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.

LearnFirst – TeachLater


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image credit: Flickr/slimjim

Remember, remember…


Now what was it I was supposed to remember?

 When All Change Please! were nowt but a young schoolboy it was regularly asked to learn poetry for homework, or to read Chapter Whichever for a geography test the following morning, neither of which it found in any way easy. Initially it spent long hours doing what it could, but before long thought better of it and found something more interesting to do as it never really saw the point of trying to remember some incomprehensible 18th century verse or the number of cabbages grown in some distant country it had never heard of.

Of course it was all too easy for those who seemed to have some sort of amazing, just-read-it-once verbal photographic memory, but the trouble is that if you are good at doing something, it is difficult to understand and appreciate how others can find it almost impossible. And that’s one of the problems with traditional academic learning, in that it’s largely taught by people who find remembering large volumes of words on pages easy-peasy. Meanwhile they also seem to believe it’s just a matter of endless hours of practice, or some strange, never properly explained concept called ‘trying harder’, or ‘doing your best’ whatever they might involve. It’s as if that if you don’t happen to share their god-given super-powers, they don’t want or see the need to give you any techniques to help you develop them for yourself.

Indeed for some time All Change Please! has wondered why no-one ever suggested any methods of helping make the recall of verbal information a bit more achievable, and indeed why we still don’t now. For example, the other day it came across this article which suggests a whole range of techniques:

How to never forget the name of someone you just met: The science of memory

Remembering stuff is all about making strong connections between sequences of synapses. And one way of doing this (and which apparently dates back to the Greeks and Romans) is to construct a ‘Memory Palace’ which essentially associates vivid visual and spatial cues with whatever it is you want to remember. Another is to use the Peg or Link system. To recall a passage of text there is the ‘First letter text method’. Of course it’s a matter of choosing the appropriate method, and the ones that work best for the individual.

As well as understanding more about our short-term ‘working’ memory it would also seem a good idea if we learnt a bit more about the different types of memories.

The science of memory (and 4 uncommon ways to enhance it)

For example:

Declarative memory: Facts and knowledge, like the capital city or your birth date.
Episodic memory: Memories about life events, like your last birthday party or your first day of school.
Procedural memory: Your own how-to manual, essentially. Memories about how to ride a bike or cook your favorite meal.
Semantic memory: Meanings and concepts that you’ve learned, especially useful for reading.
Spatial memory: Your map of the world, inside your head. These cover your environment, landmarks and objects.”

You’d think teachers would know about and apply all this sort of stuff, wouldn’t you? But if they do, they don’t. Instead traditional teachers persist in clinging on to the idea that every child learns in exactly the same way, and it’s that some are just lazy and all they need to do to succeed is to try harder. Perhaps instead, as the article above suggests, the Classroom of Tomorrow will have a coffee machine, fresh rosemary, portions of blueberries for every child and an area in which to sleep or meditate?  And schools will become places where you go to learn how to learn.

Of course all this doesn’t only apply to how to remember things. Think back – were you ever given any practical suggestions as to how to run faster or jump higher? Or how to actually ‘be more creative’? No, just keep trying, and one day you may, or may not, somehow get it.

Meanwhile the important question now is whether All Change Please! will manage to actually remember to get round to publishing this post?


Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/deanpemberton/301397423

Dr No No: a thoroughly modern post?

BcXInM9CIAEZsokThe Christmas Dr Who has met with very mixed critical reaction

Dr No was, of course, the first James Bond film, released in the autumn of 1962. As such it has almost nothing to do with this post, except that All Change Please! can’t help wondering if that during the following 12 months it influenced the writers at the BBC to name their new children’s Sci-fi series Dr Who?

Now in true alien monster fashion, All Change Please! has already vented its spleen on the subject of Dr Who, but the latest Christmas Day Special left it foaming at the mouth. It’s immediate reaction was to dismiss it as one of the worst loads of old rubbish ever broadcast, and to wonder who allows programmes of this quality to be screened at all, and how Steven Moffat, author of such brilliant TV series as Chalk and Coupling, can allow himself to be associated with it, let alone admit to writing it in the first place?

