A double McSpin and large McLies please…


In what seems like a long time ago, while All Change Please! was recently enjoying itself in a galaxy far, far away, Stephen Twigg, the Labour Shadow Education Minister, was replaced by Tristram (no relation) Hunt. So, billed as a more demanding opponent for Michael Gove, how does he appear to be shaping up?

All Change Please! has to admit its initial impressions were not particularly favourable. In a just a few short weeks he has had to agree that Free Schools would remain open under a Labour Government, and on Newsnight he failed the Old Grey ‘Will you be sending your children to a state school?’ Test question. And it didn’t seem that someone who writes (admittedly in an article in the Economist): “It is perhaps time to think more imaginatively about precisely which equities are sacrosanct and which diversities are worth of encouragement” was going to get him very far with Daily Mail and Sun readers.

And then the other day in the Evening Standard, he said“you now need more qualifications to work as a shift manager at McDonald’s than to become a teacher.”  This, of course is misleading nonsense, especially when the headlines reported it out of the context of his more general and apposite message that McDonalds insist on training while Gove does not.

Of course the whole teacher qualification issue is mainly political/media spin. All Change Please! has yet to see any figures as to the number of unqualified teachers who have been employed in schools the last 12 months as an alternative to a suitably qualified one. And surely those that have been are likely to have better qualifications – even if not as a teacher – than a single A level in Shift Management?

From Gove’s perspective, the ‘no qualifications’ agenda is really to do with him wanting to close all these radical left-wing Marxist teacher training colleges that exist everywhere. So it’s a sort of ethnic cleansing to recruit a population of teachers who will never have been exposed to all this progressive education nonsense. But the problem is, as is revealed here, having Taught First, it seems that all these highly qualified young new graduates are now looking for softer jobs that have shorter working hours and more pay!

But hold on a cotton pickin’ moment. It then dawned on All Change Please! that Tristram (no relation) Hunt is actually cleverly playing Gove at his own game, presenting a misleading statistic or piece of inappropriate or non-existent evidence to encourage influential newspapers to report it in such a way that the public are fast-fed a simple, memorable so-called fact. And that’s exactly what’s needed to start to change public opinion.

Please Mr Hunt, we need more sound-bites like this. Indeed we need super-sized portions of them. Somehow you need to make a Happy Meal out of Mr Gove.

The trouble is that these days every time a politician from any party says or writes anything, all they do is reveal the extent of their ignorance of what actually goes on in real life.

Meanwhile, on the same subject, this from Mark Steel writing in The Independent is well worth a read!

Of course you don’t need qualified teachers in free schools. Or qualified brain surgeons, for that matter

Image credit: Sergio Alcántara  http://www.flickr.com/photos/sergiooaf/2921745031

D&T Teachers just wanna have fun


“Well, thank goodness the long, dreary summer holidays are finally over and us D&T teachers can at last get back into our workshops and prepare for another term of fun making things. Perhaps I’d better just have a quick look at the new D&T National curriculum we’re supposed to start following. Now, let’s see, Yes, all the usual cutting, hitting, measuring, bending and gluing things, no change there then. Hmm. What’s this ‘Biomimicry’ I wonder?. And building robots could be good. Wait, this looks more interesting: ‘such as 3D printing’? That sounds more fun. Note to self: drop by the Head’s office to tell him we absolutely must have one of these 3D printers or Ofsted will turn us into an Academy.

Right, next I suppose I had better completely re-write the department’s schemes of work. It’s hard work being Head of D&T – it’s not all about having fun, you know.

Ten minutes later…

Bash Street D&T Department: New National Curriculum Scheme of Work

Year 7

The Brief: A cereal manufacturer want to include a free gift inside every box of cereal it sells. They have asked you to come up with ideas for an imaginative toy or gift.

The toy or gift can be made in any size, material and colour you like provided it is no bigger than 10 cms in any direction (the largest size our 3D printer can manage), is made of plastic and is bright green (the only colour we have).


Year 8

The Brief:  A local toy shop has asked you to develop a design for a new children’s toy that it would like to be able to make and sell. They would like it to be based on the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ films.

The toy can be made any in any shape, size or material, providing it is no more than 10 cms in any direction and can be made from green plastic using our new 3D printing machine….

