LearnFirst – TeachLater


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image credit: Flickr/slimjim

Nicky Morgove – In The Nick Of It


Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 14.51.00

All Change Please! has somehow managed to obtain a transcript of a new BBC spoof ‘fly on the wall’ documentary intended as a replacement for the successful political satire ‘In The Thick Of It’ series. Here’s an excerpt…

Narr: “It’s the first day of term at the DfE Free Academy. As all the staff were made redundant at the end of last term, everyone is new.”

“Ah, you must be Nick. I’m Nicky Morgove, the new Headteacher.”

“Hi Nicky, yes I’m Nick. Pleased to meet you.”

“Nick, have you seen Nick yet? He’s late, and I think we all need to meet up together.”

“Hey Nicky, it’s me Nick!”

“Ah Nick. Great. You got here in just the nick of time.”

“Yes, and sorry I may have nicked your parking space.”

“So, Nick, let me introduce you to Nick.”

“Hi Nick!”

“Gosh, what have you done to your face?”

“Ah, I nicked myself while shaving this morning. I haven’t quite got the knack yet.

“OK, let’s begin. What are your thoughts Nick?”

“Well, without appearing to take the Mickey Gove, education seems in pretty good nick to me.”

“So, that’s a tick then?”

“Oh, hold on a moment, I’ll have to take this call. It’s from Clegg. Hi Nick!”

“This is going to get confusing isn’t it, I mean with us all being called Nick?”

“Yes, I agree. But I’m not going to get my knickers in a twist about it.”

“Wait I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we come up with nick-names for each other?”

“Ok. Good idea. Well I’m in charge so I shall be Nicky, but Nick, you can be Nacky, and Nick, you can be Noo. How about that?”

“Err. Where did you get the idea for those monikers from?”

“Well according to my intern who has just looked it up on the interwebworld thingy, the original phrase was used by Ken Dodd in the 1960s and went: ‘Nick nack nick nack nicky nacky noo’.”

“Is your intern called called Nick, by any chance?”

“No, actually, he’s a Dick.”

“Ah, Nicky, I was going to say – about the GCSE English set texts. I think all students should have to read Nicholas Nickleby, don’t you?”

“Yes, that’s a great idea!. Oh, in that case I also suggest A level students should study Lemony Snicket?”

“Well that’s all good then.  And quite enough work for today. Now we’re at the DfE I think we all deserve a nice long holiday, just like the teachers get. I’m off to Nicosia. I shall probably buy lots of souvenirs – I just can’t resist those little nick-nacks. And I’m looking forward to wearing my nice new Nike trainers and going off for lots of picnics.”

“Hmm – sorry, but there’s a slight problem with that in that someone will need to be here during August to explain either why lots more students than usual have failed their exams, or why the results have been massaged to make it look like they improved as a result of Gove’s reforms.”

“Being a bit pernickety aren’t you Nick? I mean, there’s no need to panic.”

Well it’s just that Dave has said we have to be nice to teachers, not nasty, Nick.”

“Gosh, this is going to be more difficult than I expected. Anyone got a cigarette? I really need some nicotine.”

“No, sorry. Smoking makes me sick, Nick. But you can have a bite of my Snickers bar if you like.”

“There’s something else I’m a bit concerned about, Nick. How do you think teachers will react when they discover we all went to private schools?

“Well, let’s just not mention it and hope no-one notices?”

“Err, I’m afraid it seems they already have…” https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Bs7PoSCCAAAKzcc.jpg:large


You just couldn’t make it up, could you? Anyway, at this point thankfully All Change Please! realises it just can’t take it anymore and leaves the room, takes its medication and has a refreshing cup of tea and a nice quiet lie down in a darkened room.

So, finally, hands up anyone who remembers John Patten? He was another somewhat deranged and abrasive secretary of State For Education who was in office from April 1992 until he was sacked on the 20th July 1994 – exactly 20 years ago.

Oh, and an extra mark for anyone who can name Michael Gove’s predecessor, who had a wider role, the good sense to leave things much as they were, and was in post from June 2007 to May 2010?

And one Special Scholarship Extension Question for Michael Gove only – Read this news item and write an essay entitled ‘Oh, dear what can the matter be‘ in which you describe exactly how it feels like to be seen as a complete and utter failure.


Image credits: Wikipedia, Flickr, and Wikipedia and Flickr



Alas! Schools and Journos

Mel Smith, as the man who thinks he knows everything, and Griff Rhys Jones, as the man who knows he knows nothing, discuss new TV technologies in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, some 30 years later, they are discussing education…

Smith: You know something?

Jones: No, I can’t say that I do really.

Well you know what a terrible mess all our schools are in and how apparently Mr Gove is sorting them out and making them better again.

