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

 

Pirates of the DfE

Screenshot 2015-06-28 14.50.19 Yo Ho Ho!  A Pirate’s Life for Me!

Swashbuckling Pirate Queen Captain Nicky Morgove has recently vowed to board so-called coasting schools, make the headteacher walk the plank, and academise the lot of them to within an inch of their worthless lives. With Nick Glibb, her faithful parrot, perched on her shoulder squawking ‘Progress 8, Progress 8‘, her only problem is how does she identify such schools coming up on the horizon? Indeed All Change Please! would be delighted to hear from anyone who can follow this method.

First, here are some definitions of ‘coasting’:

‘Performing a natural deceleration of a motor when the power is removed, or in railroading, the act of allowing a train or a car to run upon a down grade by its own gravity, without steam or electric power.’

This suggests that a ‘coasting’ school should be one which is running without any energy, and therefore gradually losing momentum, i.e., getting increasingly worse academic results year by year, however good or bad its intake.

However, in 2011, swash-buckling Davy-Jones ‘Cutthroat’ Cameron defined coasting schools as those:

“..whose results have either flat-lined…or where they haven’t improved as much as they could  have”.

(But there again, what does he know?)

Meanwhile Ofsted’s ‘Man-O-War’ Mr Michael Offshore offered:

“coasting” schools – where performance, often in well-off areas, is not necessarily inadequate but has failed to impress.

(Likewise?)

But then just today, the DfE’s very own little treasure chest, Mad Cap’n Morgove finally announced her own, dictionary-defying definition of a Coasting school as being one where, whatever their intake, more than 60% have failed to achieve 5 A*to C GCSE passes and would as a consequence be doomed to be turned into an academy, despite the fact that no-one at the DfE has yet had the courage to tell her that many schools defined in this way will already be academies.

So until Mad Cap’n Morgove removes both her eye patches, checks the manual and sees what the issues and solutions really are, here’s All Change Please!‘s alternative Full Steam Ahead, Left-hand Down-a-bit, Shiver me Timbers, Shipshape Guide to our current Fleet of Schools…

 

The Sinking School

2514328801_01f84a3b1a_oThe main priority in this type of school is simply getting the kids to attend. The mainly supply staff do what they can, but have essentially given up on trying to significantly raise levels of academic achievement, because they know it’s a complete waste of time. Things are slowly falling apart, and if it’s not already, it will soon become an Academy – not that this will make much difference of course. However the school does form an essential part of the provision of social services in the area, and the parents will generally say that their children are very happy there.

 

The Coasting School

10765354003_1d72127287_zCoasting schools are making some effort and covering the basics fairly well, but over time, standards are starting to fall and there is no sense of pressure to improve. The engine has been switched off and they are happily drifting along. Expectations are moderate, and the staff seem content to remain where they are and avoid change as much as possible. There is probably an emphasis on the relationship with the local community, and it describes itself as a ‘caring’ school.

 

The Chugging School

779944771_6946b79a3a_oIn a chugging school, the standards achieved by the majority of children remain fairly constant. Some years the results are slightly better, or worse, than usual. Staff and students work steadily without exerting too much energy. There may be a moderate number of academic high-flyers who do extremely well. The headteacher and the SMT have been there for some time. Everything feels very secure and settled and there is no great sense of urgency or disruptive change. The parents say their children are quite content there and doing well enough. However, there is a growing concern that the school is likely to get turned into an Academy.

 

The Cruising School

16836198555_757a757e50_zIn these schools the students are relaxed, but there are good expectations of what they can achieve within their own capabilities. Examination success is important, but not the only aspect of life that is valued and encouraged. The staff and students get on well together and there is a positive, friendly atmosphere. The school is steaming ahead with the just the right amount of effort, and there are some exciting initiatives being led by the staff. When there’s a storm brewing, intelligent changes of course are taken, with the result that interesting new ports are visited.

 

The Overheating School

527182264_7cb9e0f2b3_zAcademic exam results, University entrance and League Table position are all that matters here. There’s a lot of steam, or rather hot-air emanating from Senior Management. The pressure is intense with every lesson placed in the context of fear of failure, based on an approach of shame and bullying of staff to ensure students succeed. The sense of competition is fierce. While most students pass their exams there is a significant drop-out rate at 6th form level, and absence due to the excessive pressure to perform. There is a high staff turnover, and the school is running close to breaking point due to the level of stress and strain on the infrastructure. The parents add to the pressure by demanding to know why their children are not all gifted and talented geniuses.

