Michaela The Unconquerable

William Ernest Henley (23 August 1849 – 11 July 1903) was an influential English poet, critic and editor of the late Victorian era in England.

Back in July, just before the very end of the Summer Term when outdoor manoeuvres (AKA school trips) are in full swing, the Twittersphere exploded over a short video showing a group of young teenagers from THAT school in North East London – the one that seems to believe ‘All You Need Is Knowledge’ – standing on an above-ground underground platform vociferously and enthusiastically chanting their school poem: W. E. Henley’s ‘Invictus’. Some of those who saw the video online apparently responded with a salvo of abusive tweets, and consequently the teacher in charge felt the need to delete the video and make her account private. But the real flack came from the assembled ranks of shell-shocked traditional teachers expressing their undying support for the teacher, that teachers should be free to celebrate the pupils’ achievements, and that performing poetry in public was a fine and worthy thing to do. Which, of course, in itself is fair enough. Up to a point.

Now, to be quite clear, this post is not intended to be written as an angry attack on Michaela students, their hard work, politeness and consideration for others, their backgrounds or their success at gaining GCSE results – but it is meant as a considered critique of the school’s narrow conservative academic curriculum and strict behaviour policy.

At the same time, All Change Please! wishes to make it quite clear that it does not in any way support abusive tweets, although surely anyone who publishes anything on the internet should perhaps not be too surprised that they become liable to receiving such responses and then find themselves having to deal with the fall-out. And if the Headmistress wants other people to ‘LEAVE MY KIDS ALONE’, as she often Tweets, she should not be exposing them on social media in the first place.

Meanwhile in the Trads’ responses on Twitter it was apparent that none of them seemed in any way interested in discussing or even thinking about why some people might not have been as impressed and delighted by the public performance as they were. They seemed unwilling to accept that others might have a different viewpoint, or that there are complex politically motivated and culturally-infused issues involved.

 

However, All Change Please! did actually manage to catch the video before it was deleted, and has to confess it did find it somewhat sinister, and has since been wondering exactly why it felt so bothered by it?

Let’s change the scene slightly. In this version a group of similar aged school-children are huddled together in a group singing a popular song. A few more are standing apart from the group chatting, not wishing to join in. They are dressed, like the majority of school children today, in slightly subverted versions of their school uniform – formal blazers and ties are not terribly fashionable at present, even in the workplace where smart casual is now more the expected order of the day. All Change Please! can’t imagine anyone being in any way particularly offended by this scene, whatever school they came from.

But the actual video showed the children in the semblance of a straight line along the platform, facing the front, all very smartly turned out in their extremely neat and tidy uniforms. Their teacher was visibly conducting them, making sure they were chanting the poem to the beat.

And then there is the poem itself: ‘Invictus’ was written by Henley in the early 1870s as he was recovering from a tubercular infection that resulted in the loss of one of his legs. As such it’s typically full of dark and disturbing Victorian style and sentimentality and in particular is about the prospect of death and having the courage to gloriously fight on regardless.

The last two lines are the most frequently quoted as they potently remind us that we need to take responsibility for making sure we make the most of things whatever the circumstances. However the rest of the poem is not generally well known. It’s along the lines of Kipling’s ‘If’ or Tennyson’s ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ – verses best suited to being learned by heart and taking a moral message from, as opposed to the study of more challenging poetry that explores more conflicting and ambiguous impressions and themes. Of course that’s not to entirely object to children studying it in the classroom and understanding it in the context of the time and religious culture it was written in – but to promote it as a celebratory ‘school poem’ with its dark, disturbing imagery of the darkness of hell and bloody bludgeonings that will be deeply embedded in their minds for the rest of their lives, seems somehow rather inappropriate.

Now perhaps All Change Please! has a rather over-active and vivid imagination, but the video clip it saw was somehow a scene from the turn of the early 20th Century, and these weren’t schoolchildren of Today, but regularly and neatly-uniformed, subservient foot soldiers lined up about to board a train for the front, keeping their spirits up under the stern leadership of their Sergeant Major, in preparation for the grim adversities that lie ahead, and the courage and fighting spirit that will be needed to conquer them. Is this the image of the future we want to project of what life is going to be like for these children in the 21st century?

Colourised photo of soldiers leaving Letchworth, 1914

While it’s not a scene that deserves social media abuse, it is one that deserves discussion as to whether it is an appropriate approach to education in this day and age, and to the imposition of supposedly ‘lost’ British values from Victorian times, that many would prefer to see remain lost. Do we really want to recreate and reinforce 150 year old Victorian values and behaviours in our children? Surely our children need to learn from the past to understand the present and prepare for the future – not to just blindly repeat it, line by line.

The worry is that Michaela’s children – and indeed all those from the growing number of similar schools that aim to follow their lead – will not be well prepared to deal with the values, behaviours and ambiguities of the real, complex, inconsistent, unstructured modern technological world that they will discover when they find themselves on their own, far outside the comfort zone of their safe, friendly and nostalgic school environment. Perhaps it might help if the school included some technology-related subjects in its curriculum (children do not study IT/Computing, or D&T) and aimed to teach their pupils when and how to use smart phones and iPads for appropriate and effective learning and communication, instead of just banning them outright?

