Fool’s Gold

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

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

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

English universities to be ranked gold, silver and bronze

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

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

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

 

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

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

Team Df-ingE are Going for Gold

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

The Olympic Games Committee made a surprise announcement today in which it stated that in future Gold medals will only be awarded to the winners of the 100 metres, which it considers to be the only true test of an athlete. Winners of other track events that involve at least some competitive speed running will only be awarded Silver medals, while other, so called ‘soft sports’ such as pole-vaulting or horse-riding will only gain winners Bronze medals. Team games, in which it is impossible to identify a single winner, and sports that can be played professionally, such as football and boxing, will still be offered as recreational fringe events, but no medals will be awarded. A spokesperson said ‘It’s essential not to further devalue the gold standard, and we hope that this action will encourage more athletes to train for and compete in the 100 metres’.

Crazy, and of course quite untrue. Except that in the UK that’s exactly how we view the current education system – we prepare everyone for success in one event that only a small proportion of entrants are capable of succeeding in. What makes it worse is that the one event is, by definition, ‘academic’ – theoretical rather than practical. An academic is ‘a person who works as a researcher (and usually teacher) at a university, college, or similar institution in post-secondary (tertiary) education’. Why is it that we all want our children to be brilliant academics, but are quick in a discussion to dismiss an idea as being ‘academic’, i.e. of theoretical rather than any practical relevance? As a result we have a nation full of trained 100 metre runners, the vast majority of whom have no chance of ever achieving Gold, and frequently see themselves, and are also seen by potential employers, as failures and as such un-equipped  for any other event, such as work in the outside work. And how much longer will the essay and the multiple choice question remain the main format for assessment, given that few jobs involve a great deal of essay writing or answering mcqs.

If the UK is to remain, or even become, in any way competitive in the global market place, it’s much too late therefore for a slow, evolutionary incremental shift in public opinion and institutional structures, curriculum and teaching method. We need to think the unthinkable. Nothing less than a short, sharp revolution in needed.

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

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

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

Lower image credit: Flickr/TiareScott

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.

D&T: Design & Transparency?

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Your country needs you to do D&T

Last week the Df-ingE issued one of their spin-ridden press releases about the new D&T GCSE. Let’s take it apart and see what, if anything, is holding it all together.

‘A new, gold-standard design and technology (D&T) GCSE to help produce the next generation of James Dysons and Tim Berners-Lees has been unveiled by Schools Minister Nick Gibb.

So, gold-standard, eh? All Change Please! always assumed that accolade was reserved for real, hard, academic subjects of no practical benefit? And while a couple of Dysons and Berners-Lees might be useful in the future, the thought of an entire cloned generation of them is actually a bit alarming.

‘The new design and technology GCSE will give students the chance to develop their own design briefs and projects and could lead them to producing anything from furniture for disabled people to computer-controlled robots.

‘The chance to develop their own briefs and projects maybe, but in reality most teachers will find a way of narrowing things down somewhat in order to make things more manageable. Meanwhile given the breadth of the design industry, the distance between furniture and robots is not actually that great, and pupils will quickly come up with a much wider range of possibilities that may prove difficult to shoe-horn into the assessment criteria. Oh, and could someone kindly let the Df-ngE know that Tim Berners Lee is not and has never been an industrial designer.

‘Industry experts, including those from the James Dyson Foundation, have been closely involved in developing the new GCSE content, ensuring it meets the future needs of employers.

All Change Please! isn’t entirely convinced that the James Dyson Foundation – or indeed many industry experts – was exactly ‘closely involved’. It knows for a fact that most of the content came from a small working party who put a great deal of effort into challenging the Df-ingE’s original horticulturalist nonsense. It might help meet some of the needs of some employers, but the high percentage of academic content will put most students off, and anyway it’s not part of the EBaccwards, so that will put the rest off too.

‘This is a rigorous qualification which will require students to have a sound grasp of maths and science, and which will undoubtedly stretch them to further develop the kind of knowledge and skills so sought after by employers and universities.

Ah yes, the maths and science content. Design is neither an Arts or a Science subject but a subtle mixture of the two, which just goes to show how much the Df-ingE understand about what they’re messing with. In reality designers get on with the designing and consult specialist mathematicians and scientists, and indeed a wide range of other specialists, as and when appropriate to the requirements of the work they are doing.

‘Internationally-renowned designer James Dyson said: Design and technology is a subject of fundamental importance. Logical, creative and practical – it’s the only opportunity that school students have to apply what they learn in maths and science – directly preparing them for a career in engineering. But until now, this subject’s tremendous potential has not been met.