But having calmed down a bit, All Change Please! has developed an alternative theory. And that is that Dr Who is actually pure genius. Pure postmodern genius that is. Perhaps Steven Moffat has even succeeded in creating the first populist postmodern TV show?

The largely impenetrable academic concept of what is termed Postmodernism developed throughout the 20th Century. It challenges our social and cultural values and expectations and demands new ways of thinking about the world we live in, questioning the everyday forms and structures we are most familiar with. Applied to literature, art, design and music it freely plunders and transforms existing structures, styles and genres to produce something new that cannot readily be identified as belonging to a particular age or culture. Thus conventional, so called ‘mid-century modern’ stories, music and buildings take on new, uncategorisable, sometimes absurd forms, lacking in any sense of the logical, organised and easily recognisable. As such they can, for those brought up on the constrained, carefully co-ordinated, minimilistic approach of modernism, be difficult to accept. Up to now the consumer has largely ignored the postmodern, and behaved as if it didn’t exist. But even if they have remained unaware of it, there is an increasing overlap between the modern and postmodern world.

Applying this approach to Dr Who, this is exactly what we get. This is no hierarchical administration-led, science and logic-driven Star Trek. There is no coherent plot, because a structural narrative is no longer of central importance. Instead it is an extended fast and frantic assemblage of short scenes, each one freely drawn from a wide variety of familiar and established genres – such as romance, conflict, loss, thriller, transformation, nostalgia, festive, comedy, religious, etc. Thus the audience receives a jumbled, ‘wibbly-wobbly’ series of brief but emotionally intense experiences, not unlike jumping from one webink to the next without any idea of the time or place in which it was created. Meanwhile TV programmes have become increasingly less about the content and more with the engagement with the media-hyped, attractive, good-looking male and female ‘eye candy’ celebrities, and indeed the writer, or creator, himself. We are simultaneously watching The Doctor and Matt Smith, Clara Oswald and Jemma Coleman. We are watching Dr Who and at the same time analysing what Stephen Moffat is up to and where he might be going next. And a growing number of us are taking this a step further and tweeting as we watch: our former ‘water-cooler’ moments are rapidly becoming live, as we watch, social interactions.

By rights, the viewing public should be completely baffled and bemused – as indeed some are – and viewing figures should be tumbling. But instead, while us rapidly ageing modernists struggle with the shock of the new, the evidence is that the good doctor is delivering exactly what the majority of the audience wants. This seems to suggests the emergence of a significant cultural shift away from a demand for conventional narratives, while at the same time clearly providing maximum provocation for use of the new ratings holy grail of social media interaction – indeed the episode was identified as the most tweeted about Christmas TV show.

As a result of all this though, it’s no longer scary – no-one watches Dr Who from behind the sofa anymore. Indeed in terms of terrifying monsters, perhaps it is The Silents, created by Moffat in 2011, who most personify the postmodern Dr Who.  Their existence is a secret because anyone who sees them immediately forgets about them after looking away, but retains suggestions made to them by the Silence. This allows them to have a pervasive influence across human history while being difficult to locate or resist. Likewise anyone who sees a scene from the current Dr Who programmes immediately forgets about it after watching the next one, but retains the suggestions made to them.

In the postmodern age we are finally entering there is therefore no longer any sustained or developmental narrative, little understanding of the past or anticipation of the future, but merely a series of immediate, intensely-flavoured and largely forgettable fast-food like experiences instead of a carefully balanced five course menu eaten at leisure and consumed in the context of interesting social conversation and an attractive setting.

And of course, despite Dr Gove’s best attempts, the world of teaching and learning is inevitably moving towards a postmodern approach to education, seemingly based on isolated, anytime, anywhere exposure to video clips and quick answer multiple-choice questions. And what we need now is a curriculum and pedagogy that accepts and builds on the new realities, rather than delivering a solution to a sabre-toothed monster problem that no longer exists. There are surely more things in postmodernism than are dreamt of in Gove’s philosophy?

So is Steven Moffat an evil postmodern genius, or a sad old modernist failure? Which is it? You choose… Vote now!

Meanwhile, all this has understandably left All Change Please! somewhat shaken, not stirred…

Image freely drawn from: https://twitter.com/tomscott/status/415959116595470336/photo/1

Real School, Real Humour

ImageThe wild and windy moors of Yorkshire. Just how much formal education do they need?

