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.

Glibbly’s All Fool’s Gold Signature Collection

The other day Mr Glibbly was in fine form, cleverly avoiding questions about teachers’ pay and announcing what a wonderful thing the new GCSE’s ‘designed with employers in mind’ were (providing that is that they can understand the new numbering system):

“These more rigorous, gold-standard GCSEs are helping to nurture the next generation of scientists, linguists and historians. Whatever pupils want to do with their lives, these qualifications will prepare them for future success and help deliver the skills Britain needs to be fit for the future.”

All of which is indeed wonderful, assuming of course you are a student who wants to become a scientist, linguist or historian when you grow up, which quite a few don’t.

At the same time someone you’ve never heard of from the CBI, endorsed ‘today’s important focus on knowledge’, before helpfully adding ‘this partnership must also ensure we are prioritising teaching that encourages critical thinking, creativity, and teamwork’ – doubtless without realising that all of these things are completely ignored in Glibbly’s glistening All-Gold signature selection box of limited edition, academic-only GCSE subjects guaranteed to be completely free from Arts, and containing no soft-centred skills whatsoever.

Meanwhile All Change Please! can’t help but notice that many of today’s job specifications seem to require a rather different background skill-set to those acquired through a ‘knowledge-rich’ formative experience in our schools and leading universities.

For example, in one such recent and genuine job specification, for a one-year, fixed term contract, part-time position, paying around a pro-rata average London wage, only one of the desirable (as opposed to essential) criteria was knowledge-based, and that was a knowledge of HTML.

“You will be responsible for:

  • Further developing and leading our communications strategy in line with the organisation’s strategic aims, identifying audiences, messages, channels and methods of evaluation.
  • Planning and delivering effective and timely communications activity based on this strategy, building and maintaining a consistent brand.
  • Writing creative communications materials and content including: brochures and leaflets; blogs; learning materials; communications with key supporters, e.g. e-newsletters; innovative/creative materials e.g. animations/videos; media/press releases.
  • Designing and developing engaging online content that can be re-purposed across multiple channels.
  • Working with multiple stakeholders/partners to coordinate communications activities
  • Leading on media relations, proactively identifying news stories and ensuring that a consistent message is delivered.
  • Collaborating with and managing input from design and other agencies
  • Planning and implementing appropriate methods for evaluation of the communications strategy, and monitor and analyse the results.
  • Briefing or commissioning volunteers, freelancers and contractors when needed.
  • Managing part of the communications budget (and delivering value for money).

You should have experience in the following:

Essential

  • Proven ability to conceive, implement and evaluate successful and cost-effective communication strategies and activities (including an understanding of how to identify audiences, create appropriately differentiated content and use relevant channels).
  • Track record of writing and editing, preferably different types of writing for different publications and platforms (e.g. web, social media, e-newsletters, learning materials).
  • Ability to communicate clearly and effectively with a wide range of stakeholders, in person, online and in print.
  • Experience of assimilating complex information quickly, identifying the pertinent points and making them accessible for a wide range of audiences.
  • Well-developed interpersonal, advocacy and diplomacy skills.
    Experience of pitching stories to the media and responding to media enquiries.
  • Experience of commissioning freelancers (e.g. designers, web developers)/external agencies to carry out specific projects as part of a wider communications strategy, and managing those relationships.
  • Experience of managing social media accounts (twitter, facebook etc) and commissioning video.
  • Experience of sourcing images and print buying.
  • Capacity to work independently, problem-solve, handle multiple projects, and exercise good judgment in an organised and professional manner.
  • Experience in communications to support resource development/fundraising.

Desirable

  • Background in or demonstrable understanding of and passion for our mission.
  • Experience of managing/coordinating communications across partnerships
  • Experience of budget management.
  • Experience of Google Analytics
  • Knowledge of HTML (for when the CMS doesn’t quite do what you intend)
  • Experience of brand management
  • Understanding of web legislation and best practice.

