Prison Break Time

 

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The curious similarities between prisons and schools have recently been the subject of a number of Blog posts, including Rough Justice by All Change Please! and Learners Voice by Graham Brown-Martin. Indeed it seems almost too much of a co-incidence that Michael Gove has moved from being in charge of schools to being in charge of prisons.

Perhaps more surprising is Gove’s for once very sensible acceptance of the recommendation that education needs to be an important part of life in prison, and to this end he has endorsed “in-cell technology, such as iPads, so prisoners can learn independently”.  All of which seems at odds with the general approach to the use of IT in schools which is that it is unhelpful to learning. At the same time some prisoners will only be required to spend the weekend in jail.

Rod Clark, chief executive of the Prisoners’ Education Trust, is reported to have said: “For too long, schools in England and Wales have languished in a pre-internet dark age, with children struggling to find a computer to type on, let alone gain internet access.”  However, this was quickly corrected as he continued: “I’m sorry, I’ll read that again –  For too long, jails in England and Wales have languished in a pre-internet dark age, with prisoners struggling to find a computer to type on, let alone gain internet access.”

In further developments All Change Please! can’t help wondering when it will be announced that in future Judges will be able to decide whether to send convicted criminals to prison – or instead for more serious offenders, to schools?

After being sentenced John ’Stick-em-up’ Smith said:

“I knew robbing banks might land me in the Nick one day, but my sentence is well out of order – I’ve got to spend the next ten years in a school where there is no wi-fi access, no Skype and laptops are banned. I just don’t know how I’m going to cope with being completely cut off from the world like that – I was maybe expecting solitary confinement in prison, but at least with fast fibre broadband in my cell. And I have to attend five full days a week, not just at weekends. And then there’s all that homework and the rigorous academic EBacc… It’s just inhumane – my lawyer has advised me to appeal to the court of human rights.”

Meanwhile in the Queen’s Speech it was also announced that semi-autonomous “reform prisons” will result in groups of prisons being run by a single governor in the same way that academies have turned into chains of schools.

All Change Please! imagines this will make it easier for the poor and non-academic to make a smoother direct transition from Primary and Secondary Multi Academy Trusts to Multi Prison Trusts. Indeed, to increase CEO salaries, MATs will doubtless be encouraged to share resources and administration systems by building Reform Prisons on the same sites as Academies.

Image credit: The US Youth Justice Coalition

Glibbipedia Hacked!

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In which Mr Glibbly searches for the internet but fails to find it.

This is the story of Mr Glibbly. As you are probably already aware, Glibblys are well-known for the often thoughtless and superficial things they say in a smooth and slippery sort of way.

Mr Glibbly is a politician, which is an ideal profession for a Glibbly. Mr Glibbly is a very important man, because he decides what millions of our children will have to learn in our schools for many years to come. The country can’t afford for Mr Glibbly to get it wrong. But the problem is, although Mr Glibbly knows a great deal about a lot of things, he doesn’t know anything at all about teaching and learning or how to use the internet. And that’s quite a problem.

A little while ago, Mr Glibbly was due to give a speech. It was going to be a very important speech, and he thought he would show how clever he was to everyone who was listening. So Mr Glibbly decided to explain why you couldn’t learn anything from the internet. Here’s what he said, in his usual Glibbly sort of way:

“Say, for example, you are reading an article about nuclear energy, and come across an unfamiliar term: radiation. So you Google it. But the first paragraph on the Wikipedia article mentions another unfamiliar term: particles. So you look it up, but the definition for ‘particles’ uses another unfamiliar term: ‘subatomic’. The definition of which in turn contains the unfamiliar terms ‘electrons’, ‘photons’ and ‘neutrons’, and so on and so forth in an infinite series of google searches which take the reader further and further away from the original term ‘radiation’.“

Silly Mr Glibbly. He didn’t realise that what he said would reveal his entire lack of understanding about how to search the internet and how good teachers teach. Would you believe it – Mr Glibbly thinks that a good education for the 21st century is exactly the same as the one they had back in the 19th Century?