The other week in Big School, Little Humour All Change Please! commented most unfavourably on the BBC’s latest so-called comedy Big School, and in particular its misleading portrayal of what schools were actually like.

Last week’s media offering was Educating Yorkshire on C4 (Thursdays at 9pm or via 4oD).  A typical fly-on-the-wall documentary of life in what might be termed a ‘bog standard comprehensive’ – or as they are now better known, ‘bog-standard Academy’ – Thornhill Academy near Dewsbury.  It’s difficult to know exactly how many schools there are that fall into this category, but they are certainly more than the exception.

What emerged was in many ways predictable – a stream of naughty boys and naughty girls having fun and breaking rules being dealt with by a long-suffering staff, with most of the everyday teaching and learning edited out. But at the same time the infectious humour, passion and personalities of these 21st century children clearly demonstrated that they are not the passive, compliant empty vessels ready to sit quietly and soak up the academic knowledge and instruction of their teachers – the learning experience that Mr Gove, sitting his ivory tower in Westminster, seems to think school should be all about.

While a few of these children might be bound for great things (apparently its alumni – or ‘past pupils’ as most of us would say – include William Hague) in a few years’ time the vast majority are more likely to be looking for local employment opportunities, where the ability to analyse the works of Shakespeare, model quadratic equations and write essays discussing the English Civil War is not going to get them very far.

Elsewhere last week Michael Jove was in an upbeat mood, giving a somewhat mixed message of a speech in which he claimed that teachers never had it so good – “Teaching – as a profession – has never been more attractive, more popular or more rewarding”  (a fact surely disputed by any teacher who remembers what it was like before the National Curriculum and Ofsted arrived), despite the fact they had just called a series of strikes to complain about the erosion of their pay and conditions. Smiling gleefully he made the usual cheap out-of-context jibes at so-called trendy teaching methods which might just actually help many of the children at the Thornhill Academy engage with the sort of course content he insists they must follow. At the same time he helpfully claimed that children need their own bedroom at home in which to study, which rather seemed to contradict the recent bedroom tax policy in which children of the same sex are expected to share a bedroom. And mysteriously he didn’t mention the delay in the start of his new tougher GCSE exams, the fact that a recent report revealed reform was only needed in Maths and MfL anyway, and that there had been a shortfall in recruitment for Maths and Science teachers. There’s a revealing alternative version of his speech here.

Meanwhile, apparently: Summer holidays with Michael Gove are ‘complete nightmare’ says wife Sarah Vine

Keep taking those Happy Pills Mr By Jove. Without them you wouldn’t be able to cope with life in the real world.


Image credit:  Mill View  http://www.flickr.com/photos/millview/5374713753



In All Change Please!‘s Campaign For Real 21st Century Education post it discussed the skills and learning involved in so-called 21st Century Education. Then in Memorable Open Online Coffee it looked at how online learning was shaping up. It’s easy to get the impression that schools as we know them are about to go the way of the dinosaur. In this post it wonders how far away we are from the moment of meteoric impact.

To begin with though, many thanks to Alison Morris, who kindly suggested that All Change Please! might like to feature the impressive infographic above that she had recently created. As with all good Infographics it’s creatively visualised to make a series of fascinating facts more accessible, interesting and informative, and this one is no exception. But the problem with most Infographics is not the graphics, it’s the info. Facts From Figures. Lies, damned lies, and statistics. It all depends on who you ask, what you ask them and which data you choose to present. Doesn’t it Minister?

Even taking into account the figures in the Infographic above are from USA schools, All Change Please! finds them a bit unlikely. Indeed the figures quoted in the first listed source were obtained from a survey that ‘spanned 503 web-based interviews with US pre-K-12 teachers’, i.e. 503 teachers who were already internet users. And it needs to be noted that the Infographic was commissioned by an organisation called Online Universities, who provide a promotional online resource for students interested in going to college online.

Now, of course All Change Please! belongs to a bygone era when the only educational technologies it had available when it first started teaching were paper, pens, pencil and ink, some well-worn textbooks, and occasional access to a slide and film-strip projector and OHP (Overhead Projector for the uninitiated). It happily relied on Banda machines and Gestetner stencils at a time when photocopiers and VCRs (Video Cassette Recorders) were still something yet to be. My, how times have changed. Or have they?

