Pass Notes: Art Attack!

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What? Has someone had a Heart Attack? Quickly. Call an ambulance!

No, no, no! Though you might have one after you’ve read the latest NSEAD (National Society for Education in Art and Design) survey. You can download a pdf copy here. It’s the teaching of Art & Design in our schools that’s in critical danger and may not survive much longer.

Ah. But I keep reading that the Department for Education say that the numbers taking Art GCSE have risen by as much as 1%, so all this whining about children not being allowed to take creative subjects at GCSE is really just a lot of fuss about nothing. 

Well, for a start you shouldn’t believe DfE political propaganda statements, just as you’d be advised not to take a headline in the Daily Mail at face value. The problem is that the DfE’s figures don’t include the large numbers of students who previously took BTEC courses in Art & Design, but that now do GCSE instead. When they are added in it’s clear that the overall figure has fallen by thousands, and will continue to do so for many years to come as more and more children are forced to take all the EBacc subjects. And meanwhile entries in all other Arts-based subjects, such as Music, Drama and Dance, have fallen over the past five years.

Oh well, at least children still get plenty of time in primary school to get develop some good skills in drawing and painting.

Not according to the NSEAD survey they don’t. Apparently primary schools are substantially cutting back on Art to spend more time preparing for the National Key Stage 2 tests. And that means children are less well prepared for the standards they are expected to achieve at KS3 when they get to secondary school.

OK, but then there’s three years of regular lessons when they get to Key Stage 3 in Secondary School – a double period a week as I recall.

Ah, those were the days! The survey reveals that in many schools there is much less time allocated for Art at KS3, and in some it’s been made part of a rotational system where it’s only studied for a term each year. And many schools now start their GCSE options in Year 9, so KS3 only lasts for two years. Meanwhile new teacher recruitment is down, so there is evidence of more classes being taught by non-specialists.

I remember when I was at school art was dead good – we used to go on lots of trips to local galleries and museums, and a real-life designer came into school to make things with us. 

Hmm. You didn’t go to an independent school by any chance did you? Because if you did you’re far more likely to have been on trips and had visits from practitioners than if you went to a free-school. And yes, it’s all in the NSEAD survey.

But come on now, be honest, let’s face it, taking an Arts subject isn’t going to help you get a job, is it? I mean, all those years starving in an attic, spending all your money on expensive oil paints. Well that’s what I was told, anyway. 

If that’s what you think, you’ve been badly mis-led! Last year the Creative Industries contributed 81 billion to the economy and employed 2.8 million people. Studying Art & Design doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up being an ‘artist’ – there are a wide range of other opportunities to work in creative areas that need good visual problem-solving and communication skills. And that’s got to be better than doing an over-subscribed academic degree and ending up working a coffee shop.

With the introduction of the EBacc it seems like the country is in the process of throwing away its established global reputation for the excellence in its work in the Creative Industries – something that China and many other countries are now investing heavily in.

Well I have to admit, taking Art GCSE raised my confidence and self-esteem and had a knock-on effect in improving my results in other subjects, and I feel I have had a much broader and richer education that many of my peers did. It gave me an opportunity to think and work in a completely different way, and I’ve been able to apply that to many of the things I do today. It certainly changed my life! Everyone should take Art at school!

Yes, many teachers would agree with you about that. It’s just a shame that in years to come it looks like most children won’t have the opportunity to have same experience you did.

You’re making it all sound rather depressing.

That’s because it is extremely depressing.

So what’s to be done? How can the patient be saved?

There’s one simple remedy – the DfE could back down on the use of using numbers of EBacc subject entries as a measure of school performance in league tables. Another treatment that’s not been tried before would be for headteachers to get together and refuse to administer the DfE’s medicine and just ignore it.

Meanwhile we also need the wider world outside the teaching profession to know that our children are being increasingly denied access to the world of the Creative Arts. Then they need to take action, such as writing to their MP – so please share this post with all your relatives, friends and neighbours (by email/twitter/facebook, etc), particularly if they happen work in the Creative Industries – their support is very important.

So why’s this happening? I thought Nicky Morgan was supposed to be teacher’s friend?

Generally speaking she is. It’s Nick Gibb who is causing the problem, as he’s in charge of curriculum surgery. He’s the one spreading all this EBaccteria nonsense and children will end up having to take subjects they don’t want to do, and being taught by teachers who are inexperienced and not properly qualified. If he’s not careful, Gibb will be the next DfE politician to be branded as being toxic and dumped in the waste disposal bin, as Michael Gove was.