Ah, so let’s admit it then, this isn’t really a course in design and technology at all – it’s really just a fancy new name for Engineering. And it’s also the only opportunity that school students have to apply what they learn in all their school subjects, not just Maths and Science.

‘The James Dyson Foundation has spent 4 years advising the Department for Education on every level of D&T education – and today we can finally unveil a GCSE qualification to be proud of.

That’s just four mentions of James Dyson so far. And it’s just a pity that the Dyson Foundation didn’t spend those 4 years suggesting creative ways of making the 1960s maths and science content more interesting, relevant and accessible to a wider range of children, or perhaps advising that 21st century digital making now ought to be at the centre of the content.

‘One that will inspire invention from students and teachers alike. That will nurture a creative mind-set and passion for problem solving. That will appeal to more youngsters than ever before.

Oh no it won’t, because the written paper will serve to exclude more youngsters (‘youngsters’???  N.B. All Change Please! strongly advises not calling them that in class) than ever before. Hmm. Just one other problem here, and that’s the teachers. Forgetting the current severe shortage of D&T teachers at present, most of the rest are well past their make-by date CDT teachers, formerly known as woodworkers and metalworkers, usually recognisable by their particular lack of inspirational invention, let alone creative mind-set and passion for problem-solving.

So in the interests of transparency, let’s just do a bit of re-wording, and what we end up with is this rather more honest press-release:

‘Design and Technology is a terribly important subject because in about 20 years’ time a successful designer or engineer might emerge as a result of having taken the subject at school, even though most successful designers and engineers tend to study completely different subjects, or leave school at 16 and do something practical instead. And when we say terribly important, of course we mean not as important as academic subjects, which is why we’re not including it in the EBacc.

Because the specification we have developed is terribly, er., quite important and will effect the lives of hundreds of thousands of children over the next five to ten years, we first asked a junior minister to write it up over the weekend, based on her own experience of CDT in the 1970s. We then got James Dyson – yes that James Dyson – and Tim Berners Lee to agree to say we had consulted them, but despite this, the D&T subject association insisted on trying to improve it, so we let them alter one or two bits to keep them happy. Oh and did I mention James Dyson? We did try to get Isambard Brunel to contribute, but he wasn’t available.

A lot of people in the consultation said that they thought the written paper was a bad idea, but we couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about, probably because we don’t really understand what design is all about in the first place. As a result we’re still insisting on making half the exam based on a written paper even though it’s a highly unreliable indicator of design and technological capability. Of course a written paper in Art & Design might not be so appropriate, because that’s a different sort of design which is just about making things look nice, isn’t it? I mean you wouldn’t want to end up being someone non-PC like Jonny Ive of Apple and going to Art School now would you? Apple’s motto is ‘Think Different’, and we certainly don’t want that.

Meanwhile the reality of course is that not a lot has changed in D&T. Pupils can choose their own problems to solve which, between you and me, I think will be a bit of a disaster, because many of them will not involve a great deal of the maths and science they have to somehow include.  Then we’ve removed the requirement to specialise in one material, except of course that most D&T teachers are still specialists in one material. Then there’s the addition of the word ‘iterative’ which sounds rather trendy and up-to-date, and the phrase ‘exploring, creating and evaluating’. Most teachers never understood the design process anyway, so this will really confuse them. So the chances are we’ll still end up with a load of projects in which children make furniture for their bedroom, a new outfit for themselves or an automatic goldfish feeder.

Which is a good thing, because of course the last thing we want to do is to really change anything – our motto is ‘Moving forwards by going backwards and all thinking exactly the same’.

Nick ‘Dyson’ Glibbly

And here is Teacher Toolkit’s ‘It’s So Rigorous; We Don’t Want You To Do It! response… http://teachertoolkit.me/2015/11/17/designtechnology/

Image credit: Flickr / Eva Renaldi

 

 

Any Answers?

6965869588_89580abd74_o-1“I need to come in to school to take my EFuccing what exams?”

Last week the DfE published its consultation document outlining its latest intentions to make 90% children take the full EBaccteria subjects to GCSE, and Little Missy Morgan made a speech confirming the government’s goals. Well it could have been worse – back in June, Nick Glibbly announced it would be all children…

Meanwhile, the newly-formed, entirely non-profit making All Change Please! Awarding Body has just released a sample examination paper for its new, rigorous specification for courses in GCSE Abject Failure.