Clearly there are a number of politicians, teachers and parents determined to live in the past and ignore the fact that we now live in a global, technological age. While there is choice in the system for those teachers, parents and children who do or do not wish to belong to such a school, then perhaps it doesn’t matter. That is as long as there is still such a choice in the system…

Meanwhile, the members of the Michaela Community Free School Fan-base seem to believe that their successful GCSE results are a worthy vindication of Michael Gove’s policies that will provide more than enough ammunition to silence the guns of their more ‘progressive’ critics: they are likely to be disappointed. Indeed just the other day this highly apposite cartoon appeared as a comment on the Df-ingE’s widespread use of the Michaela school’s GCSE results to promote its highly controversial Free School Movement:

Unsurprisingly it drew a ballistic response from Michaela’s Headmistress who continues to see any criticism as an attack on ‘her’ children rather than the values and methodologies of the institution itself and of the Df-ingE – and to fail to accept that there’s more than one way to change the world for the better.

 

‘If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow’
John Dewey, 1915

 

 

With thanks to Stan Dunn for his cartoon, currently appearing on Twitter, and AJ.

Image of WE Henley: Wikipedia

Image of soldiers at Letchworth: DanHillHistory on Twitter

 

 

It’s for you, Mr Glibbly…

Last week one of All Change Please!‘s faithful followers commented in a Tweet to the effect that that its attempt to explain music education to Mr Glibbly was about as likely to succeed as getting Trump to understand how climate change worked. Undeterred, and doubtless with just as little success, this week All Change Please! bravely sits Mr Glibbly down in a nice comfy chair and patiently tries to explain to him the importance of mobile phones to a child’s education…

No-one would doubt the importance of teaching children how to read, write and do arithmetic, because they are necessities, and we all need to need be fluent and confident in them as a necessity to get us through life. There are of course other important areas of knowledge, understanding and skill we need to learn as well, and an increasingly important one has become our use of mobile ‘smart’ devices. It’s not enough to simply know how to switch them on and off – we need to learn when it’s appropriate to use them, and more importantly when not to use them. On-line safety and being able to identify fake news and political propaganda are also essential for children to learn.

In particular our children need to go forth into the digital world with a mindset that will enable them to comprehend the further changes to mobile communication devices that will inevitably occur during their lifetimes (which may well extend into the 22nd Century). They need to be to able to critically evaluate such developments, and most importantly to know how to use them to continue to effectively learn from them, as they will need to to long after they have left formal education. And what’s the point of learning how to code in school if you don’t have access to the devices your program will be used on? Banning mobile phones outright in schools may make a good Daily Mail headline today, but prepares our children for none of these things.

The smartphone has emerged as probably the most disruptive technology of the century. Yet, barely 10 years old, it is still in its infancy – we are going to be carrying around internet connected computers and communication devices for a lot longer yet, and they will continue to evolve to become smaller, more powerful and connected than they are now. But despite its youth the smart phone has already become integral and central to social and workplace interaction, and is used by every social level to apply for permanent and temporary jobs (not to mention UK residency), arrange childcare, organise the weekly delivery of shopping, keep up to date with the news, check transport times and conditions, watch movies, listen to and compose music, take photos, dictate memos, monitor one’s health and bank account, etc. Meanwhile in the workplace they are used to access and analyse data, organise shifts, send emails and messages and so on. Indeed last year, the United Nations Human Rights Council declared that the internet was a basic human right.

Of course the real problem isn’t mobile phones at all, it’s often the content and delivery methods currently used by teachers in the classroom that fails to engage children sufficiently to the extent that they don’t feel the need to be distracted by them, at least for purposes that are not directly related to what they are supposed to be learning.

But for now, many teachers seem quite capable of enforcing the simple rule that mobile phones should only be used in class as directed by, or with the permission of, the teacher. If a teacher isn’t capable of doing that, they shouldn’t be in the classroom in the first place.

But let’s leave the last word to Christine Swan, who recently tweeted:

Well, not quite the last word. Here’s a text All Change Please! posted back in September 2015.

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

Dateline: September 1915. The London Times Letters page.
Sir. – It has come to my attention that schools are now in the habit of providing children with these new mass-produced pencils and notepad devices which seem to becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to the tried and tested slate. I have been so informed that they often use them as a distraction to play noughts and crosses on, and to write messages to each other which often contain offensive words and rude comments about their teachers. In some of the worst and most unruly schools they have also used them to draw rude depictions of famous women on. It is my opinion that they are used far too often as a pacifier by teachers who can’t control classes. Whilst I am convinced these new pencil and paper devices are no more than a passing fad, writing on them should only be allowed with the greatest caution and only when supervised and directed by an academically well-qualified and experienced teacher. Of course it will also be essential to regularly check that pencils and associated carrying devices are of the correct length and of uniform colour, adding significantly to the teacher’s workload.