Now, as everyone (except it seems Mr Glibbly) knows, if you ‘Google’ something, you don’t just only click on the link to Wikipedia. It can be a useful starting point, but you are almost certainly going to need to check out some of the other links. If you search for ‘Radiation’, all you have to do is look a little way down towards the bottom of the first page of results and there is a link to a site called ‘Radiation for Kids‘.

And there, had Mr Glibbly had any digital skills and understanding at all, he would have found the following ever-so simple explanation that even All Change Please! can understand:

‘Radiation. All objects radiate energy and heat, even your own body. However, the radiation coming from hotter objects is more intense than that coming from cooler objects. Radiation leaves an object in the form of waves. The hotter an object, the shorter the wavelength of this radiation.’

And there are plenty of other similar sites that perfectly adequately explain all the other terms Mr Glibbly referenced, and each without the need to search for the meaning of other words.

Now sadly it is true to say that in some schools children are not properly taught the skills of using search engines, appropriate search terms or to be able to critically assess the value of the information they find. That’s a pity, because that’s one of the really basic skills everyone needs in the 21st Century. But fortunately there are plenty of other capable and confident children who know how to find pretty much anything they want to learn about on the internet. Quite unlike Mr Glibbly.

But meanwhile let’s re-write what Mr Glibbly said and substitute the word ‘encyclopedia’ (you remember – those big books we used to use when we were at school) for ‘Wikipedia’…

“Say, for example, you are reading an article about nuclear energy, and come across an unfamiliar term: radiation. So you look it up in an encyclopedia. But the first paragraph mentions another unfamiliar term: particles. So you look it up, but the definition for ‘particles’ uses another unfamiliar term: ‘subatomic’. The definition of which in turn contains the unfamiliar terms ‘electrons’, ‘photons’ and ‘neutrons’, and so on and so forth in an infinite series of encyclopedia articles which take the reader further and further away from the original term ‘radiation’. “

So it seems the problem Mr Glibbly described is not specific to the internet, but to the transmission of knowledge in general. But of course what Mr Glibbly doesn’t understand is that teaching involves rather more than just standing at the front of rows of obedient children reeling out lots of old-fashioned facts for them to memorise. Indeed, let’s re-write his paragraph yet again…

“Say, for example, your teacher is telling you about nuclear energy, and uses an unfamiliar term: radiation. As you, unlike many others in your class, are not afraid to look stupid by admitting you don’t know what radiation is, so you put your hand up and ask. The teacher explains what it is, but in doing so uses another unfamiliar term: ‘particles’, so up goes your hand again, and so on with all the other terms until the teacher can’t stand it any more and just tells you to be quiet and in future pay more attention to what he’s saying.”

In each example – the internet, the encylopedia, the teacher – it’s exactly the same problem. It’s not the technology or having the knowledge that makes the difference, it’s how well the writer or presenter can explain the specialist terms in ways that can easily be understood by the non-specialist. Mr Glibbly can’t be so clever if he hasn’t realised that yet, can he?

Meanwhile Mr Df-ingE continues to try to attract high-flying academic graduates into the classroom at the expense of people who actually know how to effectively communicate the underlying concepts of their subject and to engage children in the classroom. Perhaps what Mr Glibbly should be doing is to try and somehow help break the cycle of large numbers of children pursuing academic subjects through to university only to discover that the only job they can get is teaching children academic subjects through to university only to discover, and so on… If there was less emphasis on theoretical academic subjects for all it might help a bit with the teacher recruitment crisis too.

Meanwhile it might be a good idea for Mr Glibbly to discover how to use a search engine to learn a thing or two about what education is really all about. And to listen more attentively to what the teaching profession is telling him.

Many people say that Mr Glibbly isn’t really the most suitable person to be in charge of determining the school curriculum. What do you think?

Image © Tristram Shepard

The Really Big Issues

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First a reminder that the House of Commons Select Committee on Education Consultation on the Purpose of Education closes on the 24th January. Well it’s great that they’ve finally admitted they have had absolutely no idea what they’ve been messing with for the past 30 or so years, but All Change Please! can’t help but think that education policy in future will be justified by the statement that the government is following the direction established by the full public consultation which has proved they were doing the right thing all along and intend to continue in the same way. ‘We’ve been listening‘ they’ll say, ‘It’s just that you didn’t say what we wanted you to so we completely ignored it‘ they won’t add.