Section A
These questions are only to be answered by Nicky Morgan or Nick Glibb.

Q1. “It must be right that every child studies a strong academic core up until the age of 16.”  Justify this statement, with extensive reference to the supporting evidence base. In your answer, clarify exactly why people all have slightly differently shaped and sized arms, legs and other body parts that make them potentially more or less successful in achieving different physical activities, but that all children’s brains are absolutely identical and therefore they have an exactly equal potential academic learning ability.

Q2. Successfully increasing children’s academic performance relies on high-quality academic teaching, yet while many teachers with good academic degrees are highly knowledgeable they are often poor communicators and motivators. Given the current teacher shortages, outline the forward plans for extensive CPD and long-term recruitment of new entrants to the profession who will be able to effectively deliver the curriculum. Spend more than five seconds answering this question.

Q3. ‘O’ levels were originally intended for the most academically-able 20%, and currently around 50% of children still fail to achieve 5 or more good GCSE grades. Demonstrate mathematically, showing your working, how the new more rigorous and demanding EBacc GCSEs that are more similar to O levels will be appropriate for 90% of children.

Q4. Using your best handwriting on the attached Df-ingE headed notepaper, compose a reply to Mr and Mrs Smith of No Fixed Address in response to their letter requesting an explanation as to why their son has just failed all his academic EBacc GCSEs, and that surely his time would have been much better spent taking courses in Business Studies, ICT, the Arts and PE, which are all subjects he excels at? Use robust evidence to convince them that it is better to take and fail an academic subject than to achieve an A* in a non-academic subject. Suggesting that their son is simply lazy and did not try hard enough will not be acceptable as an answer.

Q5. ‘So once again we find adults writing off children, deciding what they can and can’t do, and worse, what they can and can’t go on to do, before they’ve even turned 15′.

a) Discuss the inherent irony in your statement, given that you yourself are an adult who has just decided what children can and can’t do before they’ve even turned 15.

b) Using a spreadsheet and vector-based charts and diagrams, calculate and present the impact of your decision to cancel the popular ICT GCSE, which was taken by 110,000 students, compared to the 35,000 who took the Computing GCSE this summer.

Q6. A recent Df-ingE consultation document stated:

In time, the government wants to see at least 90% of pupils in mainstream secondary schools entered for the EBacc subjects at GCSE… Given the need to take highly variable circumstances into account, we propose that schools should be able to determine which pupils make up the small minority for whom taking the whole EBacc is not appropriate…to achieve the national expectation that at least 90% of pupils are entered for the EBacc.

a) Discuss the impact on the reader of the use of the vague and aspirational phrases ‘In time’, ‘wants to see’, ‘small’ and ‘national expectation’ in the context of the current government’s political propaganda strategy. How does this conflict with the mis-leading and inaccurate messages being given out by the mass-media that 90% of children in each school will shortly be forced to take all the EBacc subject GCSE examinations? Evaluate the extent to which this will annoy and frustrate teachers even further, and explain why, or why not, this was the desired intention.

The consultation document continued:

The government will continue to review this approach to ensure that social justice is being delivered and that all pupils, for whom it is appropriate, take the EBacc.

b) Assuming that social justice has been assured and is being effectively delivered for all children, draw up extensive development plans for Russell Group Universities to admit the 90% of children who will have therefore achieved the required entry standards.

Q7. Produce an extended series of lesson plans on the subject of the 1642 English civil war for a class of 32 highly-disruptive and disaffected 15 year-olds who have little chance of future employment or housing. Include details of your differentiated strategies for dealing with knives, mobile phones, drug abuse and long-term absence from the classroom (i.e., of the students, not yourself).

Q8. Compose an imaginative essay that begins: ‘It was the first day of the new school year and all the headteachers got together and refused to comply with the government’s aspirations to force significant numbers of their pupils to take GCSE examinations that were entirely inappropriate for their learning needs….’

Q9. Write a critical appraisal of your career so far, and in particular the advice you were given at school at the time as to which subjects to choose. Carefully consider to what extent it would have been better if you had studied STEM subjects at university instead of an Arts or Humanities-based subject such as the academic and philosophical study of law, as you did.

Q10. Using the plain paper provided, produce a series of colourful and expressive drawings that accurately convey your feelings of utter dismay and sense of failure when confronted by an examination paper that contains a series of questions which you realise you will be quite unable to answer and you will have spend the next three hours sitting in silence staring out of the school gym window.