 

But, avast, me landlubbing hearties – it may be time to batten down the hatches, take to the crows nest and splice the mainbrace, but let’s not forget that one day in the not too distant future, all these ships – and the pirate politicians who sail them – are surely destined to be broken up in the great schoolyard in the sky?

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Flickr Image Credits

Pirate:  Flickr/June Yarham and Tristram Shepard

Sinking: Paul Vallejo

Coasting: stcriox360

Chugging: duluoz cats

Cruising: Carlos SM

Overheating:  Scott Schmitz

Ship graveyard: korafotomorgana

Some Glibb Remarks

IMG_3849Is this what’s inside Nick Glibb’s mind?

There are a number of ways of corrupting Nick ‘I think, therefore I am right’ Gibb’s surname. The first is Glib, another is Glibb, and then there’s Fib. But the question is, which is the more appropriate?

According to various sources, the word Glib means a smooth talking or writing that suggests someone isn’t telling the truth. It is defined as speaking in a very easy way, which may appear to be insincere.

Meanwhile Glibb means:
1) a plasma like form of matter, e.g. a lava lamp (see above)
2) a thing of death which is used by the language of the elders
3) a classification for irregularly undefined sub-matter forms within the space-time continuum

And a fib is a lie told with no malicious intent and little consequence.

So, with reference to Nick Glibb’s recent highly propagandist speech, let’s see which seems to be the best fit…

“If we are to deliver a fairer, more socially mobile society, we must secure the highest standards of academic achievement for all young people, and especially those from the least advantaged backgrounds.”

These children, who showed such early promise, have been let down by our failure to offer every pupil the chance to benefit from a core academic curriculum.”

Yes, a clear case of ‘smooth talking or writing suggesting someone isn’t telling the truth’?

“As Tom Bennett, a teacher and founder of the superb ResearchEd conferences, put it in his excruciating (OK the word he actually used was ‘excoriating’, which means to criticize severely) review of Sir Ken’s latest book:

Is there anything more sad than the sight of someone denying children the right to an academic curriculum and the fruits thereof..”

And now he’s speaking ‘in a very easy way, which clearly appears to be insincere’. Somehow, over a period of nearly 40 years All Change Please! has mercifully been denied the horrific sight of anyone in a school denying a child the right to an academic education.

“It has also been suggested that our emphasis on academic subjects in the national curriculum, and especially the introduction of the EBacc, ‘crowds out’ the study of other important subjects, particularly the arts. We should acknowledge that the curriculum always involves trade-offs: more time on one subject means less time on others.

I make no apology for protecting space for the English Baccalaureate subjects wherever possible. By contrast, the best preparation for securing a good job is a solid grounding in core academic subjects.”

Glibb – ‘a thing of death which is used by the language of the elders’? Here Glibb, imagining himself to be an elder, is clearly announcing the death of the study of Arts subjects. And he really should be apologising profusely to children for damage he is doing to their futures.

“But it is exactly for this reason that we now need to extend the benefits of a rigorous academic education to all. The body of academic knowledge belongs to everyone, regardless of background, circumstance or job.

This is not a political issue of left and right, but rather a choice whether to stand behind aspiration and social justice, or to take the easier route of excuses and low expectations.”

Now All Change Please! is thinking of Glibb as…’a plasma like form of matter’. Not a political issue? Really?

 “To those who criticise our focus on academic subjects, or suggest that the EBacc is a Gradgrindian anachronism, I have a simple question: would you want your child to be denied the opportunity to study a science, history or geography, and a foreign language?

Together, these measures will give more pupils the preparation they need to succeed – whether that’s getting a place at a good university, starting an apprenticeship, or finding their first job. They will provide the foundations of an education system with social justice at its heart, in which every young person reaches their potential.”

And finally, conclusive evidence that Glibb is clearly an ‘irregularly undefined sub-matter forming within the space-time continuum.’

As far as All Change Please! can see, both Glib and Glibb seem pretty accurate descriptions of the man. But as for Fib – it really doesn’t seem to fit as, if anything, he is speaking lies told with a great deal of malicious intent and far-reaching consequences.

