Curriculum Noir: Who Stole The Arts?

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“Mr Marlowe?”

I looked up from my desk. In front of me stood Delores Anass – I knew her little sister from when I was at college. She was the art teacher from the local school and a tall, beautiful blonde – the kind that makes you want to go to life-drawing classes. There was no doubting she had all the necessary qualifications for the job. She gave me a million dollar smile I could feel in my hip pocket.

“I need you to find something for me. The Arts have gone missing from our school.”

I tried to resist asking, but it was about as useless as a D grade GCSE certificate. “When did you see them last?”

“Oh, about a year ago I guess. All the children were happily singing and dancing and painting wonderful pictures, and now they are all so dull and listless. I think it’s got something to do with this new curriculum and more rigorous examinations. Of course I hope you understand there’s nothing left in the budget to pay you with.”

“Well, trouble is my business, but I’ll see what I can do and then we’ll find a way to work something out. Do you run life-drawing classes by any chance?”

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I said farewell to the lovely lady and the next morning I put on my jacket with the leather elbow patches and slipped quietly into the school, posing as a pre-Ofsted inspector. She was right. There was no sign of the Arts anywhere. Just rows and rows of silent, obedient children staring solemnly at washed-out whiteboards or aging computer monitors that should have been retired long before they qualified for a state pension. No paintings on the walls, no posters announcing drama productions or concerts. The buildings and furniture had obviously had a great deal of expense spared on them. It was if someone had turned out the lights and everyone had gone to sleep, big time. Clearly something was badly wrong. Suddenly the loud, jarring school bell that signaled the end of playtime rang somewhere inside my head as I realised I’d seen it all before, and it meant only one thing. The infamous, arrant knave of hearts who stole the arts, Big Mickey Gove himself, had to be somewhere in the picture.

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Delores suggested I talked to the Headmistress, Ms Trust. She was dressed smartly, the sort of woman you just know will be good at evidence, facts, lies, damned lies and statistics. When I asked her if she knew where the Arts had gone she went as white as chalk-dust and trotted out a well-rehearsed speech about raising academic standards and providing opportunities for all, and I quickly guessed the Gove Mob had already got to her, doubtless promising her more money to become an Academy. She sure was one lady I’d like to see at the bottom of a lake.

It was getting late, but on my way downtown I stopped in at the local Painteasy. The front of the shop was filled with cans of unimaginative pastel shades of household emulsion and dreary colour scheme chooser charts, but the man at desk recognised me and pressed the button under the counter that opened the door to the secret studio workshop at the rear of the premises. The windows were high up, so you couldn’t see what was going on from outside, but inside the space was full of excited children hooked on the hard stuff, completely intoxicated from various forms of real learning – totally absorbed with experimenting, taking risks, working together and making things happen. And best of all you could freely ask for any type of Arts activity you wanted without fear of being told you were missing out on yet another worthless academic qualification.

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I bumped into the Painteasy Director, Edward G (aka Ken) Robinson, and asked him if he knew what was going on with formal education. “We’ve never had so many kids visit us after school” he said. “I just feel sorry for all those we have to turn away. It’s the Gove Mob. They’re back in town, and they’re driving the Arts even further underground.”

So my hunch was right. But I also knew there was nothing I could do about it. Not on my own anyway. I was proud to be a member of the Blob, but the Blob had fallen into the cleverly laid trap of thinking that if it somehow became more academic it could raise its status with the Mob and things would get better, but all it got them was some extended prose.

Somehow the Blob needed to stand up for itself and fight back. It was time for it to start sending out the message that there’s more to life than words and numbers and knowing stuff, and that it’s through the Arts that children learn to understand that there can be more than one correct answer and that there are many other ways to see, experience, interpret and judge the world that go beyond writing essays and solving quadratic equations.

At one level the Blob had no choice but to do what the Mob told them, but at the same time it had to find ways to be more disruptive, and behave like only a Blob without any defined shape or size can, silently seeping into tight corners and crevices of the curriculum where and when no one is looking. That’s what the Mob hates the most about it – the Blob has no fixed structure, no clear rules, no 100% reliable way of formally assessing what it’s doing.

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The next day I called back in on Delores, and told her what I’d discovered. I tried to fob her off by saying I would write on my blog that one day the Blob would overcome the Mob, but it fell about as flat as an academic’s mortar board that’s lost its tassel. She began to sob and saying goodbye took a long time, but eventually I managed to drive off into a sombre, stormy sunset that reminded me of  the ink stains on a school boy’s well-used tie.

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As I drove, I found myself recalling the words of that great crime writer Raymond Chandler that somehow seemed to sum it all up:

“Without magic, there is no art. Without art, there is no idealism. Without idealism, there is no integrity. Without integrity, there is nothing but production.”

Because that’s exactly what our schools have become – factories of mass produced memorisation of out-dated facts. What’s needed right now in education is a little bit of real magic and a lot less political sleight of hand.