1-Screen shot 2013-08-21 at 20.11.49

Year 9 – Sustainable Biomimicry

The Brief:  Find out what the term Biomimicary means and explain it to your teacher in a way he or she will be able to easily understand.  A local charity has asked you to develop a design for a plastic duck to promote awareness of nature conservation and eco-sustainability. The duck should incorporate an electronic circuit to make the eyes flash on and off. Work together as team to make as many as possible.

The duck can be made any in any shape, size or material, providing it is no more than 10 cms in any direction, looks like a duck and can be made from green plastic using the department’s new 3D printing machine….


Year 10  GCSE Projects

The Brief:  Robot Wars. Collaboratively work together as a team to design and build a robot capable of completely destroying all the other robots made by your class.

Supporting Project: Values in D&T.  Developments in Technology tend to be driven by the need for military supremacy in defence and attack situations. Discuss the contribution your robotic device could make to World Peace and the end of human suffering.

Year 11  GCSE Projects

Project 1. Disassembly/circular economy activity

The Brief: Carefully take apart the department’s 3D printer to analyse how it could be manufactured more successfully in order to ensure all the parts can be re-used.


Project 2. MIni-enterprise / Entrepreneurship

The Brief: The D&T department urgently needs to raise money to buy a new 3D printer as it can’t work out how to fit the previous one back together again. Work together as a team to design and develop a range of aesthetically pleasing artefacts that could be quickly and profitably sold.

But of course the potential of 3D printing is enormous, as are the issues. The challenge now is how to plan D&T lessons that provide real opportunities for students to learn how to design for 3D printing. Pressing the button is one thing  – creating 3D products that are practical, easy and satisfying to use is another.

What? Oh and you think I should read this article?

The Future of Industrial Design http://artworks.arts.gov/?p=17624

Hmm. It says that making products is out of date now and we should be concentrating on designing systems and interactive software? Well, that doesn’t sound like much fun now does it?

Image credits:

(Top) Keith Kissel http://www.flickr.com/photos/kakissel/6165114664

(Second from bottom) Alex Healing http://www.flickr.com/photos/alexhealing/3383397914

(Bottom) Eldoreth  http://www.flickr.com/photos/eldoreth/6618835125

Pass Notes: Design & Technology


Above: from Apple Store talk by Jason Schwartz of Bright Bright Great [BBG] on the love story between design and technology in the real world

So, what do you make of the new version of the requirements for Design & Technology in the National Curriculum now they are just about set in stone – well wood, metal and plastics anyway?

Well, robotics, electronics and 3D printing all sounds very exciting and good for the future of British engineering and manufacturing? Everyone seems to be very pleased about the new D&T curriculum, and it has been backed by the design industry. And none of that horticultural nonsense? Surely you’re not going to be the only one to say it’s not good news?

I’m afraid I am – it’s not good news. It continues to offer a very narrow view of design and designing based on 3D industrial design and engineering. While it is true that a minority of children might, as a result of their school experience, end up working in these fields, the vast majority won’t, especially girls, and for that matter many boys. As with most subjects, it’s a ‘just in case’ approach should you end up wanting to be an engineer. As such it fails to offer the majority a broader educational experience that in the future can be transferred into other areas of life.

Although the latest version is in some respects better than the one published in February, it’s not really much of a change from the existing one, except for the inclusion of robotics and 3D printing. Meanwhile the ‘design industry’ have absolutely no idea of what actually goes on in schools, and seem to think that simply changing the curriculum a bit is going to suddenly improve the quality of teaching and learning. Perhaps if they actually got more directly involved it might start to make more of a difference.

I thought somehow you might say something like that. Now I believe in these circumstances it’s traditional to begin by endlessly discussing what design and technology actually is all about. You first…

Well, everything, apart from nature itself, has at some point been consciously designed by someone. So that includes 3D industrial and domestic products, but also spaces and places, such as interiors and buildings, and information, such as sales brochures, signs, computer user-interfaces, etc. So Design and Technology is about creating products, environments, information and systems that work well, and are easy and satisfying to use. And when you do that, as for example Apple does, you can make a real profit, so it’s central to business success too. These days sustainability has become really important too. Meanwhile to design something you need to find out what people need and want and the materials and technologies available to satisfy them. And you need some design skills too.

