Let’s ask the Magic 8 Ball

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Yes, as unbelievable as Brexit sounds, today, the 28th October 2017, is All Change Please!s Magical Eighth birthday. And that means it’s time for All Change Please!’s surprisingly regular annual Review of the Year post…

To begin with, regular readers might have noticed that All Change Please! has been a lot less prolific than in previous years: instead of an average of posting once a fortnight, it’s been more like once a month. Except for February, April and May when seemingly absolutely nothing happened to inspire All Change Please! to take pen to paper, or rather finger to keyboard. However the world of education seemed to come back to life a bit more during September and October…

So what were All Change Please!‘s greatest number of hits of 2016-17?

1. The Blunders of Government

Way out ahead in the prestigious Number One ‘Top of the Posts’ spot was the runaway ‘The Blunders of Government’ which featured a dialogue between Sir Humphrey Appleby and a compendium of Education Secretaries from the past 7 years.

2. Theresa in Wonderland

Some way behind was All Change Please!’s Christmas special which identified the close connection between Mrs May and Alice, with Nigel Farage in the role of the Cheshire Cat, and The Queen of Hearts (deftly played by Angela Merkel) boasting that sometimes she believed as many as six impossible things before Brexit.

3. Problem still unsolved….

In which it was revealed that students place little value on creativity and problem-solving, largely because the schools they go to don’t either.

 

But as always, what appeals most to the bloglovin’ public rarely reflects All Change Please!’s own favourites of the year which included:

4. Fun-filled gender-fluid self curated personas at the Df-ingE 

Cool. No problem. Read again?

5. Pass Notes: What is GCSE Irritative Design.

Your cut-out and weep guide to D&T…

 

Meanwhile, All Change Please! got to wondering about who invented the Magic 8 Ball and when, and how it worked – and not for the first time managed to find everything it wanted to know on Wikipedia.

“The Magic 8-Ball is a toy used for fortune-telling or seeking advice, developed in the 1950s and manufactured by Mattel. It is often used in fiction, often for humor related to its giving accurate, inaccurate, or otherwise statistically improbable answers.

An 8-ball was used as a fortune-telling device in the 1940 Three Stooges short, You Nazty Spy!, and called a “magic ball”. While Magic 8-Ball did not exist in its current form until 1950, the functional component was invented by Albert C. Carter, inspired by a spirit writing device used by his mother, Mary, a Cincinnati clairvoyant.

The Magic 8-Ball is a hollow plastic sphere resembling an oversized, black-and-white 8-ball. Inside a cylindrical reservoir contains a white, plastic, icosahedron floating in alcohol dyed dark blue. Each of the die’s 20 faces has an affirmative, negative, or non-committal statement printed in raised letters. These messages are read through a window on the ball’s bottom.

To use the ball, it must be held with the window initially facing down. After “asking the ball” a yes-no question, the user then turns the ball so that the window faces up, setting in motion the liquid and die inside. When the die floats to the top and one face presses against the window, the raised letters displace the blue liquid to reveal the message as white letters on a blue background.

The 20 answers inside a standard Magic 8-Ball are:

It is certain

It is decidedly so

Without a doubt

Yes definitely

You may rely on it

As I see it, yes

Most likely

Outlook good

Yes

Signs point to yes

Reply hazy try again

Ask again later

Better not tell you now

Cannot predict now

Concentrate and ask again

Don’t count on it

My reply is no

My sources say no

Outlook not so good

Very doubtful

All of which leads All Change Please! to the inevitable conclusion that it’s Mrs May’s Magic 8 Ball which undoubtedly forms the basis of current government policy-making and Brexit negotiations…

If you have been…  keep watching this space!

 

 

Image credit:  Flickr/David Bergin

Open-ended Complex Policy Solving

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“Mr Glibbly: Please just get rid of this stupid, unworkable EBacc policy – we don’t want anything in exchange for it”

You may, or may well have not, noticed that All Change Please! has been strangely quiet recently. That’s mainly because there has been Very Little Change Please! about in terms of education over the past few months, and also, as several commentators have noticed, the world of politics is now far more self-satirical than your actual satire can ever be.

