Pirates of the DfE

Screenshot 2015-06-28 14.50.19 Yo Ho Ho!  A Pirate’s Life for Me!

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‘, her only problem is how does she identify such schools coming up on the horizon? Indeed All Change Please! would be delighted to hear from anyone who can follow this method.

First, here are some definitions of ‘coasting’:

‘Performing a natural deceleration of a motor when the power is removed, or in railroading, the act of allowing a train or a car to run upon a down grade by its own gravity, without steam or electric power.’

This suggests that a ‘coasting’ school should be one which is running without any energy, and therefore gradually losing momentum, i.e., getting increasingly worse academic results year by year, however good or bad its intake.

However, in 2011, swash-buckling Davy-Jones ‘Cutthroat’ Cameron defined coasting schools as those:

“..whose results have either flat-lined…or where they haven’t improved as much as they could  have”.

(But there again, what does he know?)

Meanwhile Ofsted’s ‘Man-O-War’ Mr Michael Offshore offered:

“coasting” schools – where performance, often in well-off areas, is not necessarily inadequate but has failed to impress.

(Likewise?)

But then just today, the DfE’s very own little treasure chest, Mad Cap’n Morgove finally announced her own, dictionary-defying definition of a Coasting school as being one where, whatever their intake, more than 60% have failed to achieve 5 A*to C GCSE passes and would as a consequence be doomed to be turned into an academy, despite the fact that no-one at the DfE has yet had the courage to tell her that many schools defined in this way will already be academies.

So until Mad Cap’n Morgove removes both her eye patches, checks the manual and sees what the issues and solutions really are, here’s All Change Please!‘s alternative Full Steam Ahead, Left-hand Down-a-bit, Shiver me Timbers, Shipshape Guide to our current Fleet of Schools…

 

The Sinking School

2514328801_01f84a3b1a_oThe main priority in this type of school is simply getting the kids to attend. The mainly supply staff do what they can, but have essentially given up on trying to significantly raise levels of academic achievement, because they know it’s a complete waste of time. Things are slowly falling apart, and if it’s not already, it will soon become an Academy – not that this will make much difference of course. However the school does form an essential part of the provision of social services in the area, and the parents will generally say that their children are very happy there.

 

The Coasting School

10765354003_1d72127287_zCoasting schools are making some effort and covering the basics fairly well, but over time, standards are starting to fall and there is no sense of pressure to improve. The engine has been switched off and they are happily drifting along. Expectations are moderate, and the staff seem content to remain where they are and avoid change as much as possible. There is probably an emphasis on the relationship with the local community, and it describes itself as a ‘caring’ school.

 

The Chugging School

779944771_6946b79a3a_oIn a chugging school, the standards achieved by the majority of children remain fairly constant. Some years the results are slightly better, or worse, than usual. Staff and students work steadily without exerting too much energy. There may be a moderate number of academic high-flyers who do extremely well. The headteacher and the SMT have been there for some time. Everything feels very secure and settled and there is no great sense of urgency or disruptive change. The parents say their children are quite content there and doing well enough. However, there is a growing concern that the school is likely to get turned into an Academy.

 

The Cruising School

16836198555_757a757e50_zIn these schools the students are relaxed, but there are good expectations of what they can achieve within their own capabilities. Examination success is important, but not the only aspect of life that is valued and encouraged. The staff and students get on well together and there is a positive, friendly atmosphere. The school is steaming ahead with the just the right amount of effort, and there are some exciting initiatives being led by the staff. When there’s a storm brewing, intelligent changes of course are taken, with the result that interesting new ports are visited.

 

The Overheating School

527182264_7cb9e0f2b3_zAcademic exam results, University entrance and League Table position are all that matters here. There’s a lot of steam, or rather hot-air emanating from Senior Management. The pressure is intense with every lesson placed in the context of fear of failure, based on an approach of shame and bullying of staff to ensure students succeed. The sense of competition is fierce. While most students pass their exams there is a significant drop-out rate at 6th form level, and absence due to the excessive pressure to perform. There is a high staff turnover, and the school is running close to breaking point due to the level of stress and strain on the infrastructure. The parents add to the pressure by demanding to know why their children are not all gifted and talented geniuses.