The whole approach appears to be founded on the entirely fictional belief that up and down the country teachers are busy denying children from poorer backgrounds the chance to study academic subjects. This is an insult to a profession that goes out of their way to maximise the opportunities for all children to achieve their potential, and who realise, in a way that Glibb, a former accountant, never will, that this can also involve developing interests and skills in subjects other than those that are termed academic. As such, rather than promoting social justice, the policy is in reality condemning many less-academically able students to achieve lower grades at GCSE and thereby reducing their employment and mobility prospects. At the same time it continues to pedal the myth to the more academically-able that in the 21st century all you need to succeed in life is a degree from a Russell Group university.

If the government really wants to improve the quality of education it should be concentrating on teacher recruitment and long-term continuing professional development rather than playing the numbers racket.

 

Meanwhile, in other news – and there seems to be plenty of it at present – in a bid to get children to sit in silence while their supply teachers drone on endlessly, Tom Bennett, the school behaviour disastsar, has been asked to head up a task force to stop politicians making silly comments.

And, finally, Nicky Morgove has announced that in future two-thirds of children will be required to fail their EBacc GCSEs (yes, really…).  Meanwhile for schools to be termed as Outstanding by Ofsted they will have to enter all their pupils for the EBacc, and will then become known as Grammar Schools. All other schools will be re-classified as Secondary Modern or High schools – it all makes sense now, doesn’t it?

Image credit: Flickr/Kathy McEldowney

Gordon Bennett!

James_Gordon_Bennett_Vanity_Fair_15_November_1884

The exclamation of surprise ‘Gordon Bennett!’ is possibly a version of ‘Gor blimey’, which is itself a corruption of ‘God blind me’. It is also thought to be derived from the name of John Gordon Bennett Jnr (born 1841) – pictured above in Vanity Fair in November 1884  – who ran the New York Herald and was well known for his outrageous Playboy life-style and newsworthy publicity stunts. All of which has hardly anything to do with the following post, but it was difficult to find any other image that would be in any way appropriate. Meanwhile…

Man who doesn’t teach creativity tells us nothing new. A reviewer reviewed.

Unless you happen to be a politician who should but doesn’t know better, All Change Please! tries to avoid making personal attacks on individuals, so will refrain from naming the author – the traditionalist’s very own behaviour guru – of a recent TES book review that has been widely and enthusiastically Tweeted over the last week by the traditional classes, and to which one can only surely exclaim ‘Gordon Bennett!!!’.  Although All Change Please! has never personally met the reviewer, it’s sure he’s a very nice man and an excellent traditional classroom teacher, and the books, articles and posts and articles he clearly enjoys writing are joyfully provocative, not unlike All Change Please!‘s. And of course he has a perfect right to express his own opinions, even when they are wrong.

However, if you only read one of his reviews, then don’t read this one. It’s his recent joyfully provocative TES review of Sir Ken’s Robinson’s latest publication Creative Schools: the grassroots revolution that’s changing education‘. He starts by making the quite reasonable observation that, although the great man has spent 40 years working in education, he has never actually taught in schools, and as a result in the past he has offered little in the way of practical remedies or strategies for change or advice as to exactly how the Arts can be resurrected in education – although what the reviewer doesn’t mention is that this book is his attempt to do so. Neither does he refer to one of Sir Ken’s major concerns, shared by the vast majority of teachers of all persuasions, that schools are being increasingly driven by commercial and political agendas and children are being tested to distraction. At least the review does not reiterate the traditionalist’s entirely misinformed belief that Sir Ken claims that learning to dance is more important than learning to read, write or add up.

However, the reviewer does trot out a different traditionalist’s claim, that schools are already alive with the sound of the Arts, and we really don’t need any more because it is distracting kids away from their pursuit of more and more knowledge and entry to Oxbridge . There are perhaps a few schools left – and by happenstance, it seems the one where the reviewer teaches – where creative activities are indeed plentiful, but the point he misses is that increasingly the provision of such courses in schools are being diminished in favour of those that will produce academic league table EBacc success. And even where the Arts remain there tends to be little sense of continuity, progression or co-ordinated assessment across the creative disciplines. What Sir Ken is primarily doing is trying to ensure that such provision is not further depleted.

