….

Teachers are working through the new GCSEs in D&T and the ‘contexts’ for the so-called non examination coursework have just been announced by the Awarding Bodies. This part of the course is worth 50% of the final marks. Students are expected to make a study of the given broadly-defined, usually somewhat middle-class context  – eg ‘Going to the Seaside’ (Perhaps a title such as ‘Going to the Food Bank’ might be more familiar to some children and promote more designing for need than designing for consumerism?), and in doing so identify a suitable opportunity for design that they then proceed to resolve between now and the end of next March. Previously a number of more specific design tasks had been supplied by the Awarding Body, from which teachers often selected the one they considered most appropriate for their own students and their own expertise.

The other major change in the new exam specifications has been the welcome shift from the provision of material-specific courses (e.g., Textiles, Electronics) to a multi-material approach in which students are able to select the most appropriate to realise their designs.

So what’s the problem then?

Well in many schools there isn’t one, and everything is going according to plan. However, rather like the recent introduction of the new Northern rail timetables, a lot of the drivers, or rather teachers, have not been sufficiently trained to run the new courses. And at the same time the arrangements for the way in which teachers operate during the nearly year-long coursework Is the same as the way in which much shorter projects in more academic subjects are expected to be run.

As far as the student’s identification of a suitable problem is concerned, this is a process that they need to be well prepared for during the early stages of the course. While they might spot a suitable opportunity for design, what they are more likely to lack is the knowledge and awareness of their own capability needed to solve it within the time available. If they choose something too simple, too complicated and/or involves skills they do not have, and/or resources that are not easily available to them, then they are unlikely to achieve good marks on the subsequent aspects of their work throughout the rest of the course. Previously, choosing their own extended project was an expectation of A level students, supported by the advice of their teacher drawing on their previous experience in guiding others through similar tasks and their personal knowledge of the student’s capabilities.

Unfortunately some teachers are only just discovering that their students are relatively unprepared for this exercise, and have only experienced working on short-term projects with a prescribed and limited range of materials and components. There are also reports that in some schools, SMT’s have instructed D&T teachers to set a single identical task for all their students, even though they will lose marks as a result.

But it is the delivery of the coursework project that appears to be causing the most concern at this particular moment. The official rules indicate that from now until the end of the course next March, teachers are not allowed to teach, at least in terms of offering any specific personal guidance to candidates on their on-going work. Any such advice must be recorded on their work, and must be taken into account in the final assessment. While this might be appropriate for a much shorter project that carries less overall marks, it is absurd for an eleven-month project. It also puts teachers in a difficult position in deciding whether to offer and record advice, or indeed to invent ways of offering guidance non-specifically, and/or indeed not recording it.

At the same time, of course, there is nothing to stop candidates discussing their work with each other, or with other adults – just not their own teacher. And, while in school children may only work on their projects under strict supervision, they are then allowed to take them home to continue to develop their paper-work freely – although again there does appear to be some confusion over this.

There have also been suggestions that teachers are not allowed to share or discuss their pupils’ work or progress, or to share any ideas with each other. Thus while teachers may not produce or guide students towards specific resources to help guide them, there is nothing to stop non-teachers providing such resources for the students to discover for themselves as part of their investigation. And it hasn’t helped that the Awarding Bodies have each published slightly different rules, although teachers are encouraged to contact them for clarification.

To put it another way, students are being denied some 40 hours of teaching over the year, a substantial proportion of the whole two year course. Coursework should be a learning opportunity and experience – not just an extended assessment session.

So why isn’t everyone complaining about all this? Because at the same time teachers are being warned that if they do so it might be officially decided that the coursework project will be cancelled, which has already been the case with Information Technology. This would turn the assessment of an essentially practical subject into just another final written theoretical examination.

In many respects the new D&T GCSE is a great improvement on the previous one, but the problem of reliably assessing project work remains. It’s too late to resolve the situation regarding candidates entering the examination next summer, but clearly the situation regarding the coursework project needs urgent review.

D&T is currently the only established subject that teaches children creative open-ended problem-solving skills, and as such makes a major contribution to STEM. It is exactly these skills that are needed to help reinvigorate our ability to produce innovative manufactured products and systems that we can sell to the rest of the world. Yet entries to the examination of this once popular and thriving subject are currently in serious decline and an increasing number of schools are not even offering it at all to GCSE or A level. In some schools students are instead being entered for graphic or 3D options in GCSE in Art & Design, or for purely vocational courses.