Meanwhile All Change Please!’s completely robust, accurate and reliable poll made of straw is predicting that the responses will fall into one of two camps. The first – the type that will be ignored – runs something like this:

“Everyone is good at something. The purpose of education is to help children find out what they are good at and use the confidence and self-worth they derive from this to confront their weaknesses. Education nourishes the broad natural and individual cognitive, emotional, moral and spiritual development of children and young adults in ways which ultimately gives them a sense of fulfillment and a desire to go on learning, both within work environments and in their personal lives. In doing so they will survive more easily and comfortably and pass on such nourishment to their own children and to society, thus helping ensure the successful continuation of the community, the nation, and ultimately the species.”

And the second – which is what are expected to say:

“The purpose of education is to create a pliant, well-disciplined, hard-working and employable population that doesn’t ask questions and will be led by a small highly-capable elite who will run the country specifically in order to increase their own wealth. However, in the interests of social mobility this involves giving everyone the opportunity to join the elite, whether they want to or not, providing of course they prove themselves to be sufficiently academically able and attend a Russell Group University.”

This will in turn lead to the inevitable conclusion that in order to improve the quality of education good old-fashioned traditional knowledge-based teaching is best, even more testing is needed, and the EBacc is the best thing to come along since the invention of homogenous, completely tasteless sliced-white bread.

All of which is however pretty much beside the point, because there are some much bigger, important and far more disruptive mind-bending educational issues on the horizon that are what we really should be spending our time, effort and money on if we don’t want the country to go the way of dinosaurs, horse-drawn carts and Woolworths – which is the general direction we are currently heading. And they don’t centre around obsessively arguing about whether one style of teaching is better than another, which subjects should or should not be included in the curriculum, how to make it easier to memorise unnecessary information and how many times children need to be tested on their tables.

Indeed All Change Please! isn’t called All Change Please! because it wants Just A Little Bit of Change Now and Again Please! It’s because all things need to change. What we really should be discussing is our ideas about how all schools are going to need to change and evolve rapidly evolve in the very near future, and at the same time how to ensure the quality of the almost inevitable growth on online learning and assessment that will lead the change. To get an idea of the scale of the implications for the world of education, just ask someone in the music, publishing and retail industries if the way things work now are the same as they were in the year 2000, and how much time they spend debating whether or not we should be going back to using traditional methods of selling the same products and services from the 1950s. While everyone else prepares for the Fourth Industrial Revolution – that’s the one after the IT age – education is still way back in the second one.

Thus the first Really Big Issue, which the Df-ingE seems intent on denying and publishing misleading figures about, is the consequences of the forthcoming teacher shortage, due at least in part to their highly successful ‘Let’s Blame the Teacher’ campaign they have been running (together with the recently launched parallel ‘Let’s Also Blame the Parents’ campaign). That’s because there’s an easy solution to the shortage that the Df-ingE have doubtless had in mind all along, following the worrying lead of Brazil and Australia, which is to simply plug children into ‘Sit down, switch on and shut up’ computer-based teaching systems for several hours each day. This has the extra advantage of giving the large corporate preferred suppliers massive contracts to make loads of money while spending as little as possible on the actual teaching and learning content, which will be created by programmers rather than educationalists. The companies that create these teaching systems don’t really care what the purpose of education is – beyond making them a healthy profit – let alone how to achieve it, and so just churn out an endless stream of personalised big data generated knowledge-recall multiple choice questions and test scores. This isn’t education. It’s factory farming.

And the other Really Big Issue is the ingrained belief that we still live in a world of the individual expert who knows a lot about very little, and that by the time a child leaves school and university they have been told and remembered everything there is to know. We appear to be obsessed with the ability to remember things at the expense of problem-solving and management skills. Just saying “Because we don’t know exactly what knowledge will be needed in the future we will go on teaching them the same old stuff in the same old way” and implementing the EBacc isn’t an acceptable answer. And it’s starting to look like the only way to achieve this is going to be for headteachers to unilaterally agree not to play the numbers game anymore.