The Df-ingE’s consultation document can be downloaded from here. Please note however that the consultation is not about whether the Government’s goals should be achieved, but how they can be best achieved.

Dream on…?

Image credit: Flickr/NeilMoralee

 

Now We Are Six

NowWeAreSix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

And finally:

“Now We Are Six”

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

Author: A.A. Milne

Image credit: Wikimedia

Mark My Words… Please!

Screenshot 2015-07-27 20.05.47Spot the difference: marks will be awarded for reference to differences in age, gender, class and ethnicity.

All Change Please! was, in its own strange way, amused by this recent article about the latest unthought-through consequence of Michael Gove’s new tougher GCSEs. It seems that as a result of the move away from coursework to formal written examinations, more examiners are going to be needed to mark them – now who could have possibly anticipated that happening? And for some even stranger, inexplicable reason there does not appear to be a ready army of suitably qualified people available and willing to do the work.

What the article doesn’t mention though is that one of the many reasons for teachers not wanting to spend their spare time marking exam scripts (beyond the fact that they don’t actually have any spare time), is that the rates of pay – about £2 a candidate before tax – are derisory.

Now in the good old days, and when the last half of the summer term was a great deal more relaxed, Awarding Bodies, or Exam Boards as they were known in those days, were a very different animal. To begin with, there were many more of them, and often more regionally-based, e.g., SE Region, London, Midlands, Oxford Local, Cambridge, Oxford and Cambridge, JMB, etc. They tended to be university-based and their primary function was to produce high-quality examinations and assessment, and so, apart from the insights into the examination process and the fact that it looked good on one’s CV, the reason for becoming an examiner was to be associated with a respected academic body, and because it was a worthy educational thing to do. The pay wasn’t marvellous, but that wasn’t the point.

Things are different today, All Change Please! hears every teacher say, because two of the three main awarding bodies that are left are strictly commercial corporate global companies whose primary function is to make loadsamoney for their shareholders and senior executives (OCR being the exception in this respect). And one of the ways they do this best is by exploiting examiners by paying them peanuts rather than pounds.

So perhaps the solution to this problem lies in a generous pay increase for examiners? And with a little creative thinking, given that apparently –  according to the article – many teachers enjoying taking cruises during their summer break, perhaps the offer of cruise vouchers might tempt them to take pen to paper (or these days mouse to screen) to earn a little extra pocket-money to pay for that cabin upgrade and drinks package?

Meanwhile, in other news, it seems Schools Minister Glibly has got his Nickers in a twist having been disappointed by the standards of sample GCSE history examination questions, with the newspapers gleefully doing their usual trick of highlighting one of the first questions on the paper – deliberately easier than the later ones – and thus suggesting that all questions involve a ‘Spot the difference’ picture quiz. Of course, what he, and the journos, doesn’t seem to realise is that questions like these are probably the only ones that the majority of candidates, forced to take the subject as part of the EBacc, will be able to answer.

Or is there a plan as cunning as a fox that used to be Professor of Cunning at Oxford University* at work here? After all, if the scripts of the majority of candidates only take a few seconds to mark, then the examiners will be able to complete their marking that much more quickly, and be paid even less?

Meanwhile, did you manage to spot the difference between Gove and Glibb? There was a clue in the question. Yes, Gove is wearing a tie with spots on. An unused History GCSE if you got it right!

*Courtesy Baldrick

Evidently not?

iPad

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

Recently there’s been a welcome move to promote the idea that teachers should become more involved in undertaking classroom-based educational research – something that All Change Please!, having been involved in a number of such initiatives over the years, fully supports, even if it’s not sure where the time or money will come from.

The current trending organisation in the field is probably researchED, somewhat worryingly established by this character who is well-known in certain more progressive circles for the mythical myths he is intent on challenging and for his general lack of open-mindedness for anything that’s not obviously ‘traditional’. The emphasis sometimes seems to be more about working out what doesn’t work rather than what might do.

Anyway, presumably the result of all this research will be what seems to be the current holy grail: evidence. These days it is difficult to do anything new or possibly risky unless its success can be absolutely guaranteed by so-called ‘evidence’ that apparently proves once and for all that it will work for everyone everywhere. There seems to be an unshakeable belief in the unarguable accuracy of just a single piece of evidence, even though such evidence is not  the same thing as actual proof.