So what exactly are these design skills of which you speak?

Designing involves complex high-level, creative, open-ended, real-world problem-solving, collaborative team work, developing instructions and specifications, matching objective and subjective data, communication and thinking about and planning the future. Not to mention understanding how business and marketing work.

OK, so that’s what professional designers do. What happens in primary and secondary education?

Well, it’s not just professional designers, but really anyone trying to solve a difficult practical problem that works and people value needs design skills. So it’s something everyone will find useful, throughout life, and therefore worth learning about when you are young. And it’s also good to be able to identify examples of good and bad design when making choices about which products, places and communications to commission or select.

So what’s, err, the problem?

For mainly historical reasons, the very narrow view of design that schools have taken and applied mainly to engineering and 3d industrial design has meant that they teach very little about understanding and meeting people’s physical and psychological needs and wants, and even lower levels of skills of designing and creativity. It’s actually much easier to teach and develop design skills through communication and spatial design activities, mainly because ideas can be generated, explored and developed much more quickly when you are not trying to work with expensive and highly resistant materials.

And then there’s the other important issue that no-one seems to be mentioning which is that most existing D&T teachers – not to mention Primary teachers – don’t come from an engineering design background, so there’s going to need to be an awful lot of professional development work needed, not to mention a considerable investment in hardware in schools.

Then there is the stated NC Purpose of Study and Aims, which are themselves quite acceptable – it’s just a pity that the Key Stage specifications that follow do not match up and deliver them. As such the document has simply become yet another example of spinning a classic ‘technological fix’ to what is the real and more difficult problem of recruiting, training and retaining creative, enlightened, inspiring teachers. Like this one:

So what’s to be done?

Hmm. Sadly not a lot. Unless we start to pay proper attention to the development of design skills, all localised 3d manufacturing will do is enable us to produce a load of novelty electronic gizmos that no-one really needs and that are frustrating to use. Rather than persisting with the glorified DIY approach of most D&T departments, it might be better to focus on developing a Design Thinking approach across other areas of the curriculum, such as Art and Design, Drama, English, Business and Enterprise and IT, where open-ended creative problem-solving and extended project work is accepted as part of the learning experience.

But I would have thought that after more than 20 years of D&T being in the National Curriculum and the chance to improve things even further in the latest revised orders, all this would have been sorted out by now?

Yes, you might indeed think that, but it’s not. Oh, and by the way, horticulture hasn’t gone away – it’s still there, but just at the end.

Do say: “Design and technology is an inspiring, rigorous and practical subject. Using creativity and imagination, pupils design and make products that solve real and relevant problems within a variety of contexts, considering their own and others’ needs, wants and values.”  (from the D&T Purpose statement)

Don’t say:  “Pupils will use mechanisms such as levers, sliders, wheels and axles in their products. From the age of seven, pupils will use mechanical and electrical systems, such as series circuits incorporating switches, bulbs and motors. At secondary school, pupils will use advanced design techniques such as mathematical modelling and biomimicry. They will learn to use specialist tools, such as 3-D printers, laser cutters and robotics. Pupils will be taught to incorporate and program microprocessor chips into products they have designed and made.  (from the D&T Programmes of Study).

And finally:

with the days of the book-end, the pipe rack and the key fob well and truly behind us, All Change Please! is proud to announce the next generation of classic Year 7 D&T projects to deliver the new requirements for the National Curriculum, soon to be appearing in a school near you…

The Brief: A cereal manufacturer want to include a free gift inside every box of cereal it sells. They have asked you to come up with ideas for an imaginative toy or gift.

The toy or gift can be made in any size, material and colour you like provided it is no bigger than 8 cms in any direction (the maximum size our 3D printer can manage) and is made of bright green plastic (which is the only type of ‘ink’ we can afford to obtain).

