Playing The GCSE Numbers Racket

The numbers racket is a form of illegal gambling or lottery played mostly in poor and working class neighbourhoods. The punter attempts to pick three digits to match those that will be randomly drawn the following day from sources such as horse races, the stock market, or perhaps even… the new GCSE numbered grading system that now goes from 9 to 1 instead of 1 to 9?

Senior citizen Joe Blogs today celebrated his grandson’s success with his GCSE grades. “He achieved eight grade 1’s!” he boasted to disbelieving friends at the local pub.

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

When I took my exams back in the 1960s I only managed a couple of grade 3’s and a bunch of 5’s. I expect next he’ll be applying to Oxbridge, wherever that is – I’ve never been able to find it on any map. I can’t see him joining this Russell Pop Group thing though because he’s got no musical ability whatsoever.

Apparently he also won’t now need to bother with these daft new Tea-levels. I mean, I know we’re a nation of tea drinkers, but I can’t see why we need a qualification in it. Instead I’ve been told he’ll become a ‘neat’ – whatever that means – but we’ve always insisted he must be smart and tidy at all times, so I would have thought he would be one already.

It’s all thanks to that nice Mr Gove and that Glibbering idiot assistant of his. Without them I’m sure my grandson would have failed all his GCSEs. It’s just a shame he didn’t get to take any practical arts or technical subjects though. At least they might have helped him get a job.”

Meanwhile Emily Posh’s grandmother was in tears:

“We paid all that money to send her to an exclusive private school, and all she got was a string of 9’s. What use is that? In my day, with results like those we’d be lucky to end up as a washroom assistant cleaning toilets.”

However Joe Blog’s grandson and Emily Posh join an increasing list of youngsters now successfully applying to join companies where the human resource managers don’t yet understand how the new GCSE grading system works. Fred Post of ACP Recruitment Ltd commented:

“It’s all a bit confusing, but to be honest we’re not particularly bothered what grades applicants get at GCSE – I mean the last thing we want is someone with academic qualifications coming in and lecturing us on the theory of business management. Not spilling my tea as they bring it to my desk is probably the most important thing I look for in a school-leaver. So, as you can imagine, these new Tea-level qualifications are going to be really helpful.”

A spokesperson for Ofqual stated that changing the GCSE letter grades for numbers in the reverse order “confusing be not would”, and that the easy way to understand them was “734829 549 3355”.

Joe Blog’s grandson’s school was contacted for comment but it was explained that the Multi Academy Trust’s Senior Management Team were currently unavailable as they were all on holiday high as kites on the school’s luxury yacht in the Med.

Now that’s what All Change Please! calls successfully running the numbers racket…

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…

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

All that glisters…

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After many years of hard slog, a group of students celebrate winning A level Gold, before coming down with a bump when they discover how much taking a degree is going to cost and deciding not to bother.

As the UK basks in its outstanding performance in the GCSE and A level Examination Games, in which 27 of its heroic students won top academic Gold medals and are given a golden bus-top parade through the golden streets of London, politicians have been quick to point out that all we need to do is show the same approach to Brexit and everything will be wonderful again, just as it wasn’t in the 1950s.

As a result, the Df-ingE are planning to introduce a new socially inclusive policy initiative in which a small number of young students with exactly the right academic capabilities will be painstakingly selected, and millions of pounds – cleverly extracted from the poor through lottery funding – will be allocated to their education to ensure that they achieve full marks in each of the subjects they take at GCSE and A level, before proceeding to a top private school and Oxbridge and receiving an OBE or Knighthood. As a result we will gain a handful of highly educated individuals who might just possibly be clever enough to sort the whole EuroMess out for us, while the rest of the population make do with a quick jog round the block before breakfast in a half-hearted attempt to pass a few GCSEs.

Meanwhile the running, jumping and standing-still Olympic Games Committee were recently sitting down discussing the problem that some countries were gaming the system to improve their medal table position by focusing on easier-to-win Bronze medals. They are therefore introducing a new method called Progress 8 and Attainment 8 in which athletes will be awarded medals on the progress they have made in 8 events since the last Olympic Games, four years previously. The various events will be placed in a number of so-called buckets, with the main Running events bucket worth double, the Jumping bucket, and the three best standards achieved in the Standing-still bucket. The results will be converted to points and then for some reason divided by ten, and that average is an athlete’s final Attainment 8 score. Officials will run regular tests to ensure there are no holes in any of the buckets, especially the Russian’s.