Do say: Apparently Nick Gibb’s background was as a chartered accountant.

Don’t ask: Was painting by numbers Gibb’s favourite activity in Art lessons at school?

No Minister! No, No, No…

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So, the Great EBacc Consultation is over, and doubtless the Df-ingE are in a whirl having been inundated with a whole digital cement mixer load of responses that they are going to have to sift through very closely if they are to find any particularly helpful solutions as to how they can persuade 90% of children to order the Full All-day English EBacc.

Last week, social media was alive with the sound of distraught teachers and senior managers blogging their responses – such as this one that All Change Please! wrote with Teacher Toolkit – expressing their deepest concerns and fears about the destructive impact of the EBacc-Bomb

Meanwhile, it’s certainly not all over. It’s difficult to see the Df-ingE backing down and admitting their proposal was both undesirable and achievable. To help them on their way though it would be useful if MPs were now made more aware of the implications of the Df-ingE’s aspirations for the schools in their constituencies and be encouraged to start asking some awkward questions in the House. Given the emerging teacher shortages, the key issue is exactly how the Df-ingE proposes to guarantee that there will be enough qualified and experienced academic EBacc subject teachers to provide an adequate standard of teaching for 90% of all children?

With this in mind, All Change Please! has written a letter and left it on the table. It can be downloaded here and viewed below. Feel free to borrow, re-draft, edit, adapt or do whatever you like with it, providing it ends up being emailed to your local MP as soon as possible.  (Do make sure you make it clear that you are one of their constituents). Find the contact details for your MP here.

Of course there is one simple approach that could solve all the problems. Entering children for the EBacc is not a legal requirement, and if all headteachers in a local area got together and agreed not to play the game, the whole thing would simply extinguish itself. League table accountability is all relative, and so each school’s position would remain exactly the same.

But of course that’s unlikely to happen. Somewhat more probable is that in a few years’ time, when a growing number of parents confront the reality that their children are likely to fail all their EBaccs and are being prevented from taking other subjects they might have succeeded in, many schools might decide that the best way forward will be for them to develop a reputation as a successful non-EBacc school that offers a wide range of Arts and vocational courses. In which case it won’t be long before there will be two types of schools: those in which all students take the academic EBacc (previously known as Grammar schools), and those that decide to continue to offer non-Ebacc subjects (previously known a Secondary Moderns). Perhaps that’s been the Government’s intention all along?

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Meanwhile here’s what All Change Please!‘s letter to your local MP says…

Dear…

I would like to bring your attention to a number of matters arising out of the DfE’s recent consultation process on the implementation of the policy that 90% of children should take the full EBacc GCSEs. In the first instance the consultation did not invite views on the desirability of such a policy, but asked a series of limited questions as to how it could be best achieved. It should be noted that this measure did not form part of the manifesto on which the government was elected.

There are many reasons why the policy is both undesirable and undeliverable.

First, to clarify, under the new proposal, pressure is to be placed on schools to enter 90% of children for GCSE courses in English language and literature, maths, two sciences, languages, and history or geography.

The average number of GCSEs taken by children is 8.1 (and not 9 as Nick Gibb has claimed), while those from less affluent backgrounds take less. This leaves most children with just one further subject option, choosing from subjects such as a second foreign language, religious education, art & design, design & technology, engineering, music, drama, business studies, economics, PE and, if not chosen as one of their two sciences, computer science. The result of this will be that many of these subjects will cease to be offered as class-sizes will no longer be viable. Losing courses in design & technology and engineering will restrict the growth of inter-disciplinary STEM subjects nationally. Teaching of the Arts in schools will be seriously diminished at a time when our world-leading Creative Industries make an increasingly significant contribution to the economy. The non-EBacc subjects will also be less likely to be chosen for A level, further increasing their disappearance from schools.

To enforce the policy, the number of entries a school makes for the full EBacc is to be given a more prominent role within the Ofsted framework, and schools that do not follow the requirement will appear lower down in school league tables. Headteachers will therefore be placed in the difficult position of having to decide whether it is better to enter individuals for examinations in subjects in which they are likely to achieve a low EBacc GCSE grade, or for those which they show more interest in and aptitude for.