 

But, avast, me landlubbing hearties – it may be time to batten down the hatches, take to the crows nest and splice the mainbrace, but let’s not forget that one day in the not too distant future, all these ships – and the pirate politicians who sail them – are surely destined to be broken up in the great schoolyard in the sky?

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Flickr Image Credits

Pirate:  Flickr/June Yarham and Tristram Shepard

Sinking: Paul Vallejo

Coasting: stcriox360

Chugging: duluoz cats

Cruising: Carlos SM

Overheating:  Scott Schmitz

Ship graveyard: korafotomorgana

Some Glibb Remarks

IMG_3849Is this what’s inside Nick Glibb’s mind?

There are a number of ways of corrupting Nick ‘I think, therefore I am right’ Gibb’s surname. The first is Glib, another is Glibb, and then there’s Fib. But the question is, which is the more appropriate?

According to various sources, the word Glib means a smooth talking or writing that suggests someone isn’t telling the truth. It is defined as speaking in a very easy way, which may appear to be insincere.

Meanwhile Glibb means:
1) a plasma like form of matter, e.g. a lava lamp (see above)
2) a thing of death which is used by the language of the elders
3) a classification for irregularly undefined sub-matter forms within the space-time continuum

And a fib is a lie told with no malicious intent and little consequence.

So, with reference to Nick Glibb’s recent highly propagandist speech, let’s see which seems to be the best fit…

“If we are to deliver a fairer, more socially mobile society, we must secure the highest standards of academic achievement for all young people, and especially those from the least advantaged backgrounds.”

These children, who showed such early promise, have been let down by our failure to offer every pupil the chance to benefit from a core academic curriculum.”

Yes, a clear case of ‘smooth talking or writing suggesting someone isn’t telling the truth’?

“As Tom Bennett, a teacher and founder of the superb ResearchEd conferences, put it in his excruciating (OK the word he actually used was ‘excoriating’, which means to criticize severely) review of Sir Ken’s latest book:

Is there anything more sad than the sight of someone denying children the right to an academic curriculum and the fruits thereof..”

And now he’s speaking ‘in a very easy way, which clearly appears to be insincere’. Somehow, over a period of nearly 40 years All Change Please! has mercifully been denied the horrific sight of anyone in a school denying a child the right to an academic education.

“It has also been suggested that our emphasis on academic subjects in the national curriculum, and especially the introduction of the EBacc, ‘crowds out’ the study of other important subjects, particularly the arts. We should acknowledge that the curriculum always involves trade-offs: more time on one subject means less time on others.

I make no apology for protecting space for the English Baccalaureate subjects wherever possible. By contrast, the best preparation for securing a good job is a solid grounding in core academic subjects.”

Glibb – ‘a thing of death which is used by the language of the elders’? Here Glibb, imagining himself to be an elder, is clearly announcing the death of the study of Arts subjects. And he really should be apologising profusely to children for damage he is doing to their futures.

“But it is exactly for this reason that we now need to extend the benefits of a rigorous academic education to all. The body of academic knowledge belongs to everyone, regardless of background, circumstance or job.

This is not a political issue of left and right, but rather a choice whether to stand behind aspiration and social justice, or to take the easier route of excuses and low expectations.”

Now All Change Please! is thinking of Glibb as…’a plasma like form of matter’. Not a political issue? Really?

 “To those who criticise our focus on academic subjects, or suggest that the EBacc is a Gradgrindian anachronism, I have a simple question: would you want your child to be denied the opportunity to study a science, history or geography, and a foreign language?

Together, these measures will give more pupils the preparation they need to succeed – whether that’s getting a place at a good university, starting an apprenticeship, or finding their first job. They will provide the foundations of an education system with social justice at its heart, in which every young person reaches their potential.”

And finally, conclusive evidence that Glibb is clearly an ‘irregularly undefined sub-matter forming within the space-time continuum.’