Anyway, All Change Please! has recently been thinking about all these proposed Governmental Policies that have recently issued forth and then been sent back in again because they weren’t working or indeed wanted, and started wondering who actually writes them and whether they have the faintest idea what they are actually proposing?

In most organisations, institutions and businesses, everything starts and ends with policy. A policy is a positive principle to guide decisions and achieve required outcomes. Policies tend to be determined by those ‘at the top’, to be put into practice by Senior Managers and passed down through middle managers to the worker-ants below. Policy determines what should and shouldn’t be done, what is and isn’t acceptable, and most importantly, if funding will be provided for it. If something contradicts policy, it just can’t be done – it’s as simple as that. Policy says No! This often makes innovation within management structures difficult, because any significant change is likely to involve reviewing and rewriting policy.

Good policy statements are crucial to success, and it would therefore seem to make sense to invest time, resources and expertise into ensuring they are going to be effective, appropriate, and above all, deliverable. Yet in practice, that’s rarely what happens. Most policy statements, while perhaps laudable in their intent, are prepared with little reference to the practicalities of their implementation or the effect they might have. They are often written by academics, administrators and civil servants with little experience of reality or how to actually set about successfully solving complex, open-ended problems. Too many high-flying academic students leave school and Russell Group Universities for senior positions in management or politics with next-to-no understanding or experience of real-world problem-solving and communication.

Indeed the policy-writing process seems to be: identify the problem, consider options, make decisions, publish and implement. This bears a certain resemblance to what is known more widely as the problem-solving process – but with one major difference, in that there is no attempt to model, test, evaluate and iterate possible solutions before and while they are being implemented. Further difficulties often occur when a policy is then briefed and specified because those charged with doing so are insufficiently trained or experienced in defining and effectively communicating the parameters of what can and can’t be done to achieve the desired outcome.

Here’s an insider account account of the policy writing process: The Mysteries of Government Policy. To summarise the author’s account of the way it works:

1. Ignore all past documents on the subject to give yourself a fresh perspective.

2. To upset stakeholders, send the draft out for comment but delay consultation until after the draft has been finalised and too late to change.

3. To ensure it is already out-dated, delay publication by taking as long as possible to respond to comments to the consultation in full.

4. Maximise publicity for the policy release, but try to ensure no-one knows it was written by you.

5. Sit back and watch as people discover that the policy is almost impossible to implement and creates more problems than before it was decided that a new policy was needed.

Meanwhile back in school, let’s take the familiar example of a Behaviour Policy. Often carefully and clearly worded by the SMT it’s published in the handbook and staff and students are expected to abide by it. Except of course in many cases they don’t. That’s because in the reality of the classroom, corridor and playground it’s not as simple as that. To be successful, a good policy needs to be supported on a daily basis by SMT who will need to spend time evaluating how well it is working and what the problems are, and then developing and continually evolving the policy as circumstances change. There also needs to be opportunity for staff and student participation in the process. It may well be that both staff and students need assistance or training in understanding how to apply the policy and how it only works if everyone follows it. If only creating Government Policy worked this way…

Similarly, a manufacturing company would never proceed to invest in the production of a million or so newly designed widgets unless it was absolutely sure they worked properly, that there was a popular market for them, that they could be effectively distributed, and made and sold profitably. And future models would be continually updated to increase sales or encourage repeat purchases. But for some reason this rational approach just doesn’t seem to apply to Government Policy-making.

And here’s OFSTED’s Amanda Spielman announcing that perhaps their policies over the past 25 years have not been successful as they should have been, and in future a bit more participation with teachers and researchers might just be a good idea.  But as Michelle Hanson points out, the damage has already been well and truly done.

Until a way is found to improve the way the Df-ingE formulates future government policy through stakeholder participation, extensive trials, rigorous evaluation and a commitment to support long-term support and review, desirable change in what goes on in our schools is unlikely to happen. And in the meanwhile it seems crazy that at present there is no structured or coordinated programme of teaching and learning problem-identification and problem-solving for all children in our schools. A little bit of creativity wouldn’t go amiss either. But of course that can’t happen until it becomes policy…

 

Image credit: Flickr/Policy Exchange

7-Up + 300

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“Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”

It’s astonishing to think that back in the Autumn of 2009 – around the time that All Change Please!’s first post was published – a child starting secondary school in Year 7 will now have completed their A levels and be either commencing a degree course – or of course, more like All Change Please!, becoming another Not in Employment, Education or Training statistic.