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

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

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

Yours, &c.,
No Change Please!

Did you get all that Mr Glibbly? No, thought not…

Mr Glibbly plays all the wrong notes in the wrong order

The use of the word ‘Bollocks’ on the cover of the Sex Pistol’s 1978 infamous album is generally thought to be a negative reference to the so-called ‘progressive’ music of the time…

Overture
Mr Glibbly, the Df-ingE’s current Secretary in a State about the school curriculum, recently woke up one morning feeling kind of blue. He had been told that the Fabian Society Report criticising the lack of provision for Arts education in UK schools was about to be published. To help stave off his rather crotchety, downbeat feeling he opened a pack of quavers – his all-bar-none favourite breakfast – and to try and cheer himself up he turned on Classic FM. And that gave him an idea. On the very same day as the report came out he would triumphantly pitch his grand-piano sized plan to improve music education! News about all those special model ‘music by numbers’ lesson plans and music hubs would sound truly uplifting and strike a chord with everyone, and they would clap and cheer at the end and as a measure of its brilliance shout for an encore, quite deafening out anything the Fabian report might have to say. Mr Glibbly never misses a beat does he?

Next Mr Glibbly invited lots of important sounding professional musicians to work together to come up with exactly what should be taught in schools in order to do it ‘Mr Glibbly’s Way’. Sadly of course he accidentally on purpose forgot to include more than a couple of actual real teachers on the steering panel. If he had, perhaps they might have told him that there was a lot more to music in schools than learning how to read music and how to re-create and appreciate great pieces of classical music written by dead white men from the Western world.

The sound of music goes well beyond what appears to be Mr Glibbly’s understanding and knowledge of 17th and 18th century forms of music, let alone modern music education. Like most politicians, he quite wrongly assumed that what had been good for him would be good for everyone in the country.

First movement
Here’s a mix-tape mash-up of some of the things he said:

“My own love of music began in primary school almost by stealth. As we all filed into assembly there’d be a piece of classical music playing in the background: Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra; Saint Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals; Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf.”

“Singing in the St Edmund’s Parish Church Choir in Roundhay, Leeds, gave me a lasting love for choral music. The delight I still feel today when I listen to ‘Zadok the Priest’ or Allegri’s ‘Miserere’ can be traced back to my schooldays.”

“We want to make sure their lessons are of the very highest quality and pupils leave school having experienced an excellent music education so those who wish to do so can take up opportunities to pursue musical careers.”

“This new model curriculum and the new money for our successful music hubs will make sure the next generation of Adeles, Nigel Kennedys and Alex Turners have all the support they need in school.”

“As well as ensuring all pupils can benefit from knowledge rich and diverse lessons, it is hoped that the curriculum will make it for easier for teachers to plan lessons and help to reduce workload.”

But music education is about so much more than knowledge of the classical repertoire and being able to sight-read music. It’s just a pity Mr Glibbly doesn’t believe you can learn anything useful from Wikipedia, because if he did he might have discovered that:

“Music is an art form and cultural activity whose medium is sound organized in time. General definitions of music include common elements such as pitch (which governs melody and harmony), rhythm (and its associated concepts tempo, meter, and articulation), dynamics (loudness and softness), and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture (which are sometimes termed the “colour” of a musical sound). Different styles or types of music may emphasize, de-emphasize or omit some of these elements.”

Music and Meaning
Music is a reflection and statement of contemporary cultural values, not just those of the past. Meanwhile it’s important for children to learn that music has different meanings to different people in different situations, and that playing and listening preferences often serve to reinforce social status and belief systems while at the same time representing a rejection of alternative points of view. Which is of course exactly what Mr Glibbly is trying to do at a time when, according to recent research, more than two-thirds of young people are already active musicians, singing, playing an instrument or making music on a computer – mainly outside school, and therefore his control.

Music and Motivation
Mr Glibbly seems to want everybody to be able to read music, play a ‘proper’ musical instrument and become a member of an orchestra: but just because people can read the Daily Mail out loud, it doesn’t mean that they are all going to want to become creative writers. To appeal to and motivate the majority of young people, modern music education needs to be relevant to music they are listening to, otherwise they are likely to switch off faster than they can say ‘Alexa, play something different’.

Music and The Arts
Meanwhile perhaps if Mr Glibbly had taken his fingers out of his ears and opened his eyes for long enough to hear and see what was been happening during the 20th Century he might have noticed that in an increasing number of works, music has moved away from being a single discipline: dance, drama, design, fashion, performance art, film and television are now created with close reference to each other. Mr Glibbly doesn’t seem to have got as far as Modernism yet, let alone Post-modernism.

Music and Technology
And something else that seems to be missing in the space between Mr Glibbly’s ears is the fact that a good understanding of and a capability and confidence in the use of digital technologies in one’s area of expertise is now essential, as it is in just about everything these days, and particularly in music where it has been particularly disruptive during the past 20 or so years. It is not acceptable for traditional educators to avoid their obligations and responsibility and, as they often do, use the excuse that children know more about the new technology than they do, so they will leave it to them to teach themselves.