As far as All Change Please! can see, both Glib and Glibb seem pretty accurate descriptions of the man. But as for Fib – it really doesn’t seem to fit as, if anything, he is speaking lies told with a great deal of malicious intent and far-reaching consequences.

The whole approach appears to be founded on the entirely fictional belief that up and down the country teachers are busy denying children from poorer backgrounds the chance to study academic subjects. This is an insult to a profession that goes out of their way to maximise the opportunities for all children to achieve their potential, and who realise, in a way that Glibb, a former accountant, never will, that this can also involve developing interests and skills in subjects other than those that are termed academic. As such, rather than promoting social justice, the policy is in reality condemning many less-academically able students to achieve lower grades at GCSE and thereby reducing their employment and mobility prospects. At the same time it continues to pedal the myth to the more academically-able that in the 21st century all you need to succeed in life is a degree from a Russell Group university.

If the government really wants to improve the quality of education it should be concentrating on teacher recruitment and long-term continuing professional development rather than playing the numbers racket.

 

Meanwhile, in other news – and there seems to be plenty of it at present – in a bid to get children to sit in silence while their supply teachers drone on endlessly, Tom Bennett, the school behaviour disastsar, has been asked to head up a task force to stop politicians making silly comments.

And, finally, Nicky Morgove has announced that in future two-thirds of children will be required to fail their EBacc GCSEs (yes, really…).  Meanwhile for schools to be termed as Outstanding by Ofsted they will have to enter all their pupils for the EBacc, and will then become known as Grammar Schools. All other schools will be re-classified as Secondary Modern or High schools – it all makes sense now, doesn’t it?

Image credit: Flickr/Kathy McEldowney

Way To Go?

 

If you’ve not watched it – in which case you really should – WIA is a BBC comedy satire of and about the BBC, being made for the BBC, by the BBC and by an amazing coincidence being shown on the BBC. Here, All Change Please! is proud to present its own slightly more educational version…

Voice Over: As it’s the day after yesterday and the day before tomorrow, today’s the day Nicky Moregove, Nick Bowels and Nick Glibb and various other people who are probably not as important as they’d like to think they are, are all meeting in Michael Gove, the new office suite at the Df-ingE.

Nicky Morgove: So anyway I think you should know I’ve been watching that great W1A fly-on-the-wall reality tv show. I must say it has given me a revealing insight about what it’s actually like to work at the BBC. And I really like the idea of them appointing a Director of Better.

Nick: Err.. Can I just point out that actually…

NM: No, you can’t Nick. So I was thinking we should maybe do some similar PR work to help try and convince teachers that we’re really quite normal, friendly types who want to work with them, even if we’re not. I’m mean, we’re totally listening to what they are saying, it’s just they’re not saying the right things.

Nick: Yes, but…

NM: Please be quiet Nick. As I was saying, as a result I’ve invited Perfect Curve, the same PR company that works for the BBC, here to outline in broad strokes some suggestions we can all take away with us to digest, circle back round and bring up again later. So I’ll hand you straight over to Siobhan Sharpe from Perfect Curve.

SS: Hi everyone! Thanks Nicky. Go Academies! Go Free Schools! Yeah. Well, we’ve thought about this a lot in an agile, brainstorming sort of way and kicked a whole shed load of ideas round the duck pond before coming to the conclusion that the decisions I made beforehand were the best anyway. 

So building on this new BBC post for Director of Better, we came up with this concept that it would be really cool if every school was required to appoint a Head of Better to its Senior Management Team. But then we thought, hey, well if we’re going to do that, at the same time we could rebrand the Headteacher as the Head of Outstanding, and then to establish some sort of career progression by having middle managers called Head of Good and Head of Requires Improvement. Oh, and, you’re really going to like this guys, we’re going to rename Teachers as Learning Opportunity Engineers to make it all sound a bit more sciency and researchy.

Ensemble: Yes, very strong

Ens: I’m totally good with that

Ens: Sure yeah, way cool, OK. No worries. Say Again. That’s mental.

Nick: Err, I hate to be the one to problematise things, but I’m not going to beat around the Basil Brush, but we do have a recruitment crisis in the profession you know, so I don’t know exactly where all these Super Heads of Outstanding are going to come from?