As with all the new ‘more rigorous’ GCSEs, academically able D&T students will thrive, while the rest become even more alienated from an educational system that has little to offer them. That’s living in modern times for you…

 

 

Glibbly’s All Fool’s Gold Signature Collection

The other day Mr Glibbly was in fine form, cleverly avoiding questions about teachers’ pay and announcing what a wonderful thing the new GCSE’s ‘designed with employers in mind’ were (providing that is that they can understand the new numbering system):

“These more rigorous, gold-standard GCSEs are helping to nurture the next generation of scientists, linguists and historians. Whatever pupils want to do with their lives, these qualifications will prepare them for future success and help deliver the skills Britain needs to be fit for the future.”

All of which is indeed wonderful, assuming of course you are a student who wants to become a scientist, linguist or historian when you grow up, which quite a few don’t.

At the same time someone you’ve never heard of from the CBI, endorsed ‘today’s important focus on knowledge’, before helpfully adding ‘this partnership must also ensure we are prioritising teaching that encourages critical thinking, creativity, and teamwork’ – doubtless without realising that all of these things are completely ignored in Glibbly’s glistening All-Gold signature selection box of limited edition, academic-only GCSE subjects guaranteed to be completely free from Arts, and containing no soft-centred skills whatsoever.

Meanwhile All Change Please! can’t help but notice that many of today’s job specifications seem to require a rather different background skill-set to those acquired through a ‘knowledge-rich’ formative experience in our schools and leading universities.

For example, in one such recent and genuine job specification, for a one-year, fixed term contract, part-time position, paying around a pro-rata average London wage, only one of the desirable (as opposed to essential) criteria was knowledge-based, and that was a knowledge of HTML.

“You will be responsible for:

  • Further developing and leading our communications strategy in line with the organisation’s strategic aims, identifying audiences, messages, channels and methods of evaluation.
  • Planning and delivering effective and timely communications activity based on this strategy, building and maintaining a consistent brand.
  • Writing creative communications materials and content including: brochures and leaflets; blogs; learning materials; communications with key supporters, e.g. e-newsletters; innovative/creative materials e.g. animations/videos; media/press releases.
  • Designing and developing engaging online content that can be re-purposed across multiple channels.
  • Working with multiple stakeholders/partners to coordinate communications activities
  • Leading on media relations, proactively identifying news stories and ensuring that a consistent message is delivered.
  • Collaborating with and managing input from design and other agencies
  • Planning and implementing appropriate methods for evaluation of the communications strategy, and monitor and analyse the results.
  • Briefing or commissioning volunteers, freelancers and contractors when needed.
  • Managing part of the communications budget (and delivering value for money).

You should have experience in the following:

Essential

  • Proven ability to conceive, implement and evaluate successful and cost-effective communication strategies and activities (including an understanding of how to identify audiences, create appropriately differentiated content and use relevant channels).
  • Track record of writing and editing, preferably different types of writing for different publications and platforms (e.g. web, social media, e-newsletters, learning materials).
  • Ability to communicate clearly and effectively with a wide range of stakeholders, in person, online and in print.
  • Experience of assimilating complex information quickly, identifying the pertinent points and making them accessible for a wide range of audiences.
  • Well-developed interpersonal, advocacy and diplomacy skills.
    Experience of pitching stories to the media and responding to media enquiries.
  • Experience of commissioning freelancers (e.g. designers, web developers)/external agencies to carry out specific projects as part of a wider communications strategy, and managing those relationships.
  • Experience of managing social media accounts (twitter, facebook etc) and commissioning video.
  • Experience of sourcing images and print buying.
  • Capacity to work independently, problem-solve, handle multiple projects, and exercise good judgment in an organised and professional manner.
  • Experience in communications to support resource development/fundraising.

Desirable

  • Background in or demonstrable understanding of and passion for our mission.
  • Experience of managing/coordinating communications across partnerships
  • Experience of budget management.
  • Experience of Google Analytics
  • Knowledge of HTML (for when the CMS doesn’t quite do what you intend)
  • Experience of brand management
  • Understanding of web legislation and best practice.