The reviewer goes on to dismiss the thought-provoking comparison between schools and prisons which All Change Please! has already discussed here. Schools are of course much nicer and better places to be in than prisons, but the point that he seems to miss is that they are both highly structured and de-personalised in approach, have a one-size-fits-all captive audience and are several steps removed from the everyday reality of life in the outside world. And parent’s evenings/visiting hours, the playground/exercise yard and ‘recreational activities’ don’t sufficiently set them apart.

Then we come to the traditionalists’ use of so-called evidence. All Change Please! has already expressed its doubts about evidence here. Educational evidence is notoriously unreliable and rarely proves anything once and for all. It makes useful and interesting suggestions, provides clues and raises questions, but no more than that. And for every reference source a traditionalist makes, somewhere there’s an alternative study or set of data that contradicts it. Indeed while the reviewer triumphantly proclaims:

‘Cherry picking like this to advance a cause is the worst kind of fundamentalism. You can lasso any data set carefully enough and torture it to say what you want. Pulling out every school in alignment with your own tastes and claiming it represents the truth of education is wilful ignorance. Perhaps he doesn’t know what goes on in schools other than the ones he gets invited to?’

he then goes on to do exactly that and pick his own cherries that support the traditionalist’s view of the world. Perhaps he doesn’t know what actually goes in lessons in the Arts? Perhaps he hasn’t had the experience of seeing how the Arts can transform the lives of children who are struggling in more formal, traditional learning environments?

Finally the reviewer throws in an attack on the Free School movement of the 1970s (which bears no relation to Mr Gove’s current Free School offering). But you have to actually check out the link to the article he provides here to learn that these schools were few and far between, and mainly set up to provide deprived inner-city children with at least some sort of relevant education as an alternative to playing permanent truant from their allocated education establishment. These are not the type of schools Sir Ken is promoting. They did not set out to attempt to specifically provide an education in the Arts, and nor do they in any way represent the approach of today’s more progressively-orientated teachers.

That’s the problem with traditionalists – they are so utterly convinced they are absolutely correct, and that anyone who sees things differently has been ideologically brain-washed, soviet-style by loony-left training colleges into deliberately depriving children of a purely knowledge-based route into academia. Children do indeed have a right to an academic education if that’s what suits them, but they also have an equal right to a creative, technical, practical and vocational one too. And while so-called ‘progressive’ teachers acknowledge that to be the case, traditionalists don’t seem to be able to.

Other than that, I enjoyed the review. And in the interest of balance, I look forward to reading Sir Ken’s response to the reviewer’s own next book.

 

Image credit: Wikimedia

 

 

Way To Go?

 

If you’ve not watched it – in which case you really should – WIA is a BBC comedy satire of and about the BBC, being made for the BBC, by the BBC and by an amazing coincidence being shown on the BBC. Here, All Change Please! is proud to present its own slightly more educational version…

Voice Over: As it’s the day after yesterday and the day before tomorrow, today’s the day Nicky Moregove, Nick Bowels and Nick Glibb and various other people who are probably not as important as they’d like to think they are, are all meeting in Michael Gove, the new office suite at the Df-ingE.

Nicky Morgove: So anyway I think you should know I’ve been watching that great W1A fly-on-the-wall reality tv show. I must say it has given me a revealing insight about what it’s actually like to work at the BBC. And I really like the idea of them appointing a Director of Better.

Nick: Err.. Can I just point out that actually…

NM: No, you can’t Nick. So I was thinking we should maybe do some similar PR work to help try and convince teachers that we’re really quite normal, friendly types who want to work with them, even if we’re not. I’m mean, we’re totally listening to what they are saying, it’s just they’re not saying the right things.

Nick: Yes, but…

NM: Please be quiet Nick. As I was saying, as a result I’ve invited Perfect Curve, the same PR company that works for the BBC, here to outline in broad strokes some suggestions we can all take away with us to digest, circle back round and bring up again later. So I’ll hand you straight over to Siobhan Sharpe from Perfect Curve.

SS: Hi everyone! Thanks Nicky. Go Academies! Go Free Schools! Yeah. Well, we’ve thought about this a lot in an agile, brainstorming sort of way and kicked a whole shed load of ideas round the duck pond before coming to the conclusion that the decisions I made beforehand were the best anyway. 