Yet learning about music technology is not mentioned anywhere in Glibbly’s model world. Indeed he reveals his own lack of understanding of contemporary music technology when he writes:

“Forget Spotify: I want every child to leave primary school able to read music.”

Doesn’t he know that there is plenty of classical music on Spotify, and that the service enables users to explore and access a wider range of music than ever before in order to discover what they do and don’t like? And anyway why should listening to Spotify prevent any child from learning to read music?

Of course, at the same time new technology enables the creation of music without the need to be able to read formal notation in a way that is far more likely to encourage children to want to learn more about the academic theory of classical music. The opportunities for children to develop their creativity, confidence and self-esteem through experimentation, composing, performing and recording their own music, rather than failing to match the standards of professional classical musicians, have never been greater.

Coda
And last, but by no means least, is the purpose really to create a new generation of ‘Adeles, Nigel Kennedys and Alex Turners’? These people will emerge whether or not they learn to read music in school: music education needs to meet everyone’s needs.

The Sex Pistols sang ‘Don’t know what I want but I know how to get it’:  Mr Glibbly clearly does know what he wants, but fortunately it seems he doesn’t know how to get it: his new model scheme, unlike the music national curriculum, will not be compulsory. And, if every child is to learn how to read music – not just those attending the special music hubs – then there’s the little matter of finding the money to pay for all those music teachers

Whatever, one thing is clear – Mr Glibbly’s plan is certainly not the Very Model Of A Modern Music Curriculum…

“Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” (Charlie Parker)

“If this word ‘music’ is sacred and reserved for eighteenth and nineteenth century instruments, we can substitute a more meaningful term: organization of sound.” (John Cage)

Encore

Eric Morecambe with Andre Preview ‘playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order’.

 

Mr Glibbly’s Square World

Mr Glibbly just keeps on trying to force a square peg into a round hole…

New information has recently emerged that helps confirm that Mr Glibbly comes from a strange, square-shaped planet called Glibblyworld.

One day, just before Christmas, Mr Glibbly was giving evidence to a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. They asked him very difficult questions about the falling numbers of students taking an Arts GCSE and there being not enough Arts teachers in schools. But Mr Glibbly had cleverly anticipated this question and had thought up a very good answer. So he replied in his usual glibb manner by saying that of course he wanted the number of Arts GCSE entries to go up. And then, getting straight to the point, he helpfully explained what the problem was, or rather wasn’t:

‘We want more young people to be taking music to GCSE and to A Level and the way to do that is to improve the curriculum in music and the arts leading up to GCSE so they are well equipped and motivated to take those subjects.’

On Glibblyworld it seems that the fall of entries for GCSE courses in the Arts isn’t anything to with the compulsory EBacc subjects leaving hardly any other GCSE course options left for children to choose. Because apparently the thing is, well you see, as everyone knows, the Arts are just not subjects pupils enjoy doing, as obviously their content just doesn’t appeal to them enough. Doubtless all this would change if the Arts became more academic and involved more writing and less practical work, which would be restricted to more regular and easily assessable geometric drawing, square dancing and learning long straight lines for the Shakespearean school play. After all, argued Mr Glibbly, children are only really interested in sitting still in silence and absorbing copious amounts of knowledge because they intuitively know they won’t be able to express themselves or be creative in any way until they have got as far as finishing their degree.

It sounded so obvious when he had thought about it, and Mr Glibbly was surprised no one else had realised it before.

All this serves to confirm what has long been suspected: that Mr Glibbly comes from a different planet from the rest of us – one where there are no curves, just right angles. On the Square World of Planet Glibbly everything and everyone are square, which makes them rather boring. ‘Squares’ are law-abiding and predictable people who find dealing with change difficult. They are often regarded as dull, rigidly conventional, and out of touch with current trends. Yes, that sounds quite a lot like Mr Glibbly, doesn’t it?

Back in the early 1960s, a time which Squaries often dream of returning to, it wasn’t at all cool to be square. There was even a TV comedy series called ‘It’s A Square World’, presented by Michael Bentine who was once a member of the Goons. As well as fake news reports from the eight corners of the world, the programme’s speciality was models that came to life. Famous routines included a flea circus, an expedition which discovers the source of the Thames is a dripping tap which was then turned of causing the river to dry up, sending the BBC Television Centre into orbit with Patrick Moore, and the reconstruction of the sinking of the Woolwich Ferry, even though it had never really sunk.

 

If Mr Glibbly watched the programme as a boy, he probably didn’t enjoy it very much as it rather challenged the establishment he was so fond of, and anyway it was all just a bit too silly for his liking. He was always far happier sitting quietly in a nice safe corner trying to solve his Rubics Cube puzzle, that is when he wasn’t playing Square Leg on the cricket field.

Poor Mr Glibbly. He’s still trying to force the square shape through the round hole. Perhaps we need to help return him to Planet Glibbly? As quickly as we possibly can.