It has recently been predicted that the number of children achieving good GCSE passes in the ‘more rigorous’ academic EBacc subjects is likely to fall by some 23%, with the result that there is also likely to be a substantial increase in the number of disaffected students who see themselves as being failures when entering the 16-19 phase of education. Furthermore they will not have had an adequate experience of problem-solving creative and technical subjects on which to base appropriate choices of further and higher level courses.

Despite this, the DfE have stated that: “We know that young people benefit from studying a strong academic core of subjects up until the age of 16”. However, there is no evidence to support this statement as being applicable to 90% of children. Meanwhile there are many outside the DfE who would support the statement that there are many children who benefit more from following Arts-based and vocationally-orientated GCSE courses, with the latter providing a better preparation for apprenticeships.

At the same time there are also an increasing number of employers who are removing academic qualifications as an entry barrier, and are seeking those with a greater understanding of the way in which business, industry and commerce works. The DfE have also stated that ‘Our reforms are leaving pupils better prepared for further study and more ready for the world of work’. While the former may be true, the latter is certainly not.

There are also issues regarding the inclusion of Academies in these measures, which do not appear to have been considered. A particular feature of the Academy movement is a school’s freedom to follow its own curriculum to meet local and community needs, which this proposal contradicts.

The DfE have also stated that the 90% entry rate is not a school-based figure, but a national one. There has been no indication as to how head teachers will or can be supplied with the necessary figures that will inform them of the percentage of children that will be required to be entered in their individual school.

While every school should meet the entitlement for all children to take the full range of EBacc subjects if they wish, there should not be external pressure for them to do so. In the longer term this measure is likely to produce a two-tier system, in which there will be two types of schools: those in which all students take academic EBacc subjects (previously known as Grammar schools), and those who decide to continue to offer a wider range of non-EBacc subjects (previously known a Secondary Moderns).

Finally, and most importantly, it is difficult to see how the current policy can actually be practically implemented as presented. Although denied by the DfE, the current teacher shortage in many subjects will soon be exacerbated at secondary level as an increased number of children move into the sector. The key question therefore is exactly how does the DfE propose to guarantee that there will be enough suitably qualified and experienced academic EBacc subject teachers to provide an adequate standard of teaching for 90% of all children? The substantial costs of recruitment, re-training and retention of the necessary work-force does not appear to have been considered or calculated.

Can I therefore strongly urge you to challenge the DfEs proposal to introduce the requirement for 90% of children to take the full EBacc, both in terms of its desirability and practicality.

Yours sincerely

[Name and Name of Constituency]

Image credits: Flickr/Howard Ignatius and Tim Morgan

 

Up, up and away…?

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If 1967 was the Summer of Love, then 1976 was the Summer of Hot. Forty years ago, the 1976 UK summer produced the warmest and longest-lasting average temperatures since records began: the sky was always blue and the sun shone brightly for months on end, resulting in drought conditions that prompted the provocative slogan ‘Save Water, Bath With A Friend‘. There’s never been a summer quite like it since.

1976 was also the same year Concorde took to the skies with supersonic speed, the space shuttle Enterprise was unveiled in California and the new Intercity 125 trains took to the tracks. James Hunt won the World Motor Racing Championship, and Jobs and Wozniak founded Apple, though no-one paid much attention at the time. The futuristic Pompidou Centre was nearing completion in Paris. Star Wars was coming. James Callaghan became Prime Minister. Brotherhood of Man won the Eurovision Song Contest while Jonny Rotten quietly muttered a rude word on live TV. Things were definitely on the up. And OFSTED was just a twinkle in some aspiring Tory politician’s eye. Yes, those were the days. We thought they’d never end.

And it just so happens that it was in September 1976 when a young, keen and eager All Change Please! spent a week observing in a typical comprehensive school as part of its far from left-wing Marxist PGCE course. Initially it was surprised that what was going on hadn’t changed much since it had been at school itself, as much as five years before. It noted down in its special file that while there were still some disaffected students being pushed through inappropriate O level subjects that ended with written examinations in the school gym, there were some promising and enterprising Mode 3 CSE courses that had been set up by some of the teachers, often responding to local needs. There was a growing awareness that traditional teaching wasn’t working well enough for all, and project-based learning and problem-solving were the new kids on the block that seemed to hold much promise for the future. The one obvious thing really holding a few of the children behind was a problem with basic literacy and numeracy, but surely that would get sorted out soon enough and things could really start to move ahead at supersonic speed?