Ens: Ah yes, no, good. Very good.

SS: OK, cool, yeah well, we’ve done some major conceptualisations about that too. 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.

To begin with we’ve been looking at the name DfE. By adding an exclamation mark at the end – DfE! – it gives more emphasis to the E, which of course stands for Education, which is what it’s all supposed to about, even though it isn’t. Then we need to change the name a bit to make it more engaging and compelling, so in future the acronym will stand for Damn Fine Education. And then of course it’s got sound as if it’s a synergetic, collaborative, character-building sort of organisation, so, as we learnt from the 2012 Olympics, finally it needs to become Team DfE!

Ens: I so love it!

Ens: Brilliant. No brainer…

Ens: This is all going terribly well.

SS: Then of course there are the SATS. So where we’re heading on this one is like to ask the question, ‘What’s the best day of the week?’ And our focus groups all told us ‘Saturday’. So we thought: SATurday? So in future children will all attend school every SATurday specifically to take new weekly SATs. Nicky told us that kids love doing tests and showing off how much they know, so they’ll be pleased. It’s a win-win thing of course because while the teachers are looking after their children for them, hard working parents will be happy as they will be able to take on extra work to help pay their mortgages.

Ens: Ah yes, that all sounds most SATisfactory!

Ens: No way. Cool.

Ens: Totally awesome.

SS: Meanwhile using our contacts at the BBC we’ve pitched some ideas for some new TV shows to increase the profile of Learning Opportunity Engineers in the community. 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! And to cover inclusion, diversity, social mobility and equality, they’re bringing back Top Of The Form, but renamed ‘Top Of The Class‘ in which children from upper, middle and lower-class backgrounds will complete against each other to see who is actually the most entitled to get to a Russell Group University.

And of course in order to be completely transparent there will be a TV mockumentary that shows what it’s really like to work as a member of Team DfE! A bit like W1A is named after the BBC’s postcode, it’s going to be called ’Sanctuary’ after the name of this building. In fact they’ve already started work on it.

Nick: Ah I wondered what that camera crew were doing over in the corner.

SS: There’s just thing left to sort out though – the show will need a suitable voice over. With W1A of course we were able to get a previous Dr Who to do it. But we thought because it’s about schools, maybe we should like get The Master to do it, but he wasn’t available. So can anyone suggest someone who’s known to be highly devious, omnipresent and obsessed with total control and domination?

NM: Yes I can – in fact I think we’re probably sitting in him right now. Well thanks Siobhan. Of course we’ll to check it out with the DC, but I’m sure he’ll be on board with it. I mean it’s all about one-nation education isn’t it?

SS: Hey wait Nicky that sounds really good – One Nation Education – we  must use that somewhere. ‘All for ONE and ONE for all’. Wow this is just so cool. Way To Go! Yay!

NM: So that’s all good then…

Voice Over – now confirmed as Michael Gove: So as the meeting ends, Nicky, Nick and Nick put away their distractive mobile phones and go off to enjoy a well earned break where they can fully digest their take-aways before their next meeting, where they hope they will be a great deal more distracted than they were at the last one. Over the next few weeks they are going to need to consider how well they will adapt when they all become wealthy, famous and respected, well-loved TV personalities. Hmm. Seeing as the whole education reform thing was my idea in the first place, it seems to me like there’s no justice in the world. But now I’m the Lord High Executioner, just you wait, I’ll be doing something about that. I’ve got a little list…they’ll none of them be missed.

Rough Justice?

Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 18.35.49

A Justice Department spokesperson has reported that one of Gove’s first priorities will be to introduce a new ‘Just Ice’ bill banning the addition of mixer drinks to spirits. Officials are busy trying to decide who’s going to be the one to tell him…

Around the country this weekend all those involved in education could be heard breathing a big sigh of relief as Herr Gove was assigned the job of, amongst other things, sorting out the prison service. Having once being put in detention while at school, he is obviously highly qualified for the post.