Blimey! So where’s the bit about knowing everything there is to know about science, languages and history and being able to write essays? Surely at least part of the school curriculum urgently needs to start to prepare our children to become fluent in the workplace of the present, let alone the future?

Meanwhile Glibbly’s glistening All Gold EBacc curriculum collection needs some urgent re-branding. Perhaps re-naming it rather more accurately as Glibbly’s All Fool’s Gold Assortment – known for its superficial resemblance to qualifications that are actually worthwhile  – would be a good start?

 

Image credit: It’s not Terry’s, it’s Tristram’s…

Problem still unsolved

19295893399_3ee40fd48c_o.jpgProblem-solving: the process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues

The recent news that ‘Just 3 per cent of teenagers believe problem solving skills and creativity are essential attributes to have on their CVs’ is of course no more than a reflection of the lack of emphasis and importance placed on them in our education system. And it goes a long way to explaining why so few politicians and administrators seem quite unable to develop policies and procedures that manage to improve the life of the population. Too many students undertake academic degrees, including subjects like science and engineering, having had next to no experience of the processes and approaches involved in coming up with successful new practical and appropriate ways of doing things.

Where children are exposed to problem-solving and creativity in schools, the experience is usually limited to solving closed problems, where there is a single correct right or wrong answer. Such problems are usually technical in nature, rarely focusing on solving individual or social human problems.

Even in design and technology, where a rapidly diminishing number of students are asked to solve design problems, the understanding of problem-solving skills is given disproportionate emphasis to increasingly acquiring knowledge about materials and production technologies. Few children rise to the challenge of resolving multiple conflicting requirements and coming up with truly creative solutions. And while there is good imaginative work in evidence in many departments of art, drama and music, its value and application is restricted to those lessons and defined studio spaces.

Developing students’ problem-solving and creative abilities is not achieved through a series of disparate activities experienced largely out of context. It involves an extended course of study in which increasingly complex, open-ended and challenging problems are tackled in such a way that the learner starts to identify their own strategies and preferred methodologies for tackling different sorts of problems. This includes being able to deal with problems that require:

• a mixture of creative and logical thinking

• dealing with subjective and objective criteria

• testing and evaluating possible solutions using a variety of modelling techniques

• identifying and understanding human needs and desires

• information finding

• planning over multiple time-scales, collaboration and self-management

• effective communication.

Underlying these skills at a more basic level, successful problem-solving requires a desire to improve the way things are, a sense of curiosity, the drive to explore and develop a multiplicity of possible solutions and willingness to learn from failure.

Until our children start to acquire these skills and they come to be acknowledged in schools and universities as being valuable in life and the workplace it is difficult to be optimistic about our future. We no longer require a steady flow of people to administer and oversee the far-flung corners of our long-lost Empire, but instead a stream of creative problem-solvers to construct our brave new post-Brexit world.

 

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Image credits: Flickr Sacha Chua

 

 

 

 

 

Test Your Academic Strength!

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‘Strong’ it seems, is the new ‘good’.

The Df-ingE’s latest whizz-bang ‘let’s see if we can get away with just changing the name’ idea is to differentiate between ‘standard’ and ‘strong’ GCSE ‘passes’ at levels 4 and 5. All Change Please! would like to propose that this is taken further by installing a suitably diagnostic ‘Test Your Academic Level Strengthometer’ in every school, similar to the one above.

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

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

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

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

And of course there’s also comparative judgement

Image credits:  Top  Flickr/jimjarmo   Middle  Wikimedia Antoine Taveneaux

Lord Gnasher does his business

gnasher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not unsurprisingly, while..

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

• Encourage vocational subjects, not just academic.

• Include more vocational training throughout the school career.

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

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

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

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

Image credit: Wikipedia

All that glisters…

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After many years of hard slog, a group of students celebrate winning A level Gold, before coming down with a bump when they discover how much taking a degree is going to cost and deciding not to bother.

As the UK basks in its outstanding performance in the GCSE and A level Examination Games, in which 27 of its heroic students won top academic Gold medals and are given a golden bus-top parade through the golden streets of London, politicians have been quick to point out that all we need to do is show the same approach to Brexit and everything will be wonderful again, just as it wasn’t in the 1950s.