A competitor’s Progress 8 score is derived by comparing their forecast Attainment 8 score – based on the results achieved by athletes with the same prior attainment at the previous Olympics – to their Attainment 8 score. Countries will be expected to achieve the minimum running track standard of -0.5 which indicates the athlete’s average achievement is a half a medal below the average of other countries with the same expected progress. Confused? You will be…

A spokesrunner for the Olympic Committee explained: “Apparently this will make it a lot easier to identity which countries are performing well at the Games, although it might be a little while before the general public manages to understand how the new system works. To be honest I’m not quite sure I grasp it myself.  Oh, and we’re now calling them baskets instead of buckets, because that sounds more friendly and makes you think of summer picnics, doesn’t it? Meanwhile I can also announce that in a further bid to increase standards, it has also been decided in future the 100, 200 and 400 meters will be extended to a more rigorous 110, 220 and 440 metres.

Unbelievable… You couldn’t make it up – or could you?

Image credit: Flickr/Vlad

Emergency-Classroom 10

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All Change Please! recently found itself spending some time in the A&E department of a major regional hospital. The scene was chaotic – ambulances queuing up outside and a constant stream of patients being wheeled in on trolleys and parked two abreast in corridors as the hours ticked slowly and painfully by until their condition could be diagnosed and a place found for them on the wards. The clue is in the name: Emergency, but unless you had a life threatening condition it was more a department of Accident & Waiting. The nurses and carers were attentive, patient and dedicated, though how they can work in such a stressful environment shift after shift is a mystery. And, it being early in the morning, there weren’t even any drunks to deal with.

The scene will of course be a familiar one to anybody who has visited an A&E department, as this confirms:  Portsmouth ambulances late to two life-threatening incidents, says report.  While this one is even more shocking.

All Change Please! has to admit that whatever the current crisis is in schools in terms of forthcoming teacher-shortages, stressful SATS and the inappropriate EBacc, it pales into insignificance when compared with the current battlefield conditions in our NHS A&E departments. Just as it’s easy to blame the teachers, so it’s easy to blame the medical staff, but the real problem is essentially severe overcrowding and under-staffing – two immediate and very practical administrative and financial problems that someone somewhere should be sorting out as a major priority. As a civilised, wealthy country our citizens we shouldn’t be experiencing something no better than a Third World A&E service. Especially as by 2030, demand for A&E services is expected to rise by 57%.

Why do we allow this to happen in our most important public service? Provided we have food, warmth and shelter, our next priority is our health, followed by our security and education for our children. So why do we prioritise our desire for over-sized cars, luxury kitchen extensions and long-haul holiday travel at the expense of the dwindling provision for healthcare, the police force and schools? It just doesn’t make any sense. Why do we allow our elderly and long-term sick to suffer the way we do – especially as there’s a good chance that one day we will end up just like them? We witness the sad demise of our own parents and elderly relatives, and just accept there will be nothing better for ourselves.

And why were some 80% of the extraordinary nursing and care staff at the hospital from Europe and Asia? Without them the health system would collapse completely. Because of our ‘every child must become an Oxbridge academic‘ approach to education the UK is unable to recruit, train and retain enough staff from its own population, while at the same time failing to equip them with the necessary caring and empathetic skills, and in the ability to communicate and work in teams.

At least there’s nothing yet in schools that is the equivalent of a typical A&E department. But wait, perhaps there should be? Little Jenny only scored 2 out of 10 in her recent spelling test. Send her immediately to stand in a long queue outside Emergency Classroom 10 where her memorisation skill deficiency can be assessed by a specialist and she can be intravenously drip-fed the appropriate programme of academic study. Soon she’ll be able to spell disestablishmentarianism correctly, even though she’ll have no idea what it means and will never use the word once in her life.

Meanwhile there’s been a nasty Maths SATS pile-up and Slightly Bigger Johnny has just failed to avoid falling over and hitting his head on the expected floor standard. Sound the siren, put on the blue flashing lights, plug him into the maths rate monitor and get his mind tightly bandaged up to protect him from the real world so he can concentrate more effectively on becoming far more numerate than he will ever need to be. Unfortunately it sounds like just the sort of thing some daft future secretary of state for education might just come up with.

What’s needed is an online petition to make it a requirement for all MPs to have to spend a day once a year working in a school referral unit, an evening helping the police deal with the disorderly, and a night in A&E…

For anyone too young to remember, Emergency-Ward 10 was one of British television’s first major soap operas, shown between 1957 and 1967 on ITV

Image credit: Flickr/Greg Glarke

Up, up and away…?

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If 1967 was the Summer of Love, then 1976 was the Summer of Hot. Forty years ago, the 1976 UK summer produced the warmest and longest-lasting average temperatures since records began: the sky was always blue and the sun shone brightly for months on end, resulting in drought conditions that prompted the provocative slogan ‘Save Water, Bath With A Friend‘. There’s never been a summer quite like it since.