© Tristram Shepard/Ruth Wright 2013

Image credit: Alexis Finch  http://www.flickr.com/photos/agentfin/8205912475


It’s… Michael Gove’s Flying Circus


A prototype GoveAir flying machine: ‘No frills, no fun, just facts’

All Change Please! has learnt that GoveAir‘s CEO has announced plans to introduce a new fleet of ‘Back to Basics’ 21st Century flying machines, based on a random pick-and-mix assemblage of components from different countries across the world.  However, it remains to see if the idea will ever actually take-off.

The Heath Robinson-influenced specifications were drawn up over the weekend by a group of representatives from various passenger organisations and focus groups, and include the general requirements for important things such as wings, windows and seats, though it is thought these may eventually be red-penned by the CEO. To keep costs down further, curved surfaces or indents will not be allowed, and this will also apparently help ensure architects and designers don’t get any richer than they already are. Existing pilots, more used to flying modern so-called progressive planes, will be re-trained on Spitfires from the 1950s.

At the same time, flight times will be extended to last a whole day, and pilots’ holidays reduced. They will also be required to take on extra administrative duties, including collecting ticket money and refuelling the planes.

Pilots are naturally bitterly opposed to the plans and are likely to join rival airline marxyJet. According to GoveAir, this will fit in well with their plans to introduce easily re-programmable robot pilots over the next five years.

Controversially the Nation’s children will be expected to be on-board during the test flights. The CEO of GoveAir explained:

“Things have changed since the 19th century, and parents are just too busy now to look after their own children. And with the current completely unforeseen demand for extra school places it will help reduce the need for new school buildings. We also feel it is important to bring more rigour into flying, and to encourage youngsters to become pilots themselves we will be sending a letter of encouragement to all those who manage to survive the experience.  Of course, it would have been much simpler to rely on updating the current design of airplanes which has been successfully evolving over many years, but where’s the Daily Mail headline in that?”

Were you there at the time? Are you happy for your child to fly with Gove Air? Please send us your comments and experiences…

Facts contained in this post loosely based on the following sources:






Image credit: Flickr Redteam http://www.flickr.com/photos/redteam/267389212

How does your D&T garden grow?


Mary, Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.

Once upon a time, a young Michael Gove probably enjoyed learning, reciting and being tested on an innocent little nursery rhyme that was all about a pretty little garden. However, its origins are apparently steeped in history. According to some sources, Mary is ‘Bloody’ Mary Tudor, and the ‘garden’ is thought to be a reference to the growing number of graveyards filled with all those who refused to agree with her. Meanwhile the silver bells and cockle shells were actually references to torture by thumbscrews and, well you can guess for yourselves what part of the body cockle shells might be attached to. And ‘pretty maids’ it seems were actually an early form of the guillotine.

http://www.rhymes.org.uk/mary_mary_quite_contrary.htm  (Other interpretations are available from all good websites)

All Change Please! hardly needs to spell it out, does it? Today “Bloody’ Michael Gove is creating an increasing number of graveyards that accommodate all the positive developments that have taken place in education over the past 50 years, and is doing so by inflicting the torture of new EBacc and NC specifications and applying them to various sensitive parts of the profession. And if you still disagree, to mix my nursery rhymes, here comes Ofsted to chop off your head.

During the past few days reaction to the proposed Design & Technology National Curriculum has been largely one of disbelief, and focused mainly on the inclusion of gardening and cookery. As far as All Change Please! can discover, a number of conservative Middle England organic gardening concerns launched a full-scale Thatcher-esque ‘Task Force’ to persuade the DfE to include food and gardening as part of the National Curriculum to promote a more healthy future lifestyle for our children. Now of course All Change Please! has no problem with that as such – it’s just a pity, and entirely inappropriate, that D&T should be expected to deliver it.

All Change Please! has also heard ‘on the grapevine’ that references in the new curriculum to sustainability were not permitted, and indeed there is no mention of it anywhere in the whole document, so in the immediate future it seems unlikely to be included. But of course there is absolutely nothing to stop teachers adding it into the mix themselves.

Meanwhile it seems that at a D&T conference on Wednesday 13th there was a growing awareness and acceptance that perhaps the current delivery of the subject in most schools was not working effectively and had failed to sufficiently move forward in recent years. Indeed the strong reaction against the inclusion of horticulture merely reflects the wider community’s refusal to even consider change. These days survival demands rapid evolution to meet new challenges, not standing still and putting up the barricades.