Fast forward, or so it seemed, to the late 1970s and All Change Please!’s first teaching post and the first computers were arriving in schools – Commodore PETs and RM 380Zs, and the slightly geekier kids and their teachers were getting excited. There was talk about the day not so far away when it would be possible to read a book on a computer screen, create electronic artwork and perform complex calculations in the blink of an eye. And what was it going to be like when you could link these computers into a network? And just think of the potential these machines might have for helping children learn. The future was surely just around the corner…

At the time it’s probably a good job that no-one told All Change Please! that it was never going to happen, or it might just have given up and gone home. It never guessed that by the time it retired there would still be children who found reading, writing and arithmetic difficult, that there would still be a knowledge-based curriculum with problem-solving, child-centred, project-based learning being viewed with great suspicion and distrust, and that most computer-aided learning programs would be largely a waste of time, simply replicating tired and detested traditional approaches to teaching and being given the silly name of MOOCs. And worst of all that the curriculum and examinations would be dictated not be educationalists any more, but by The Party.

Sadly, as time wore on the optimistic Summer of ’76 dissipated and by late ’78 had somehow transformed into the Winter of Discontent and the subsequent inauguration of Thatcherism and the riots and inner-city ghost towns of the early 1980s, leading inevitably to the situation and circumstances we find ourselves in today. Even Concorde eventually ran out of steam.

The Information Age that was so clearly on the horizon in the 1970s is only just now getting under way. It’s finally beginning to disrupt the way we think, act and live our lives, and to fundamentally start to change the way we do things, and to have a much greater impact than the industrial revolution ever had on the agricultural age. It’s something our education system could and should have been preparing for since the late 1970s, but it hasn’t. Instead our top-down administrative-led organisations and political systems stuck their heads in the ground in the belief that IT and globalisation wouldn’t actually change anything in the future – or perhaps with the fear that it might. After all IT was believed to be ‘just another tool’ that helped automate existing processes, but wouldn’t actually change them. As a result things are now evolving so quickly that our 20th Century systems and infrastructure just can’t cope with them. And Education seems intent on refusing to accept that the world is not the same as it once was, and continues to fail to develop its thinking about what needs to be learnt when, how and by whom. The time for debate about whether teaching should be traditional or progressive has long since passed. What really needs discussing is how our schools are going to completely re-invent themselves to meet the very different needs of future generations.

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Meanwhile, gazing through doubtless rose-tinted sunglasses, back in daily life in the summer of 1976 shops were shut on Sundays which gave everyone a welcome day of rest and family life. Working hours were more reasonable and there were no such things as performance targets. Houses didn’t cost the earth, especially for first-time buyers, enabling those in their early 20s to become home-owners. Public transport was cheap and plentiful, even if like now, it didn’t always run on time. There was less to choose from in the shops, but goods were made in Britain, and there were no complex calculations needed every year to work out which were the best and cheapest energy, tele-communications and insurance providers. And most of all and there wasn’t the pervasive atmosphere of fear, hate and conspicuous greed being thickly spread by politicians and the media. But neither were there flat-screen, multi-channel colour TVs, digital cameras, instant access to the world via mobile smart phones and tablets, online shopping or other ‘modern conveniences’ that somehow for some reason we can’t seem to live without today. 

So was daily life better in 1976 than it is today? It’s impossible to say – some things have got better, and some things have got worse, and it very much depends on one’s particular individual circumstances at the time. It’s just that we did things differently then.

In Education however, it seems that most things have not only stayed the same but have got worse. And that goes for everybody, no matter what their circumstances.

So All Change Please! is just going to go to the beach instead, and stick its head in the sand…

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Image credits: Flickr Commons/ Roger W, Derek Gavey, LetsGoOut

 

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

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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

Fixated by Design

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So as the academic year desperately drags to its inevitable conclusion and teachers’ thoughts turn to escaping for a long, hot summer somewhere nice, it’s kind of the DfE and Ofqual to set everyone some holiday homework. Yes, with typical impeccable timing, the latest draft GCSE D&T specifications have just been published for consultation, due for return by the 26th August.

Along with the consultation forms, the specifications can be downloaded from here and here.