1976 was also the same year Concorde took to the skies with supersonic speed, the space shuttle Enterprise was unveiled in California and the new Intercity 125 trains took to the tracks. James Hunt won the World Motor Racing Championship, and Jobs and Wozniak founded Apple, though no-one paid much attention at the time. The futuristic Pompidou Centre was nearing completion in Paris. Star Wars was coming. James Callaghan became Prime Minister. Brotherhood of Man won the Eurovision Song Contest while Jonny Rotten quietly muttered a rude word on live TV. Things were definitely on the up. And OFSTED was just a twinkle in some aspiring Tory politician’s eye. Yes, those were the days. We thought they’d never end.

And it just so happens that it was in September 1976 when a young, keen and eager All Change Please! spent a week observing in a typical comprehensive school as part of its far from left-wing Marxist PGCE course. Initially it was surprised that what was going on hadn’t changed much since it had been at school itself, as much as five years before. It noted down in its special file that while there were still some disaffected students being pushed through inappropriate O level subjects that ended with written examinations in the school gym, there were some promising and enterprising Mode 3 CSE courses that had been set up by some of the teachers, often responding to local needs. There was a growing awareness that traditional teaching wasn’t working well enough for all, and project-based learning and problem-solving were the new kids on the block that seemed to hold much promise for the future. The one obvious thing really holding a few of the children behind was a problem with basic literacy and numeracy, but surely that would get sorted out soon enough and things could really start to move ahead at supersonic speed?

Fast forward, or so it seemed, to the late 1970s and All Change Please!’s first teaching post and the first computers were arriving in schools – Commodore PETs and RM 380Zs, and the slightly geekier kids and their teachers were getting excited. There was talk about the day not so far away when it would be possible to read a book on a computer screen, create electronic artwork and perform complex calculations in the blink of an eye. And what was it going to be like when you could link these computers into a network? And just think of the potential these machines might have for helping children learn. The future was surely just around the corner…

At the time it’s probably a good job that no-one told All Change Please! that it was never going to happen, or it might just have given up and gone home. It never guessed that by the time it retired there would still be children who found reading, writing and arithmetic difficult, that there would still be a knowledge-based curriculum with problem-solving, child-centred, project-based learning being viewed with great suspicion and distrust, and that most computer-aided learning programs would be largely a waste of time, simply replicating tired and detested traditional approaches to teaching and being given the silly name of MOOCs. And worst of all that the curriculum and examinations would be dictated not be educationalists any more, but by The Party.

Sadly, as time wore on the optimistic Summer of ’76 dissipated and by late ’78 had somehow transformed into the Winter of Discontent and the subsequent inauguration of Thatcherism and the riots and inner-city ghost towns of the early 1980s, leading inevitably to the situation and circumstances we find ourselves in today. Even Concorde eventually ran out of steam.

The Information Age that was so clearly on the horizon in the 1970s is only just now getting under way. It’s finally beginning to disrupt the way we think, act and live our lives, and to fundamentally start to change the way we do things, and to have a much greater impact than the industrial revolution ever had on the agricultural age. It’s something our education system could and should have been preparing for since the late 1970s, but it hasn’t. Instead our top-down administrative-led organisations and political systems stuck their heads in the ground in the belief that IT and globalisation wouldn’t actually change anything in the future – or perhaps with the fear that it might. After all IT was believed to be ‘just another tool’ that helped automate existing processes, but wouldn’t actually change them. As a result things are now evolving so quickly that our 20th Century systems and infrastructure just can’t cope with them. And Education seems intent on refusing to accept that the world is not the same as it once was, and continues to fail to develop its thinking about what needs to be learnt when, how and by whom. The time for debate about whether teaching should be traditional or progressive has long since passed. What really needs discussing is how our schools are going to completely re-invent themselves to meet the very different needs of future generations.

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Meanwhile, gazing through doubtless rose-tinted sunglasses, back in daily life in the summer of 1976 shops were shut on Sundays which gave everyone a welcome day of rest and family life. Working hours were more reasonable and there were no such things as performance targets. Houses didn’t cost the earth, especially for first-time buyers, enabling those in their early 20s to become home-owners. Public transport was cheap and plentiful, even if like now, it didn’t always run on time. There was less to choose from in the shops, but goods were made in Britain, and there were no complex calculations needed every year to work out which were the best and cheapest energy, tele-communications and insurance providers. And most of all and there wasn’t the pervasive atmosphere of fear, hate and conspicuous greed being thickly spread by politicians and the media. But neither were there flat-screen, multi-channel colour TVs, digital cameras, instant access to the world via mobile smart phones and tablets, online shopping or other ‘modern conveniences’ that somehow for some reason we can’t seem to live without today. 