It remains important however for the DfE to receive as many objections as possible to the current proposals, but at the same time simply criticising the inclusion of horticulture and suggesting that it should be simply thrown onto the compost heap are unlikely to achieve anything – food and horticulture are not going to go away. Instead it will be helpful to clearly articulate what the practical issues of implementation are, and as such how they might be potentially detrimental to the future of art, design and technology education and subsequent HE and career progression. The objective needs to be to clarify that the knowledge and skills involved in growing and cooking food are different (but no less worthy) disciplines to creative design-led problem-solving and that as such they need to be staffed and accommodated accordingly.

In All Change Please‘s last post ‘Are Bill and Ben working at the DfE?‘ it promised its consultation re-draft of the D&T proposals, and indeed they are available here D&TNCEdited (pdf download). It is interesting to see how, that with just a few changes of terminology and the removal of the exemplification, the content suddenly sounds a great deal more acceptable, if still far from ideal. While it remains a missed opportunity to actively prompt and inspire the further positive development of D&T, at least now it no longer reads like something written in the 1950s.

And finally, here’s a Christmas Cracker of a joke sent in by Roberta from Manchester:

                ‘Why did Michael Gove include horticulture in Design & Technology?’

                ‘Because he thought it was a STEM subject…’

Followed by the adaption of the saying “You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” by Dorothy Parker, and submitted by a reader from Hereford:

                “You can take a horticulture but you can’t make her think.”

Image Credit: Kira Jones Designs

Are Bill and Ben now working at the DfE?


Was it Bill or was it Ben? And is Little Weed really Michael Gove?

The proposed new design and technology curriculum* is of course, a huge joke. It’s actually hilariously funny, until you realise that it isn’t. DATA have already made it clear that this was not in any way what they had submitted. The unconfirmed, but easy to believe, rumour is that Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men at the DfE drastically pruned the various submissions with a pair of secaturs, and re-potted them along with an old seed packet from the 1950s that they found in the shed at the bottom of the garden, while deciding to add ‘horticulture’ in just for a bit of fun, or perhaps out of some sort of self-interest. As a result it’s incoherent and inappropriately written, obviously by a wooden-headed puppet who has no knowledge of the subject whatsoever, and probably had a really bad experience with a CDT teacher while at public school. Who else could possibly have written:

Through working in fields selected from those listed in the introduction (materials (including textiles), horticulture, electricals and electronics, construction, and mechanics), pupils should be taught to…‘ ?

All Change Please! is surprised Mr Gove approved such a clumsy statement such as this. I wonder what he’s really up to? And perhaps even more worrying is the thought that Andy Pandy, Looby Loo and Big Spotty Dog might currently be in charge of the Departments of Health, the Treasury and Foreign Affairs.

Perhaps the most curious element is the sudden inclusion of ‘horticulture’ as a material to be studied and used. Where on earth has this come from? And then there are the strange references to pupils ‘working in the field’ – presumably the answer must lie in the soil..?  Essentially the proposals appear to signal a return to children being taught how to grow food and cook it, to knit, stitch, patch and mend, and to undertake motorcycle maintenance – albeit with missing Zen – just as they did in the 1950s. There is little emphasis on creativity or open-ended problem-solving, and design is largely relegated to ‘decoration‘ and making ‘things that work‘. Meanwhile: ‘Pupils should be given the opportunity to work in emerging areas of design and technology, such as food design, design for disability, and age-related design‘. That is to say, areas that actually emerged way back in the 1970s. I can’t imagine this is going to exactly impress Sir James and Sir Jonathan?

And does it really refer to the long-ago discredited and largely forgotten about ‘design cycle’. Yes, it does. Meanwhile I also look forward to some interesting conversations about how teachers should approach the challenge of the formal assessment of a pupil’s ‘love of cooking’.

All Change Please! has no problem with the introduction a slimmed-down specification of basic D&T concepts that define the basis of the subject. It’s just that this isn’t it as far as D&T is commonly taught in schools today. The question becomes what to do about it? The DfE are unlikely to admit to their incompetence and agree to re-conceive the whole document, and they currently seem even less likely to respond to the advice of subject associations or teachers.