Oh, is he then?

Yes. I mean ever since the 1960s kids have been just running round doing exactly as they please in the classroom, and no-one ever tells them off or gets them to learn anything. And apparently it’s all been the fault of this ass Neil chap who opened this school called Summerfield.

Oh, was it one of these schools sponsored by a supermarket then?

Yes, that’s it. Anyway apparently at this school all the children went around naked, smoking and drinking, taking drugs and having sex with their teachers. And of course the teachers all realised they were on to a jolly good thing, and so that’s what our schools have been like ever since.

That’s a bit odd. I mean I attended a comprehensive school in the 1970s and it wasn’t at all like that. The teachers were pretty strict and pushed us hard to pass our O levels and CSEs. And my children were at similar schools in the 1990s, and they all wore a school uniform and were expected to do what they were told.

Well I expect you were at a special school of some sort. Well, anyway that’s what it says in the Daily Mail, and they wouldn’t print it if it wasn’t true would they?


No, I suppose not.

Anyway this Gove chap is trying to make sure that in the future all children have an e-Back

What’s that then?

Well, it’s obvious isn’t it. It’s a clever electronic device that you wear and it straightens your back and stops you from slouching around.

Oh. Right.

Look if you don’t believe me, here’s an article in the Guardian, now they certainly wouldn’t print anything that’s not true would they? According to this Nick Glib, it’s not so much the teacher’s fault, it’s all to do with this secret organisation called The Blob. They believe they come from outer space and are devout followers of this ass Neil. And what they’ve done is secretly taken over all the teacher-training colleges where they just tell new teachers to let the kids do whatever they want.

Is that so? Again that all sounds a bit strange because my daughter has just finished her teacher training course and she says it was all about things like your subject knowledge, how to plan and prepare lessons, manage classes, and use IT.

Well, perhaps she was a bit confused, because that’s not what is says here, is it? Look, here’s some more in the Telegraph. Apparently teachers don’t bother teaching children from poor backgrounds because they are going to be failures anyway. And the proof is that while there are more poor children in places like China and South Korea they still do better than us in the Pizza tests.

Are these tests something they do in their Home Economics lessons, then?

Don’t be daft. No-one does Home Economics anymore.  No, they do them in their Food Technology lessons.

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

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

You don’t think that all this stuff the journalists write in the papers isn’t really news at all but just right-wing capitalist political propaganda, do you?

Good lord, no. I mean no-one would buy them if it was, would they?




There’s No Supporting Truss

10be4873-12a7-8222-9dd2-048b1da0f96a-2“Err…  Is this the place where I can exchange our existing education policy for a new one?”

Truss…No Support. Get it? No? Oh well, please yourselves then. As All Change Please! sadly and uncontrollably weeps at the lack of academic rigour of its latest blog post title, it suddenly realises that now it will have to write something about Elizabeth Truss, Education and Childcare Minister. But, by an amazing co-incidence, All Change Please! learns that she recently made a speech in Oxford about social mobility, the economy and education reform. So that should be good for a few laughs and revealing responses, as was the case with Little Diss Trust

If you are desperate you can read the full text here. But to save you the bother, here are a few choice extracts, together with some of the alleged text it is believed got deleted at the very last moment.

Truss: Until we agree that doing well is an unequivocally good thing – and that it is attainable by all – we will continue to waste talent. So – let’s make 2014 the year we abandon the limiting beliefs holding us back, and help our country to rise.

I repeatedly hear in the education debate some children are just ‘non-academic’. What does ‘non-academic’ even mean? It’s certainly true that some disciplines like maths or reading come easier to some than others. But the vast majority of people can master them – just as all students can benefit from vocational skills, too. Yet there’s this idea that some pupils are ‘not academic’.

Well, I’m just hoping and praying that someone doesn’t get round to asking me what ‘academic’ actually means, let alone ‘non-academic’. Of course if they did ask I would just have to find another way of avoiding the explanation that an academic education is essentially a highly theoretical one, and only involves the development of a very limited range of the repertoire of skills we actually need in life. It tends to focus on studies of what people have thought and done in the past and why, and on gaining a largely non-practical understanding of the natural world works, and all tested and accredited through written knowledge recall. This differs from vocational and life education which has a primary focus on preparation for the workplace and everyday living. Not a lot of people know that, and neither did I until someone explained it to me the other day.

Oh dear, this all just goes to show that my own highly academic education, which culminated in me doing Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford, has left me with a very narrow view of what the working world and real life is really like. Anyway, to explain it as simply as possible to the great mass of uneducated plebs – oops, perhaps I better not say that in public – that we need to get to vote for us, I’m pitching it to suggest that by definition ‘academic’ means something that is very difficult and demanding, while worthless ‘vocational’ skills are easy-peasy to acquire and require no effort. Which is all a lot of nonsense really if you think about it.