Generally, for Product Design-fixated teachers everywhere, the draft looks very encouraging. There is a clear approach to the use of explore/create/evaluate iterative design processes and of multi-materials and technologies. And the slightly odd jumble of proposed contexts from the previous drafts has been replaced by a list of suggestions for ‘contextual challenges’ that essentially read as ‘anything that does not prompt the use of a specific material, technology or discipline’. As expected though, coursework, or NEA (Non Exam Assessment) as it is curiously now known, is reduced to 50%, with a 50% completely inappropriate written paper: if Art and Design can be 100% NEA, why can’t D&T?

All that really remains is for one or two important details to be sorted out and clarified, and for the Awarding Bodies to get busy over the summer starting to develop user-friendly final specifications and examinations. Oh, and of course over the next couple of years, an awful lot of CPD to help the more traditional single-material specialist teachers who will have to develop a somewhat broader approach to delivering coursework, and to work out what the word ‘iterative’ actually means.

Obviously it’s up to each individual to decide for themselves how they wish to respond to the consultation, but here is All Change Please!‘s list of things it thinks would be worth mentioning, which you may or may not agree with, but you are welcome to include in your response if you wish – though do make sure you suitably personalise your comments!

1. It’s important to send a positive message supporting the multi-material, iterative design approach, and the specification as a whole.

2. On page 3 the explanation of the word ‘prototype’ is generally helpful, but the understanding of ‘product’ less so. A prototype might not need further design development as such, but simply require the use of manufacturing technologies not available in a school workshop. The final ‘outcome’ of design practice is likely to be a ‘proposal‘ rather than an actual finished, saleable object, except perhaps where the item is a ‘one-off’.

3. On page 5, point 7, there is a requirement for ‘at least one prototype and at least one product… based on a brief they develop..’. This lacks clarity, and possibly confused thinking on the part of Ofqual. It needs to be replaced with ‘at least one prototype or one product’ (which is how it is expressed in 2. in the Introduction).

4. In the Technical knowledge and understanding section the content seems a bit muddled. Ideally there would be a clearer distinction between the general, broad core of knowledge of materials and tools and a more in-depth knowledge of certain areas or aspects, chosen by the student.

5. In Designing and making principles (9) again some clarification is required. Ideally it should read:… ‘one design brief and at least one design specification‘ (as distinct from a manufacturing specification). It would also be useful to add.. ‘even though the design requirements might change during the development of the design’.  And presumably they mean ‘from their own consideration of…, supported by those identified by others‘, rather than a separate brief and specification for a problem they have identified and a separate brief and specification for a problem someone else has identified? Are students expected to undertake one or two pieces of coursework?

6. On page 7, re. ‘use different design strategies’, the term ‘design fixation‘ is not currently in common usage in D&T. It does of course mean fixated by a single design idea, rather than with design and designing itself!

7. Then, still on page 7, ‘design and develop at least one product…’ Again this needs to read one prototype or product. The explanation of innovation, provided at the bottom of the page, needs improvement. It would be more appropriate to use the word ‘creative’ to cover something new or novel, and perhaps unusual or unique. The word ‘innovation‘ indicates a design that will potentially lead to the widespread adoption a new type or class of product as a solution to a problem.

8. And re. ‘appropriate materials and components…‘, again there is the confusion between ‘one prototype and one product.’

9. While it is good to see the links with Science and Maths at the end, thus helping establish the contribution of D&T to STEM, it’s a shame there are no links with Art & Design (the clue is in the name!). This would help identify the important aesthetic dimensions of design, which are not otherwise directly mentioned.

And last, but by no means least, while the specification potentially succeeds in encouraging a high quality, rigorous, intellectual and academic learning experience in design & technology, it does little for students who have traditionally sought the D&T department as a refuge where they can make potentially useful artefacts and develop valuable workshop skills. What’s also urgently needed are alternative specifications to meet their needs and wants.

Please forward this post to any D&T teachers you know!

 

Image credit: Flickr/ ji young Yoon

Gordon Bennett!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Image credit: Wikimedia

 

 

Chinese Takeaways

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Creativity lessons in China: How many different uses can you think of for a pair of chopsticks?

China turns to UK for lessons in design and technology – Education

All Change Please! didn’t quite know whether to laugh or cry when it read the above story. It covered the announcement that there’s a crisis in China and they need to adopt a more creative approach in their schools to enable their nation to be able to design as well as make stuff in the future. To help solve the problem they paid for a delegation of D&T teachers from the UK to go out and advise them.