But wait!  All Change Please! just wouldn’t be All Change Please! if it didn’t take an alternative, disruptive view of the situation. In fact it has come to the conclusion that the new D&T specification is actually a brilliant, forward-looking, post-modern, localised approach to 21st century convivial technology and sustainable self-sufficiency in the forthcoming age of austerity. And let’s be honest, in many schools a single well-taught woodwork or cookery lesson often provides a far better educational experience than a term’s worth of misapplied and misinformed, meaningless 1960s mass-production orientated D&T where all most pupils do is end up with a pile of sawdust and cake crumbs, supported by a dozen or so identical templated A3 development sheets.

Meanwhile, thinking back, some twenty or so years ago All Change Please! had an interesting discussion/argument/fight/bloody battle with some local authority advisors in which it unsuccessfully tried to persuade them that a project involving ‘designing with flowers’ for a large scale festival was every bit as much of a good D&T project as any other, if not more so in that it involved developing colour-coded graphic modelling systems, technical issues concerning how the seasonal flowers would be prepared, securely held in place and sustained, alongside the obvious aesthetic issues of combinations and contrasts of colour, texture and smell. Detailed planning and costing was essential. And back in the 1980s All Change Please! used to run ‘The Backdoor Project’ where students identified a small area of waste or derelict outdoor space and proposed how it should be re-planned, planted and landscaped. And there was the student who once did an excellent project on continuous-flow hydroponics, and the A level candidate who did a landscape architecture-based major project.  On these matters All Change Please! is of course speaking horticulturally, as Miss Prism once said, and therefore actually welcomes it as an area that perhaps should always have been included, particularly in terms of design for sustainability. As All Change Please! always used to say: ‘It’s not so much what you design that matters, it’s the way that you design it..

And in the future, when the oil runs low and gets prohibitively expensive, it’s going to be extremely useful to be able to maintain and repair everyday mechanical devices such as bicycles, sewing machines and wood burning stoves. For most people, tomorrow is not going to be about about innovating more and more sophisticated high-tech gizmos to be made by robots in China, but recycling, reusing and making things at a local level. Creative D&T teachers could really make this approach work, while perhaps the rest will actually be able to deliver the craft-based knowledge and skills they are actually good at.

It is of course important to remember that the proposed requirement is defining only the basics of what must be covered, and not what can’t be developed or included in addition. Does the document actually prevent good D&T teachers in any way from delivering good quality D&T? Perhaps the problem is not so much the intended content, but simply the way it has been written? Maybe the way forward is to confuse the DfE by congratulating it on its impressive vision, and politely offer help to improve the vocabulary and exemplification to make it more understandable to teachers? And that is exactly what All Change Please! is in the process of doing, as it will reveal in a further post in a few days’ time.

* The new proposed curriculum and consultation document can be downloaded here. The D&T section starts on page 156

So what does it all add up to?

Could this be a new, bright red iPad?

The news over the weekend of the proposed revision to the Primary National Curriculum probably hasn’t escaped your notice. But just in case it has…

To begin with, All Change Please! openly admits it knows very little about primary education, but long, long ago it did actually attend a primary school, which of course makes it an expert on the matter.

Now this may come as a surprise – even a shock – to regular readers, but All Change Please! actually thinks that some of the content of the proposals are a good idea: every child does needs to acquire a certain level of basic skills in English and Maths, and that certainly includes things like punctuation and times-tables. Well, it’s never done me any harm, anyway. At least not as far as I’m aware.

But sadly, that’s where the good news ends, and the proposals start to fail to add up. These days basic skills in English, maths and scientific knowledge together with some historical names and dates and exposure to a foreign language are not nearly enough on their own as a preparation for life. But start assessing and publishing the results of easily-assessable basic knowledge tests, and schools will quite naturally place an excessive amount of emphasis on them at the expensive of a wider understanding and range of experiences. Somehow we still need to find a way to have a balance of factual recall, and learning to learn through contextualised and personalised first-hand experiences. And then there is the problem of defining an age by which children need to have acquired these skills and knowledge, and what to do about those who become ‘left behind’?

Proposed primary curriculum: what about the pupils?