Can you imagine if we took the same attitude to driving? If we labelled people as ‘non-drivers’ because they found it difficult, the first few times they got behind the wheel? It would be nonsense: most people manage to pass their test eventually. It took me 3 goes. I understand it took my boss 7. But he decided he needed to be able to drive and he practiced hard and got on with it. We need the same attitude towards academic attainment – particularly in maths, where the more you practice, the better you get and the more you will earn in your future career. Just as we would never say only a handful of people have the innate ability to learn to drive, we should find it unacceptable to say maths is just for a talented few.

Did you see what I did there? I misleadingly compared academic learning with driving, which is of course a practical, entirely non-academic skill. And one that you are tested in when you think you are ready and not on a single, one-shot fixed date in early summer when you’ll be suffering really badly from hay-fever. Meanwhile, what I’m really saying here is that for the academically able, they will continue to find getting to University easy, and everyone else will all just have to work a jolly lot harder in order to do so and feel even more of a failure than they already do.

Meanwhile the key phrase I used, in case you didn’t notice, was that my boss ‘decided he needed to be able to’ drive. I’m therefore completely ignoring the fact that, unlike the practical and extremely useful skill of driving, most children quite rightly don’t recognise and accept the fact that they need to struggle against the odds to gain purely theoretical qualifications that probably won’t get them a job. And naturally I won’t be one of the lucky teachers who ends up working in deprived city-centre estate schools trying to get the children to sit still and listen while I try and fail to convince them otherwise.

In the 21st century and beyond, skills pay the bills. And even more so in the future. The new economies are growing. There are more consumers today in more countries across the globe than at any other point in history. And at the same time, technology is transforming industry after industry – creating new ways of making, earning and learning.

Tee-hee, ‘Skills pay the bills’ – that’s a clever catch-phrase that one of DfES interns came up with for me, isn’t it? Perhaps sometime he could explain the logic of this to me, again just in case someone ever asks. Surely the new highly theoretical academic curriculum we are promoting means that even fewer children than ever will acquire any practical, technical or creative skills, and it contains no business education whatsoever (despite the latter being the most popular university degree subject). So that means that they’ll actually have less skills to pay the bills? I don’t get it, do you?

We need to believe that if England started producing vast numbers of nuclear engineers or top-flight mathematicians – more of the world’s leading companies would want to headquarter here. But we need to go even further. We can be the enterprise capital of Europe. And we can combine the commercial flair which has always been one of Britain’s strengths with advanced science, maths and technology. Napoleon called us a nation of shopkeepers. Why can’t we be a nation of coders, analysts, inventors, entrepreneurs, creators as well – selling our skills to the world?

Well there’s an obvious answer to that last question isn’t there? The reason why we can’t be a nation of all those things is called Michael Gove. But don’t tell anyone I said that.

This optimistic vision is ambitious. And our ambition must be to out-educate the rest of the world. And everything we’re doing aims to make sure that high-quality schooling – an excellent academic education – is seen as a universal necessity, not an option for the few. History will provide a more meaningful, chronological immersion in the past. Geography will include more specific knowledge of people and places. Design and technology will expose children to the most exciting new technologies – while computing will give them the technical ability to innovate and create in a digital world.

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

Or our reforms to improve the quality of teaching – expanding programmes like Teach First, so that top graduates from the best universities are working with more children than ever before.

Note to self: get ‘Tough Young Teachers‘ taken off the air immediately. It’s all very worthy of course but, I mean, we don’t want prospective graduates realising that teaching is not just about long holidays and preparing able students for entry to Oxbridge, do we?

Every reform is based on this idea: giving every child, no matter where they live or what their parents do, the sort of high-quality, rigorous, rounded education previously reserved only for the few. Our ambition must not just be to catch up with Germany and Poland but to overtake them. Not just to learn from the Asian tigers but to surpass them – do it better, smarter, more creatively. Take our fantastic cultural heritage and combine it with the most advanced computing and science. Our ambition must be to out-educate the rest of the world. We are very aware that this is not an overnight job. The Secretary of State has been clear it is a decade-long project – which then must be built on.

Oh God, another six years more in this job and then, just like the dreadful tower-blocks of the 1960s that no-one ever wanted, everything we’ve done will have to be quickly demolished and replaced by something far more sympathetic to the way in which real people want to live and learn. Sometimes I wonder why I bother?