So building on this new BBC post for Director of Better, we came up with this concept that it would be really cool if every school was required to appoint a Head of Better to its Senior Management Team. But then we thought, hey, well if we’re going to do that, at the same time we could rebrand the Headteacher as the Head of Outstanding, and then to establish some sort of career progression by having middle managers called Head of Good and Head of Requires Improvement. Oh, and, you’re really going to like this guys, we’re going to rename Teachers as Learning Opportunity Engineers to make it all sound a bit more sciency and researchy.

Ensemble: Yes, very strong

Ens: I’m totally good with that

Ens: Sure yeah, way cool, OK. No worries. Say Again. That’s mental.

Nick: Err, I hate to be the one to problematise things, but I’m not going to beat around the Basil Brush, but we do have a recruitment crisis in the profession you know, so I don’t know exactly where all these Super Heads of Outstanding are going to come from?

Ens: Ah yes, no, good. Very good.

SS: OK, cool, yeah well, we’ve done some major conceptualisations about that too. So the thing is like that with the DfE, in branding terms it’s really boring. It’s like politics and funding and pedagogy. I mean, who’s interested in all that stuff? So what we’re talking here is like major brand refresh surgery.

To begin with we’ve been looking at the name DfE. By adding an exclamation mark at the end – DfE! – it gives more emphasis to the E, which of course stands for Education, which is what it’s all supposed to about, even though it isn’t. Then we need to change the name a bit to make it more engaging and compelling, so in future the acronym will stand for Damn Fine Education. And then of course it’s got sound as if it’s a synergetic, collaborative, character-building sort of organisation, so, as we learnt from the 2012 Olympics, finally it needs to become Team DfE!

Ens: I so love it!

Ens: Brilliant. No brainer…

Ens: This is all going terribly well.

SS: Then of course there are the SATS. So where we’re heading on this one is like to ask the question, ‘What’s the best day of the week?’ And our focus groups all told us ‘Saturday’. So we thought: SATurday? So in future children will all attend school every SATurday specifically to take new weekly SATs. Nicky told us that kids love doing tests and showing off how much they know, so they’ll be pleased. It’s a win-win thing of course because while the teachers are looking after their children for them, hard working parents will be happy as they will be able to take on extra work to help pay their mortgages.

Ens: Ah yes, that all sounds most SATisfactory!

Ens: No way. Cool.

Ens: Totally awesome.

SS: Meanwhile using our contacts at the BBC we’ve pitched some ideas for some new TV shows to increase the profile of Learning Opportunity Engineers in the community. They’re terribly excited about ‘Strictly Come Teaching’ in which B-list celebs are paired up with classroom teachers to see how really strict they can be in classrooms up and down the country. We love Strictly! And to cover inclusion, diversity, social mobility and equality, they’re bringing back Top Of The Form, but renamed ‘Top Of The Class‘ in which children from upper, middle and lower-class backgrounds will complete against each other to see who is actually the most entitled to get to a Russell Group University.

And of course in order to be completely transparent there will be a TV mockumentary that shows what it’s really like to work as a member of Team DfE! A bit like W1A is named after the BBC’s postcode, it’s going to be called ’Sanctuary’ after the name of this building. In fact they’ve already started work on it.

Nick: Ah I wondered what that camera crew were doing over in the corner.

SS: There’s just thing left to sort out though – the show will need a suitable voice over. With W1A of course we were able to get a previous Dr Who to do it. But we thought because it’s about schools, maybe we should like get The Master to do it, but he wasn’t available. So can anyone suggest someone who’s known to be highly devious, omnipresent and obsessed with total control and domination?

NM: Yes I can – in fact I think we’re probably sitting in him right now. Well thanks Siobhan. Of course we’ll to check it out with the DC, but I’m sure he’ll be on board with it. I mean it’s all about one-nation education isn’t it?

SS: Hey wait Nicky that sounds really good – One Nation Education – we  must use that somewhere. ‘All for ONE and ONE for all’. Wow this is just so cool. Way To Go! Yay!

NM: So that’s all good then…

Voice Over – now confirmed as Michael Gove: So as the meeting ends, Nicky, Nick and Nick put away their distractive mobile phones and go off to enjoy a well earned break where they can fully digest their take-aways before their next meeting, where they hope they will be a great deal more distracted than they were at the last one. Over the next few weeks they are going to need to consider how well they will adapt when they all become wealthy, famous and respected, well-loved TV personalities. Hmm. Seeing as the whole education reform thing was my idea in the first place, it seems to me like there’s no justice in the world. But now I’m the Lord High Executioner, just you wait, I’ll be doing something about that. I’ve got a little list…they’ll none of them be missed.