Letters: The trouble with Michael Gove’s primary school proposals


But surely the biggest problem of all, and the one so often neglected by new government curriculum policies through the ages, is the need for high quality in-service training for teachers, which, in the current economic climate just isn’t going to happen. Or, as the Daily Mail subtly puts it:

Thousands of teachers go back to school to learn basic maths and grammar so they can deliver tough new lessons

Ah well – perhaps it’s all not a problem after all. Because these proposals don’t apply to Academies, and the intention is that before long all schools will become Academies (i.e., two negatives become a positive?). So what all it really adds up to is another bout of political/media spin in nice Mr Gove’s campaign to become the next Prime Number?

And finally – it seems that aliens have landed… well this writer seems to be living on a different planet, anyway:
Proper education will do much more for the poor

Image credit: Fotolia  http://en.fotolia.com/id/5948017

Please give a warm welcome to your MeeJay for the evening…

A recent post by Learning Without Frontiers front man Graham Brown-Martin rightly calls for the need to escape from the present trap of automating 19th Century education and use the new ways of doing things that emerging technologies provide to develop a totally different system, fit for the 21st Century. He uses Napster to effectively illustrate how a previously technically impossible file-sharing program proved to be the ‘killer-app’ that changed the music distribution system forever by removing the middlemen.

Now although education indeed urgently needs the equivalent of a Napster ‘killer-app’, I think we need to be clear that simply ‘removing the middlemen’ in education is not going to bring about the desirable changes we need and want. In the case of music, the ‘middlemen’ were simply the record company and record store. In terms of education that makes the ‘middlemen’ the school and the teachers, and that the learners become connected directly to the learning.

But what are the learners likely to find when they get there? At present, no more than a pile of on-line kentucky-fried learning information snacks in which the academic knowledge expert at the front of the class has been replaced by a video of an academic knowledge expert who probably doesn’t know very much about making videos.

And indeed the equivalent of the information snack we have now in the music industry  is the music snack – currently typically three minutes of instantly forgettable bland, often offensive, tuneless techno-pop (!). And as such it’s not really about the aesthetic and intellectual appreciation of an art-form, it’s about reinforcing a generational identification with one’s contemporary celebrities, heroes, role-models, and forming tribal-type groupings.

Of course some of us might choose to take our music more seriously, and like to understand more about the context and process of its creation, its significance in the history of musical ideas, composition and technological development and social significance. To help us do that we read books and magazines about music, listen to the composers talking about their work and seek out recommendations of what might be interesting to listen to – ‘if you like this, you might also like…’ In other words we find our own direction through the discipline, guided by critics, reviewers and conversations with like-minded colleagues. Even a DJ helps extend our awareness of what there is to be consumed. Indeed, like the horse-rider, the disc jockey guides, steers and encourages the listener around the course. And remember the ‘Mobile DJ’ who ‘travels with portable sound systems and plays recorded music at a variety of events’?

If we are going to get rid of the middlemen we have to first create a new structure in which ‘teachers’ take on the role of critics, reviewers, DJ’s (or eejays? – or perhaps even meejays – mobile educational jockeys), rather than being the providers of knowledge and discipline. Without them, if we simply remove the institution, the majority of learners will surely simply end up with a sequence of three minutes of instantly-forgettable bland, tuneless YouTube videos that are selected mainly on the basis of being ‘cool’, or by virtue of ‘winning the public vote’ by having already been watched by X million other learners, ‘must be good’.

Until we find a way of completely re-casting the role of the teacher as guide, mentor and monitor, and the institution as a real-world meeting place and creator of high-quality learning pathways and resources, then any technological intervention is likely to continue to, quite rightly, simply fall on deaf ears.

With Graham’s reference to the red and blue pills from the Matrix in mind, perhaps the ‘killer app’ we’re all waiting for is the Sim card full of facts that can be inserted directly into the brain!

The sound of teaching

In recent posts I have written about the need to move away from a culture in which academics tend to became teachers who prepare children to become academics, and that we need to develop a new relationship between teachers and the world of work, in which it is important for them to keep up-to-date with the practical realities and experiences of the present day that they can then pass on to their students.