Meanwhile what we do know is that our children will need to be creative and collaborative team workers and communicators, have excellent personnel management and communication skills and be able and willing to learn new knowledge and skills throughout their lives on an almost daily basis – all with no teacher there to inform and test them. More than ever before they will need to identify and maximise their particular individual capabilities and passions and be able to apply them alongside a sound, fundamental grasp of digital technologies, business, economics and psychology. And if we are to remain competitive as a nation and as a culture, these aren’t things that can be just bolted-on in the occasional off-timetable after-school club, but need to underpin the whole curriculum experience from Year 1 to Year 13 and on into further and life-long education. Make no mistake – if we don’t, then China will – or rather, already is.

It will also become increasingly important that today’s children realise that learning is not just something boring and tedious that happens under duress at school sitting at a computer answering endless multiple choice questions, but is something that is pleasurable, enriching and fulfilling and happens throughout life, and through the whole community. Importantly, as adults, they will then need to pass on the same positive values and aspirations to their own children.

The purpose of education is to prepare our children for the future. Not the past. 

Or perhaps it’s just really as All Change Please!’s Smith and Jones previously observed:

Jones: But I always thought the purpose of education was to learn useful things, get some qualifications and then a job serving coffee somewhere?

With thanks to Tony’s Mum and Alan.

Image credit: Flickr ozz13x

Big Issue Seller

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

 

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

Smarter Than a Smartphone?

Screenshot 2015-09-16 21.31.42Is the OECD trying to wash its hands of new technology?

The OECD, and the Media, seem to be suffering a bit from OCD at present.

Just in case you are wondering – the OECD is The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that promotes policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. And OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which is a mental health condition where a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive activity.

According to the media, the OECD recently published a report of a global study in which it claimed that:

‘Investing heavily in school computers and classroom technology does not improve pupils’ performance….Those students who use tablets and computers very often tend to do worse than those who use them moderately.’

The think-tank says frequent use of computers in schools is more likely to be associated with lower results in reading, maths and science.

“If you look at the best-performing education systems, such as those in East Asia, they’ve been very cautious about using technology in their classrooms,” said Mr Schleicher, who, according to Wikipedia, is no less than a German-born statistician and researcher in the field of education and the Division Head and coordinator of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment and the OECD Indicators of Education Systems programme. So there. It is thought that a long time ago he once attended school himself, so of course knows everything there is to know about teaching and learning.

But the real problem is that, like most of the world, the OECD is obsessively, compulsively, desperately clinging on to the idea that what we need is higher and higher standards of memory-based, essay re-called 19th Century Academic education for everyone because that’s the only way disadvantaged people will ever get a decent job – and seem to want to wash their hands of the whole messy business of real learning.

But wait – is this yet another example of media spin? Yes, of course it is. Because if you actually read the rest of the article, and maybe even the report itself, it continues:

“If we want students to become smarter than a smartphone, we need to think harder about the pedagogies we are using to teach them. Technology can amplify great teaching but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.”

Well that sounds fair enough, although of course what the OECD still doesn’t get is that teaching needs to change as a result of the technology – it’s not just about amplifying what’s already there. Mp3 files never made the music any louder…

Still ‘Smarter than a Smartphone‘ is a really catchy catch-phrase (despite the fact that children are already far smarter than any actual smartphone), and apparently what the report actually discovered was that Technology can be a useful tool in class, enabling teachers to ‘tap into specialised materials beyond the standard textbooks and to run innovative learning projects in class’. Well, after 30 years or more of the use of IT in schools, who would have guessed that?

Meanwhile, according to the BBC’s coverage of the report, Keysborough College principal John Baston said there was no point using technology in schools if teachers were not taught how to use the devices effectively in class.

“The computers are there to enable you to help improve teaching, but it can’t create by itself quality teaching,” he wisely said.

Then Mark Chambers, chief executive of Naace, the body supporting the use of computers in schools, said it was unrealistic to think schools should reduce their use of technology:

“It is endemic in society now, at home young people will be using technology, there’s no way that we should take technology out of schools, schools should be leading not following.”

While on the Surface Microsoft spokesman Hugh Milward said:

“The internet gives any student access to the sum of human knowledge, 3D printing brings advanced manufacturing capabilities to your desktop, and the next FTSE 100 business might just as well be built in a bedroom in Coventry as in the City.