 

Top image credit

Br’er Exit and The Tory Party

As regular readers will readily recall, at this time of year All Change Please! attempts to write a fractured fictional farce based on a well-know literary work, such as last year’s ’Tonight at Morning Break’, and before that ‘Theresa in Wonderland‘, George Osborne’s ‘Twenty Fifty One‘, and of course not forgetting the classic ‘The Gove of Christmas Present‘.

This year’s inspiration is ‘Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby’. The Br’er Rabbit folktales originate from Africa, but were popularised in America during the 19th Century. They were compiled and adapted by Joel Chandler Harris in 1881 to represent the struggle in the plantations of the Southern US States. To help capture the negro dialect of the time, and to suggest a lack of education, they were written using a form of non-standard spelling that could still provide the correct pronunciation of each word. For example: “Mawnin’!’ sez Br’er Rabbit, sezee—‘nice wedder dis mawnin’,’ sezee.” ‘Br’er’ is a shortened form of ‘Brother’. At the time this was not seen as being racist but the versions we read as children were further adapted to use more conventional spelling and language to make them more ‘PC’. The stories are narrated by the fictional Uncle Remus.

In Br’er Rabbit and the Tar-Baby, Br’er Fox constructs a doll out of a lump of tar and dresses it with some clothes. When Br’er Rabbit comes along he addresses the Tar-Baby amiably, but receives no response. Br’er Rabbit becomes offended by what he perceives as the Tar-Baby’s lack of manners, punches it, and in doing so becomes stuck. The more Br’er Rabbit punches and kicks the Tar-Baby out of rage, the more he gets stuck. When Br’er Fox reveals himself, the helpless but cunning Br’er Rabbit pleads, “Please, Br’er Fox, don’t fling me in dat brier-patch,” prompting Fox to do exactly that. But as rabbits were born and bred in thickets, the resourceful Br’er Rabbit uses the thorns and briers to escape.

In modern usage a ‘tar-baby’ refers to a problem situation that is only aggravated by additional involvement with it. Now what does that remind you of?

What with the real Brexit being somewhat more complicated, All Change Please!’s decidedly non-PC version has needed to be somewhat more devious in its use of a wider range of Br’er characters. But enough – let’s get on with the story of ‘Br’er Exit and the Tory Party‘, as narrated by Uncle Remus-Mogg

A long long time ago in a plantation far, far away… it is a period of civil war.

Well now, that rascal Br’er Exit hated Br’er EU on account of he was always cutting capers and bossing everyone around. So Br’er Exit decided to get rid of Br’er EU if it was the last thing he ever did! He thought and he thought until he came up with a plan. First he persuaded Br’er Dave to call a referendum. Then he fix up a contrapshun like a red bus, painted it with slogans he had made up and sat it in the middle de road.

Br’er Exit, he lay low in the bushes near the road and waited for the Br’er Voters to come along around the hill, ‘lippity-clippity, clippity-lippity’. Before long, some strolled by, whistling and chuckling to themselves. The Br’er voters soon spotted the cute little red bus and were ‘stonished. The stopped and stared at this strange bus. They had never seen anything like it before!

“Good Mawnin,” said Br’er Voters, doffing their hats. “Nice wedder dis mawnin.”

The bus said nothing, but its slogans were plain to see. Br’er Exit, he lay low.

“Gosh!” sez the Br’er voters – “do we really pay all that money to Br’er EU? Could it really all go to the NHS instead? Are you absolutely sure they make all our laws for us?” The more questions Br’er Voters asked, the more lies they read about how awful Br’er EU was and how they’d be much better off without them. After a while many of the Br’er Voters became Br’er Leavers, while the rest became Br’er Mainers or Br’er Abstainers.

After the Referendum, Br’er Exit celebrated – he had won! Br’er Dave gave up and went to hide in his shed where no-one could find him and Br’er May took over, proclaiming that Br’er Exit meant Br’er Exit, whatever that meant. She and her Tory Party then got firmly stuck in to negotiating the best way to part company from Br’er EU. But of course the more she tried to solve the problem, the more difficult it became, until she finally realised she was trapped in a negotiation that was impossible to escape from.

At that point Br’er Exit leapt out of the bushes and strolled over to the nebulous Br’er May, who was not actually as stupid as she often appeared to be. “Well, well, what have we here?” he asked, grinning an evil grin. “You look sorter stuck up dis mawnin’,’ sezee, en den he rolled on de groun’, en laft en laft twel he couldn’t laff no mo.”

Br’er May gulped. She was stuck fast in the Tory Party and quite unable to move. She did some fast thinking while Br’er Exit rolled about on the road, laughing himself silly over her dilemma.

“I’ve got you this time, Br’er May,” said Br’er Exit, “Now I wonder what I should do with you?”

Br’er May’s eyes got very large. “Oh please Br’er Exit, whatever you do, please don’t make me withdraw Article 50 and start re-negotiating it all over again.”