As a result, the Df-ingE are planning to introduce a new socially inclusive policy initiative in which a small number of young students with exactly the right academic capabilities will be painstakingly selected, and millions of pounds – cleverly extracted from the poor through lottery funding – will be allocated to their education to ensure that they achieve full marks in each of the subjects they take at GCSE and A level, before proceeding to a top private school and Oxbridge and receiving an OBE or Knighthood. As a result we will gain a handful of highly educated individuals who might just possibly be clever enough to sort the whole EuroMess out for us, while the rest of the population make do with a quick jog round the block before breakfast in a half-hearted attempt to pass a few GCSEs.

Meanwhile the running, jumping and standing-still Olympic Games Committee were recently sitting down discussing the problem that some countries were gaming the system to improve their medal table position by focusing on easier-to-win Bronze medals. They are therefore introducing a new method called Progress 8 and Attainment 8 in which athletes will be awarded medals on the progress they have made in 8 events since the last Olympic Games, four years previously. The various events will be placed in a number of so-called buckets, with the main Running events bucket worth double, the Jumping bucket, and the three best standards achieved in the Standing-still bucket. The results will be converted to points and then for some reason divided by ten, and that average is an athlete’s final Attainment 8 score. Officials will run regular tests to ensure there are no holes in any of the buckets, especially the Russian’s.

A competitor’s Progress 8 score is derived by comparing their forecast Attainment 8 score – based on the results achieved by athletes with the same prior attainment at the previous Olympics – to their Attainment 8 score. Countries will be expected to achieve the minimum running track standard of -0.5 which indicates the athlete’s average achievement is a half a medal below the average of other countries with the same expected progress. Confused? You will be…

A spokesrunner for the Olympic Committee explained: “Apparently this will make it a lot easier to identity which countries are performing well at the Games, although it might be a little while before the general public manages to understand how the new system works. To be honest I’m not quite sure I grasp it myself.  Oh, and we’re now calling them baskets instead of buckets, because that sounds more friendly and makes you think of summer picnics, doesn’t it? Meanwhile I can also announce that in a further bid to increase standards, it has also been decided in future the 100, 200 and 400 meters will be extended to a more rigorous 110, 220 and 440 metres.

Unbelievable… You couldn’t make it up – or could you?

Image credit: Flickr/Vlad

Talking ’bout Generation Z

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All Change Please! recently came across a number of articles that served to remind it exactly how out of date our schools and the current curriculum is.

First there was this ill-considered reporting of a finding that students do less well in academic examinations if they have used computers while studying. Duh! When will it be finally realised that perhaps it’s the curriculum and the methods of assessment that need to change?

Today’s young people – born and growing up in this Century and known as Generation Z – are just not the same as we were when we were young. They have a substantially different mindset that sees the world in ways we often find it hard to imagine and engage with. This article gives a least some interesting insights, as does this report.

Briefly, and generally speaking, today’s teenagers are:

  • True digital natives, unencumbered by memories of the 20th Century
  • Highly proactive and entrepreneurial
  • Have a sense of unsettlement and insecurity in terms of the future.
  • Globally and environmentally aware
  • Communicating and sharing information in a highly visual way
  • Highly IT literate and able to adapt and personalise products
  • Seeing school as an important social gathering
  • Often experiencing inappropriate and unsuccessful use of new technologies in the classroom
  • Using digital devices to facilitate and control their growing independence.

But what about the children who for one reason or another are not able, or do not wish to access the online world and become self-starting entrepreneurs?  MrArtist, our Generation Baby Boomer guest blogger, observed:

“Interesting the big point seems to be how the walk home with friends has become the social place for face to face interaction. In a no-man’s land, where teachers have been released from their poor attempts at learning how to teach with technology, and pre when parents start attempting to have their own ineffectual influence on the student’s time and on-line activities.

In this digital and ‘social’ world, I wonder and worry about the poor unfortunate lonely kid. You know, the one that doesn’t have friends, or has weird parents and consequently becomes either bullied or an outcast (or maybe that was me/you?!). I’m sure it still happens. I can remember some of them; the teacher’s pet girl who was an unfortunate shade of ginger, freckles and teeth. The odd-looking vicar’s son who walked the perimeter of the playground, alone, clutching a book looking down as he paced, like a priest until break was at last over. The boy that always smelled of urine and would have had friends if anyone could have got close enough. And then there was that poor RE teacher who just didn’t stand a chance from day one.