Yes, it’s exactly seven years since All Change Please! published its very first post, and as usual it decides to nostalgically wallow in its archives from the past twelve months to visit some of its most read and best loved words of so-called wisdom.

But before it does so, there is another cause for celebration, because by delightful coincidence this is also All Change Please!’s 300th post.

This year’s Top 3 most read posts were:

1. Pass Notes: Art Attack! 

In which it is revealed that both less and fewer pupils are now taking GCSE subjects in The Arts, despite Nick Glibb claiming otherwise before being finally proved wrong by the 2016 entry figures.

2. Little Miss Morgan

In which it is suggested that Nicky Morgan didn’t really care what she was saying at the NASUWT Party Conference because she knew she’s be in a proper cabinet job by September, except that now we know it didn’t work out quite like that.

3. No Minister! No, No, No.

In which a passionate appeal is made by means of the Df-ingE consultation for it to abandon its intentions that 90% of pupils should take the EBacc to GCSE, even though the results of the consultation have never been made public.

Meanwhile All Change Please!‘s personal favourite Top 3 were:

1. Curriculum Noir 3 

In which Wilshaw asks Marlowe for help after he realises he’s made an enormous mistake backing the EBacc, despite the fact that there’s not a shred of evidence to back up the Df-ingE’s ideology.

2. What a Wonderful World

In which we learn all about the brave new world of Fantasy Politics in which politicians make up any old stuff that comes to mind – something that All Change Please! has been successfully getting away with for years.

3. Twenty Fifty One

In which we revisit George Orwell’s classic story 1984, and realise it’s just that we haven’t got there yet – despite the fact that we’ve since taken back control and given it all to just one person who thinks she can run the country on her own. Big Sister Is Watching You…

“Give me a blog until it is seven and I will give you the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism (or not)”

Let’s try a different kind of 7up instead…

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 7up image credit: Flickr/Kevin Dooley

Top Fear: Within EU Without EU?

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All Change Please! was talking about the space between us all, and, with a vision of Brexmageddon in mind – the gathering of Tory, Labour, LibDems and SNP party members for a final battle that will bring about the end of Great Britain as we know it – it then managed to uncover the above image. This confirmed the rumours that have recently been circulating around Westminster that International Rescue have resigned (see Thunderbirds are Go 2) and a new team has been bought in to pull the strings that will manipulate the country through Project Fear.

It is believed that Lady Penelope is no longer playing Theresa May, with James May taking over the mission – the give-away clue being that they both share remarkably similar surnames. The Top Fear conspiracy theory was given further credibility when it was realised that Richard Hammond and Philip Hammond might also in fact be one and the same. Meanwhile Clarkson and Johnson are of course both well known for their similar on-screen buffoonery and xenophobic gaffes, suggesting a direct connection. This would help explain the trio’s reckless approach to testing out new policies to destruction, and the following recent government press-release:

“The all-new Theresa May’s right-hand drive hard-top government has just landed in your nearest constituencyship, and it’s ready to take you for a fast quick spin. It’s big, bold and the streamlined leadership just oozes power and confidence. At the same time though the drive towards Bexit is calm and measured and it’s even crisper on U turns. Sounds good? Of course it does.”

Further disturbing images have also been discovered showing Hammond, Johnson-Clarkson and May in a mid-way transition stage as they morphed in and out of disguise.

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It has also been suggested that newcomer Chris Evans had been involved, operating Michael Gove, a rumour fuelled by the curious co-incidence that they both resigned at the same time.

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As previously reported, Miss Piggy is the brains behind the new Education Secretary Justine GreenWing. However, rumours that Liam Fox is being played by Basil Brush have been strenuously denied.