Even Tom ‘I never said we should ban iPads‘ Bennett is reported to have said:

‘There might have been unrealistic expectations, but the adoption of technology in the classroom can’t be turned back.”

And apparently in a rare moment of common sense never witnessed before, England’s own schools minister Nick Glibbly said:

“We want all schools to consider the needs of their pupils to determine how technology can complement the foundations of good teaching and a rigorous curriculum, so that every pupil is able to achieve their potential.”

Though All Change Please! suspects he didn’t understand what he was really saying and probably had his fingers crossed behind his back.

But anyway, now that the blame can as usual be laid clearly and squarely with the teachers, let’s hope now that there’s a proper review of the way in which new and emerging information and communication technologies can be effectively used in the classroom to promote and enhance 21st Century learning in schools, along with a substantial investment in CPD to help teachers adapt to the new methods and how the curriculum will need to substantially change as a result.

All Change Please! is keeping its fingers crossed in plain sight, but doesn’t hold out a great deal of hope as it continues to obsessively and compulsively write more and more posts about the subject.

 

Image credit: Flickr/Tina M Steele

Schools should keep children away from the Daily Mail

8074294232_4e69b89084_k-1s“What do you mean, where’s the switch to turn your slates on?”

Up to its usual trick of simply re-drafting articles written by other newspapers, that devious, despicable, malicious Daily Mail recently produced some shouty headlines proclaiming:

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The subsequent article states that Bennett said that the cost to taxpayers when iPads are broken is ‘horrific’, and that he even believes there is ‘absolutely no need’ for children to have access to the Internet, adding: ‘Kids are kids – they will see things you don’t want them to see.’

Apparently Bennett also criticised teachers who told children to use the internet to complete homework, which he described as like ‘sending them to a library without a librarian‘. He also added that it was a teacher’s duty to point out mistakes on the web.

However, a few days later, the Great Behaviour Saviour ‘Please don’t call me a Tsar’ Tsar took to the TES to earnestly inform us that he didn’t actually say any of those things the Daily Mail said he did. Which makes it all a bit confusing – who is All Change Please! to believe? Anyway, based on the Tsar’s myth-busting TES article here’s All Change Please!’s surprising suggested set of alternative up-dated attention-grabbing headlines…

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But of course it’s all come too late to prevent the Df-ingE getting all excited and using it as an excuse to launch an investigation into the impact of allowing mobile phones in the classroom, which apparently includes ‘tablets’, even though they are somewhat different devices with far more educational benefits. Quite why an investigation is needed is a bit of a puzzle to All Change Please!, because it seems fairly obvious that if lessons and the curriculum are relevant to children’s needs, interests and abilities and are well planned and delivered then they won’t have any desire to become distracted in the first place? And if a teacher can’t manage to insist that mobile phones must be kept switched off during lesson times, then maybe they shouldn’t be in the classroom in the first place? Perhaps it’s the impact of allowing teachers in the classroom that needs to be investigated, and it’s the poor teachers who should be banned instead of the mobile phones?

Meanwhile there has also been the Mail’s stunning ‘right to know’ expose about the exact same Behaviour Tsar’s alleged misbehaviour in allowing the nightclub he managed to become too noisy, even when it wasn’t open.

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Interestingly though the headline writer somehow failed to add a final, and rather important, bullet point taken from the article, which should have read:

• However he denied all charges and accepted compensation for unfair dismissal.

Meanwhile in other news that proves that you don’t have to be mad to be a headteacher but it probably helps, it seems that these days what really matters is the size of one’s pencil case and ruler. And then there’s this suggestion that all children should be learning the same thing and the same time in the same way.

All Change Please! decided to undertake some virtually unreal digging, and somehow managed to convince itself it had found the following letter in the archives of the Times newspapers.

Dateline: September 1915. The London Times Letters page.