Now All Change Please! isn’t one to gossip, but did you know that apparently Ms Truss’s father is a left-wing professor in mathematical logic, and refused to campaign for her? And that allegedly in 2009 she nearly got de-selected when it emerged that in 2005 she had allegedly been having an affair with a married, allegedly Tory MP? Well, that’s if you believe anything you allegedly read in The Sunday Times anyway.

And finally, if Ms Truss becomes a wealthy woman as a result of her parliamentary career, will she set up a Truss Fund for her two children?

PISA Takeaways

P1050498-1Does Pisa lean too far to the left or right?

Well, the question of whether the leaning tower of Pisa leans more to the left or right very much depends, of course, on which side of it you are standing. At the same time, if you happen yourself to be leaning either left or right, then it appears to be perfectly upright and proper.

What’s that you say? Oh. Not that sort of Pisa?

(At this point All Change Please! does a quick double-take in the hope that no-one will notice its mistake and think it as stupid as a child from, say, Peru – the country that came at the bottom of the table and was consequently relegated from existence – a position that doubtless England will occupy in three years time after the 2016 PISA World Cup?)

Ah, you mean the PISA that’s been widely reported in the media over the past week in which the right-leaning Gove blamed the left-leaning Labour for the poor results and they then both blamed schools, teachers and pupils in such a way that it didn’t really make a jot of difference to anybody, anywhere?  Yes, well, All Change Please! was just coming to that sort of PISA.

The question about these PISA tests that no-one seems to be bothering to ask, let alone answer, is what exactly is it about them that English children find so difficult? Looking at these examples of test questions:


they actually appear to be quite easy-PISA? And while All Change Please! doesn’t know the answer to the problem of why England does so badly, it just might have a theory…

Which is that at secondary level, a teacher is usually appointed to a school because of their subject expertise and academic ability (acquired at University), and they are then labelled, for example, as a History Teacher. They will be largely judged on the success of their pupils obtaining History GCSE and A level results and the number who then go on to University to study History or a related subject. So they then stand in front of their Year 7 (and upwards) class and think that, as the chances are that one or two of their future high-flyers might be sitting in front of them, they had better start preparing them now, just in case. And as a result they approach their lessons through the delivery of a deep, conceptual academic / theoretical understanding as if all the pupils were going to end up become life-long historians. And it’s the same for English and Maths. Instead of concentrating on reinforcing basic literacy and numeracy first, children are being prepared to be (failed) creative writers, literary critics and mathematical geniuses.

So perhaps the problem is that the PISA questions all come with a friendly photo and are placed in a recognisable everyday practical problem-solving context, something our children are ill-prepared for. But ask them instead to:

‘…generate theoretical sample spaces for single and combined events with equally likely, mutually exclusive outcomes; use these to calculate theoretical probabilities; and know that the probabilities of an exhaustive set of mutually exclusive outcomes sum to one.’  (New National Curriculum KS3)

and presumably they’d be well away?

Of course there are other theories too, such as the fact that our exam-fixated students doubtless ask if the PISA test will count towards their GCSE grade, and on learning that it won’t, then treat it with the utter contempt such a waste of their time deserves. Or perhaps they have read PISA-topping Singapore’s Minister of Education, Heng Swee Keat, recent speech in which he sets out the need for a new push towards ‘a more multi-dimensional education that goes beyond academics.’ before going on to say:

‘…time spent doing more drill-and-test means less time for play and rest, for exploring new ideas, for developing social skills. A balance is necessary, but there is no magic formula as to what the right balance is because every child is different.’

and then announcing that he is looking for ways to transform learning so that students are independent thinkers and resourceful learners with a can-do attitude, and ‘to make learning a more joyful journey‘!

Which all sounds exactly like the sort of namby-pamby nonsense the UK Government and the media will do its best to undermine in order to ensure that the exclusive all-inclusive English education system will continue to support the natural right of the social elite to dominate the higher levels of educational attainment.

And then there is of course another point of view entirely:


Which at least manages to see the situation from an alternative perspective, as opposed to the unquestioned assumption that improving our performance in PISA tests is the best way forward for our education system: OECD education report: UK needs new ‘gold standard’ to compete with world’s best

And with that in mind, it remains to be seen whether in three years time Gove will come to be acclaimed as the rightful PISA delivery man…

With thanks to Rob B.

A double McSpin and large McLies please…


In what seems like a long time ago, while All Change Please! was recently enjoying itself in a galaxy far, far away, Stephen Twigg, the Labour Shadow Education Minister, was replaced by Tristram (no relation) Hunt. So, billed as a more demanding opponent for Michael Gove, how does he appear to be shaping up?