So how actually reliable is all this evidence, or ‘findings’ as it is sometimes referred to? Even supposedly objective scientific evidence has problems of reliability: a researcher doesn’t have to admit that, say, a particular drug company (or for that matter a global personalised educational resource organisation) is sponsoring their work, or that they are only drawing on a certain set of data because the other set doesn’t happen to support their theory. Or whether there might actually be some disagreement amongst the great and the good statisticians about how the data can be reliably interpreted. Or that they are only running certain tests because they don’t have the budget to pay for the other ones. And of course more subjective evidence can be even less reliable when based on perhaps a number of small-scale case studies from practice-based researchers, a few carefully selected interviews with ‘experts in the field’ and a questionnaire or two. Would you believe it – apparently 98.6% of all statistics are entirely fictitious?

Then there is the way in which the results are presented – usually statistical data that is either difficult for the non-statistician to interpret, or more seductively shown as a carefully edited, visually powerful infographic or multimedia PowerPoint in which the message has been suitably massaged to seemingly demonstrate what the researcher wants you to believe is true. This becomes even more believable when fronted by someone who has some ‘celebrity’ status within the community. Then if the findings get repeated and referenced often enough it somehow ends up becoming an irrefutable true ‘fact’. It seems the proof of the pudding is in the presentation.

Let’s take the example of Little Missy Morgan’s recent and quite ludicrous statement that taking a week’s holiday in term-time will mean that a student will do substantially less well in their GCSEs and fail to meet the so-called ‘Gold’ standard. She might have some rather unreliable evidence in terms of misleadingly analysed statistical data but that does no more than suggest what she says might be true. What she doesn’t have though is any actual proof that involves a wide range of different types of convincing evidence that removes all doubt. The problem is that we have been conditioned by the media to accept isolated examples of evidence as absolute fact.

In terms of the results of educational research, given the extraordinary diversity of children, teachers, classrooms and schools, what works in one situation might well prove to be a complete disaster in another. And in the case of the research aiming to reinforce the notion that traditional tired and detested teaching methods are universally best for everyone in every situation, the result is usually seen as a mandate to dismiss any need for perhaps doing things differently. While the current oft-quoted data might initially seem to bust the myths that there might be such things as learning styles, effective group work, benefits in using IT, or worthwhile child-centred learning, the majority of teachers will tell you precisely the opposite, based simply on what they’ve observed and found to actually work for them and their students. Just because there’s no established evidence to support such approaches, doesn’t mean they can’t or don’t work.

Meanwhile research is not just about proving things are right or wrong because repeatable events have been defined, but also about asking new questions and exploring new ideas – and that’s exactly what’s needed now in our out-dated educational system. Let’s hope the emerging educational research community focuses on the latter rather than trying to provide highly unreliable data that apparently proves that a particular political mindset, delivery methodology or commercial product is the one solution that can be guaranteed to work for everyone.

And as for the reliability of the evidence of a student’s capability provided by GCSE and A level results…

Or the extent of the proof of the quality of a school’s performance found in an Ofsted report?

 

Image credit: Flickr/Jim Roberts  modified by TS

The Importance Of Being Ignorant

 

 

Lady Bracknell. …I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing.  Which do you know?

Jack.  [After some hesitation.]  I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.

Lady Bracknell.  I am pleased to hear it.  I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance.  Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.  The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound.  Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever.  If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.

From The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People by Oscar Wilde. First performed on 14 February 1895 at the St James’s Theatre in London.

 

I know one thing, that I know nothing.”  Socrates, 5th Century BC

 

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”  Albert Einstein, 1929

 

“There are a lot of facts to be known in order to be a professional anything — lawyer, doctor, engineer, accountant, teacher. But with science there is one important difference. The facts serve mainly to access the ignorance… Scientists don’t concentrate on what they know, which is considerable but minuscule, but rather on what they don’t know…. Science traffics in ignorance, cultivates it, and is driven by it. Mucking about in the unknown is an adventure; doing it for a living is something most scientists consider a privilege.

Working scientists don’t get bogged down in the factual swamp because they don’t care all that much for facts. It’s not that they discount or ignore them, but rather that they don’t see them as an end in themselves. They don’t stop at the facts; they begin there, right beyond the facts, where the facts run out. Facts are selected, by a process that is a kind of controlled neglect, for the questions they create, for the ignorance they point to.”  Stuart Firestein, 2012

 

Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”   Thomas Gray’s ‘Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College’ (1742)

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 14.48.52

This post is dedicated to all those A level students who got low grades in their results today: you will discover there is more to life than going to University.

 

Photo credit: Flickr  adesigna