Partly because no-one had invited it on a freebie trip to China, but mostly because it wondered what effective advice the delegation might be able pass on, All Change Please! thought it would provide its own D&T ‘Takeaways’ for the Chinese Government, based on established UK practice:

1. Get a politician to develop the specification for D&T, based on her limited experience of what she did in school in the early 1990s. Ensure Horticulture is included simply as a result of pressure from a powerful parliamentary lobby group.

2. Develop an examination system that makes is as easy as possible to objectively assess performance, and consequently penalises students who take risks and demonstrate creativity and initiative.

3. Ensure the final examination includes a rigorous written paper that does not in any way measure design capability but is worth at least half of the marks.

4. Encourage every school to buy a 3D printer so they can mass-produce little green dragons to sell to willing parents in order to raise money to buy another 3D printer to produce even more little green dragons.

5. Decrease the status of the subject by significantly undermining its value in school league tables, so as to suggest it is only suitable for low-ability children.

6. Fail to give D&T a central role in unifying STEM (or better still STEAM) subjects, and build Great Walls between all subjects.

7. Ensure a substantial shortfall of suitably qualified teachers by drastically cutting back the number of available teacher training courses.

8. And – most important of all – fail to make any substantial investment in staff development over an extended period of time, i.e. a minimum of 25 years.

Fortune Cookie* say:  if China can manage to completely ignore All Change Please!‘s Takeaways, then we might indeed soon be seeing more things that are labelled Designed and Made in China. Especially as All Change Please! has every confidence that the DATA delegation will have passed on rather more positive advice of its own.

‘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’.

‘However we are planning to stage the John Adams’ Opera Dyson In China.’

* Myth-busting fascinating fact: Chinese Fortune Cookies were actually invented in Japan and popularised by the US in the early 20th Century. They are not eaten in China. Well that’s what it says on Wikipedia, anyway.

Image credit: Flickr/Simon Law

Five Star!

Education secretaries may come and go, but All Change Please! goes on forever. Yes, exactly five years ago today, as All Change Please! hit the Publish button for the very first time, it was someone called Ed who was making a Balls up of education. And today, in our distopian post-Govian nightmare, it’s Teacher’s Friend Nicky Morgove and opposition spokesperson Tristram (no relation) Hunt who are carrying on the long tradition of knowing so much more about how to improve standards in schools than anyone else who has actually ever done any real teaching.

As is usual for this date each year, All Change Please! takes the opportunity to look back and wallow in the success of some of its most popular posts.

Top of the Posts for the last 12 months has to be One Small Step in which it dared to suggest that perhaps traditionalists and progressives should put away their differences and focus on communicating a more coherent and united message to its Daily Mail-reading armchair critics. ‘One Small Step’ was of course a follow-on to All Change Please!’s second most read (or at least most clicked-on) post: Daisy, Daisy.. in which it attempted to counter the myths regularly being de-bunked by traditional teachers by identifying some myths of its own.

Meanwhile on the comedy circuit, What Ho! Gove was a hit, a very palpable hit, along with PISA Takeaways and the Chandler-inspired Curriculum Noir: Who stole the Arts, not to mention There’s No Supporting Truss. And speaking of Ms Truss, did you see her hilarious stand-up routine at the Tory Party Conference? And to think, just a few months ago she was an education minister.

 

Along the way, All Change Please! managed to come up with a few good one-liners too, such as:

“Meanwhile outside on the school field someone was quietly stringing together a Daisy chain of academies”.

And while discussing the need for urgent debate on the future of On-line Computer Learning Systems:

“…or, as Timothy Leary didn’t put it in the 1960s: ‘Sit down, switch on and shut up!’

Or on the current debate about traditional and progressive teaching methods:

“At the end of the day/lesson, the debate should not really be focused on whether traditional teaching is any better or worse that so-called progressive teaching, but simply whether traditional and more progressive methods are being applied well or badly in the classroom.”

Then following the proposal that retired politicians, lawyers and bankers should be recruited as teachers:

 “Meanwhile All Change Please! would like to propose a parallel scheme in which recently retired teachers would be retrained as politicians, lawyers and bankers in attempt to sort out the complete mess the country is currently in.”

Or on the need for some magic to return to our classroom:

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

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

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

This is what Alas Schools and Journos! had to say about PISA statistics:

“But I thought the reason the Chinese and South Koreans did better than us was because they only put their cleverest children in for the test?

Exactly. That just goes to show how much smarter they are than us, doesn’t it?”