Blimey! So where’s the bit about knowing everything there is to know about science, languages and history and being able to write essays? Surely at least part of the school curriculum urgently needs to start to prepare our children to become fluent in the workplace of the present, let alone the future?

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?

 

Image credit: It’s not Terry’s, it’s Tristram’s…

The long, sad story of Jannet and Jo Blogs

Once upon a time in a parallel universe, similar to our own but not quite the same, young Jannet and Jo Blogs worked in a widget factory, making widgets, as everyone was obliged to for a period of at least 13 years. The factory made seven different types of widget, and employees were expected to move around, so they didn’t spend all day making the same widget. The problem was, Jannet and Jo were not very good at making any of the widgets. Theirs always came out being too big or small or just not quite the right shape, the parts didn’t connect together properly and they spent far too long working on each one.

Every day it was the same. They tried their best, but each of the manufacturing supervisors of the seven different widgets just sighed and pointed out to them in detail the various ways in which the work they had done was unsatisfactory, by exactly how much, and the extent to which they had missed their production targets yet again, and were letting the reputation of the factory down.

This went on for six long years. It didn’t make it any easier that each year the factory demanded that the widgets they made became more and more complicated, which meant that they got further and further behind. Eventually the factory manager informed them that they had come to the end of their contracts and that he had arranged for them to be transferred to a different factory, and shook their hands and wished them every success for the future.

Jannet and Jo looked forward to being able to make a fresh start in a new factory, but they were disappointed to discover that there they was still being asked to make exactly the same seven widgets, which had now become even more difficult to master. And so, for another five years, their supervisors spent their days informing them how sub-standard their work was and how important and absolutely essential it was for them to improve in order to meet their targets, even though the work was quite beyond them. Meanwhile the other more productive workers often made fun of them as they were so useless.

At the end of the five years many of their much more successful fellow workers had their contracts renewed for another two years, but Jannet and Jo were re-located to yet another place of work where they were expected to spend a lot of their time trying to remake all the faulty widgets they had previously created, but no matter how hard they worked, they still just couldn’t get them right.

When they weren’t at their factory Jannet and Jo spent as much time as they could following their passion for medieval history. They loved reading and researching and cataloging artefacts from the past, and worked together as volunteer managers of the local Archaeological Trust where they successfully organised displays and outings. But of course all this had been frowned upon by their boss at work, because it didn’t help them in any way to make better widgets, which apparently was all that really mattered in life.

After a total of thirteen long, miserable years of failed widget-making, Jannet and Jo felt they had had enough and decided they never wanted to see another widget again. Lifelong widget-making was definitely not for them. They had became very depressed and just lounged about all day, unable to get another job because, quite wrongly, they thought that widget making was all they knew anything about, and that wasn’t very much. If you couldn’t make widgets, what could you do to get on in the world?

 

Of course Jannet and Jo’s sad story would never have happened in our universe, would it?

But here though, just as sadly, too many Janet and Johns go through much the same experience as Jannet and Jo during their thirteen long years in school, except their widgets are academic national curriculum subjects. Their struggle is with having to memorise excessive amounts of what they see as irrelevant subject knowledge and then being required to regurgitate it again in purely written form, isolated in the examination hall. But despite this their work is tested every day and their faults are identified and commented on by their teachers and ambitious new targets set that they have little chance of meeting. It’s not long before a sense of profound failure sets in, they start to lack confidence, and develop low self-esteem. At the end of eleven years of schooling, something like around half of all children who take the seven EBacc examinations will fail to achieve the expected five good pass ‘floor standard’ grades. And they will then have to stay on at school or go to college for another two years to try again, before many give up completely on education as being something that’s just not for them.

The shame is that if these children also had the opportunity to properly study a wider range of less-academic subjects while at school – such as the creative arts and applied technical and practical problem-solving that helped them develop the life-skills they need – they might just have discovered that they had many other different talents and abilities that they could have developed and excelled at. Of course at the same time these less-academic subjects also need to start to be seen by society – and importantly by politicians and the media – as being just as worthwhile educational experiences as learning everything there is to know about the theory of widget-making.