In the UK the figures in schools are thought to be more like a twenty to thirty percent positive uptake of new and emerging educational information technologies. Meanwhile many schools still ban the use of mobile devices, while a good number of teachers still reluctantly only use computers for their own admin work. It’s true that some teachers love technology and use it effectively, but most of the ones All Change Please! meet use it poorly, or not at all, and have yet to understand how to adjust their pedagogy accordingly. That’s not to say that students don’t potentially benefit from educational technologies, more that they are often discouraged or prevented from doing so. Few schools have good wi-fi access in every classroom.

In reality too many UK schools still rely on computer suites inherited from the 1990s, where IT is isolated in a single space. There is of course the BYOD movement. What does BYOD stand for you probably aren’t particularly wondering?  Why, ‘Bring Your Own Device of course’. One day, maybe, today’s smart phones will be as cheap and disposable as a pocket calculator, but until then the problem with BYOD is that children from poorer households – and those not willing to risk their child accidentally losing their device on the way to and from school – will be excluded.  And, as previously mentioned, in many schools it’s still a case of LYODAH (Leave Your Own Device At Home), which, in case you are wondering, is an acronym All Change Please! just made up. One day the uptake may indeed be this high, but it’s not yet.

And then there is the need for an e-portfolio system that is a great deal more sophisticated than children uploading Word files or answers to endless Multiple Choice Questions. While the lessons learnt from the e-scape project are being embraced in a range of developments taking place in various countries across the world, no further development work is currently being done in British Schools.

As the Music Industry and the High Street retailers have already discovered, the Information Technology revolution goes beyond the simple automation of existing practice. It turns it on its head and drives fundamental change, and at present there’s very little sign of that happening in education, where it’s still very much a case of new technology but old learning.

So to summarise, the tragic reality is that at present there is considerable confusion about what children should be taught, how they should learn, how their work can be monitored and assessed, the role of the teacher in relationship to online learning and the sort of electronic devices that should be used. Hardly a recipe for the dawn of an exciting new era of educational provision in an advanced technological age is it? Perhaps the future is a little further away than some of us would like to imagine?

Perhaps the first real sign of a tipping point will only come when we manage to tip Govosaurus* and its off-spring into the nearest landfill site ready for their fossilised remains to be dug up by archaeologists in the millennia to come.

* according to Wikipedia (who else?) a Gorgosaurus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorgosaurus  was, like many other dinosaurs, essentially a ‘terrifying lizard’ from the distant past. Thus All Change Please! feels perfectly entitled to apply the term ‘Govosaurus’ to a terrifying lizard-like education secretary from a bygone age.

Image credit:  OnlineUniversities.com “http://www.onlineuniversities.com/teachers-love-technology

The Campaign For Real 21st Century Education

1S-Screen shot 2013-04-02 at 10.54.09

So what’s the problem? You can always buy the skills you need on Amazon…

Now one could be forgiven for thinking that schools across the country are busy putting away their toys and girding themselves up for a major onslaught of facts to throw at their poor unsuspecting students who, at least up to now, had found their education to have been of at least some interest and relevance. And while some schools are probably doing just that, there’s a growing underground resistance movement of teachers who are preparing themselves, or rather their students, for what are secretly known as ‘21st Century Skills‘ which are to be delivered using ‘21st Century Technology‘ through a mysterious process known as ‘21st Century Learning‘. And when Herr Gove finally surrenders and realises that he can’t win the war without any troops behind him, there’s a strong possibility that the resistance movement will emerge victorious and schools will start to move forward again.