And here’s Bertie Wooster:

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

What Ms Truss didn’t say out loud in her Policy exchange speech:

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

And a quiet moment of self-reflection:

“When it was young, all All Change Please! wanted to do was to change the world. And as it grew into middle age it still wanted to change the world, although it had decided that changing education would probably be enough to be getting on with for now. And now, as it eases into retirement and becomes ever closer to being no more than a long forgotten series of ones and zeros drifting blissfully unaware in The Cloud, it still has vague hopes that someone, somewhere is still reading its rants and raves.”

 

And finally, in response to The Gove Legacy… it seems there has been a reported sighting of Michael Gove. He obviously needs help, urgently…

 

Image credit: Flickr/Itdemaartinet

LearnFirst – TeachLater

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OperateFirst: a new six week course for aspiring brain surgeons?

You may have read or heard somewhere that to really master a skill you need to practise it for 10,000 hours. The source of this story goes back to an article published over 20 years ago and has been the inspiration for a number of books and further studies.

With the current obsession with Myth-busting, it’s perhaps not surprising that this is one of the myths that’s being challenged: The 10,000 Hour Rule Is Wrong and Perpetuates a Cruel Myth

At one level, the message of the original study – that anyone can master any skill given 10,000 hours – is of course inaccurate and misleading. But what is important to grasp that even if you have the interest and ability it will still take an awful lot of practise to become a master of your trade or profession. And we’re not just talking about in music or painting or sport, but in just about every area of life.

It’s worth applying this thought to teaching. Clearly there are many people who are quite unsuited to the classroom and even if they spent a lifetime, let alone 10,000 hours in a school, they would never become proficient at it. Fortunately however there are also many people who can teach. For the sake of argument, let’s suppose a teacher spends 42 weeks a year working for 50 hours a week – that’s 2,100 hours a year, which, if we follow the 1000 hours guidance suggests that for most teachers it’s going to take around five years before they are really on top of their game in the classroom. There will be exceptions of course, at both extremes, but generally that sounds about right.

So the notion that someone can undertake a six-week summer holiday course and then be successfully let loose on a class-full of children is highly suspect. We clearly need to see the process of becoming a professional teacher as a five-year experience, and that’s not including the years spent at university gaining a first-degree in an academic subject.

Knowing stuff is not the same as being able to teach it. Amongst many other things successful teaching requires adept classroom management and the acquired ability to engage and inspire children, plan effective lessons, set achievable targets for all and assess individual progress and achievement – and those are things that can easily take five years to master. A few newcomers might achieve quick results, but in most cases for a whole academic year their pupils are going to be deprived of the quality of teaching and learning they need and that parents rightfully expect.

There are many other professions where a similar ‘fast-track’ approach would be deemed totally unacceptable. And with that in mind, here are some suggestions to that effect from who else but Tony Wheeler:

“I suggest we urgently press for similar rapid entry courses for all Upper Second graduates in the following areas:
OperateFirst for brain surgeons
GlowFirst for nuclear power station managers
CrashFirst for pilots (with a 3 week short course for those flying helicopters military jets and all air traffic controllers)
BetFirst for bankers and financial advisers (with a subsidiary StealFirst short course for senior bankers and hedge find managers)
LieFirst for politicians (with a BullyFirst short course for cabinet ministers and CEOs)”

Meanwhile back in school, during those first five years new teachers need to be monitored and supported far more closely than they are at present. Over that time they also need to be regularly attending further professional development courses, reading widely on approaches to pedagogy and moving around between a number of schools, and perhaps undertaking some practical school-based research. At the end of the five years they should be rigorously assessed by an external agency and, if they have reached the required standard, achieve some form of Master Teacher status coupled with extra pay. Until then they should not be let loose on our children.

None of the above will ever happen of course, but All Change Please! just thought it should mention it, along with the following:

“The problem with teaching as a profession is that every single adult citizen of this country thinks that they know what teachers do. And they don’t. So they prescribe solutions, and they develop public policy, and they editorialize, and they politicize. And they don’t listen to those who do know. Those who could teach. The teacher.”  Sarah Blaine

And just to prove her point, if you’d like to swear at Tristram (no relation) Hunt, here’s your chance:

BBC News – Labour’s Hunt urges ‘Hippocratic oath’ for teachers

And if more proof is needed that ministers have absolutely no idea what they are talking about, this will really make you Nash your teeth!

Save money by using standardized lesson plans, says schools minister.

Image credit: Flickr/slimjim