So was daily life better in 1976 than it is today? It’s impossible to say – some things have got better, and some things have got worse, and it very much depends on one’s particular individual circumstances at the time. It’s just that we did things differently then.

In Education however, it seems that most things have not only stayed the same but have got worse. And that goes for everybody, no matter what their circumstances.

So All Change Please! is just going to go to the beach instead, and stick its head in the sand…

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Image credits: Flickr Commons/ Roger W, Derek Gavey, LetsGoOut

 

Twenty Fifty One

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‘Tis the season to be merry, but that’s not so easy given all the current financial cuts to public services and the DfE’s educational policies. Accordingly this year’s All Change Please! Longread Festive Post is an extract from Chancellor George ‘Ozzy’ Oswell’s little known dystopian novel Twenty Fifty One, which he wrote some 36 years ago in 2015 as an exploration of the impact of what he anticipated would be a never-ending period of austerity, hate and terror. In this fragment, recently recovered from a partly vapourised copy found near a memory hole, we learn about the work of MiniFed – the Ministry of Education – and its continuing attempts to obliterate the idea of progressive education from history.

Some have suggested that there might have been a deliberate connection with George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty Four, by co-incidence also written 36 years earlier in 1948. In case there are those (like All Change Please!) who have not re-read 1984 since they were at school, here’s a very brief re-cap…

The plot of 1984 involves Winston Smith, who while carefully maintaining a facade as a loyal outer party member, suspects that his true allegiance lies with the discredited Brotherhood who used to meet at the Chestnut Tree Cafe. O’Brien, an Inner Party member, lends him a copy of the supposedly destroyed writings of the Brotherhood, but he is secretly a member of the Thought Police. Eventually Winston is sent for treatment in a correction centre, where he learns to fully appreciate the care of Big Brother.

Along the way we learn that:

  • Room 101 is a torture chamber in which prisoners are made to confront their worst fears.
  • The telescreen is a two-way TV screen in every room that includes a surveillance camera that watches what everyone is doing, hence the phrase ‘Big Brother Is Watching You’.
  • The speakwrite is an automatic dictation device.
  • There is a state of permanent war with Eurasia.
  • The Party has three main slogans, which exemplify the idea of Doublethink:  WAR IS PEACE,  FREEDOM IS SLAVERY,  IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
  • The developing minimalistic language Newspeak uses contracted forms of old english intended to remove all shades of meaning to make thinking more automatic and controllable.

Essentially, Winston lives in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance and public manipulation of information, overseen by a small, privileged elite that persecutes individualism and independent thinking as thought crime. 1984 is not just a commentary on the emerging communist states, but of any totalitaritarian system in which a single party has excessive, unchallenged power.

But now, here’s the recovered extract from Oswell’s 2051:

Wisdom Smith paused, sitting back from his desk piled high with ink pencil-splattered exercise books and well-worn, brown paper covered, traditionally printed textbooks. Often he wondered why he bothered – just 2% of the children in his class would obtain the necessary grades to get in to a RussUni and become top ranking inner-party members, and only 13% would end up doing well enough in their EBacc exams to become middle party members like himself. The rest would have to make do with the worthless, low-status Pass-Level EBaccs (commonly known as PLEBs). Of course the officially- announced MiniFed figures stated that 90% of children were awarded the full High-level EBacc, and that each year the percentage rose as a result of an increase in Party control, but he knew that just couldn’t be true. In reality all MiniFed were doing was ensuring that the majority of the population remained uneducated, and that power would remain in the hands of the academic elite.

Wisdom decided he’d done enough marking for one evening. Somewhere in the back of his mind he still felt it hadn’t always been like this – once he had found teaching rewarding. Furthermore he had this notion that once long ago in the dark ages there used to be devices with the letters of the alphabet laid out in neat rows that you tapped on and the words somehow appeared on a screen in front of you and could be easily sent to someone else. He’d spent hours in the school library trying to find a reference to such magic, but without success and he had presumed it must just have been something he dreamt, along with the images of countless Unteachers, long since vaporised out of the profession. But if he squeezed his mind hard enough he thought he could vaguely remember some miraculous devices called – what were they? – smart-phones and iPads – long ago denounced as the disruptive work of The Blob and written out of history. Now there was just the Siri Speakwrite machine. 