But what exactly are these 21st Century Technologies, Skills and Learning of which they speak? A simple enough question indeed, but not so simple to answer. Well the first bit – 21st Century Technology – is relatively easy in that it’s widely taken to refer to the use of computers and the internet, even though it does not necessarily follow that the technology is being used to deliver appropriate 21st Century learning and skills – but we’ll save that discussion for a later post.  However what there definitely isn’t is a single, nicely defined, commonly agreed, all cleverly packaged-up in a box designed by Apple statement as to what what 21st Century Skills and Learning actually are. Here therefore is:

All Change Please!s Beginners’ Guide to a Real 21st Century Education

First, one of the most common classifications of 21st Century Skills builds on the 3Rs by adding the 4Cs:

• Critical thinking and problem solving
• Communication
• Collaboration
• Creativity and innovation

All Change Please! can’t help having a slight issue with the first of these however, in that critical thinking and problem-solving, while related, should be separated – problem-solving needs to be more closely linked to creativity. And then there’s the ‘I’ word – Innovation, which is often associated with creativity without any clear understanding of the difference between the two, and in reality has more to do with business practice.

Meanwhile abandoning the simplicity of the 4C’s, in this account here we see the welcome addition of Information Literacy and Responsible Citizenship to the list (Surely Citizenship is by definition responsible? Discuss.)  Hmm, with a bit of re-writing we could have a more memorable and marketable different set of 5Cs: Critical thinking, Communication and Information literacy, Collaboration, Creativity and problem-solving, Citizenship.

And here’s another approach:
Ways of thinking: Creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and learning
Ways of working: Communication and collaboration
Tools for working: Information and communications technology (ICT) and information literacy
Skills for living in the world: Citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility

which has further evolved into:
Collaborative problem-solving. Working together to solve a common challenge, which involves the contribution and exchange of ideas, knowledge or resources to achieve the goal.
ICT literacy — learning in digital networks. Learning through digital means, such as social networking, ICT literacy, technological awareness and simulation. Each of these elements enables individuals to function in social networks and contribute to the development of social and intellectual capital.

And how about this account of 21st Century Learning?:

‘Equally important to 21st century learning is the application of learning science research and principles to learning methods and the design of learning activities, projects, assessments and environments. Principles of effective learning important to 21st century education practitioners include:

Authentic learning – learning from real world problems and questions
Mental model building – using physical and virtual models to refine understanding
Internal motivation – identifying and employing positive emotional connections in learning
Multimodal learning – applying multiple learning methods for diverse learning styles
Social learning – using the power of social interaction to improve learning impact
International learning – using the world around you to improve teaching and learning skills’.

All good stuff of course, and just a small sample of the wide range of indicators that 21st century learning is, or isn’t, taking place in a learning organisation. However, as All Change Please! has discussed before in 21st Century Schizoid Learning, most of these skills and approaches to learning were being explored back in the 1970s and 80s and so perhaps should more appropriately be called ‘End of the 20th Century‘ skills and learning – what schools should have been delivering from around 1975 to the turn of the millennium.

In the first decade of the 21st century a number of significant things have emerged. First, the advent of rapid change (predicted in Alvin Toffler’s FutureShock in 1973) is finally coming to pass: organisations and companies – and indeed educational establishments –  now need to be able to respond to changing needs and markets with new products and services potentially within around six months. For All Change Please! then, one of the essential things missing from so-called 21st Education is the notion of helping children learn how to deal with rapid, discontinuous and unpredictable change.

Secondly the impact of the internet has become a widespread disruptive force, changing the behaviours of the mass-population through social and commercial media. Although hinted at in some of of the accounts above, ‘media literacy’ (ie how digital content is produced, manipulated and distributed – and how to create it yourself) also needs to be a major priority.

And there does not appear to be any mention of the concept of Lifelong learning? At the same time there remains a need to completely redefine what might be considered as ‘basic’ knowledge, distinguishing between the grasp of essential underlying concepts and the facts that can now be easily found on the internet. And another thing – again something being anticipated back in the 1960s and 70s (and All Change Please! should know as it was there at the time) – are the 3Rs of Sustainability: Recycle, Re-use and Reduce. Ever read the Waste Makers?