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But finally, in the middle of our collective Brexistentialist crisis – in which we question the purpose of our own existence and daily way of living within or without the EU, find no satisfactory answer and suffer a loss of will to continue – the really bad news of the week is that the evil and odious Nick Glibbly at the Df-ingE even more than before, continues to be played by the evil, odious, speak-when-you’re-spoken-to, Headmaster-from-Hell Mr Glibby. Perhaps next there needs to be a referendum on whether to remain or leave the EBacc?

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At a time when we desperately need well designed and efficiently manufactured products and services of our own to sell abroad alongside the growth of our world-class, income-generating creative and performing arts, we continue to embark on preparing a generation of over-tested, ivory tower academics with little or no technical, design or business skills. We live in an age of turbo-charged car-crash politics, and as far as education and the curriculum are concerned, it’s Glibb who is currently in the driving seat and forcibly putting his foot down on the accelerator as he shifts seamlessly into Top Fear.

Photo-montages by All Change Please!

More Glibbledygook: The Impotence of Curriculum

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

The Impotence of Curriculum

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

“The Importance of Curriculum”

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

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

No – that needs to read:

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

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

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

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

You cannot be serious! Delete and change to:

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

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

Err, just a slight alteration here:

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

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

Ah, well, with a little bit of editing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Top image credit: Flickr/thedailyenglishshow

Hey! Tories! Leave Them Schools Alone!

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Another Brick in the Academy Wall

The main news in the world of education at present is of course Mr Cameron’s announcement that all schools are to be Academised and sold to private companies with offshore tax accounts. However there was a slight misprint in several daily newspapers. Instead of:

The prime minister said his “vision for our schooling system” was to place education into the hands of headteachers and teachers rather than “bureaucrats”.

The correct version should have read:

The prime minister said his “vision for our politically-directed centres of obedience” was to place education into the hands of over-paid CEOs of profitable Multi Academy Trusts, rather than “bureaucrats”.

Of course what the PM also failed to mention was that in order to run the schools, the MAT’s will be re-employing the same bureaucrats that will lose their jobs in the Local Authority. No Change Please! there then. Nor did he mention that in future the 3R’s will stand for ‘Reading, Writing and Raking it in’.

A recent petition to scrap the academies plan has already achieved over the necessary 100,000 signatures, but it’s still worth adding your name if you have not done so already.

If somehow you’ve not yet managed to find the time to download, read and fully digest the new Off-White Paper, there’s a ‘great’ post about it here by the great Professor Michael Bassey, which includes a great link to the great document.

Meanwhile the most extraordinary event of the week must be this piece in The Daily Mail which just for once gets it right when it informs its readers that the:

‘UK has the fifth highest level of skills mismatch out of countries studied’, and that ‘Thousands of graduates and other well-educated people are stuck in jobs for which they are over-qualified, official statistics have revealed.’

Though of course The Mail can’t help but blame Labour’s 1999 pledge:

‘to send half of all school-leavers to university, which critics at the time said was a mistake.’

while failing to add that it was a policy that the Tories have only sought to make worse through the EBacc, which aims to send 90% of all school-leavers to university and increase the skills mis-match even further. Well if we can’t do well in PISA tests, then at least this is one test we’re going to come top of?

But the All Change Please! award for the most AARRRGGGHHHH! inducing speech of the month goes to Lieutenant Wilshaw who made the following contribution to the drive to recruit more teachers: ‘We need battlers, we need bruisers, we need battle-axes who are going to fight the good fight..in our classrooms’, which duly led our special shouty education correspondent who can always be trusted to tell it like it is, to observe:

If you are having to force kids into Orwelesque compliance to make them behave there is indeed something really rotten going on. The message you are sending to children is:

• we don’t trust you to dress yourself, so we make you all wear identical prison uniforms,

• we don’t trust you to express yourself, so shut up and sit very still or we’ll drug you with ritalin or kick you out permanently,

• we don’t trust you to move round the school, so walk in goose step with hands tied behind your back,

• we don’t trust you to use your time outside school productively, so you must do masses of pointless homework and stay in school for an hour longer every day,

• we don’t trust your teachers either so Big Brother Gibb will decide exactly what you need to learn and how they should teach you,

• and we definitely don’t trust your locally-elected representatives so we will steal all the state schools and give them over to our unelected friends to sell off the playing fields.