Meanwhile All Change Please! can’t help wondering if the politicians and media in Jannet and Jo’s parallel universe are any better than they are here on this Earth? By the sound of it, probably not…

Open-ended Complex Policy Solving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Image credit: Flickr/Policy Exchange

Test Your Academic Strength!

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‘Strong’ it seems, is the new ‘good’.

The Df-ingE’s latest whizz-bang ‘let’s see if we can get away with just changing the name’ idea is to differentiate between ‘standard’ and ‘strong’ GCSE ‘passes’ at levels 4 and 5. All Change Please! would like to propose that this is taken further by installing a suitably diagnostic ‘Test Your Academic Level Strengthometer’ in every school, similar to the one above.

Meanwhile many thanks to Tom Sherrington for publishing his suggested new level descriptors on Twitter.

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The reality is that the main impact of this new scale will be to provide greater differentiation amongst the most academically-able students, enabling Russell Group Universities to select the very, very, very best instead of just the ordinary best. But of course at this level the reliability of the assessment of potential based on a two-hour final written paper subjectively marked by a single examiner is extremely low. It’s a bit like choosing a car solely on the basis that it can accelerate from 0 to 60 in 5.8 seconds over a different make that takes 5.9 seconds, and on the understanding that it’s not actually possible to calculate such a measurement accurately due to such a wide range of variables.

In fact assessment of academic potential at this level is so unreliable that instead of a ‘Test Your Academic Level Strengthometer’ machine, a fruit machine would probably be a better bet, so let’s install some of those in schools instead of the current complex, expensive and unreliable examination system. Students could just pull a handle and get an immediate result – three 9s and you’re in to Oxbridge. Three raspberries and you’re on income support for the rest of your life…

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Meanwhile All Change Please! continues to find it distressing that, beyond the 25% of the population who will go through life have being stamped as ‘standard’, almost no-one seems to be concerned about the roughly 32% of students who will emerge from 11 years of attending school with absolutely nothing…not even a ‘No-levels‘ qualification.

At least there’s someone out there who has written about the issue: Is everyone OK with the fact that our school system forces 30% of children to fail their GCSEs?

And of course there’s also comparative judgement

Image credits:  Top  Flickr/jimjarmo   Middle  Wikimedia Antoine Taveneaux

No-levels 4U

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‘Now That’s What I Call Learning’ Vol 1954

All Change Please! has recently learnt that following on from the introduction of new Tech-levels, the Df-ingE have just announced an award for those who students do not manage to achieve A-levels or T-levels. They will be taken by around 50% of teenagers and be known as No-levels – also referred to as FA-levels. There will be a special FA* award to recognise the achievements of those who have been unable to produce any evidence at all of having learned anything from their complete failure – an essential skill deficiency required by many British companies.

Employers have welcomed the new No-level qualification, saying that it will make it easier for them to identify potential staff who will work for next to nothing on zero hours contracts for job opportunities that will become increasingly difficult to fill post-Brexit.

To help explain the new No-levels to the target group of learners – who obviously will have difficulty reading – the Df-ingE has delved deep into its archive and re-published a helpful, slightly updated, mobile-phone friendly information graphic from the mid 1950s…

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“They think it’s all over…it is now!”

Meanwhile in another leaked social-exclusion-busting policy intended to help the Tory party better connect with its grass roots, it is believed that the Df-ingE are proposing to introduce a new approach to School League Tables. At the end of every school year, or season, the bottom performing 10% of ‘Premier League’ Grammar Schools will be relegated to become ‘Championship’ Technical schools, from where the top 10% will be promoted. And similarly the bottom 10% from the Technical Schools will be demoted to be ‘League One’ Secondary Moderns to be replaced by the most successful from the lower league.

To make the Government’s education policy even more popular, schools will participate in televised ‘Top Of The Form’ type play-offs for promotion. There will be a special knock-out examination for schools with the highest number of FA* level students, to be called the FA* Cup.