All Change Please! has to admit its initial impressions were not particularly favourable. In a just a few short weeks he has had to agree that Free Schools would remain open under a Labour Government, and on Newsnight he failed the Old Grey ‘Will you be sending your children to a state school?’ Test question. And it didn’t seem that someone who writes (admittedly in an article in the Economist): “It is perhaps time to think more imaginatively about precisely which equities are sacrosanct and which diversities are worth of encouragement” was going to get him very far with Daily Mail and Sun readers.

And then the other day in the Evening Standard, he said“you now need more qualifications to work as a shift manager at McDonald’s than to become a teacher.”  This, of course is misleading nonsense, especially when the headlines reported it out of the context of his more general and apposite message that McDonalds insist on training while Gove does not.

Of course the whole teacher qualification issue is mainly political/media spin. All Change Please! has yet to see any figures as to the number of unqualified teachers who have been employed in schools the last 12 months as an alternative to a suitably qualified one. And surely those that have been are likely to have better qualifications – even if not as a teacher – than a single A level in Shift Management?

From Gove’s perspective, the ‘no qualifications’ agenda is really to do with him wanting to close all these radical left-wing Marxist teacher training colleges that exist everywhere. So it’s a sort of ethnic cleansing to recruit a population of teachers who will never have been exposed to all this progressive education nonsense. But the problem is, as is revealed here, having Taught First, it seems that all these highly qualified young new graduates are now looking for softer jobs that have shorter working hours and more pay!

But hold on a cotton pickin’ moment. It then dawned on All Change Please! that Tristram (no relation) Hunt is actually cleverly playing Gove at his own game, presenting a misleading statistic or piece of inappropriate or non-existent evidence to encourage influential newspapers to report it in such a way that the public are fast-fed a simple, memorable so-called fact. And that’s exactly what’s needed to start to change public opinion.

Please Mr Hunt, we need more sound-bites like this. Indeed we need super-sized portions of them. Somehow you need to make a Happy Meal out of Mr Gove.

The trouble is that these days every time a politician from any party says or writes anything, all they do is reveal the extent of their ignorance of what actually goes on in real life.

Meanwhile, on the same subject, this from Mark Steel writing in The Independent is well worth a read!

Of course you don’t need qualified teachers in free schools. Or qualified brain surgeons, for that matter

Image credit: Sergio Alcántara  http://www.flickr.com/photos/sergiooaf/2921745031

Does he take Sugata with that?


The Daily Torygraph recently published an article provocatively headed “Lessons in spelling ‘have no place in 21st century schools’, reporting an interview with the controversial Sugata Mitra in the TES in which he suggested:

“This emphasis on grammar and spelling, I find it a bit unnecessary because they are skills that were very essential maybe a hundred years ago but they are not right now. Should [students] learn how to write good sentences? Yes, of course they should. They should learn how to convey emotion and meaning through writing. But we have perhaps a mistaken notion that the way in which we write is the right way and that the way in which young people write through their SMS texting language is not the right way. If there is a generation who believe that SMS language is a better way of expressing emotion than our way, then are we absolutely sure that they are making a mistake and we are not?”

The article then included a rather pointless online ‘vote’.

Screen shot 2013-08-03 at 22.31.26

in which of course 97% agreed with statement a, because statement b is absurd, and not what is being suggested in the first place.

However, at the same time perhaps we need to revisit the whole idea of teaching and learning spelling and grammar in the same way as we do knowledge. We need to acknowledge ‘texting’ as a genuine and popular form of communication with its own conventions and rules. While children probably learn these quickly and independently, perhaps some could do with being taught how to improve their texting? There are two possibilities: either texters make mistakes that leads to confusion, or they don’t. If the former, that justifies the need for teaching them to improve, if the latter, perhaps we should all start to use texting as being a more efficient means of communication?

All Change Please!‘s very smart new smart phone seems to take predictive text one stage further. It not only provides suggestions for the word being writing before it has been completely typed, but also, when as the next word is started it often spookily manages to predicting what word is coming next. So, soon such devices might present us with complete predictive phrases or even sentences? Or even paragraphs? Perhaps in the future most people will simply select from pre-written paragraph templates, aided by artificial intelligence?

Meanwhile perhaps we need to ask our teenagers themselves for their views on what aspects of spelling and grammar they feel are important to learn? “Does he take spelling with that?”

More recently has been the case of Apprentice finalist, runner-up and star Luisa Zissman, who has attracted much criticism and scorn for tweeting…

“Can you all help me out as I’m crap at grammar. Is it bakers toolkit or baker’s toolkit with an apostrophe?!”

before adding:

“I like the look of bakers. Would it be terrible to stick with bakers?”