So All Change Please!’s Campaign For Real 21st Century Education includes the need for:
• critical thinking
• creative, active, open-ended problem solving
• collaboration and competition
• flexibility in response to rapid, unpredictable change
• digital media / technological literacy
• initiating sustainable change
• 21st century knowledge
• learning how to learn for oneself

And finally something else that is still far from being a 21st Century solution is the process of the assessment and examination of learning which appears to be regressing into little more than a series of electronically generated and scored knowledge-based multiple-choice questions and answers. Only the e-scape project seems to offer a vision of completely new approaches to processes of assessment that utilise emerging technologies, rather than simply seeking to automate the old ones. Just as business now needs to rapidly respond to emerging fast-changing markets in an agile way, so does educational assessment. The model of developing a pre-specified, fixed course and final examination that takes five or so years to write, get approval for, publish, give schools adequate time to prepare for, and then commence delivering a two year course is no longer appropriate. A more flexible approach is now needed that is capable of responding much more quickly to learning emerging knowledge and skills, using computer technology to create new forms of examination or validation of what has been learnt, rather than what was specified to be learnt many years previously.

The sad fact is, despite having had more than 30 years to get ready for the challenges ahead, we’re still totally unprepared for the opportunities and threats of living in the 21st Century.

And finally, here are some people who for some strange reason don’t seem to agree with any of the above!

Michael Gove’s planned national curriculum is designed to renew teaching as a vocation

The philistines have taken over the classroom | Frank Furedi | spiked


Living in the past?

Well, little did I suspect that last week’s ‘A brief history of dates‘ would be the post that would generate the most number of views – some three hundred – since ‘Thunderbirds are Gove’. All I ever wanted to do was to point out that history involves a great deal more than memorising dates, and that some students found writing academic essays inappropriate to their needs and abilities.

From the tweets and comments, it seems to have stirred up considerable resentment from a number of seemingly distraught, distressed, enraged and hysterical history teachers. On Twitter I’ve been labelled as ‘fashionably-minded’, accused of suggesting that history shouldn’t involve any factual knowledge at all, of not listening to points I didn’t want to hear, and that I wished to exclude teaching students how to write essay-style blogs (even if they wanted to). It’s also been suggested that I doubtless wouldn’t approve someone’s comment (I’ve approved everybody’s comments without exception). Oh, and apparently it seems I’m a ‘moron’ – a particularly clever and witty ripost for an academic, I thought.

And reading through some of the comments one could be forgiven for thinking that I had suggested that no-one ever needed to know anything ever again as it’s all on the internet, and that children should never be expected to write a coherent passage of text.

I must say I found the reference to the Ed Hirsch Jr., Spring 2000 paper ‘You can always look it up…or Can you?‘ interesting, particularly as it appears to have become the bible of the ‘knowledge recall comes first’ disciples, while at the same time not of course taking into account the significant and substantial way in which the whole nature of the internet has developed over the past twelve years. It also perpetuates the misbelief that so-called ‘progressive’ education involves 24/7 process-based learning for everyone, and that all students are best suited to academic learning.

At one level I agree with the proposition that having access to an ever increasing amount of information does indeed probably require a greater amount of pre-knowledge, and an even more general awareness of how the world works. But my purpose was to question the sort of knowledge we need to now have at our finger-tips, and to suggest that memorising detailed facts, such as certain dates, was perhaps becoming less necessary? And the other matter I questioned was not so much what should be taught and assessed, but how it should be taught and assessed. I can’t accept that what was referred to in one of the comments, as ‘direct instruction’ is the only, or the best way for all students to learn, or that formal essay writing is the most effective way for all students to be assessed. Curiously none of the academics chose to discuss those challenges.

Well, I must say I’ve learnt a lot about academically-inclined history teachers. And I can’t say I exactly envy them all having to force-feed all those extra future reluctant  ‘I never wanted to do this subject’ non-academic Bacc teenagers with loads of dates, battles and kings and queens. It’s a tough job, but I guess someone’s got to do it.

And here’s where you can buy the T-shirt! Image credit: Redmolotov.com 

iAuthor: mind over machine

Apple’s announcement today of their entry into the on-line textbook market is generally being greeted by educationalists – and the media – all over the world as an exiting, positive move forward, even though in many cases it will be some years before all their students actually have iPads, let alone iPad textbooks. Educational publishing is indeed an industry in need of disruption – but has Apple got it right?

Now before continuing I had better state that I earn most of my living writing, editing and designing educational resources, so I’m not exactly neutral on this matter!