Rough Justice?

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A Justice Department spokesperson has reported that one of Gove’s first priorities will be to introduce a new ‘Just Ice’ bill banning the addition of mixer drinks to spirits. Officials are busy trying to decide who’s going to be the one to tell him…

Around the country this weekend all those involved in education could be heard breathing a big sigh of relief as Herr Gove was assigned the job of, amongst other things, sorting out the prison service. Having once being put in detention while at school, he is obviously highly qualified for the post.

Gove will also bring with him his valuable experience of reforming the nation’s schools. All Change Please! has already seen rather leaky documents outlining his plans to lock prisoners in to what will be known as ‘classrooms’, where they will be required to sit still and in silence for up to 6 hours a day while being forced to listen to and memorise an endless stream of irrelevant facts, which they will be constantly tested on. Prisoners will be required to successfully complete a minimum of five years of hard EBacc subjects before they can be considered for parole.

Robby Hood, currently serving 20 years for taking variables from one side of an equation and giving them to the other, said. “It all sounds absolutely horrific. If this doesn’t stop us outlaws re-offending, nothing will. It will certainly make us think twice before risking actually learning anything worthwhile again.”

Meanwhile privileged wealthy offenders – such as bankers, lawyers, global company directors and former politicians – will be allowed to attend fee-paying public prisons, sometimes known as luxury hotels or cruise ships, where they will each have their own butler and maid service to help them re-adjust to normal life after their release.

Meanwhile it seems that Gove still plans to interfere with Nicky Morgove’s Department f-ing Education. It has been reported that he would like to see classrooms renamed as learning cells, and playgrounds will be renamed as exercise yards.

Examinations wiScreen Shot 2015-05-10 at 20.44.01ll in future be called Trials and marked by jurors, with children first entering pleas of ignorant or not-ignorant. Gove is also apparently keen to see bars added to windows to help children, or young offenders as they will now be called, feel more secure in their environment and to better prepare them for life after school. A spokesperson for the prestigious new Wormwood Scrubs Community Academy thought it doubtful that most students would notice the difference. The design for their new school uniform is shown on the right.

 

It is believed that in another five years time Gove hopes to become Minister for Health where he can develop a similar approach to hospitals and care homes. “It’s all part of my brilliant scheme to offer a cradle-to-grave experience of blind obedience, pain and suffering”, he refused to admit.

In related news, the BBC are considering re-making Grange Hill under the title of Porridge, and producing a new series of Dixon of Dock Green Free School.

Continue to reduce your blood pressure levels here: games.usvsth3m.com/slap-michael-gove/

 

Image credits: Flickr / Nattu and Wallyg

Who Ya Gonna Call?

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Traditional educationalists and politicians are currently obsessed with ‘de-bunking’ so-called educational myths which oddly enough seem to be primarily about so-called progressive teaching methods.  Always the one to keep up with current trends, All Change Please! thought it was time to indulge in some myth-busting of its own. And here’s what it came up with.

Myth 1: The Earth goes round the Sun
This one is pretty obvious. Of course it doesn’t. The clue is in the words Sunrise and Sunset. Now if they had been called Earthrise and Earthset it might have been a bit more believable.

Myth 2: The Earth is a sphere and spins at around 1000mph
This is a bit daft isn’t it? If it were round, things would keep sliding about and rolling off everywhere. But they don’t do they, so it must be flat? And if it really was spinning at that sort of speed we wouldn’t be able to stand upright, would we?

Myth 3: Data can be transmitted vast distances using electromagnetic waves
Now this is just plain ridiculous. Are you having me on? Have you ever actually seen one of these so called waves? I mean how could they possibly almost instantaneously travel all that distance and then pass though solid walls? This is all probably just one of those magic illusions set up by Derren Brown.

Myth 4: You shouldn’t believe anything you read in the Daily Mail
This can’t be correct because it says in the Daily Mail that everything they print is true.

Myth 5: Children go to school and learn lots of useful facts that will set them up for life
Now anyone who has ever been to school knows this one is a complete myth, unless of course they happen to be a traditional teacher or a politician.

Myth 6: All children learn and make progress in exactly the same way at exactly the same speed and age. It’s just that some seem to be better at doing so than others
This myth comes in very handy because if you believe this it means you can teach everyone the same facts in the exactly the same way.