“Maybe I should make you suffer a Hard Br’er Exit,” mused Br’er Exit. “No, that’s too much trouble sorting out all the food and medical supplies to keep Br’er Voters happy”.

“Have a vote of no confidence in me! Do whatever you please,” said Br’er May “Only please, Br’er Exit, please don’t make me withdraw Article 50 and start re-negotiating it all over again.”

“Or maybe I should make you have a general election?”, said Br’er Exit.

“A Hard Brexit, a vote of no confidence or a general election. Do whatever you please,” said Br’er May. “Only please, Br’er Exit, please don’t make me withdraw Article 50 and start re-negotiating it all over again.”

“Withdraw Article 50 and start trying to renegotiate again, eh?” said Br’er Exit. “What a wonderful idea! You’ll be torn into little pieces by the will of the people!”

So Br’er Exit forced the unfortunate Br’er May to withdraw Article 50 just before it would have been too late to do so, and listened out for her whimpers of pain inflicted by Br’er Voters. But not long after she had done so, Br’er Exit heard someone calling his name. He turned around and looked up the hill. Br’er May was sitting on a log looking smug.

“I was bred and born in Br’er EU, Br’er Exit,” she called. “Born and bred in Br’er EU” I never wanted to leave in the first place! We are far better off staying in the EU. I’ve no intention of re-negotiating! You should have listened more closely to what I said before the referendum took place!”

And Br’er May skipped away as merry as a cricket while Br’er Exit ground his teeth in rage and went home to sulk in his enormous house and gardens in the country, and to pay all the extra taxes he had been hoping to avoid if his plan had worked.

Meanwhile, don’t forget that ‘Br’er Exit and The Tory Party’ is all just a made-up story with a happy ending, and therefore quite unlike the real thing…

 

Number 9

It seems like it was only this time last year when All Change Please! was celebrating its 8th birthday, but today it is 9 years old, and as traditional, this is the review of the best of last year’s posts.

First to announce the winners of the highly prestigious ‘most viewed posts’ of the last twelve months. In highly appropriate GCSE reverse order they were….

3. School Island

‘A group of children who don’t know each other are isolated in a secondary school for five years. In this unreal situation they are not allowed access to mobile phones or gain any other information about what is currently happening in the outside world.’

2. Glibbly’s All Fool’s Gold Signature Collection

‘Meanwhile Glibbly’s glistening All Gold EBacc curriculum collection needs some urgent re-branding. Perhaps re-naming it rather more accurately as Glibbly’s All Fool’s Gold Assortment – known for its superficial resemblance to qualifications that are actually worthwhile – would be a good start?’

And the winner is…..

Wait for it….

1. Art Failure at the MichaelGova School

‘But by yet another All Change Please! (Patent Applied For) Amazing Coincidence it seems that the nearby, and entirely fictitious, MichaelGova Community School is also recruiting further teaching staff for its Art Department. Somehow All Change Please! has exclusively managed to obtain a draft of the forthcoming press advertisement’

Then, as usual, in no particular order, here’s All Change Please!’s selection of its own three favourite posts:

Playing the GCSE Numbers racket

‘We never expected him to do that well, especially as his teachers kept saying how unsatisfactory his work was, and that he wouldn’t get his E back. Mind you I wasn’t surprised they had confiscated it – I kept telling him not to take drugs into school – but I expect his teachers needed it themselves.”

Tonight at Morning Break

“Independent schools announce they will now only accept children who are eligible for free school meals
School children will hold Ofsted inspectors to account
Children will meet teachers and parents on cold winter evenings to discuss their progress as adults
And a portrait of Michael Gove will be hung upside down in the entrance to every school…”

Is Nick Glibbly Having A Laugh?

‘This Christmas Nick Glibbly is appearing in Pantomime at the Df-ingE, where he will play the comedy role of Michael Gove. He has also been nominated for a Derrière Comedy Award at next year’s Edinburgh Festival in the ‘Least Likely Politician To Succeed In A New Career As A Comedian’ category.’

 

Meanwhile, in a far distant galaxy sometime in the not-so-near future that has nothing whatsoever to do with formal education, All Change Please! has recently found itself writing some very different sorts of posts, contributing to a blog site analysing the Beatles’ ‘White’ album, prior to the 50th anniversary of its release in November 1968. If you weren’t there then, or were and don’t remember it, there was definitely something in the air – a real sense of hope that things were starting to change. It was a time of revolution and riot, well at least it was if you were a University student – the rest of the country read about it in their newspapers or watched it in the comfort of their homes on their black and white TVs.

Today the Beatles’ double album is still a remarkable achievement, showcasing the band at the height of its musical creativity, experimenting with the new technology to discover new ways of creating music that matched their subversive multi-layered lyrics. The extraordinary ‘Revolution 9’, which featured a repeated voice saying ‘Number 9’, was strongly influenced by modern classical composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. It was an eight minute collage of sound recordings that today would not stand a snowball’s chance in hell of being included on the latest album of a best-selling, chart-topping globally successful group. As such it is almost certainly the best-selling piece of ‘avant-garde’ music of all time, even if most people tended to skip it after the first listen!