Gove will also bring with him his valuable experience of reforming the nation’s schools. All Change Please! has already seen rather leaky documents outlining his plans to lock prisoners in to what will be known as ‘classrooms’, where they will be required to sit still and in silence for up to 6 hours a day while being forced to listen to and memorise an endless stream of irrelevant facts, which they will be constantly tested on. Prisoners will be required to successfully complete a minimum of five years of hard EBacc subjects before they can be considered for parole.

Robby Hood, currently serving 20 years for taking variables from one side of an equation and giving them to the other, said. “It all sounds absolutely horrific. If this doesn’t stop us outlaws re-offending, nothing will. It will certainly make us think twice before risking actually learning anything worthwhile again.”

Meanwhile privileged wealthy offenders – such as bankers, lawyers, global company directors and former politicians – will be allowed to attend fee-paying public prisons, sometimes known as luxury hotels or cruise ships, where they will each have their own butler and maid service to help them re-adjust to normal life after their release.

Meanwhile it seems that Gove still plans to interfere with Nicky Morgove’s Department f-ing Education. It has been reported that he would like to see classrooms renamed as learning cells, and playgrounds will be renamed as exercise yards.

Examinations wiScreen Shot 2015-05-10 at 20.44.01ll in future be called Trials and marked by jurors, with children first entering pleas of ignorant or not-ignorant. Gove is also apparently keen to see bars added to windows to help children, or young offenders as they will now be called, feel more secure in their environment and to better prepare them for life after school. A spokesperson for the prestigious new Wormwood Scrubs Community Academy thought it doubtful that most students would notice the difference. The design for their new school uniform is shown on the right.

 

It is believed that in another five years time Gove hopes to become Minister for Health where he can develop a similar approach to hospitals and care homes. “It’s all part of my brilliant scheme to offer a cradle-to-grave experience of blind obedience, pain and suffering”, he refused to admit.

In related news, the BBC are considering re-making Grange Hill under the title of Porridge, and producing a new series of Dixon of Dock Green Free School.

Continue to reduce your blood pressure levels here: games.usvsth3m.com/slap-michael-gove/

 

Image credits: Flickr / Nattu and Wallyg

Mathematics for Smart Dummies

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At this particular moment, with the general election just moments away, All Change Please! feels it would be inappropriate to indulge in Partly Political Posts because of the influence it might have on the millions of followers it doesn’t have. On the one hand, almost anything would be better for education than another term of the hopelessly unqualified Messers Mickey Gove and Nicky Morgove teaching the class, but on the other one has to wonder just how much better informed the other parties are.

Take this recent article that reports that Labour’s plans for all students to continue to take maths until the age of 18 are the “best protection against unemployment”. And apparently “Our future success as a nation depends on all young people taking maths to 18”, not to mention that “It is essential that everyone is mathematically literate in this scientific age”  – as a number of leading and in no way biased mathematicians predictably proclaimed with 110% certainty and no margin for error to an infinite number of decimal places.

Now this is fair enough if a student is going on into a technical or scientific area but the vast majority won’t be. When was the last time you factorised a quadratic equation involving a surd, constructed a perpendicular bisector and solved a linear inequality?

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“All I wanted to know is how much it would be for a cup of coffee…”

The problem is that the sort of Maths taught for GCSE, and presumably beyond, is not particularly interesting, exciting or relevant to the everyday maths skills that are actually needed in the typical workplace. And anyway, even then it seems to have completely escaped everyone’s notice that Siri (the vocal iPhone assistant) is more than capable of solving maths problems for you, and showing you how it worked it out. And, even better, there’s also Photomath, a free App that enables you to take a photo of an equation, and it will calculate it for you.

Now of course you can’t take a Smart Phone into a formal examination – but All Change Please! wonders if anyone has yet thought about the future need to also ban iWatches, which once they incorporate a camera, could unobtrusively run the Photomath app as you seemingly check to see how much time you’ve got left?

To be fair, Marcus du Sautoy’s remark above has, surprise surprise, been taken somewhat out of context. In this article he suggests a second maths GCSE course might:

 “…expose students to the big ideas of maths: concepts of infinity, the maths of symmetry, the challenge of prime numbers. It is finding out what maths is really about that might change the national mindset…”

“What will be important is making sure that the maths we expose students to is both relevant to their future and the future of our country.”