So maybe how a word looks is now important than whether it is grammatically correct? And indeed from a commercial branding perspective, that’s fair enough – after all we don’t, for example, question why there are no apostrophes in Morrisons or Boots.  And it seems the last laugh here is on the media, because, All Change Please! has been very reliably informed…

‘Bakers Toolkit’ IS acceptable – it’s called appositional agreement, where you link two words together by proximity, the commonest example being ‘car park’. Nobody thinks of writing ‘cars’ park’, even though that would make perfect sense. Actually, of the three alternatives, ‘Baker’s Toolkit’, ‘Bakers’ Toolkit’ and ‘Bakers Toolkit’, the one I like least is the second, since it implies a toolkit for a certain identifiable number of actual bakers, which isn’t the point.’

Though interestingly, when challenged, the Daily Telegraph didn’t seem to want to know about this, and maintained its stance that Bakers should have an apostrophe as there was more than one Baker.

But the final words must surely go to The Daily Mash for this report that clearly explains exactly how truly amazing All Change Please! and its merry band of old-fashioned pedantic followers really are…


Image credit:   Flickr:Didi

Big School, Little Humour


The chances are that at some point you have watched Little Britain, or David Walliams and Matt Lucas in Come Fly With Me  – hilarious send-ups of life in Britain built on closely observed stereotypes, provoking fun at the current politically correct and socially acceptable behaviour.

So perhaps like All Change Please! you also tuned in (well, pressed the button on the remote as we tend to do these days) to watch Big School (Friday, BBC 1 9pm), Walliams’ latest comedic contribution to our understanding of the way we live now. If you were fortunate enough to miss it, it features Walliams as a love-struck science teacher, Catherine Tate as the object of his affections, and Philip Glennister as a brutish and sex-struck PE teacher.

Not so funny now it’s the world of education being satirised is it? Well, that was entirely the problem – it just wasn’t funny at all, and without a laughter track to hint at what was supposed to be a joke and what was serious, it was hard to tell which was which. If anything ever deserved a ‘U’, Big School certainly does. Walliams, Tate and Glennister are all fine actors. It’s difficult to imagine how they agreed to take part in this show.

Therefore if you’ve not seen it, don’t bother. And if you know someone who has, please tell them that schools are nothing like that whatsoever – and that’s the problem in that it’s yet another completely inaccurate and misleading prime-time media representation of what goes on in our schools. If it didn’t know any better, here’s what All Change Please! would have learnt from the first episode…

•  Children leave a lesson immediately the bell goes, not when dismissed.

•  Staff rooms are silent places, where everyone just sits calmly and quietly, except for the more vocal members of staff who address everyone.

•  Schools have no more than about a dozen staff, and a hundred or so older pupils.

•  Pupils heckle from the audience during assembly, and their comments can be supported by a member of staff who can then publicly challenge another member of staff to respond.

•  Children are allowed to use their mobile phones while in detention and can leave when they like.

•  There are no computers in schools.

•  French teachers have never been to France.

•  Headteachers smoke in their offices and are alcoholics.

•  There is no senior management team in schools, let alone any concern that Ofsted will be in shortly to place the school into Special Measures before converting it into an Academy.

But what’s even more extraordinary is this review from the Daily Mail:

Well, being from the Daily Mail, perhaps it’s not that extraordinary. However, The Mail Says:

..it’s a scene that would fit neatly into Carry On Teacher, the black-and-white 1959 movie with Ted Ray and Leslie Phillips. If we were expecting old-fashioned comedy, we’re certainly getting it. The traditional approach brings benefits. There’s no wobbly handheld camera work, no improvised dialogue, no barrage of foul language, no filthy single entendres.

In response, All Change Please! Says:

There is absolutely no comparison here to the ‘Carry On’ films, which were full of daring innuendo, slapstick and grossly exaggerated but somehow believable characters, or to classic ‘old-fashioned comedy’ that at least had well-written and funny scripts. Indeed just about everything that Big School failed to have, except for a quite explicit single entendre that the Mail somehow seemed to miss.

From St Trinians to Teachers and Whack-O to Waterloo Road, Big School follows an impressive lineage of books, films and TV series set in schools, as discussed in this article, Big School: what education dramas tell us about ourselves. To a greater or lesser degree they all portray a distorted view of what goes on in our schools, but somehow this can be usually overlooked and forgiven because they are well-constructed and genuinely amusing and/or dramatic.

Big School is so out-dated, misinformed and irrelevant it’s almost as if Mr Gove had written the script himself…

The Master Plan


Once again All Change Please! has been privileged to receive a classified transcript of a discussion that took place a couple of months ago between Yes Minister’s Sir Humphrey Appleby and The Thick of It’s Malcolm Tucker

Sir Humphrey: Ah! Malcolm, good to see you again. Tell me how is your education minister getting on? Has he come up with any more daft new schemes recently?