Myth 7: Project work and collaboration are an unnecessary distraction from real learning, and anyway students just sit around chatting about what they saw on TV last night
If you believe Myth 6, you will probably believe this one as well because the reality is that creating successful learning situations involving project work and collaboration is demanding and risky. And anyway, watching TV is just so 20th Century.

Myth 8: Making examinations harder to pass means lazy, good for nothing teachers will work harder and children will learn more
Wrong again. It just means that more teachers will leave the profession and more children will leave school without any qualifications.

Myth 9: Collecting vast amounts of data on children’s day-to-day performance in school improves their education
No teacher actually believes this to be true, and knows for certain it is all a complete waste of time.

Myth 10: The traditional model of formal schooling is completely out-dated in the 21st Century, and children would be better off at home learning from their computers and each other
There might be some truth in this, but there again we do need someone to keep an eye our children and make sure they don’t become terrorists while we’re both out at work trying to earn enough to pay the mortgage.

Another shot of slimy green ectoplastic residue anyone?

Evidently not?

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Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

Recently there’s been a welcome move to promote the idea that teachers should become more involved in undertaking classroom-based educational research – something that All Change Please!, having been involved in a number of such initiatives over the years, fully supports, even if it’s not sure where the time or money will come from.

The current trending organisation in the field is probably researchED, somewhat worryingly established by this character who is well-known in certain more progressive circles for the mythical myths he is intent on challenging and for his general lack of open-mindedness for anything that’s not obviously ‘traditional’. The emphasis sometimes seems to be more about working out what doesn’t work rather than what might do.

Anyway, presumably the result of all this research will be what seems to be the current holy grail: evidence. These days it is difficult to do anything new or possibly risky unless its success can be absolutely guaranteed by so-called ‘evidence’ that apparently proves once and for all that it will work for everyone everywhere. There seems to be an unshakeable belief in the unarguable accuracy of just a single piece of evidence, even though such evidence is not  the same thing as actual proof.

So how actually reliable is all this evidence, or ‘findings’ as it is sometimes referred to? Even supposedly objective scientific evidence has problems of reliability: a researcher doesn’t have to admit that, say, a particular drug company (or for that matter a global personalised educational resource organisation) is sponsoring their work, or that they are only drawing on a certain set of data because the other set doesn’t happen to support their theory. Or whether there might actually be some disagreement amongst the great and the good statisticians about how the data can be reliably interpreted. Or that they are only running certain tests because they don’t have the budget to pay for the other ones. And of course more subjective evidence can be even less reliable when based on perhaps a number of small-scale case studies from practice-based researchers, a few carefully selected interviews with ‘experts in the field’ and a questionnaire or two. Would you believe it – apparently 98.6% of all statistics are entirely fictitious?

Then there is the way in which the results are presented – usually statistical data that is either difficult for the non-statistician to interpret, or more seductively shown as a carefully edited, visually powerful infographic or multimedia PowerPoint in which the message has been suitably massaged to seemingly demonstrate what the researcher wants you to believe is true. This becomes even more believable when fronted by someone who has some ‘celebrity’ status within the community. Then if the findings get repeated and referenced often enough it somehow ends up becoming an irrefutable true ‘fact’. It seems the proof of the pudding is in the presentation.

Let’s take the example of Little Missy Morgan’s recent and quite ludicrous statement that taking a week’s holiday in term-time will mean that a student will do substantially less well in their GCSEs and fail to meet the so-called ‘Gold’ standard. She might have some rather unreliable evidence in terms of misleadingly analysed statistical data but that does no more than suggest what she says might be true. What she doesn’t have though is any actual proof that involves a wide range of different types of convincing evidence that removes all doubt. The problem is that we have been conditioned by the media to accept isolated examples of evidence as absolute fact.

In terms of the results of educational research, given the extraordinary diversity of children, teachers, classrooms and schools, what works in one situation might well prove to be a complete disaster in another. And in the case of the research aiming to reinforce the notion that traditional tired and detested teaching methods are universally best for everyone in every situation, the result is usually seen as a mandate to dismiss any need for perhaps doing things differently. While the current oft-quoted data might initially seem to bust the myths that there might be such things as learning styles, effective group work, benefits in using IT, or worthwhile child-centred learning, the majority of teachers will tell you precisely the opposite, based simply on what they’ve observed and found to actually work for them and their students. Just because there’s no established evidence to support such approaches, doesn’t mean they can’t or don’t work.