My thought is, apart from that unfortunate kid (or teacher) maybe not being allowed a phone, what friends would they have to be with on Faceboot, Twatter or What’sAppDoc?

I can only think the loneliness of the long distance sufferer is only amplified by modern technology and social connectivity? But then again, maybe there’s a Faceboot group for that? A special place for Nerds, Dweebs and Loners? Isn’t the internet wonderful? A place for anyone and everyone. Anything goes these days, even socks with sandals and cardigans is cool these days (except my kids tell me “cool” is not cool to say these days!). In any case, no one needs to be an outcast any more… assuming they’re allowed a phone and access to the internet, any website is free for them to revengefully troll away to their heart’s content within any freely available comments section!”


So how are we taking Generation Z’s learning and social needs and wants into account in our efforts to prepare them for their futures?  Kenneth Baker’s latest report has the answer – we’re completely failing to prepare students for the digital revolution of course:

“The government’s White Paper has a firm commitment for students to focus on seven academic subjects at GCSE – English language, English literature, maths, two sciences, a modern or ancient language, geography or history, plus probably a third science. This is word-for-word the curriculum laid down by the Education Act of 1904, though it added three subjects – drawing, cooking for girls, and carpentry or metalwork for boys.”

Baker identifies the key skills and attributes for work-ready students:

  • Good reasoning skills
  • The ability to examine and solve problems.
  • Experience of working in teams.
  • An ability to make data-based decisions – they are “data savvy”.
  • Social skills – particularly the confidence to talk to and work with adults from outside school.
  • The skills of critical-thinking, active listening, presentation and persuasion.
  • Practical skills: the ability to make and do things for real.
  • Basic business knowledge.

None of which are even dreamt of in Nick Glibb’s philosophy.

And Baker goes on to provide an eight-point plan for the Digital Revolution:

  1. Primary schools should bring in outside experts to teach coding.
  2. All primaries should have 3D printers and design software.
  3. Secondary schools should be able to teach computer science, design and technology or another technical/practical subject in place of a foreign language GCSE.
  4. The computer science GCSE should be taken by at least half of all 16-year-olds.
  5. Young Apprenticeships should be reintroduced at 14, blending a core academic curriculum with hands-on learning.
  6. All students should learn how businesses work, with schools linked to local employers.
  7. Schools should be encouraged to develop a technical stream from 14 to 18 for some students, covering enterprise, health, design and hands-on skills.
  8. Universities should provide part-time courses for apprentices to get Foundation and Honours degrees.

It’s just a shame Mr Baker did not have the same insights when he drafted the subjects of the National Curriculum nearly 30 years ago – if he had, we really would have a world-beating education system by now.

More Glibbledygook: The Impotence of Curriculum

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All Change Please! recently discovered that there was a new intern working at the Df-ingE who was asked to produce the first draft of the speech that Nick Glibb gave last week to Association of School and College Leaders. After many hours re-assembling thousands of shredded strips of paper it has been able to restore sections of the original draft along with Nick Gibb’s comments and amendments…

The Impotence of Curriculum

Would you believe it – there’s an ‘r’ and an ‘a’ in Importance. This just proves my point that more spelling tests are needed in schools. Of course I suppose it might be some sort of joke about my lack of power and the fact that, despite what some people seem to think, everything I do or say has to stand up for approval by a woman? No, surely not. And let’s be clear – there’s nothing dysfunctional about my curriculum. So let’s make it:

“The Importance of Curriculum”

Right, that feels much more satisfying. OK, let’s read the first paragraph.

Thank you for inviting me to join the ASCL curriculum summit today. Developing a well-thought-through, challenging school curriculum is central to the running of any school, and this is a topic I am always keen to impose my narrow, ill-informed views on.

No – that needs to read:

“Developing a well-thought-through, challenging school curriculum is central to the running of any school, and this is a topic I am always keen to discuss.”

We all want our children to grow up to be happy, independent, economicaly literate, employable, caring and confident citizens.