Malcolm Tucker:  I can’t imagine how things could get any worse. How on earth am I going to put a positive spin on the fact that he’s well and truly f***** up teacher recruitment and there is about to be a national shortage of Primary teachers and Secondary Maths and Science teachers? There may be a silent g in gnat, but there’s soon going to be no f in physics if we don’t train some more teachers pretty quickly. Not to mention the teachers’ strikes due next term, and the fuss over the reform of A levels. I just wish he’d never been born…

SH:  Well, funny you should say that – I had been thinking, wouldn’t it be good if someone could go back in time, and, how should I put it, ensure that Michael Gove never got into politics in the first place?

MT:  You mean like in Doctor Who with his TARDIS thing, with some attractive young actress out of Eastenders?1S-4620692821_c87a4a9805_b

SH:  Precisely. And I’ve heard on the grapevine that they will soon be looking for a new Doctor Who, and I thought perhaps you should apply for the job, and then go back in time and encourage Gove to follow a completely different career?

MT:  That’s a f****** amazing idea. You’re the Master, Sir Humphrey.

SH:  Yes. Indeed. Probably more so than you will ever realise. Well off you go then – you’ve an audition to attend.

Malcolm Tucker exists only to return in what seems no time at all.

SH:  Ah Malcolm, that was quick. So did you get the part?

MT:  Not only did I get the part, but I’ve been travelling back and forth through time and space for several years now. And I did a deal with some old acquaintances that should have fixed that Michael Gove good and proper.

SH:  Michael Gove? Who’s he? I don’t think I’ve heard of him? Oh yes, wait a minute isn’t he that second rate film actor from the mid 1990s?

MT: Errr. Yes, of course. Never mind about him then. So tell me, how’s the current education minister doing?

SH:  Ah, you mean Michael Davros? I thought the whole idea was that you were going to do something about him? 1W-3529853025_8dce16af56_bHe’s worse than terrible. First he instigated a new DALEK inspection team, which might have worked well, only they would insist on completely exterminating failing schools.  Unfortunately that included the children, and most of the parents were none too pleased about that. And then when he announced he was going to bring in migrants to teach maths and science, Cybermanwe didn’t realise that he intended to recruit the Cybermen. You can imagine the reaction when an army of robots marched in through the school gates!

MT: Holy c***. Sounds like I really f***** up. Jesus Christ, what an almighty omnishables.  Just a minute – I think I feel a regeneration coming on. That’s a stroke of luck. Fancy being my new companion Sir Humphrey?

SH:  No, Doctor…. Tempus Fugit, as no one says anymore.

MT: Now where did I leave the TARDIS? Oh yes, somewhere on Earls Court Road I think…



Up in the Loft


Today the idea is that we are supposed to store all our past in the ‘Cloud’, an invisible, electronic space full of ones and zeros where one day we will be able to rummage about and come across long-forgotten digital files. Apart from the fact that this process is dust-free, it isn’t really anything particularly new as Guest Post writer Alan Jones recently discovered when he bravely ventured up into his loft and found some interesting newspaper cuttings from a time long past – before schools even had computers, let alone a National Curriculum.

“Clearing out the loft is not something I would recommend as a leisure activity. It’s very dirty up there, stuff covered with the dust of human skin shed a long time ago. But it’s the rather different dust of human responses long since forgotten that I want to share with you today.

Whilst recently carrying out the activity unrecommended above, I came across the notes from my teacher training course, some thirty-six years ago. Resisting the urge to pyromania that nearly overwhelmed me, I leafed through the yellowing sheets of lined A4, with their mind-anaesthetising scribblings about the History of Education, only to find, pressed between the Victorian monitor system and the 1944 Education Act, as it were, two shockingly illuminating newspaper cuttings from the 1970s.

The cuttings were from The Guardian and dated Wednesday, October 13th, 1976. They were part of the front page and a torn-out section of the editorial. The front page leader issued the warning: State ‘Must Step Into Schools’, and David Hencke’s report went on to describe the contents of a leaked memorandum sent, apparently, from the Department of Education and Science to the then Labour Prime Minister, ‘Big Jim’ Callaghan. The two Guardian pieces sit in a fascinating period of change in the UK education system, coming as they do at the very moment decisions were being made about writing a national curriculum for England, formulating a new examination system to replace GCE and CSE and giving the inspectorate more teeth.

It’s worth summarising what the paper tells us about the contents of this memorandum. It begins with typically journalistic sensationalism. The leaked document, it suggests, signals a policy that ‘at a stroke would end 100 years of non-interference in state education’ and Hencke goes on to tell his readers that,

‘Its 63 pages constitute a severe indictment of the failure of secondary schools to produce enough scientists and engineers and the memorandum calls for drastic measures to change the attitude of children entering schools, and for much tighter control by inspectors of the education system.’