Although All Change Please! would like to suggest that the logic and rationality in the world he seeks needs tempering with a good dose of creativity and imagination as well. But what is quite clear is that the teaching – and examining – of maths needs a major 21st century overhaul.

Meanwhile the key maths skills that politicians probably need right now is the ability to furiously calculate the complex permutations of coalition party members they will need to work with in order to form the next government.

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6th May Update…

Would you believe it – someone just has:

Students ticked off by ban on watches in exams

Photo credits: Flickr / Mulan / Sean MacEntee / Mulan

Evidently not?

iPad

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Image credit: Flickr/Jim Roberts  modified by TS

Alas! Schools and Journos: Have you ever Bean Green?

alas-smith-and-jones2

Mel Smith, as the man who thinks he knows everything, and Griff Rhys Jones, as the man who knows he knows nothing, return to catch up on what’s been happening in education, ill-informed as always by the Great British Press.

Smith: Haven’t seen you around for a while then?

Jones: No, not much has been happening recently has it, especially now that Gove chappie has been permanently excluded from schools?

Well, my friend, just wait until you see this in the papers – apparently last summer not nearly as many children managed to pass their GCSEs

Oh, so weren’t they very bright then?

No, no, no, it wasn’t that at all.

All their teachers went on strike then?

No, no. Listen, what happened was that the Tories made the exams they sat much harder to pass. They thought that would make all the kids cleverer.

Oh. That wasn’t a very clever idea then, was it?

Precisely.

And it’s a bit unfair on a whole generation of teenagers who now won’t have as good qualifications as their elders? And I expect all the schools requiring improvement will be given those special tape measures now?

What? Anyway I’ll tell you something else. You won’t believe this. Listen, it says in the paper that apparently a lot of your posh public schools have gone right off the boil and are now at the bottom of all the league tables.

What you mean they are in the Vauxhall league?

Yes, sort of, except it’s now called the Vanarama League.

Vananarama? Is that a new girl-power band or something then?

No, apparently it’s a van leasing company, but that’s not got anything to do with what I’m telling you.

So Eton and Harrow have gone into the van-hire business now then?

No, no, no. Do try and pay attention. It seems their students were all taking the wrong sort of exams that didn’t count in the league tables anymore.

Why were they doing that then?

Because the public schools say the exams their students did were harder than the GCSEs, but the DfE says their new exams are now the most difficult.

Ah, they’re both playing hard to get then?

Yes, I suppose you could say that.  Well it just goes to show you only get what you Gove, don’t you? Anyway, what’s more Camoron wants all schools to be above average in Maths. That’s going to be a bit of a challenge. And then there’s this Little Missy Morgan who’s all in a spin and is going to sack headteachers if they don’t improve their children’s literacy.

Well, it’s important kids learn to throw their litter away in a bin isn’t it?

Exactly. And then there’s their numeracy.

What’s that then?

You know – learning their tables.

Oh, you mean like the difference between a dining table and a bedside table? Why’s that important then?

Well I suppose if you went to IKEA, you’d want to be sure you were buying the right sort of table wouldn’t you?

Yes, and they could use those special tape measures to make sure they were getting the right size.

Anyway after the election in May everything will be different when the Greens get in.

Who are these Greens then? Are they from Mars?

No, don’t be daft. Well I don’t think they are anyway – though looking at some of their policies…

You mean our politicians will all be like green vegetables – sort of limp and tasteless and foul-smelling?

Yes, I expect so.

Oh.  No change there then?

Anyway, I suppose at least they will have a lot of posh vans and drivers to move them around in.

Goves and Dolls

51BZN5STVRLGuys and Dolls was a Broadway musical first performed in 1950, and followed by the highly successful film version in 1955. The plot is based on a number of humorous and sentimental short stories written in the 1930s by Damon Runyon, in which the main character is often to be found eating cheesecake at Mindys in New York and trying to keep out of trouble while influencing events that usually involve gangsters, gambling or women, and often all three, from a distance.