And then surely around this time of winter there had been a festive holiday called Christmas which he dimly recalled as having been a jolly celebration but was now universally called Black Friday, followed immediately after by Cyber Monday when the tradition was that everyone went madly shopping and spent all their savings on worthless junk, though no-one seemed to know quite why or how it had started.

Suddenly the telescreen blared out, reminding everyone it was nearly time for the daily Two Minute Hate. As usual it began with a short video sequence from one of The Party’s most reviled conspirators and leader of the Robinsonhood who had once published a wicked, blasphemous book called Creative Schools: Revolutionizing Education from the Ground Up’, all copies of which had long since been vaporised. Just in case anyone was watching him, Wisdom dutifully shouted out the required number of Hates.

After the Two Minute Hate there was news item announcing the wonderful news that provision of ArtsEd in schools was to be doubled from one whole school former assembly time a week, to two (even though Wisdom knew that not so long ago it had been three sessions a week). This was followed by news about the great success of the latest bombing raids in Middle Eastonia. Finally, to calm the cheering masses down, a short nostalgic documentary followed, celebrating the very first Michaela School – now of course there were thousands of them spread all over the country.

Wisdom reflected again how the identical neat blue uniforms had obviously been the inspiration for the regulation blue overalls all party members now wore. And for perhaps the first time, Wisdom noticed the phrase KNOWLEDGE IS POWER on their school sign, which had become the first of the MiniFed’s own slogans, followed by BEHAVIOUR IS STRICT and EVERYTHING IS ACADEMIC.

As he gazed at the enormous poster on the classroom wall reminding everyone of the slogans, some alternative versions began to occur to him. He wondered if he dared write them down in his secret diary in case Big Ofsted was watching, as another large poster on the wall continually reminded him it was. The last thing he wanted was a visit from the Thought Police. Sometimes he wondered if Big Ofsted did actually exist, or if it was just another propaganda invention created by MiniFed and just there to perpetuate the culture of fear, obedience and hate. 

Nervously, as a spy-drone hovered near the window, he wrote down his alternative versions:

ACTION IS POWER

LEARNING IS MESSY

EVERYTHING IS AWESOME

As well as teaching, Wisdom worked part-time re-writing education history, closely following the instructions he was given from above. It was indeed he who had drafted the now universally accepted text blaming the Robinsonhood for the disastrous and rapid decline in standards that children were exposed to in the late 20th and early 21st century as the result of widespread progressive education, and that as a result Robinsonism must be completely and finally eliminated. Indeed the history books and journals now recorded the successful rise and victory of Govism which was gratefully welcomed by the entire teaching profession who had been clamouring for such reforms for decades. Of course, few people realised that Gove himself had never actually existed, having been a clever invention of the MiniFed propaganda department. 

Wisdom left the building to attend his compulsory weekly Hour of Code session. Everyone was required to spend this time in the attempt to try and learn trying to learn how to code in two different out-dated programming languages. There seemed no sensible reason for this as the vast majority did not possess the necessary aptitude, and there was hardly anyone able to teach it. However it had become an established tradition introduced in the Govian era even though no-one knew why or saw any purpose in it.

The MiniFed were of course experts in Doublethink propaganda. They continually repeated completely misleading statements that simply reversed the truth, such as:

  • Thanks to the education reforms of the past 5 years, significant progress has been made in raising standards in England’s schools.
  • Poor quality qualifications have been removed from performance tables so pupils are leaving school with those most valued by employers and universities
  • New, gold-standard GCSEs and A Levels will equip young people with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the modern world
  • The introduction of the EBacc has had no effect on Arts education
  • There is no recruitment crisis
  • There has never been a better time to be a teacher

Over the years Wisdom had come to understand that there was no point sitting around waiting for the Robinsonhood to rise up again – the Party was just too strong and clever to ever allow that to happen. The only thing he could do was to quietly break the rules as often as possible when no-one was looking. He now realised that while the Nationally-imposed Party Curriculum defined what must be taught and tested, it did not include a list of things that must not be taught and need not be tested.

Unfortunately the fragment of recovered text ends here, but there a few people still alive who remember reading Oswell’s novel, and have provided the following account of how it ended:

O’Glibbly was a smooth-talking member of the Inner Party who Wisdom believed was, like himself, an undercover member of the Robinsonhood. One day Wisdom foolishly decided to show him his forbidden diary with his alternative slogans, but O’Glibbly then revealed himself as a secret agent of the Thought Police. As a result Wisdom ended up in the OFSTED Re-education Centre Classroom 101, where he was forced to confront his greatest fears – supervising hours and hours of cover lessons with no work set, week-long mindless exam supervision sessions, writing endless lesson plans that would never be used, and compiling copious irrelevant data about his pupils. After being suitably brainwashed he was allowed to return to a compliant existence in the spreading Michaela Chestnut Tree Academy, for which he is now grateful.