‘The time may be ripe,’ the memorandum is reported as saying, ‘in the face of hard and irreducible economic facts, for major changes in the curriculum of all secondary schools, ending the traditional rights of teachers to control the curriculum.’ Schools, it suggests, are becoming “too easy-going and demanding too little work” and quotes employers as saying that “school-leavers cannot express themselves clearly and lack the basic mathematical skills of manipulation and calculation and hence the basic knowledge to benefit from technical training.”’

Pupil options at the age of 13 and 14, the memorandum goes on, sometimes result in the choice of “unbalanced or not particularly profitable curricula” or of pupils opting in numbers “insufficient for the country’s needs for scientific and technological subjects.”

In the Primary sector, whilst the memorandum apparently found time to praise some schools and teachers, it warned that ‘less able teachers are not able to cope with modern methods and….there may be a need to correct the balance and return to more formal methods.’

Darkly, the memorandum seemingly went on to assert that ‘the Inspectorate would have a leading role to play in bringing forward ideas and is ready to fulfil that responsibility’ through what are described as ‘enhanced powers’ that would sit alongside examination reform, a ‘reconstruction’ of teacher training courses and an almost machiavellian promise to ‘fund promising developments which could be crucial to the promotion of its ideas’.

But, the article stresses, ‘the central theme….is to argue for a return to an agreed “core curriculum” in secondary schools which….should be introduced to ensure improved standards.’

Now, it scarcely needs me to draw the parallels here between the Callaghan government’s plans for targeting what it saw as weaknesses in the education system back in1976 and the current analysis of, and plans for wholesale change to, the current system:  schools are failing, students/pupils are not being challenged enough, industry is complaining about the skills of school-leavers and the kids are choosing the wrong stuff when they’re given the choice. The proposed solutions also seem alarmingly familiar: we need to get back to basics in primaries, sort out the radicals in the teacher training colleges, enforce a solid core curriculum and, whatever else we do, make sure the presentation is spot-on.

Sitting up in the loft, torch illuminating the fragile print from 1976, I was moved to ask myself two questions:

Is the similarity here proof, in fact, that education policy is formulated, actually, not by radical, barnstorming, sweep-it-all-clean politicians, but by civil servants, most of whom were/are pleased to avoid sullying themselves with the pre- and post-adolescent school learning environment but were/are prey to all the prejudices and unsubstantiated opinions of the expensively educated?

How radical is Michael Gove, really? He claims to read a lot of stuff that he only half understands and then to act on it, but has he, in fact, merely swallowed wholesale the same ideas still churning around the education department – make kids work harder, take control of the basic curriculum, reform the exam system so that it’s accountable and reliable, inspect schools until their pips squeak and deliver it all in flash, upbeat presentations.


And what of The Guardian’s view of the proposals leaked to it in 1976? This may surprise you – from the editorial of Wednesday, October 13th of that year, it would seem that its support for the proposed changes was more-or-less unquestioning. Its inside-page piece, ‘The core of our problem in schools’, begins with an ironic tone that makes little attempt to hide its contempt for teachers:

‘Shudders will be seismically recorded in many teachers’ common rooms today in response to David Hencke’s exclusive report….of a confidential Government plan to introduce a national curriculum for schools. Is nothing sacred?’

If you’re a Guardian reader and somewhat shocked by this tone, you will be even more surprised by what follows:

‘Like doctors, teachers too have become increasingly committed to professional independence. But just as the clinical independence of doctors is eventually going to have to be reduced – so too is the far more recent professional independence of teachers. Only the naïve believe teachers can be left to teach, administrators to administer, and managers to manage.’

Limit the professional independence of doctors and teachers and suggest that trained, well-qualified people cannot be trusted to carry out their role effectively? Is this really The Guardian speaking?

The editorial, far from softening its tone in the last paragraph, warms to its theme, suggesting that,

‘in a school week of 35 periods, there could be a requirement that 20 out of the 35 periods are reserved for core subjects. If, as expected, the Prime Minister reveals the plan at this speech at Ruskin College, Oxford, next week, all manner of parrot cries can be expected. Clearly the teachers will be making the loudest protests. They should be reminded that we already have “state control” over the primary school curriculum.’

This is pure Gove, isn’t it? This is E-bacc, go-to-war-with-the-teachers, get out of the profession if you don’t like it stuff.

Plus ca change. Yes – but hearing pre-echoes of Gove in a Guardian editorial is scary. Time to climb down out of the loft, methinks.”