The original vision was that Apple would employ the best textbook writers to create content that would then be provided for free. That I would have no problem with, but it now seems the reality is that it’s more of a collaboration with existing educational publishers. And as such it’s certainly not going to be free! At the same time, Apple probably doesn’t realise is that over the past ten years the educational publishing industry has been severely squeezed: author’s royalties have been reduced, permanent editorial and design staff have been laid off, and marketing budgets slashed. As a result, the overall quality of many textbooks is now less good than it was in the 1990s. Although of course for the publishing industry the potential savings of an eBook in terms of paper, printing and distribution – which make up the main cost of a book – will be substantial.

The fact is that as a result most of today’s existing textbooks may be filled with facts and figures and the occasional photo, but the quality of authorship, editing, layout and illustration and overall pedagogy is generally poor. Text is often a jumble of unstructured knowledge, understanding and activity and lacking in clarity and conciseness. Artwork is cheap, and usually not that cheerful. The imperative to turn the page to find out what happens next is rarely evident.

Meanwhile  the majority of multimedia CD’s and websites produced over the past ten years are little better, if not in many cases worse. With a few notable exceptions, adding novelty animations, confusing navigational routes and electronically marked multiple choice questions has done little to improve the quality of learning. A well prepared, easily digestible ‘static’ text together with closely related and skillfully executed artwork and photographs can be just as ‘engaging’, if not more so, than any so-called multimedia interactive experience. The most important interaction needs to be with the mind, not the machine.

Ah – but then there’s the new iBooks Author. So now teachers will find it easy to publish their own resources -assuming of course they have the time, and a Mac with the very latest version of OSX.  Great. I expect some will even be quite good. But the rest will be rubbish. Ask any educational publisher and they’ll tell you that most unsolicited submissions from teachers are little more than photocopied worksheets or bullet-point Powerpointless presentations they’ve produced for their own classes, which may work well when they are present to fill in the gaps, but don’t make a lot of sense when they are not. And the fact that the provided templates look like more of a glorified, unimaginative and corporate Word file isn’t going to help. The initial titles appear to be a long way from being any sort of ‘magical experience’ that today’s highly media-literate children are going to get very thrilled about.

Maybe the real breakthrough that would really make a difference would be a suitable Help! file entitled ‘How to prepare a high quality educational resource‘?

So Apple’s announcements today have not made me go ‘Wow!’. They do little more than automate the existing idea of a traditional textbook or a multimedia CD. Where is the integration with social networking, the access to collaborative learning and on-the-fly e-portfolios? In its present format I don’t see them having a substantial or disruptive impact on educational publishers, or on the way teachers teach and learners learn. It’s yet another case of New technology: old learning. Let’s hope future upgrades are more adventurous and herald real change.

All Change Please!: Unplugged

Last Thursday All Change Please! was invited to give a five minute talk at a debate entitled ‘What should be taught in our schools?‘ The text of its speech is reproduced below. ‘The ‘Going for Gold’ portion will be familiar to regular listeners, as will ‘Pearsonalised learning’. But the final section, ‘Where are all the children?’ is a new number.

Other speakers included the now infamous and somewhat more moderate Katherine Birblesingh, and Toby Young who is clearly obsessed with everyone learning Latin.  Meanwhile Dawn Hallybone reminded us that education and politics just don’t mix. And Donald Clark did his best to contradict Toby Young’s facts and figures about learning Latin and served up some references to Jamie Oliver’s Dream School which had been broadcast the night before. Ralph Townsend, Head of Winchester College, talked about the need to sustain the notion of ‘high culture’ in education. Studying IT and BTecs was widely and ignorantly criticised by the academics, but some of the other things that were said seemed quite reasonable. I don’t quite understand why academics often tend to be extremely closed in their thinking – maybe it’s because they feel under threat from the real world?

Anyway, All Change Please! had some suitably disruptive fun, and even managed to make the audience laugh despite the fact that everyone seemed so serious – though in the end it seemed that no serious conclusions were reached.

There’s a full audio stream of the event available here:

And here are two accounts of the proceedings:

And here’s what I said:

I just want to briefly interrupt the proceedings to update you on some rather surprising ‘breaking news’ that’s just come through on my futuristic iClipboard tablet. Apparently:

‘The London 2012 Olympic Games Committee made a shock announcement today, in which it stated that, in future, Gold medals will only be awarded to the winners of the one hundred metres, which it considers to be the only true test of an athlete.