To increase funding, the various leagues will be sponsored by successful Multi-Academy Trusts. Headteachers will be renamed Managers – and doubtless be sacked at frequent intervals – and Ofsted Inspectors will in future be (politely) known as Referees.

A spokesperson for the Association of School Managers said: “It’s a completely absurd idea – it shows just how little the Df-ingE understand about teaching and learning. Next they will be suggesting something completely ridiculous such as lowering the entry pass marks for pupils of Grammar School …”  Oh! Wait a minute.

 

Image credits: From Odhams Children’s Encyclopedia, first published in 1954  – the internet equivalent of the day (minus the pornography)

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Theresa In Wonderland

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Thankfully, the Festive Season comes but once a year and, as surely as Christmas means Christmas, it’s time for All Change Please! to delve into the world of literature and present its own special pull-out double issue, long-read, twisted, fractured and satirical updated version of a well known classic, such as it has done in years gone by with Twenty Fifty One and The Gove of Christmas Present. So without further ado – look out behind you!  Here’s All Change Please!’s annual political pantomime…

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, it was a warm and sunny July afternoon and Theresa was sitting lazily in the beautiful back garden of the house in her Maidenhead constituency, contentedly admiring her new pair of very expensive summer sandals.

All of a sudden, and much to her surprise, a white rabbit with pink eyes ran by exclaiming ‘Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting. I’ll never get to be PM’. That’s curious, Theresa thought – That rabbit looks just like Michael Gove. She strode purposefully across the garden just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit hole. Just in front of the hole there was a small sign that read ‘BREXIT’, and pointed towards the hole. In another moment down she went after the rabbit, never once considering how in the world she would ever get out of it again. Suddenly she found herself descending at great speed. As she fell she began to worry that when she reached the bottom she was probably in for a very hard Brexit indeed.

1sw-Alice_drink_me.jpgDown, down, down Theresa fell until she could go no further, when suddenly there was a thump and she found herself in a long, low hall which she recognised as the corridor of Number 10 Downing Street. There she came across a small three-legged table on which there was a bottle marked Blue and Yellow Brexit. I’m certainly not drinking that, she thought, but perhaps if I give it a good shake and mix it up it will turn in to a nice Red, White and Blue Brexit? Or even better, an Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat Brexit that one day will become a successful West-end musical. What a shame I didn’t study more art in school then I would understand how colour theory works.

***

In the distance Theresa caught a glimpse of what she first assumed to be Larry, the Downing Street cat, sitting at the top of the stairs. As she approached him however, she realised she had been mistaken. This cat had very long claws and a great many teeth.

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‘What’s your name?’ Theresa asked politely.

‘Why, I’m Nigel, the UKIP cat.’

‘Ah!’ said Theresa. ‘Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here? What sort of people live about here?

‘In that direction,’ the cat said, ‘lives a Hatter, and in that direction lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad. But at least they are not immigrants.’

‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Theresa remarked.

‘Oh you can’t help that,’ said the cat: ‘We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’

‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Theresa.

‘You must be,’ said the cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’

Suddenly the cat vanished and then re-appeared as UKIP Leader several times, finally beginning with the end of the tail and ending with just the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone off in search of America.

***

1s--De_Alice's_Abenteuer_im_Wunderland_Carroll_pic_26.jpgAt the top of the stairs Theresa found herself in front of a door marked ‘Cabinet Room’ How curious she thought, to have a room specifically to keep a cabinet in. She opened the door and entered. At the end of a very large table, the March 31st Hare and the Mad Hatter were having tea: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep. Theresa couldn’t help noticing the uncanny resemblance that the Mad Hatter had to Boris Johnson, that the March 31st Hare had to David Davies, and that the dormouse had to Philip Hammond.

‘No room! No room!’ they cried out when they saw her coming.