Sir. – It has come to my attention that schools are now in the habit of providing children with these new mass-produced pencils and notepad devices which seem to becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to the tried and tested slate. I have been so informed that they often use them as a distraction to play noughts and crosses on, and to write messages to each other which often contain offensive words and rude comments about their teachers. In some of the worst and most unruly schools they have also used them to draw rude depictions of famous women on. It is my opinion that they are used far too often as a pacifier by teachers who can’t control classes. Whilst I am convinced these new pencil and paper devices are no more than a passing fad, writing on them should only be allowed with the greatest caution and only when supervised and directed by an academically well-qualified and experienced teacher. Of course it will also be essential to regularly check that pencils and associated carrying devices are of the correct length and of uniform colour, adding significantly to the teacher’s workload.

There is no research evidence to support ideas that using pencils and paper aids a child’s education, and the cost to taxpayers of replacing these throw-away items on a regular basis is horrific. There are those who say children should be given pencils and paper because they enjoy learning with them, but the reality is that they just enjoy using pencils and paper. Parents who allow their children to stay up late writing and drawing with the result that they arrive at school tired should have scholarship money withdrawn.

The traditional slate is of the ideal size, proportion, weight and appearance to work with, and it is my sincere hope that one day schools will sensibly return to some sort of similar device that can be used with or without one of these new ‘pencils’.

Meanwhile I am also of the firm belief that there is absolutely no need for children to have access to encyclopedias from which they are likely to learn about things we do not necessarily want them to. Teachers must cease telling children to refer to them to complete their homework, which is like guiding them to a library without a librarian. Teachers also have a duty to point out the frequent mistakes that occur in them.

Finally I would like to support the appointment of the new schools’ behaviour tsar, despite the fact that he was apparently previously sacked from his position as a Soho ’Free and Easy’ Drinkshop manager after he allegedly failed to control the disorderly working classes who refused to sit still and in complete silence whilst enjoying the specified refreshments and entertainment made available at the correct time, and as defined by the National Consumption Curriculum. Apparently the complaints all came from a single teacher who routinely complained about noise coming from adjacent rooms, even when they were empty.

Yours, &c.,

No Change Please!

 

Image Credit: Flickr/Angus Kirk

 

One small step

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If teachers can’t agree on what schools of the future should be like, someone else is going to decide for them

In All Change Please!‘s recent “You Say Right and I Say Left, Oh No…” post, it concluded by suggesting:

“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.”

This sentence was picked up and re-tweeted a number of times, so to extend this thought, here are some extreme examples of good and bad traditional and progressive approaches to lessons that All Change Please! has at some point had the fortune, or misfortune, to observe. Although they didn’t all occur in the same school at the same time, they are things that actually happened in real lessons.

A ’traditional’ teacher is sitting at his desk at the front of the class. He addresses the class, who have learnt to sit still and face the front in fear of being individually demeaned by the teacher’s penchant for sarcasm or informing them they are both stupid and failures. After pouring his considerable knowledge into the empty vessels before him, he writes some notes on the whiteboard (while still lamenting the removal of his blackboard) and tells the students to make some notes about what he has just said, which they do, in silence. He then asks a question and the children slowly begin to put their hands up, cautiously responding to his ‘Guess what I’m thinking’ game. Eventually he reveals the correct answer which, they are informed, is the one they will need to give in their final examination. Without variation, this approach continues to the end of the lesson, and homework – to ‘read the next chapter of the textbook for a test next period’ is set.

In an adjoining classroom is another ‘traditional’ teacher, standing at the front of a class. She has smilingly welcomed the students in and starts by re-capping the last lesson with them. A number of keywords have been written on the board, which are particularly checked for recall and understanding. By using more open-ended question and answers she is able to judge how much knowledge has been retained, and by whom. While she challenges those who have obviously not been listening or have not completed the set homework, she is positive and encouraging, and clearly has a good rapport with the class. Her explanation of the lesson content is enlivened by a PowerPoint presentation that highlights the key points with some strong, memorable images. She uses analogies and metaphors to help the students relate the concepts she is explaining to situations they will be more familiar with, and tellingly she draws on her own experiences of life outside school. During the lesson, the children are asked to briefly discuss an issue, either with a partner or in a small group, before making their own notes. To keep the pace of the lesson moving, there is a strict time-limit imposed. At the end of the lesson there’s a re-cap, as at the start, and she explains how today’s lesson has informed the next. Clear learning objectives have been set, and met. She sets the homework which is to study the next chapter and compare its content and presentation with a given web page on the same topic, ready to present during this next lesson.