So I was interested to read this item in yesterday’s paper:

Essentially, it seems that having been refused permission for time off to undertake a professional engagement, a music teacher took sick leave in order to go on a piano-playing tour in America, and it also subsequently emerged that she had lied about her academic qualifications.

Now I don’t want to condone the mis-truths she appears to have told, but the point is that when teachers are offered positive commercial experiences outside the classroom during term-time, it shouldn’t be necessary in the first place for them to have to lie in order to be able to undertake them. It is also interesting to note that, despite having misled the school about her qualifications, there is no indication in the article about whether or not she was a good teacher  – perpetuating the myth that having a Phd and an MPhil somehow by definition makes one a successful teacher – and even more so than having completed a teacher training course!

‘The schools are alive with the sound of teachers
With lessons they have taught for a thousand years…’

Going for Gold

Did you see this recent news item?

2012 Olympic Games Medal Shock!


‘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.

This attitude is by no means new, and has been something that as a society we have been dearly clinging on to for centuries, while other countries seem to have been able to move on and value technical and vocational education in a far more positive way. Somehow we need to bring about a major shift in the way we perceive and value education in the UK, and re-naming schools as ‘academies’, making A levels more difficult and getting more people to study subjects such as English and History to degree level is not the direction we should be going in. In just about every area of business, commerce, health, defence, housing, farming, etc., there have been changes during the past 60 years on a scale that make them unrecognisable from the way they were in the 1950s. The single exception is education where, apart from the largely inappropriate use of computers, little has altered except in name. 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.

I have no grand plan or costed strategy for development, but here are a few of the sort of things we ought to be currently considering:

• We need a shift away from the idea that we all attend compulsory full-time schooling between 4 and 16. It’s always struck me that the single most inappropriate environment for a 14 year old is to be required to sit still in silence for hours on end listening to adults who think they know everything.

• The traditional school structure and organisation is entirely outmoded for the modern age. We need to develop institutions that facilitate a more effective daily mix of exposure to teaching styles and learning experiences, essentially including independent learning.

• Students need to be given and take more responsibility for their own learning, utilising the innovative possibilities of innovative computer technology, rather than simply using IT to reinforce and automate traditional approaches.

• The use of the slogan “What have you learnt today?’ could be used to prompt a genuine approach to lifelong learning for all in which the act of learning something new everyday is recognised and valued by individuals and employers.

• How can all intelligences and abilities come to be seen as being equal, and none more equal than others? The emphasis on academic education is only appropriate for the roughly 5% of the population who are suited to it. We need some sort of single national award system that recognises a relevant comparative ‘gold’ standard across all courses.

• In this day and age are we really still unable to teach every child how to achieve basic standards in literacy and numeracy? Standards have improved slightly over recent years, but there’s clearly something badly wrong here that needs sorting out.

• We need to introduce of a valued certificate or ‘qualification’ of basic achievement that recognises the practical application of reading, writing and arithmetic in daily use, alongside a similarly valued certificate of personal learning and creative thinking/problem-solving skills, both taken at any age when the learner is ready.

• Currently teachers have five training days a year which are mostly spent on being introduced to new administrative procedures. There needs to be a major investment in effective and compulsory in-service training / CPD (Continuing Professional Development) for teachers to enable them to keep up-to-date with their rapidly changing subject knowledge and with the new substantially different methods of teaching and learning afforded by developments in IT.

• By narrowing the range of knowledge and understanding that is now examined we have successfully raised the number of students gaining A level passes and going into Higher Education. We have steadily improved the number of children who get five GCSE A* to C grades. But when are we going to start doing something for the other 50% of learners who have limited qualifications and remain alienated by an education system that has little to offer them?

• In terms of a quick fix, one of the problems is that children’s attitudes towards school and learning is heavily influenced by their parents’ experiences. Most of today’s parents were at failing comprehensive schools in the 1970s and 1980s and remain unconvinced of the value of education. Today’s children, who have grown up in a narrow assessment-led National Curriculum culture, will become parents in the next two decades. How do we ensure that they will have a different, more enlightened view of education to pass on to their children?

Ironically, sadly all these things are probably somewhat ‘academic’. It’s difficult to see future governments or administrative organisations initiating or welcoming change on this level. Somehow we need to find a way to take control of our own future learning and growth.