Meanwhile, 50 years later, All Change Please! is still waiting for Revolution Number 1 to start happening in the current education system. It guesses it will just probably have to wait another year…

Image credit: Ian Melbourne93

Getting IT Wrong

All Change Please! recently came across a fascinating post about an article written by one Samuel Moffat some 50 years ago – in 1968 – that anticipated the future use of computers in education.

At one level, it is extraordinary to see what the author got right:

  • children sitting at a PC with a keyboard and screen, wearing headphones
  • on-screen questions, assessed and scored by the computer
  • one or more IT suites in every school, including primary schools
  • individualised learning, with support for pupils who need more help
    children can work at their own speed
  • a global network of computers (though seemingly limited to the US) facilitating remote access to teachers
  • the prediction that computers will soon play a significant and universal a role in schools as books do today.

And amusing to see what he got wrong:

  • the computing machines mechanically load and control external film and slide projectors, tape recorders and record players
  • a boy being allowed to work all day on a science project.

The predictions are remarkable for the time, given that there were no calculators, photocopiers or video recorders in schools in 1968!

But at another level, it means that we’ve had at least 50 years to work out, agree and implement the most effective ways of using computers in school – something that so far we have pretty much failed to do. Although a few schools have effectively adopted the concept of ‘computer-aided learning’, there are still far too many where the approach is to ask for PCs to be removed from classrooms and the use of mobile phones to be banned.

As with most aspects of our working and domestic hours, IT has proved to be much more than being ‘just another tool’ as it was frequently described in the 1990s. That was a bit like saying that the introduction of the combustion engine driven car of the early 20th century provided ‘just another way to get from A to B’. Or that on-line shopping would never take off, and that people would continue to buy physical music CDs forever… And at the same time, IT was widely seen as a cost-saving method of automisation, rather than something that would begin to fundamentally change the way we live our lives.

Unfortunately, in many schools, the old-fashioned penny still hasn’t dropped. Most teachers still see Information Technology (IT) as ‘just another tool’, and continue to misuse it to attempt to deliver an automated, out-dated curriculum in an out-dated way. Like it not, IT will at some point significantly disrupt the processes of teaching and learning. And the problem is that while many educationalists continue to pretend it will one-day just go away, they are failing to define and demand what is an appropriate new pedagogy. As a result, big business and politics are rapidly moving in to make those decisions for them, and instead of computers being used to effectively support the ways we teach and learn, it is increasingly taking over and replacing our input into the process, if for no other reason that computers are cheaper to run than teachers are to employ.

IT still provides an extraordinary opportunity to discover new and better ways of learners acquiring knowledge, behaviours, skills, values, and making informed decisions about conflicting options. In the palm of our hand we now have the extraordinary potential to access in-depth information and ideas from around the world, to be able to collectively communicate with each other, and to manipulate vast amounts of complex data. Yet our current education system continues to prioritise essay-writing and answering Multiple Choice Questions – sitting isolated in the school hall – as its only method of assessing  achievement and capability.

At the same time, fifty years on, we have still to determine the way in which our children should be most effectively taught about IT and how to use it for themselves. The current, entirely unacceptable, excuse for not doing so appears to be along the lines of not seeing the need to bother because ‘the children understand more about it than we do’. To be fair, there is also a shortage of suitable teachers, and especially those with up-to-date experience of coding. But not everyone will need to be able to write complex computer programs in the future, just as not everyone needs to be able to design and construct an internal combustion engine to be able to drive their car.

However, children do need to learn to become capable and confident users of IT, to know about the way it impacts their lives, and how and when to use it, and perhaps more importantly, when not to use it. Unless we start to address the core issues in our schools we are likely to end up with a future society where individuals might potentially suffer from poorer cognitive function, reduced capacity for deep thought and contemplation, reduced ability to concentrate, increasing levels of pathological narcissistic behaviour, lower levels of empathy, an increase in depression and loneliness, and a whole host of physical problems stemming from the constant release of cortisone from the stress response together with an addiction to dopamine. Banning the use of mobile phones in schools will do nothing to help prevent this.

The world has moved on since 1968. Sadly education in England hasn’t.

Knowing exactly what it would say, All Change Please! didn’t bother to invite comment from the Df-ingE, and as a result, their spokesperson didn’t write…

‘As politicians and civil servants with no experience of the real world, we know all there is to know about education and the processes of teaching and learning and therefore do not intend to waste any time listening to anyone else. Our well established and highly successful educational policy involves continually repeating: ‘Thanks to our reforms, the evidence proves that we are providing the first-class world-beating education system demanded by employers and universities’ – a statement that readers of the Daily Mail appear to actually believe.’

Stripping down STEM

All Change Please! is getting all STEAMed up about the latest government announcement…

Most of us would agree that for the U.K. to survive in an apocalyptic Hard Brexitland future we are going to need considerable expertise in technology and engineering in order to create innovative new products and services to sell to the world. That is, of course, everyone except for the D well and truly f-ing E.