Meanwhile in another part of the school a ‘progressive’ teacher is working with a class who are mid-way through a term-long project. They are working in groups. At the start of the lesson the teacher told them to get on with their work, and she is now circulating, becoming absorbed in sorting out in each group’s projects and problems one at a time. The rest of the class sit are round chatting and have little idea what they are supposed to be doing, and find working together difficult. They have done some research, mainly printing out pages from Wikipedia. Some students have decided what they are going to do, while others are still unsure, or claim they have finished. The teacher has no idea as to the extent and level of the problem-solving skills they have already developed in previous work, and as a result few children manage to extend their capabilities. During the lesson the teacher makes no whole-class input, or seeks to break-up the long double-lesson time. The room is noisy, with some minor instances of misbehaviour occurring, which the teacher ignores. The bell rings and the children dash off to their next lesson.

But next door, it’s a different story. Another ‘progressive’ teacher, working with a different class on the same project topic has started the lesson with a class review of progress to date from each group. He introduces some new content that he wants the class to consider and incorporate during the first part of the lesson, which they do while he goes round and quickly checks what each child has done for homework. He then asks the class to break off from their on-going work to reflect on how well their group is working and to establish some clear targets for the next fortnight. One group learns that one of their members is likely to be off sick for some time, so they re-allocate their roles amongst themselves accordingly. Back on their project, everyone is working and there is a busy, lively, purposeful atmosphere. Many of the children are talking, but the conversation is about their work. The teacher is circulating, but generally observing rather than directing, and being available as and when needed. Well before the end of the lesson the teacher stops everyone working and sets an individual research task, informing the class that simply printing off a page from Wikipedia will not be acceptable, and that they need to consult a variety of sources, evaluate the reliability of each and state their own conclusion. At the end of the lesson he asks one group to share an account of their progress with the whole class and uses what they say to ask some searching questions and highlight both positive achievements and where greater application is needed if they are to progress further.

In both the successful traditional and progressive teachers’ classes, there are some children who clearly shine and prefer either the more knowledge-based or more process/skill-based approach. What’s important is that children get the chance to experience both types of teaching and learning, and that they are properly supported in the approach they feel least comfortable with.

Meanwhile a striking feature of the two ‘good’ lesson examples is that they are not actually that different. As the new ‘academic’ (as opposed to practical?) year gets underway, isn’t it about time we stopped arguing amongst ourselves about whether traditional or modern educational methods are best, and start to develop a broader, more consensual approach to teaching and learning? We need to take the best of both approaches, and not be afraid to mix them up and make them nice. And in reality of course that’s what already happening in a lot of schools.

Meanwhile teachers are certainly are going to need to be singing from the same song-sheet if they are to successfully rise to the real challenge of the next few years and ensure that low-cost, second-rate, multiple-choice assessed computer-based teaching and learning systems do not become accepted as an adequate substitute for the real thing.

Why replacing teachers with automated education lacks imagination

or, as Timothy Leary didn’t put it in the 1960s:

‘Sit down, switch on and shut up!’

 

Image credit: Flickr/bsfinhull 

Can I see tea?

From the vaults. Dedicated to all teachers about to embark on delivering the new Computing curriculum…

All Change Please!

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Over recent weeks All Change Please! has posted about the draft National Curriculum requirements for Design & Technology, Art & Design, and History. Now it’s time to look at the new-fangled Computer studies (or as a DfE press release recently called it, ‘Computing Studies’), and to help us we’re delighted to welcome back the wondeful spirit of Joyce Grenfell, who is leading today’s Key Stage 1 lesson.

“Ok class, let’s all gather round. Today we’re going to learn about computers. I expect you already know a lot more about them than I do, don’t you? Well at least I’m rather hoping you do. Now, first make sure your smart phones and tablets are all switched off please – you’re not really supposed to have them in school are you? No, I’m sorry Larry you’ll just have to finish working on your facebook hacking app later – which reminds me, you…

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On and on and on. That’s Life?

 

 

So, this summer more children have gained higher grades at GCSE and A level, and at the other end of the scale, more have failed. Sounds like Gove’s initiatives have paid off and academic standards are rising. That’s great, until you want to get your boiler fixed. Which is exactly what Carla, one of All Change Please!’s regular readers, recently discovered.