I decided I must re-read some of Chandler’s novels. Now what they were called? Let’s see, there was The Little Sister, Trouble Is My Business, Farewell My Lovely, The Big Sleep, The Lady in the Lake, The High Window and The Long Goodbye.  And I wondered if I could somehow work the titles into my next post..

 

Image credits: emilano-iko / dinohyus / jjjohn / dinohaus

 

I, Govebot

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Metal Mickey was a popular children’s TV show from the 1970s.

I, ROBOT is a science fiction story written by Issac Asimov in 1939 about a robot that confesses to murdering its creator and then wisely switches itself off to protect humanity. One can only hope that in the near future Metal Mickey Gove does the honourable thing and admits it has similarly murdered education and wisely resigns to protect humanity…

But until that day happens we will need to continue to read Metal Mickey’s special-advisor generated political science fantasy inspired roborage spin. The latest gobbledegove nonsense nostalgically predicts the early 20th century coming of the futuristic ‘Second Industrial Revolution – a New Machine Age’ in which robots do all the making and everyone in the country has a Russell Group University Degree.

https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/michael-gove-speaks-about-the-future-of-vocational-education

In some ways it is a remarkable speech in that it identifies and acknowledges the scale of the changes ahead. But unfortunately the more Gove says, the more obvious it becomes he has absolutely no idea what he is talking about. His  current reforms of the curriculum, examinations and eBacc-led league tables are  in the process of producing a generation of children unable and unwilling to face the challenges of developing the new ways of thinking and doing that will be needed if the country is to flourish in meeting the threats and opportunities of whatever the next ‘age’ actually turns out to be. Simply making vocational courses more academic in content and in examination is not going to work.

“To ensure we lead the world in the creative, innovative and entrepreneurial thinking required to design and create the new and emerging products and services of the Information Age, we need to completely abandon the notion that the memorisation of academic, out-dated knowledge is the way forward. As a result we shall be completely changing the eBacc to fully reflect the new requirements for teaching and learning in the 21st Century. All students, however academic, will therefore be required to study the Creative Arts, Design and Technology until the age of 18”  – Gove somehow completely omitted to say.

Instead he simply perpetuated the myth that in order to create anything worthwhile you have to first spend the vast majority of your time in school and college studying theory, absorbing knowledge and not daring to ask any awkward questions, such as Why? And at the same time he unwittingly consigned those who learn, succeed and grow best through practical and creative subjects to the growing numbers of NEETS.

Other things he said ranged from the ridiculous:

“….curricula and exams are more rigorous – with a proper emphasis on the centrality of academic knowledge in the education available to all.”

“Giving all children access to high-quality teaching in maths, English, physics, chemistry, biology, languages and the humanities to the age of 16 provides every child with the opportunity to flourish whichever path they subsequently choose.”

To the highly questionable:

“And more than giving children choices, that academic core also trains our minds to be critical and creative.”

“The work of cognitive scientists…..has shown that the best way to develop critical thinking skills is to ensure all children have a firm grounding in a traditional knowledge-based curriculum.”

“You actually need to have knowledge in your head to think well. So a knowledge-based curriculum is the best way to get young people ‘ready for the world of work”

And to the quite outrageous:

“…factual knowledge enhances cognitive processes like problem solving and reasoning. So, the more knowledge students accumulate, the smarter they become.”

“And it’s demonstrably the case that the higher order thinking skills we need – even and especially, in the sphere of technology – can be and are successfully cultivated through traditional intellectual disciplines.”

He even managed to equate Design & Technology with little more than the development of skills of traditional craftsmanship (although to be fair, that’s what it still is in many schools).

“In the existing design and technology curriculum students have had the opportunity to work with traditional products – wood and metal in resistant materials, wool and silk in textiles – to learn traditional methods of production. There is – and always will be – a demand for skilled artisanship of this kind.”

Meanwhile All Change Please! has recently been making a first hand study of the works, words and wisdom of Walt Disney, the creator of the educationally maligned but commercially and culturally highly successful Mickey Mouse. Perhaps Metal Mickey Gove should listen more to what he had to say:

“Our greatest national resource is the minds of our children.”

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

“Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.”

“If you can dream it, you can do it”

“It‘s a mistake not to give people a chance to learn to depend on themselves while they are young.”

It’s just a great shame that Walt Disney is not our current secretary of state for education.

Sadly a picture is no longer worth 1000 words

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All Change Please! has recently had cause to learn a bit more about the forthcoming changes to A level examinations in Art & Design. Yes, that’s right, the ones that Michael, Mickey the Mixter Gove wants to make ‘more rigorous’. Anyway at a cost rumoured to be not that short of the amount Facebook recently paid for WhatsApp, vast amounts of tax payers’ money was allegedly spent on highly paid executive consultants, university professors and exam board directors in an attempt to develop higher A level specifications that would better prepare students for the higher demands of higher education. And after the usual round of excellent lunches, luxury hotels and personal visits from the dfSS to remind them that they didn’t want to end up unemployed, now did they?, they all simultaneously came up with and agreed on exciting new initiative that would do the job nicely. Yes, they decided that in future students taking Art & Design at A level would all be required to write a 1000+ word ‘continuous prose’ essay on something or other to do with Art & Design.