STEM, as all All Change Please! readers will be familiar with, is an acronym for the study of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Meanwhile All Change Please! has also long been a supporter of the campaign for the acronym to become STEAM, with the A representing The Arts which are required to enable students to develop skills of creativity and to acquire an understanding of human psychological and emotional needs.

While the US seems to grasp the concept that STEM, or STEAM, involves the necessary study of the relationships between the component subjects involved, here in the U.K. we have consistently mis-understood it simply as the isolated study of the separate academic subjects involved. And, given that Design & Technology typically plays no part in STEM, many of us have often wondered where the missing Technology and Engineering subjects are?

Well at least now we know. According to yesterday’s D no f-ing clue whatsoever about Education announcement:


So if there is no Technology or Engineering in STEM, that leaves us with just Science and Mathematics. Thus, to ensure the government cannot be accused of misleading the country, can we now look forward to the STEM initiative being more accurately renamed as S&M?

All Change Please! can’t wait for the newspaper headlines:

 

School Island

All Change Please! has somehow recently managed to obtain a recording of one of Alan Partridge’s audio memos – intended for his assistant Lynn to type up – which he regularly used to record ideas for possible new TV shows to pitch. Here’s the transcript:

“Another TV idea: ‘School Island’. A group of children who don’t know each other are isolated in a secondary school for five years. In this unreal situation they are not allowed access to mobile phones or gain any other information about what is currently happening in the outside world.

As they compete to see who can gain the highest grades and most qualifications they are required to undertake a series of ridiculous meaningless and often humiliating challenges, such as seeing who can sit still and stay awake the longest, remember and then write down the most facts, wear exactly the correct school uniform, etc. These will be determined and set by the programme directors – to be known as senior management teams and politicians.

The children will be continually monitored by the hosts – let’s call them teachers – and TV cameras who will watch their every movement, manipulating the participants to cause maximum distress and mental illness to help increase viewing figures. The audience will vote to decide which children should be excluded for bad behaviour.

The winning children will be offered lucrative deals (at their own expense) to attend Russell Group Universities.

Lynn – please check if anything similar has already been done before.”

And finally, do make sure you watch this clip that provides worrying evidence of the devastating impact of the knowledge rich curriculum on the limited working memory.

Mr Glibbly’s Extremely Tall Tales

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, Mr Glibbly decided to ask some people what it was that made a really excellent teacher. Of course he already knew the answer because he was jolly clever – he’d been to school once himself and it had all worked out very well for him. However he thought that if there was an official ‘consultation’, all the teachers might feel as if they were in control, even though they weren’t in the slightest.

So those teachers who had any time, i.e. mostly those who had retired early, submitted some very wise words, drawing on their many years of real experience in the classroom.

For example:

‘Teaching is a craft profession. Teachers need to; understand their subject, manage their learning environment, enable self-determined learning and broker their learners interests with educational accreditation. Teaching Excellence, or the social responsibility of educators, consists of mastering their profession in order to enable learners to learn.’

‘Teachers need to create flexible scaffolding that supports children as they explore their own learning. They need to respect and seek to build on children’s own intelligence, creativity and aspirations, but at the same time be inspirational and drive motivation through a mixture of positive criticism and encouragement.’

‘Excellent teaching is “watchful neglect”. It’s about kindling fires of interest and fanning flames of participation (observing at a distance with suitable accelerants and extinguishers). Excellent teachers help learners discover for themselves what they are good at and use the confidence this builds to confront weaknesses and new opportunities.’

‘Excellent teachers teach ironically: well-informed and passionate about their specialism, they nevertheless put teaching the individual student above teaching their subject; they structure and lead learning, whilst celebrating the autonomy of their students from the start. This comes to some teachers naturally; some have to work hard to achieve it.’

Unfortunately, these were not at all the sort of answers Mr Glibbly was looking for, so he didn’t give them any marks and decided to write his own description of the most important things a teacher needed to know in order to become excellent. Can you guess what he wrote? It’s not difficult…! It went:

Where to stand, so as to see all the pupils;
How to use and vary tone of voice throughout the lesson;
Who to question, what to ask, and how to ask it;
How to sequence examples and explanations;
How to use humour;
Where to sit particular pupils;
How to build on prior knowledge; and
How to build a class culture over the course of an academic year.

If only teaching and learning was that simple!

Poor Mr Glibbly. He didn’t realise he was making a complete fool of himself by revealing how long it must have been since he had been in a classroom trying to teach a Shakespeare play to 32 disaffected 15 year-olds, if indeed he ever had? He just doesn’t understand that there was no such thing as good and bad teaching methods – just good or bad teachers.

Of course it’s different for Mr Glibbly, because there are good and bad policies and good and bad politicians. And we all know which category he and his policies fall into, don’t we?

Silly Mr Glibbly. We’d really like to help him become an excellent politician, so here’s our list of what we think he needs to do:

Tune In;
Turn On;
Resign Now.

 

With thanks to Fred, Alan and Tony for their wise words, and Other T for his type.