Oh no we don’t! We want them to be as obedient, pliable and silent to make it as easy as possible to keep them in order and make as much money out of them as possible when they become adults. But perhaps best not to include that.

So why does our curriculum quite unnecessarily prepare, examine and fail them as if they were all going to become university professors and masters of a wide range of academic subjects that do not exist in the real world?

You cannot be serious! Delete and change to:

“There was a widespread feeling that qualifications, in particular GCSEs, did not represent the mastery of a sufficiently challenging body of subject knowledge.”

Since 2010, pupils’ future life chances have been sacrificed for an illusion of DfE success, which served short-term political expediency.

Err, just a slight alteration here:

“Before 2010, pupils’ future life chances were being sacrificed for an illusion of success, which served short-term political expediency.”

Of course, planning for these new examinations is placing a significant workload on teachers for the next 2 years. This will be made even more demanding because instead of engaging and inspiring children with the subject they love – the subject that they went into teaching to communicate – it will mean a lot more teaching to the test of irrelevant factual knowledge to completely disinterested children who will see the content as completely meaningless to their lives.

Ah, well, with a little bit of editing…

“Of course, planning for these new examinations is placing a significant workload on teachers for the next 2 years. But as workload burdens go, I hope that secondary school teachers will see this as a chance to re-engage with the subject they love, the subject that they went into teaching to communicate.”

On the topic of performance measures, there have been concerns amongst ASCL members about our aspiration that, in time, 90% of pupils will be entered for the EBacc. The key concern appears to be the challenge of teaching all academic subjects to all pupils, in terms of both recruitment of teachers and achieving success for lower attaining pupils, and in the significant reduction of access to courses in the Arts and other non-academic subjects.

A bit of damage limitation is obviously required here so let’s just tweak that slightly to read:

“On the topic of performance measures, there have been concerns amongst ASCL members about our aspiration that, in time, 90% of pupils will be entered for the EBacc. The key concern appears to be the challenge of teaching modern foreign languages to a much larger proportion of pupils, in terms of both recruitment of teachers and achieving success for lower attaining pupils.”

A well-rounded, broad education is the entitlement of every child, irrespective of birth or background. It will enable them to discover their individual interests and abilities and nourish the desire to continue learning throughout their lives.

You might think that. I couldn’t possibly say so. Change to: 

“An academic education is the entitlement of every child, irrespective of birth or background.”

In today’s highly competitive global employment market it is increasingly essential that our children learn the skills of the workplace that will last them a lifetime – such as collaboration, communication and problem-solving – as early as possible. It is the luxury of living in today’s world that there is no rush to start developing the ability to come up with pretentious academic twaddle such as ‘the great conversations of humankind’ and  ‘intellectual hinterland’.

No, it’s the other way round, stupid! 

“It is the luxury of living in today’s world that there is no rush to start studying for the workplace. 

All pupils can be afforded the time and opportunity to be initiated into the great conversations of humankind, and develop an intellectual hinterland which will last them a lifetime.”

The Social Market Foundation have recently published a report establishing that:

“We find stark inequalities in access to the highest quality teachers resulting in poorer pupils being taught by poorer quality teachers. This provides an explanation as to why educational inequality in England persists.”

This will of course come as no surprise to teachers, who, had we listened to them in the first place, would have provided the basis for a series of policy initiatives that might actually have made a real difference to under-performing children instead of all the EBacc, Academy and KS2 English SAT nonsense we have wasted tax-payers’ money on.

Look, let’s be honest – you’re not really cut out for this sort of work, are you? Change to:

“The structural reforms undertaken by this government have created extraordinary school success stories, which force all of us to revise our expectations about what children, particularly those from deprived backgrounds, can achieve.”

Sadly All Change Please! believes the intern is no longer with the Df-ingE.

Happily All Change Please! was meanwhile amused to learn that Glibb got one of the English Test questions incorrect:

“The BBC’s Martha Kearney asked him whether the word “after” in the sentence “I went to the cinema after I’d eaten my dinner” served as a subordinating conjunction or a preposition. Gibb incorrectly identified it as a preposition.”

Poor Mr Glibby – he obviously feels inadequate because he wasn’t forced to learn unnecessary rules of grammar at school. He went on to explain:

“This isn’t about me. This is about ensuring that future generations of children – unlike me incidentally, who was not taught grammar at primary school – we need to make sure that future generations are taught grammar properly…so that when they are asked to write at secondary school, when they go to university and are asked to write an essay, it isn’t a struggle to construct a properly grafted and grammatically correct sentence.”