So how well did Orwell and Oswell’s novels foresee the world as it is today, in 2051? As inventions and innovations of the 20th century showed, it’s relatively easy to predict the future – it’s working out the timescales involved that’s difficult. Although the projected dates of both Orwell and Oswell’s novel titles were intended to be notional rather than precise, it’s interesting to consider that while Orwell’s future took some 70 years to materialise, Oswell’s had become a reality by 2020.

In many ways their predictions were worryingly accurate, but there were several things Oswell missed, or perhaps chose to miss. First that it was not so much Big Ofsted that would be watching, but Big Data that came to define the learning experiences of most children, with each telescreen question delivered by the Pearsonalised Quick Smart Total Teach And Test system (known as TOTAT), finely adjusted to match the global levels of knowledge recall expected of a child born on that particular date.

And secondly that Ofsted had of course realised that informing teachers that they were being watched made them too careful about giving away any secret association with the Robinsonhood. Instead they decided to permit teachers to have access to networked computers (though smart phones and tablets are still considered to be far too disruptive for children to use), and promoted the Doublethink message that teachers would no longer be observed in the classroom – while in reality, every email they sent or received, every internet search they made and every blog post they read was closely and secretly monitored. As a result, many more teachers suddenly and inexplicably ‘left’ the profession, mysteriously to never be seen or heard of again, leading to the severe teacher shortages that dominated the latter half of the second decade of the century.

Which means of course that if you’ve read this far, you can probably expect a visit from the Thought Police in the very near future….

Until then, Merrymas and Hapyear one and all!

Image credit: Flickr: Tim Rich  / Shepard Fairey / Tristram Shepard

Austerity Free Zones Unveiled

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George ‘Ozzy’ Osborne, as he’s not known to his friends, has today inaugurated Two Pancras Square and nearby Granary Square as the first UK Austerity Free Zone, with more to be established in central London and other wealthy suburbs of large cities in the near future. The zones will sub-divided into various Conspicuous Consumption Areas, where the stupidly rich are encouraged to display the full extent of their very extensive spending-power.

A UKAFZ spokesperson said:

“The aim is to give poor people something to aspire to and work harder for, even though they are currently no jobs available for them. Residents of AFZs will of course enjoy extensive tax-breaks and businesses within them will be able to trade VAT-free. We are however slightly concerned that other sectors of the population who have similar lifestyles, ie those who are on benefits and sit round all day enjoying themselves without paying any taxes, will try to move in.”

Meanwhile highly successful local businesses in AFZs will be able to apply to set up what will be highly profitable ‘Excessively Expensive Schools’, as opposed to the current ‘Free Schools’. A nearby hovering Df-ingE drone told All Change Please!:

“The EESchools will help give the extremely wealthy something to spend their money on, while at the same time it will free up places in the public schools for the merely ordinary wealthy. Teaching group sizes will be no larger than 1. Individual teachers will each be supported by a team of teaching assistants and a full-time secretary and a dedicated classroom cleaner.

Like the Free Schools the EESchools will be able to set their own curriculum, which we expect to include subjects such as ‘Wealth Management for the Idle Rich’, ‘How to spend a massive inheritance’ and ‘Tax-havens for beginners’. Compulsory specially-designed school uniforms will be available from Versace, shoes by Louis Vuitton with Dolce & Gabbanna trainers, while matching designer schoolbags can be obtained from Gucci. Catering will be provided by Harrods in conjunction with Dorchester Hotel Services Ltd.

This is all the result of the Government’s fully transparent Austerity Free Zone Consultation Process – which was so transparent that you could see straight through it – which the public fully endorsed by responding to questions about the best way to implement the policy, such as the relative importance they placed on various factors such as public space water features, unaffordable housing, access to expensive restaurants serving a global cuisine and exclusive designer shops, nearby heli-pad, etc.

If you want to know the location of your nearest AFZ, or think you might already be living in one, just leave a comment below and ACP will tell you exactly where to go…

Image © Tristram Shepard

D&T: Design & Transparency?

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Your country needs you to do D&T

Last week the Df-ingE issued one of their spin-ridden press releases about the new D&T GCSE. Let’s take it apart and see what, if anything, is holding it all together.

‘A new, gold-standard design and technology (D&T) GCSE to help produce the next generation of James Dysons and Tim Berners-Lees has been unveiled by Schools Minister Nick Gibb.