Winners of other track events that involve at least some competitive speed running will only be awarded Silver medals, while other, so called ‘soft sports’ , such as rowing or horse-riding, in which contestants remain seated throughout, will only gain Bronze medals for their winners.

Team games, in which it is impossible to identify a single winner, and sports that can be played commercially, such as football and boxing, will still be offered as ‘recreational’ fringe events, but no medals will be awarded for them.

A spokesperson said ‘It’s essential not to further devalue the gold standard, and we hope that this action will encourage more athletes from different backgrounds to come first in the 100 metres’.

It sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  It’s quite unbelievable.  Utter nonsense – which of course it is, as I made it all up.   Except that, in the UK, that’s exactly how we view the current education system – we try to prepare everyone for success in just one event that only a small proportion of entrants are actually capable of succeeding in.

And what I don’t understand is why we are all supposed to want our children to be brilliant academics, but are quick in any everyday discussion, to dismiss someone else’s ideas as being rather ‘academic’, that’s to say only of theoretical rather than any practical value or relevance?

Our academic  learning, assessment and qualifications culture is something that we have been dearly clinging on to for far too long, while many other countries seem to have been able to move on and value non-academic, creative, technical and vocational education in a far more positive way.

Simply re-naming schools as being ‘free’ or ‘academies’, making A levels more difficult, and getting more people to study degree subjects such as English Literature, History and Philosophy – and other so-called ‘deep thought’ subjects – is not the direction we should be going in. Indeed, there are no such things as good or bad subjects to study, only good or bad teachers to teach them.

We need to start recognising that people have multiple  intelligences, skills  and abilities that are of potentially equal value. I’m not suggesting that everyone should be a winner, but let’s at least equalise the value of the range of worthwhile competitions and qualifications we can all enter for.

However, I’m increasingly of the opinion that this debate about the content of the curriculum is becoming somewhat, err ‘academic’. I suspect that the major players  in the next few years are not going to be so much the politicians and the media, or the teachers, but the globalised educational publishers and games companies.

The future isn’t therefore so much personalised learning – it’s ‘Pearsonalised’ learning and, unless we start to do something about it, it will be created by administrators, programmers and new media companies who are far more intent on showing off their latest animation techniques to win an industry award, and who rarely seem to have much understanding of the complexities and subtleties of the range of different ways in which people learn, and what motivates them to do so.  As a result, it’s likely to do little more than provide an endless diet of PowerPointless presentations, lovable YouTube cartoon characters, and to promote an unshakable belief that somehow points mean education.  And that’s just not a recipe for healthy learning unless they are placed in the hand of very experienced educators.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be here tonight discussing the National Curriculum Review – what we should really be exploring is some sort of National e-learning specification that sets out and defines the minimum pedagogic requirements for electronic educational publishing and gaming, and how the role of the teacher and the learning institution needs to change as a consequence.

And finally, to, slightly ungrammatically, answer the question “ What should be taught in our schools”,  the answer is simple, it’s not Latin, or History or Philosophy. It’s Children.

So how many school-children are there on this platform, or in the audience here tonight? In any organisation or company it would be crazy at some stage not to involve the end users of the product or service to gain an insight into how they perceive their needs, wants, aspiration and values.  But, as usual, we’re adopting a superior attitude in assuming that children are ‘too young to have an opinion’, to ‘know what’s good for them’, or to be able to ‘adequately express their desires and expectations’.

In my experience children have great insights into their learning needs. They intuitively realise that learning is a basic survival skill they they are going to need to get through life. I’ve never believed that children don’t want to learn. It’s that they often don’t want to learn what we want to try to teach them, and that we don’t know how to teach them what they know they do need to learn. And they are the ones who are perhaps best placed to use the new technologies to bring about the changes that they know are needed.

So it seems to me that the current system is clearly beyond its sell-by date, unfit for future purpose, but we still continue to try and mend it, rather than starting afresh. We urgently need to move on from our romanticised ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’ view of education and recognise that although academic learning is best for some, it’s not appropriate for everyone.

At a time when we need a completely new 21st Century Operating System, all we seem to be getting is an OS1950.2 upgrade patch.