Well Mr F-ing Ofsted. Do you know what? I don’t trust you as far as I could throw a piece of chalk at you to shut you up….

Image credit: Flickr/Srivathsan Raghavan

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 EBacc: Gibb’s own-goal?

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Oh No!  Gibb’s scored an own-goal! 

Dear Mr Gibb

As you may or may not have read, a few weeks ago Liverpool Football Club announced substantial match-day ticket price rises. The supporters united and left the ground 13 minutes before the end of a game, possibly causing their team to concede two goals and draw the match. They announced further action over an extended period of time, and it looked like the start of a long, acrimonious battle between the club’s owners and its supporters. But then a few days later, the club made an unexpected announcement and admitted it had been wrong to raise its ticket prices and that they would be frozen for two years and be unchanged from last year’s prices. The supporters were naturally both surprised and delighted and full of praise for the club’s owners. Peace and harmony had been restored and club and supporters could get back to what they were there for – to encourage the team and win matches and trophies.

Now let’s apply this sequence of events to teachers and the DfE. The responses to the EBacc Consultation, and their coverage on social media, along with the recent NSEAD survey into the provision of the teaching of Art in our schools, clearly indicate the extent to which teachers are unhappy with your current stance on the introduction of the EBacc as a performance measure. They’ve not threatened to walk out before the end of their lessons, but an increasing number are leaving the profession and morale is poor because their experience tells them that what is being imposed is not in the best interests of the majority of our children, many of whom will in future be further denied access to inspiring, well-taught courses they would have succeeded in.

It remains to be seen what the DfE’s response to the EBacc consultation will be. Because you asked for suggestions for ways of implementing the scheme, you could simply ignore the criticisms that were widely made in the responses. There’s nothing to stop you carrying on with your intentions as before and simply dismiss the fact that you are acting in conflict with the wisdom of the majority of the workforce. But if you were unaware of the strength of their feeling before the consultation, you certainly do now, just as Liverpool FC’s owners discovered about their own supporters.

And then of course there’s the problem of finding enough academically experienced and qualified teachers to deliver the EBacc. The more the DfE keeps telling teachers that “While we recognise the challenges [on teacher recruitment] that school leaders face in particular areas, we are working with the sector to address them with constructive action.”, the more they know you haven’t a clue what to do about the situation.

There is, however, another approach you could consider, and that is to give way on what is an undesirable and undeliverable policy. You’ve just shown that you do have the capacity to listen to Primary School Heads over their concerns about the marking timetable for the new end of KS2 SATS, and to make some appropriate and welcome concessions, although of course you still need to go a bit further than that in the long run. I’m sure you could now find some clever words that would enable you to reconsider and modify your approach to the EBacc as an accountability measure without appearing to do too much of a u-turn.

And if the you did, teachers and headteachers, just like the football supporters, would all be surprised and delighted and praise the DfE for listening to what the profession had said about the undesirability and impracticability of the EBacc and for taking their concerns into account, acting quickly and decisively averting a crisis. Peace and harmony could be quickly restored and everyone could get back to doing what they were there for in the first place – to encourage children to learn and do well in school and flourish for the rest of their lives, whether they end up at Oxbridge or not.

A manager of a football team who does not have anything like a big enough squad to play in exactly the particular way he wants them to can’t expect to win many matches. All he can do is to anticipate a glut of transfer requests and for top players to move abroad rather than want to transfer to his team, while the club quickly drops into an even lower league. A manager who has lost the confidence of the dressing room is doomed to failure: it’s essential for him to work with the players, to maximise their abilities and strengths and believe in them, and not just arbitrarily impose what he believes is the only right way to play.

So Mr Gibb, which is it to be? Are you about to score a disastrous season-defining own-goal and become seen as being even more toxic than Gove, or to admit that perhaps there’s more to teaching and learning that you realised, and that you are prepared to listen to and consider the advice you are being given by the profession? Surely you can see that Education is too important to be left to politicians alone?

Is that a Yes or a No, Minister?

Yours sincerely

All Change Please!

PS. I recently came across these two photos – they make an interesting comparison, don’t they?

exams

chickens2

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?

Mark My Words… Please!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Courtesy Baldrick