‘There’s plenty of room!’ said Theresa indignantly, and she sat down in the large, important looking chair in the middle, reflecting that this was now indeed a post-truth world. Theresa lifted the pot to pour herself some tea, but the tea dripped out from the bottom onto the cabinet table. Ah!, she thought, at least now I know where all the leaks are coming from.

‘Well,’ said the March 31st Hare. ‘What do you have to say? Say what you mean.’

‘I do,’ Theresa replied hastily. ‘At least I mean what I say – that’s the same thing you know.’

‘It’s not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hare. ‘You just announce policies that come into your head, and a few days later say you never meant them.’

‘So,’ said Theresa, ‘you mean that if I say ‘Brexit means Brexit’ I don’t mean what I say?’

‘Exactly!’ replied the Hare, ‘What you really mean to say is that Brexit means whatever the EU decides it means.

‘That’s curious’, interrupted Boris the Mad Hatter. ‘Whenever I say what I mean, No 10 always says I didn’t mean to say it. Which is a very mean thing of them to say. But enough of this nonsense. Let me ask you a riddle instead. Why is a Grammar School like a White Elephant? Can you guess?’

‘No I give it up,’ Theresa replied. ‘What’s the answer? ‘

‘I haven’t the slightest idea,’ said the Hatter. ‘Well, except that perhaps a white elephant is also something that isn’t worth having but still costs a lot to maintain?’

***

1sJohn.jpgTheresa left the cabinet room, declaring she would never go there again and that it was the stupidest meeting she ever was at in all her life! Just as she said this she noticed a tree with a door leading into it. That’s very curious, she thought, but everything’s curious these days. I think I may as well go in at once. She found herself at the entrance to a garden, and noticed that there were 27 EU leaders all in a bit of a state, dressed as playing cards. She introduced herself to the Queen of Hearts:

 ‘My name is Theresa, so please your Majesty,’ she said very politely, but added, to herself, ‘Why, they’re only a pack of cards, after all. I needn’t be afraid of them!’

After a game of croquet, the Queen of Hearts, whom Theresa couldn’t help but notice bore more than a passing resemblance to Angela Merkel, offered her some bread and jam and a piece of cake. Theresa declined the JAM, saying she could just about manage to afford her new leather trousers perfectly well without it, even though she knew very well that there were many others who couldn’t.

‘You couldn’t have it if you did want it anyway,’ the Queen said. ‘The rule is JAM tomorrow and JAM yesterday but never JAM to-day.’

The Queen then demanded that she played a game with her. Theresa studied the cards in her hand and saw she held the Joker – I’ll have to play my Trump card very carefully, she thought.

Suddenly the Queen shouted out: ‘Now show me your cards!’

‘But if I show you my cards,’ Theresa explained, ‘then you will have a considerable advantage and will easily win the game.’

‘Hmm! I suppose you believe you’re in charge around here?’ said the Queen sarcastically.

‘Well I am the Prime Minister of Wonderland.’ said Theresa, which quite surprised her because up to that moment it hadn’t really occurred to her that indeed she now was. At this the Queen got very annoyed and muttered something about making sure that Teresa might still have her piece of cake, but she certainly wasn’t going to eat it too.

1s-John_Tenniel_-_Illustration_from_The_Nursery_Alice_(1890)_-_c06543_05.jpg‘I’ll tell you something to believe,’ the Queen continued: ‘I have twice been named the world’s second most powerful person, the highest ranking ever achieved by a woman, and the most powerful woman in the world for a record tenth time. I am the longest-serving incumbent head of government in the EU, the senior G7 leader and I’m seeking re-election for a fourth-term.’

‘I can’t believe all that!’ said Theresa.

‘Can’t you?’ the Queen said in a pitying tone. ‘Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.’

Theresa laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said: ‘one can’t believe impossible things.’

‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before Brexit.

Then the Queen asked Theresa: ‘Have you seen the Mock-exam Turtle yet?’

‘No,’ said Theresa. ‘I don’t even know what a Mock-exam Turtle is.’