Other regulars include characters such as Harry the Horse, Edward the Educated and Dave the Dude. An unusual and distinctive feature of the stories is that they are written in the present tense, have no contractions (e.g.’ he is’ instead of ‘he’s’) and reflect the New York underground gangland dialect of the time. This style and characterisaton is often referred to as being ‘Runyonesque’.

So All Change Please! is therefore proud to present its own Runyonesque, very short Christmas story entitled Goves and Dolls.

“One morning shortly before the end of the Christmas Term I am busy sitting in the school dining room minding my own business as usual, and reading a piece in the paper about how Big Micky Gove is still trying to influence education policy and not letting Little Missy Morgan get on with her job. Around the table with me are Duncan the Deputy, Alan the Author, Tony the Technology, and lastly Pearson the Prophet, with whom I should point out we do not regularly socialise as we do not like the future he foretells. We are very much enjoying our slices of the lovely Linda Lasagne the Dinner Lady’s cheesecake, which, this being the festive season, comes with a small sprig of holly and a merry paper napkin.

Then suddenly, and somewhat unusually for the dinner hall, everything goes quiet and I become aware of something large and red standing in front of me. I look up and to begin with I am much surprised to see a man all dressed up in a Father Christmas outfit. But I’m even more surprised when Santa removes his hood and white beard to reveal himself as none other than Big Mickey Gove.

“I’m sorry to interrupt your break-time” he says politely, because he is nothing if not polite, “but I believe you’ve been looking for me?”

Now I don’t want to be involved in any trouble, so I say “Who me? No! But I guess the person you are referring to is All Change Please!, with whom I do occasionally socialise through a certain electronic social media channel.”

But of course I do not reveal exactly how closely connected I am, for fear I will thought to be part of the infamous Blob he so despises and hates with all his heart and every bone in his body.

“Well”, says Big Mickey, “I wonder if you’d be so good to kindly inform All Change Please! that I don’t want it to start publishing any posts based on absolutely untrue and quite unbelievable stories that are recently appearing in the papers about me still trying to influence education. I’m still supposed to be in hiding behind the scenes, secretly meddling with things that are really none of my business. And then there’s my future media career to think of too. So unless it wants to find another world in which to live, please be so good as to tell it to desist its damaging diatribes.”

So I tell Big Mickey that sure I will pass on his message, but that of course I have no say in what actually gets published, and he wisely replaces his hood and beard and gets up and makes for the front door. Outside I cannot help but notice one of his little helpers sitting by his sledge looking cold and miserable, and because I see it is a character of a female persuasion, and naturally I have a certain soft spot for dolls, I find myself going over to ask if there is anything wrong and that I might be able to help with.

But here I am in for another big surprise because it turns out to be Missy Morgan herself.

“No, there’s nothing you can do.” she sobs, “All I want to do is be teacher’s friend, build bridges, mend fences, lighten their burden and many other somewhat simplistic and cliched metaphors. And I really didn’t mean to say studying the Arts was a waste of time the other day you know, it just sort of came out all wrong. And then Big Mickey is always calling me up or dropping by and putting pressure on me not to change any of his policies however silly and unworkable they are.

“Wait, maybe there is something you could do? I have heard that you have some influence with that sometimes slightly satirical All Change Please! blog? Perhaps you could ask it to write a sympathetic piece that will make me seem like a nice, kind, caring and sensitive education secretary?”

Well I can never resist a dame in distress and I am known to be a bit of a sentimentalist at times, so I tell her that next time I chance to have discourse with All Change Please! I will be sure to put in a good word for her. But as far as Big Mickey Gove is concerned he just deserves whatever is coming to him.

At that moment Gove shouts for her to get back on board, and he ascends into the sky, loudly cracking his government whip. Well he must be very busy at present as I guess he must have an awful lot of encyclopedias and King James’ Bibles to deliver to schools before Christmas. Anyone want to take a bet on exactly how many?