Friday 25th
Today I contacted Ariston as my electric boiler had stopped working. As it was just one month later than the warranty expiration date, they gave me the name of their repair company. I called them and explained the problem and that I needed an engineer. They booked him for the following Wednesday between 7am-1pm. They asked me to pay £85 +VAT there and then and £25 for any further 30 minute periods after the first hour.

Wednesday 30th
I stayed at home to wait for the engineer. By 1pm, as nobody had arrived, I contacted the company. They said that the engineer had come, rang the bell at 9:45 and left a message on my mobile to say that they will call to rearrange appointment. This seemed strange as I had not heard any bell and there was no card on the doormat.

Strangely, half an hour later the engineer arrives, but he was told that it was a gas job hence he has no parts! He has to come back again with the part. I told him that I had already paid for an hour’s work and I had clearly told Ariston what the problem was and I was not going to pay any extra, He said he will tell the company he had only spent 10 minutes. So, still no hot water tonight as well and another day to wait for them to come.

Thursday 31st
Having heard nothing further I call the engineers to check what’s happening. Apparently the engineer will come on Monday if I pay £186 now for the part, which I reluctantly agree to.

Monday 4th
Waited in. The engineer arrives, but has brought the wrong part, despite the fact that it is clearly numbered, so goes away again.

Tuesday 5th
Waited in. A different engineer arrives with the correct part. Unfortunately he is unable to remove the heating element. Why they had not done this the first time, I do not know. We would have realised that the boiler needed replacing and I could have saved £189 of parts. All at an added £25 per half-hour. For the third time, I call Ariston to complain. I am now leaving it to the landlord to sort it out

Wednesday 6th
Waited in. My landlord’s plumber arrives and is able to quickly remove the heating element, but he does not have any spare parts.

Thursday 7th
Waited in. Some new parts arrive, but the plumber informs me they are not the correct ones.

Friday 8th
Waited in. The correct parts arrive, the plumber fits them and departs. Looking forward to bath tonight! Unfortunately the water runs cold.

Saturday 9th
Waited in. We are still battling with the water heater. After three botched up attempts, one just to diagnose the problem, one with the wrong part, one with the right part but unable to remove the heating element, one with the landlord’s plumber that removed the element in just a few minutes but had to wait for the parts, one with the wrong part to be redelivered, one with right part in hand but not plumber, this morning the landlord’s plumber and an electrician come to check the boiler. After spending an hour checking the system they discover that the newly-fitted thermostat is faulty.

Monday 10th
Waited in. A plumber arrives from Ariston and replaces the Thermostat. Finally, seventeen days after reporting the fault I have hot water again!

Back in the 1990s Ariston used to have a clever advert that kept repeating: ‘Ariston And-on-and-on-and-on-and-on’ . I always thought that was meant to refer to the length of time their white goods lasted, not how long it would take to get them repaired…

 

There’s a catalogue of failures going on here. First are the workforce themselves who don’t seem to know what they are supposed to be doing and have not been trained well enough to identify and sort the problems out. As well as the boiler, the management and communication processes seem to have completely broken down as well. Then there is the manufacturer who doesn’t seem to care very much at all about customer-care.

There’s clearly something wrong in a world in which we can transmit video signals across the world in an instant, but still can’t get a boiler fixed without a great deal of hassle. What we clearly don’t need right now are more students studying academic degrees at university, while anybody who does something that involves anything useful or practical is deemed to be a second-class citizen.  As Natasha Porter writes here

“Unfortunately, “better with their hands” all too often suggests “not very bright”, or “poorly behaved”. We need to stop seeing vocational education as the option for non-academic students. The modern plumber, for example, needs to have strong arithmetic skills in order to understand complex pricing and measurements, as well as having excellent communication skills and scientific reasoning.”

And finally in true ”That’s Life’ style All Change Please! is indebted to Jenny, another regular reader, who recently posted about her recent unfortunate experiences trying to get a repeat prescription from her doctor.

http://charactersfromthekitchen.wordpress.com/2014/08/15/give-me-strength-to-visit-the-surgery/