‘Come on, then,’ said the Queen, ‘and he shall tell you his history,’

The Mock-exam Turtle duly told his story and spoke of his education: ‘When we were little we went to school in the sea. The master was an old Turtle—we used to call him Tortoise—’

‘Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn’t one?’ Theresa asked.

‘We called him Tortoise because he taught us,’ said the Mock Turtle angrily: ‘really you are very dull!’

‘And how many hours a day did you do lessons?’ said Theresa, in a hurry to change the subject.

‘Ten hours the first day,’ said the Mock Turtle: ‘nine the next, and so on.’

‘What a curious plan!’ exclaimed Theresa.

‘That’s the reason they’re called lessons – because they lessen from day to day.’

***

1s-John_Tenniel_-_Illustration_from_The_Nursery_Alice_(1890)_-_c06544_02.jpgPresently, Theresa found herself attending the trial of the scurrilous Knave of Hearts who was accused of stealing the Arts from schools one summer day and taking them quite away, and who looked suspiciously like Nick Glibbly. Glibbly read out various items of fake-news press-releases claiming that the Arts were still flourishing and GCSE entries had increased, except of course he carefully neglected to mention that the figures he was quoting included AS levels. After Glibbly had presented his evidence the King announced that the jury should consider their verdict.

‘No, no!’ exclaimed the Queen. ‘Let’s write the front page headline of the Daily Mail first – verdict afterwards.’

‘Stuff and nonsense,’ said Theresa loudly. ‘The very idea of it. You can’t have the sentence before the verdict.’

‘Hold your tongue,’ said the Queen turning a shade of UKIP purple.

‘I won’t!’ said Theresa defiantly. But at this the Queen completely lost her temper.

‘Off with her shoes!’ she shouted furiously at the top of her voice.

But Theresa found the thought of losing her shoes so traumatic that it bought her to her senses with a jolt, and she suddenly found herself back in the garden, where her strange adventure had begun. She immediately looked down and to her great relief found her shoes were still firmly attached to her feet.

‘Ah! there you are Theresa dear!’ said her husband. ‘Why, what a long time you’ve been away!’

‘Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!’ said Theresa. ‘I had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible. Would you believe I dreamt I was Prime Minister of Wonderland?’

‘But my dear!’, said Philip kindly. ‘Don’t you remember? You are the Prime Minister of Wonderland…’

***

Christmas Day Quiz Question. How well do you know your Lewis Caroll? All the quotations and references above were based on text taken from ‘Alice in Wonderland’, except for two which were from ‘Through The Looking Glass’. But which were they?

***

With thanks to Lewis Caroll. Illustrations by Tenniel/Wikimedia

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Let’s Make Education Great Again!

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Let’s Take Back Control:

Vote for All Change Please!

In this confirmation-biased, filter-bubbled, post-truth, false-news, JAM-packed ‘breakfast-means-breakfast’ world of cyber-physical systems, social media and politics, it seems all anyone needs to do is to make a few things up and get them out into cyberspace and they become reality. So here’s All Change Please!’s contribution…

When elected, in its first 24 hours in office, All Change Please! will:

•  Double teachers’ salaries

•  Reduce teacher administrative workload by 50%

•  Reduce class sizes by 50%

•  Make taking the EBacc illegal

•  Disband Ofsted with immediate effect

•  End all League Tables

•  Ban marking

•  Disband existing awarding bodies and replace them with locally set and moderated curriculum specifications

•  Turn all Public schools into free Comprehensives

•  Invest in brand new architect-designed award-winning buildings for all schools

•  Make vocational and technical education equal to academic learning

•  Nationalise all Multi-Academy Trusts

•  Introduce 5 year training courses for all new teachers

•  Bring back free school milk

•  Fund Dancing in the Street

And, most importantly:

•  Build an impenetrable border-long wall between Education and Politicians.

•  Lock up Michael Gove

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Imagine there’s no target grades, lesson plans or end-of-term reports to write, it’s easy if you try…

 

Image credits Flickr (top): LWCV / Brad Greenlee