So, gold-standard, eh? All Change Please! always assumed that accolade was reserved for real, hard, academic subjects of no practical benefit? And while a couple of Dysons and Berners-Lees might be useful in the future, the thought of an entire cloned generation of them is actually a bit alarming.

‘The new design and technology GCSE will give students the chance to develop their own design briefs and projects and could lead them to producing anything from furniture for disabled people to computer-controlled robots.

‘The chance to develop their own briefs and projects maybe, but in reality most teachers will find a way of narrowing things down somewhat in order to make things more manageable. Meanwhile given the breadth of the design industry, the distance between furniture and robots is not actually that great, and pupils will quickly come up with a much wider range of possibilities that may prove difficult to shoe-horn into the assessment criteria. Oh, and could someone kindly let the Df-ngE know that Tim Berners Lee is not and has never been an industrial designer.

‘Industry experts, including those from the James Dyson Foundation, have been closely involved in developing the new GCSE content, ensuring it meets the future needs of employers.

All Change Please! isn’t entirely convinced that the James Dyson Foundation – or indeed many industry experts – was exactly ‘closely involved’. It knows for a fact that most of the content came from a small working party who put a great deal of effort into challenging the Df-ingE’s original horticulturalist nonsense. It might help meet some of the needs of some employers, but the high percentage of academic content will put most students off, and anyway it’s not part of the EBaccwards, so that will put the rest off too.

‘This is a rigorous qualification which will require students to have a sound grasp of maths and science, and which will undoubtedly stretch them to further develop the kind of knowledge and skills so sought after by employers and universities.

Ah yes, the maths and science content. Design is neither an Arts or a Science subject but a subtle mixture of the two, which just goes to show how much the Df-ingE understand about what they’re messing with. In reality designers get on with the designing and consult specialist mathematicians and scientists, and indeed a wide range of other specialists, as and when appropriate to the requirements of the work they are doing.

‘Internationally-renowned designer James Dyson said: Design and technology is a subject of fundamental importance. Logical, creative and practical – it’s the only opportunity that school students have to apply what they learn in maths and science – directly preparing them for a career in engineering. But until now, this subject’s tremendous potential has not been met.

Ah, so let’s admit it then, this isn’t really a course in design and technology at all – it’s really just a fancy new name for Engineering. And it’s also the only opportunity that school students have to apply what they learn in all their school subjects, not just Maths and Science.

‘The James Dyson Foundation has spent 4 years advising the Department for Education on every level of D&T education – and today we can finally unveil a GCSE qualification to be proud of.

That’s just four mentions of James Dyson so far. And it’s just a pity that the Dyson Foundation didn’t spend those 4 years suggesting creative ways of making the 1960s maths and science content more interesting, relevant and accessible to a wider range of children, or perhaps advising that 21st century digital making now ought to be at the centre of the content.

‘One that will inspire invention from students and teachers alike. That will nurture a creative mind-set and passion for problem solving. That will appeal to more youngsters than ever before.

Oh no it won’t, because the written paper will serve to exclude more youngsters (‘youngsters’???  N.B. All Change Please! strongly advises not calling them that in class) than ever before. Hmm. Just one other problem here, and that’s the teachers. Forgetting the current severe shortage of D&T teachers at present, most of the rest are well past their make-by date CDT teachers, formerly known as woodworkers and metalworkers, usually recognisable by their particular lack of inspirational invention, let alone creative mind-set and passion for problem-solving.

So in the interests of transparency, let’s just do a bit of re-wording, and what we end up with is this rather more honest press-release:

‘Design and Technology is a terribly important subject because in about 20 years’ time a successful designer or engineer might emerge as a result of having taken the subject at school, even though most successful designers and engineers tend to study completely different subjects, or leave school at 16 and do something practical instead. And when we say terribly important, of course we mean not as important as academic subjects, which is why we’re not including it in the EBacc.

Because the specification we have developed is terribly, er., quite important and will effect the lives of hundreds of thousands of children over the next five to ten years, we first asked a junior minister to write it up over the weekend, based on her own experience of CDT in the 1970s. We then got James Dyson – yes that James Dyson – and Tim Berners Lee to agree to say we had consulted them, but despite this, the D&T subject association insisted on trying to improve it, so we let them alter one or two bits to keep them happy. Oh and did I mention James Dyson? We did try to get Isambard Brunel to contribute, but he wasn’t available.

A lot of people in the consultation said that they thought the written paper was a bad idea, but we couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about, probably because we don’t really understand what design is all about in the first place. As a result we’re still insisting on making half the exam based on a written paper even though it’s a highly unreliable indicator of design and technological capability. Of course a written paper in Art & Design might not be so appropriate, because that’s a different sort of design which is just about making things look nice, isn’t it? I mean you wouldn’t want to end up being someone non-PC like Jonny Ive of Apple and going to Art School now would you? Apple’s motto is ‘Think Different’, and we certainly don’t want that.