There’s nothing wrong with children learning the basics of grammar and being tested on it – it’s the ridiculous extreme of the current tests that’s the problem, and the sense of failure it gives them. And all because the DfE loves PISA…

And finally, the other day Little Miss Morgove had another of those difficult speeches to make at the NAHT conference, in which she successfully convinced everyone of the full extent of her considerable ignorance about the reality of schools, teaching and learning, and which prompted the following meme to circulate worldy widely on the interwebly.

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Top image credit: Flickr/thedailyenglishshow

Mr Vaguely Squeezed to Death On TV…

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In which Mr Vaguely writes a colourful report on the Arts,
which everyone completely ignores.

With the focus on the unwelcome forced academisation of schools it’s important not to forget that there is still the problem of the impact of the EBacc on the Arts and many other subjects.

Ed Vaisey, government secretary in a state about Culture, Media & Sport recently launched a multi-coloured white paper that painted a glorious pictorial vision of arts ‘at the heart of everyday life’ and that ensured that everyone would be able to access culture ‘no matter what their background’.

Apparently, according to the White Paper:

“All state-funded schools must provide a broad and balanced curriculum that promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils. Experiencing and understanding culture is integral to education. Knowledge of great works of art, great music, great literature and great plays, and of their creators, is an important part of every child’s education. So too is being taught to play a musical instrument, to draw, paint and make things, to dance and to act. These can all lead to lifelong passions and can open doors to careers in the cultural and creative sectors and elsewhere. Without this knowledge and these skills, many children from disadvantaged backgrounds are excluded from meaningful engagement with their culture and heritage. The national curriculum sets the expectation that pupils will study art and design, music, drama, dance and design and technology. New, gold-standard GCSEs and A levels have been introduced in these subjects.”

Well that’s all fine and dandy then, isn’t it? What’s all the fuss about? Everything is wonderful! Except that we all know that in reality it just doesn’t work like this, and that in order to increase a school’s league table position an increasing number of children are being persuaded to take EBacc subjects instead of those in the Arts. And at the same time provision at KS2 and 3 is being cut back drastically. It doesn’t sound like he read the NSEAD’s recent survey does it?

One has to feel a bit sorry for Ed Vaguely, the longest serving Minister for Culture, Media & Sport. He’s obviously passionate about the provision and promotion of the Arts, but somehow the Df-ingE keeps getting in his way. And of course he’s under contract to keep repeating the same old tired nonsense that the Df-ingE keep spinning in the belief that if they keep saying it loud enough and long enough it will actually become true, or at least people might start to believe it. Actually one doesn’t have to feel sorry for Ed Vaguely – he should be willing to stand up for himself and the Arts and challenge the bullies at the Df-ingE, which isn’t exactly difficult to do given their current record of ‘U’ Turns. After all it’s a White Paper, not a White Flag.

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Anyway, the other night there was Mr Vaguely on Channel 4 News, telling the artist known as Bob & Roberta Smith (AKA Patrick Brill), film producer Uzma Hasan, George the Poet and Jon Snow how wonderful everything would be now that he had published his sparkling new Colouring-in White Paper. Of course such a debate needs a lot more more than 10 minutes and 30 seconds, but here are a few things that were and weren’t said about the future of Art & Design education…

While Uzma Hasan asked about funding and George the Poet talked about the importance of community arts, Bob and Roberta Smith entered the conversation (at around the 3 minute mark) briefly mentioning the impact of academisation before moving swiftly on to the fact that, under the extremely complicated EBacc and Progress 8 accountability measure, Arts subjects are all in what are known as Bucket 3. This gives them significantly less weighting in the final accountability calculation, thus encouraging schools to enter students for the academic subjects with the double and triple word scores of Buckets 1 and 2. All subjects are created equal, except it seems that some are considerably more equal than those involving the Arts.

Ed Vaguely countered with the usual mis-information about the genourous committement of the Government making a little bit of extra pocket money available for Music and Arts in schools, until Bob and Roberta point out that this was just for optional after-school and Saturday clubs. Given that understandably most children can’t wait to get out of school at the end of the afternoon, it’s only going to be a precious few who benefit from this provision.