Any chance of some more cheesecake, Linda? After all I need to build up my strength in order to write this year’s Christmas Blogpost…”

You can download some of Damon Runyon’s short stories here, or enjoy an Old Time Radio Dramatisation below. (starts at approx 1.00 min)

Little Missy Morgan: The Impossible Girl

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When we last met Sir Humphrey Appleby and Malcolm Tucker, Tucker had just got the part of Dr Who and had gone back in time to ensure Michael Gove never became Education Secretary in the first place. However Sir Humphrey had his concerns about the alternative post holder. We catch up with them 15 months later (in Earth Years).

Sir Humphrey: Ah Doctor, it’s been a long time. How are things?

Doctor Who: Well it’s been a very short time for me of course, and it’s jolly tiring travelling through time and space all the time I can tell you. You wouldn’t believe the jet-lag. And of course I never get to sleep or eat anything. What’s more I’m really busy at present trying to decide whether I’m good or bad.

It’s so strange to hear you talking without swearing all the time.

Yes, I had to go through this regeneration thing to make me more suitable for prime-time family audiences. Anyway, how are you getting on?

Oh dear, well, things seem to be going from bad to worse really. After you got rid of that dreadful Gove chappie we got this Morgan woman who seems to think she can say what she likes. She’s supposed to be Teacher’s Friend to raise morale amongst the profession, but quite frankly she hasn’t a clue. I’m starting to suspect she thinks she’s The Master in disguise. Whatever, she’s a quite impossible girl to deal with – and definitely a suitable case for treatment.

I mean to say, last week she was speaking at a launch of a campaign to promote STEM subjects and she said that a decade ago young people were told arts or humanities were useful for all kinds of jobs but that: ‘Of course, now we know that couldn’t be further from the truth’, thus implying that taking arts subjects now limits their career choices.

You wouldn’t believe the fuss and curfuffle that caused because all the teachers of the arts seemed to think she was saying that children who chose to study their subjects at GCSE would be ‘held back for the rest of their lives’, when what she actually said was: ‘figures show us that too many young people are making choices aged 15, which will hold them back for the rest of their life’, which of course is something entirely different.

We immediately got a spokesperson to explain that Ms Morgan “had not meant to advocate one over the other, but wanted to stress the importance of STEM”, but naturally no one believed us.

Meanwhile the real problem is that she thinks that all we need to do is recruit more students to take Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths courses and Britain will be Great again, but until we find a way of moving from teaching each subject separately and adopting an unappealing academic, theoretical approach all we are going to do is get more students dropping out. And of course what we really need is for everyone to study a balance of Arts and STEM subjects.

Hmm. Well here’s a thought. I have some experience with impossible women. Perhaps I should take her on as my new travelling companion? I could show her some real schools – just like the one where I pretended to be the caretaker. I thought I was rather good at that, and of course as a result I know everything there is to know about teaching and learning.

Ah, yes, that sounds like an excellent idea. Hmm. While you’re at it, she’ll need some sort of whimpering, male side-kick won’t she? Perhaps you could take Nick Glibb along as well? He’s no better than she is. Just as we were beginning to appease the more progressive teachers, along he comes and says traditional ‘chalk and talk’ is the best method, because that’s how they do it in China. He’s completely lost the plot – all he seems interested in is securing the votes of Daily Mail readers.

Minister tells schools to copy China – and ditch trendy teaching for ‘chalk and talk’: Teachers speaking in front of a class ‘much more effective than independent learning’

And look, he’s at it again here:

Get textbooks back in class, schools are told: Minister says teachers must end reliance on worksheets and the internet during lessons

Obviously he’s not bothered to read Now this is what I call a textbook, otherwise he’d understand a bit more about the educational publishing business and that schools just can’t afford to buy class sets anymore. Maybe you could take him back to the 1950’s where he’d see that things weren’t better in the past? And preferably leave him there.

But if Morgan and Glibb still don’t get it after they’ve spent some time with you, perhaps you know of some alien race that could, err, exterminate them both?

 

Five Star!

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here’s Bertie Wooster:

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

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

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

And a quiet moment of self-reflection:

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

 

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

 

Image credit: Flickr/Itdemaartinet