Meanwhile the reality of course is that not a lot has changed in D&T. Pupils can choose their own problems to solve which, between you and me, I think will be a bit of a disaster, because many of them will not involve a great deal of the maths and science they have to somehow include.  Then we’ve removed the requirement to specialise in one material, except of course that most D&T teachers are still specialists in one material. Then there’s the addition of the word ‘iterative’ which sounds rather trendy and up-to-date, and the phrase ‘exploring, creating and evaluating’. Most teachers never understood the design process anyway, so this will really confuse them. So the chances are we’ll still end up with a load of projects in which children make furniture for their bedroom, a new outfit for themselves or an automatic goldfish feeder.

Which is a good thing, because of course the last thing we want to do is to really change anything – our motto is ‘Moving forwards by going backwards and all thinking exactly the same’.

Nick ‘Dyson’ Glibbly

And here is Teacher Toolkit’s ‘It’s So Rigorous; We Don’t Want You To Do It! response… http://teachertoolkit.me/2015/11/17/designtechnology/

Image credit: Flickr / Eva Renaldi

 

 

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

1-141247338_bd29e3064c_oWho writes the most ridiculous nonsense of them all?

This week’s prize for the most irresponsible piece of journalism has been awarded to 61 year-old blonde bombshell Carole Malone from the Daily Mirror, who obviously knows all there is to know about schools as she probably recently drove past one.

So, as an avid Daily Mirror subscriber who faithfully believes everything it reads, this is what All Change Please! now firmly knows to be true:

1. England’s top 500 state schools are now better than the top 500 public schools. Despite the use of just a little bit of statistical distortion.

2. That’s fantastic news.

3. Children from deprived, working-class areas are now getting as good an education as kids at Eton. Yes, really.

3. Teachers viciously opposed Michael Gove, and were responsibly for him being unjustly sacked.

4. Now there’s no such thing as grade inflation anymore.

5. And students now only take serious, traditional academic subjects that enable them to find jobs. Well anyway, to get to university and keep the unemployment figures down a bit while they run up a huge debt.

6. In the past some children who could have got A*s only got G’s or U’s, probably because teachers used so-called ‘progressive’ methods.

7. However, at the same time, these teachers mysteriously managed to beat the exam board system and somehow got them to award the ‘thickest’ kids A* grades just for turning up to school.

8. Jeremy Corben is ‘stupid’ because he thinks academies have failed, because a single set of highly dubious manipulated statistics undeniably prove once and for all that they are a great success.

9. Teachers believe that all exams should be banned on the basis that no pupil should be made to feel shame or disappointment for getting a low grade.

10. Shame drives children to work harder.

11. What we need are Chinese teaching methods.

12. Children need to be studying for 12 hours a day, and shouldn’t expect to enjoy any of it.

So, thanks Carole for feeding your readers all that misinformation. But maybe in a few years’ time, instead of their children getting accepted into Oxbridge, they are going to be just a little bit disappointed when their children fail their new more academically rigorous GCSEs and find there’s no other option other than to become a NEET. Still, never mind, it will all be their teacher’s fault won’t it?

Meanwhile it was good to see in the online vote that around 70% of your readers didn’t believe you when you claimed that state school kids now get an education to match private schools. But what is disturbing is that you seem to have managed to convince some 30% that they do. Oh! Carole…

 

But wait! It seems Carole is not alone. Here’s the Express’s James Delingpole, who obviously also knows all there is to know about schools because he’s read Carole’s column in the Mirror. He seems to be a rather confused man, because he’s celebrating the success of fellow parents’ children in passing some GCSEs and thus gaining entry to exactly the sort of useless non-academic vocational courses that the Government so despises. And then there’s the usual nonsense:

“It was all such a far cry from the bad old days of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, when the main job of the education system seemed to be to teach your kids virtually nothing, reward them with absurdly overgenerous exam grades, and then pack them off to run up huge debts at “uni” reading something utterly pointless like media studies.

Our schools were hijacked by progressives in thrall to trendy theories like “child-centred learning”, “non-competitive sports days” and the “all shall have prizes” ethos.

…It is terribly old fashioned – and that’s why we parents like it: because it has restored to education an almost Victorian sense of purpose which we thought had been destroyed forever.”

“That same sense of purpose from a long-lost golden age when the majority of children left school at 10 and went straight to work in the factories”, he didn’t add. Oh! James…

 

Background image credit: Flickr/starleigh