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Vaguely then switched the conversation to the Government’s statement about the need for more students to take Science and Technology subjects (All Change Please! continues to wonder what these mysterious ‘Technology’ subjects actually are, and why they don’t include Design & Technology or Information & Communication Technology?), and pretended that doing more of these subjects didn’t mean doing less Arts subjects, despite the fact that for most students it does. He then made the interesting statement that: ‘Everything I talk about is the link between Science and the Arts, because you can’t have successful Science and Technology without Creativity.’ Indeed, that’s very true, and it’s just a pity Messers Morgan and Glibb had their fingers firmly stuck in their ears while he was saying it. Perhaps you need to shout more loudly Ed? And to keep on reminding them about the findings of that recent NSEAD survey?

Bob and Roberta Smith then deftly challenged with what he called the Benedict Cumberbatch syndrome in which the growing concern is that the Arts are becoming the elite preserve of the wealthier middle-classes who can afford to back their children in their studies, mainly in the independent sector. Back in the 1970s (when All Change Please! was at college) studying a practical Arts degree, funded by a Local Authority, provided an education pathway that provided many children from working-class backgrounds with a route to a successful future well-paid career that has since made a significant contribution to the economy. What was it the government were saying about the need to increase social mobility?

At this point Jon Snow joined in the attack by telling Mr Vauguely that: ‘What you say is wonderful, but the problem is you are squeezed to death by the people who surround you.’

Somehow Vaguely managed to decompress himself, draw breath, and reject the idea that Academies are abandoning the Arts, even though that’s exactly what they will need to do if they are minimise the number of students choosing Bucket 3 subjects.

Back to Bob and Roberta who reminded us that Art was about more than just producing future Artists, and used the D word to effectively remind us that without Drawing and Design, in the future the country will fail to make any products to sell to other countries.

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As Ed Vaguely became increasingly vaguer, he repeated his belief that – no, by now we had all guessed he didn’t really believe it himself – he repeated the DfE’s belief that the Arts were not about to fall off a cliff, and there’s nothing wrong with increasing the number taking Science and Technology subjects, except they are and there is.

You won’t believe what Vaguely said next. Well actually you probably will, because let’s be honest we’d all been waiting for him to say it. Yes, that’s right – he crossed his fingers behind his back and tried to get away with the: ‘There are more people taking GCSEs in Art than there were before.’ routine. Yeah – just like David Cameron has never benefited from an offshore tax haven? It’s that classic bit of Df-ingE mis-information that conveniently forgets to explain that the subject entries only increased because the numbers  of students taking equivalent BTEC courses in Art & Design have fallen drastically as they’ve switched to taking GCSEs instead. The much more honest version reads: ‘There are far less people taking examination courses in Art than there were before’.

Teaching of the Arts in schools may or may not be falling of a cliff, but there’s certainly a super-sized black hole in Bucket 3 that’s leaking Arts subjects as fast as you can say Vaisey by name, vaguely by nature.

Meanwhile in other overlooked and left behind news:

A recent report by the House of Lords ‘Overlooked and Left Behind’, has concluded that: ‘Non-academic routes to employment are complex, confusing and incoherent’ and recommends that instead, the final four years of schooling should be redesigned so that more pupils can pass recognised vocational qualifications on a par with A-levels.

Somewhere hidden deep inside Sanctuary House, without bothering to actually read the report, a solitary Df-ing E spokesperson rolled a dice and as a result issued Standard Response No 4 which goes:

“We have introduced a more rigorous curriculum so every child learns the basic skills they need, such as English and maths, so they can go on to fulfill their potential whether they are going into the world of work or continuing their studies.”

Well, that’s all OK then. Problem solved. I don’t know why these Lords bother to waste their time writing these reports?

All Change Please! wonders if the Lords’ approach could perhaps pave the way for the end of all external examinations at the end of KS4, and in doing so end the whole EBacc fiasco. And of course creating new courses for non-academic routes to employment wouldn’t cost anything, because millions have already been spent on their development 10 years ago. Anyone here have a copy of  Tomlinson’s ‘New Diploma’ handy?

Screenshots courtesy of C4.