Meanwhile research is not just about proving things are right or wrong because repeatable events have been defined, but also about asking new questions and exploring new ideas – and that’s exactly what’s needed now in our out-dated educational system. Let’s hope the emerging educational research community focuses on the latter rather than trying to provide highly unreliable data that apparently proves that a particular political mindset, delivery methodology or commercial product is the one solution that can be guaranteed to work for everyone.

And as for the reliability of the evidence of a student’s capability provided by GCSE and A level results…

Or the extent of the proof of the quality of a school’s performance found in an Ofsted report?

 

Image credit: Flickr/Jim Roberts  modified by TS

One giant leap?

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If All Change Please!‘s recent One small step post suggested that the way forward for education was to try to get traditional and progressive teachers to try and come to a better understanding of what each are doing, then what would One giant leap for Schoolkind be like?

Well, it might not surprise you to learn that All Change Please! regular Tony Wheeler has some suggestions…

“I’m sorry to be the pouty one throwing my toys out of the playpen, and I really do want progressives and traditionalists to get closer together, but having spent the last 30 years pussy-footing around, tactfully making the connections and emphasising the similarities (in order to make progressive more palatable for traditionalists), all that happens is active/progressive/project-based teaching and learning gets more deeply compromised, misrepresented and sidelined.

The truth is that while it may be possible to identify some bits of evidence in some bits of lessons that look a bit similar, progressive and traditional both start from such utterly different intentions that unless you have felt/experienced/participated/enjoyed both, it is really really difficult to make meaningful comparisons.

As I do, most educators seem to value most what has worked for them, and this is the real problem. Everyone’s had good, bad and mostly mediocre experiences of traditional fact-based chalk-n-talk. Despite what Daisy, Gove, Toby and the Campaign For Real Education would have the media believe it’s still what kids get for well over 90% of the time in schools.  In contrast, at the same time well over 90% of people have never ever seen, let alone participated in effective, purposeful, contextualised active learning.

If I were managing a school (perish the thought!) I would want to work with a team that wanted to (amongst other things):

  • give young people as well as teachers, real power to participate in the design of new approaches to teaching and learning
  • stop using subjects as the key components of curriculum and attempt to replace them with something more like ‘teaching’ (not learning) styles to ensure a breadth of experience
  • talk about metacognition as being important for pupils and doubly important for teachers. I would negotiate a process involving pupils and colleagues to help all teachers contemplate and review their own strengths and weaknesses as educators
  • encourage all teachers to prepare and maintain a dynamic personal teaching and learning statement (i.e. ‘I think education is important because…’, ‘The role of our school is…’, ‘The capabilities/approaches I bring are…’, etc.) which they share and build into collective dialogues with learning teams
  • replace timetabling as a mechanistic process to manage resources/subjects completed by an administrator with a process to choreograph individual pupil’s daily learning experiences managed by experts in pedagogy.
  • ensure all children have equal access to ‘purposeful active’ and ‘knowledge transfer’ styles of teaching. As they progress through the system they can opt to specialise in one or other but they will always need some of both.
  • manage the range of style and expertise so as not force staff to teach/interact in ways they are unhappy to take on
  • as a community search for the similarities/links/connections across subjects and negotiate purposeful activities around these supported by appropriate knowledge transfer.
  • group students by interest, experience and capability, rather than age, ability or gender
  • encourage the local community (and teachers) to participate as learners, trading time/skills for learning participation
  • evidence progress using structured dynamic portfolios, building towards external individual presentation beyond school
  • accredit through international collective comparative judgements
  • agree more equitable and appropriate measures by which to report school effectiveness (i.e. emotional index, elective participation, community impact, range of destinations)

In the wasteland of the last 20 years of government tinkering and media misrepresenting, this would of course pose a significant CPD challenge and require a multi-million pound marketing budget to convince potential parents. But if we really want to create an education system fit for the 21st century, that’s what’s going to be needed.

In the meanwhile, maybe something we could do as a start is to identify, profile and champion compelling isolated exemplars of active learning and begin to devise possible strategies for scaling up across the whole curriculum and all schools.”

So, if you were managing a school, where would you start? Or perhaps you already are, and have done?

 

Image credit: Flickr aloha75