Now this does of course have one major advantage in terms of making the Art & Design teacher’s job a little bit easier. Because when a GCSE student asks “Please Miss, should I do A level Art & Design or take a BTEC in Art & Design next year?“, the answer suddenly becomes very simple and straight forward. If you get a A* to C grade in GCSE English then you should do A level, but if you don’t you would be better off doing a BTEC. No two-tier system here then…

However, All Change Please! thinks it only fair that this sort of approach is adopted in other subjects at the same time, and is most grateful to Tony Wheeler for coming up with the following set of proposals in which students will be required to:

  • dance their Science A level practical exam
  • mime a passage from Shakespeare in English Literature
  • make a conceptual installation representing WW1 reparations as part of A level History
  • improvise on a musical theme at Maths A level in order to resolve Pi to 6 decimal points

And that marks will be deducted for the inappropriate use of Fonts, excessive Underlining, poor choices of Colour, absence of letter Kerning and lack of use of Information Technology. Just as Spelling and Grammar are known by the acronym SPAG, this will of course also doubtless be referred to by its initial letters.

All Change Please! knows what it likes, and it’s certainly not a 1000+word essay…

Image credit: Wikimedia

Education At War / Gove-centred learning

1S-8091867592_81f1b1790d_cUK teaching and learning is coming crashing down…

Last week Civitas, a right-of-centre think-tank commissioned by Herr Gove to report on education standards, announced it is to call for a new inspectorate for academies and free schools. Calling for the scrapping of ‘Sixties-mired’ Ofsted, apparently it will argue that ‘the Education Secretary’s wish for schools to develop their own approaches to teaching is being held back by child-first orthodoxies among inspectors, who are stifling innovation‘.

Well, not surprisingly this seemed to make Head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw just the tiniest bit cross, or as it was widely reported in the media he was ‘spitting blood‘, and that he had even fallen out with The Great Dictator himself.  Of course perhaps General Von Wiltshirehoffen should have known better than to announce that he would not hold back from criticising under-performing Free schools and Academies, and consequently preventing the complete ethnic cleansing of the entire left-wing in education. Even more surprisingly he apparently also said: ‘extreme educational philosophies’ had no place in modern schools, that some of his critics want  ‘children to be lectured for six hours a day in serried ranks’. and that such ‘rote learning would not produce successful learners who can think for themselves‘.

So is General Von Wiltshirehoffen in reality a Marxist Enemy Of Promise Double Agent in disguise? Anyway it’s good to know the enemy are busy fighting their own internal battles. Well, they were for a few hours anyway, because later that day Herr Gove said he fully supported General Von Wiltshirehoffen and would immediately execute exterminate dismiss anyone who said they didn’t, and then they both sat down together and had a really nice cup of tea and agreed they would be jolly good chums again, forever and ever.

But wait, they thought it was all over, when on Monday along comes David Green (Who’s he then?), the chief executive of Civitas, who clearly has no intention of allowing a peace process to erupt. Writing for The Spectator he is heavily critical of Wiltshire and Ofsted and promotes the need for a knowledge-led approach to learning in order to increase the performance of children who come from disadvantaged homes. So, if Herr Gove is true to his word, presumably one day soon there will be a knock on the door and David Green will never be heard of again.

Meanwhile All Change Please! was puzzled by the last phrase of Civitas’s original statement. First, what are all these unidentified ‘innovative approaches to teaching‘ that are being stifled? Presumably these involve traditional, old-fashioned approaches combined with a little help from computer-generated online knowledge-based, multiple choice questions, and a selection of dull and boring video clips, and based on the belief that all children are both created and grow-up equal, i.e. their needs are all exactly the same at any one point in time and space. And secondly, when Civitas criticises ‘child-first orthodoxies‘ is it really suggesting that the children should be seen to be of secondary importance in schools?

1S-Screen shot 2014-01-28 at 12.22.39Which came first? The children or the system?

All Change Please! suspects that the concept of ‘child-first’, or ‘child-centred learning’ is completely misunderstood by those whom it suits to do so. They believe it means allowing children to do exactly what they like, when they like and not imposing any order or notion of discipline or sanctions for misbehaviour, when in reality it involves a flexible, yet strongly structured, scaffolded approach to learning, focusing on and prioritising the interests, abilities, and learning styles of the students, rather than the needs of those involved in managing the educational process, such as teachers and administrators – and of course politicians. Thus it recognises the learner as an individual, rather than a future mass-produced widgit (ie a small gadget or mechanical or electronic component device). Which is not to say the needs of the teachers and administrators should be ignored, but just not prioritised over those of the children.

Then there is the curious belief, again strongly promoted by Civitas, that it is the local authorities that have been solely responsible for promoting ‘discredited, out-dated progressive child-centred learning‘, as if setting up Free schools or Academies will, entirely all on its own, completely by itself, without anyone else’s help, solve the perceived problem and enable teachers to get back to those so-called innovative methods of whole-class teaching.

But wait, there’s more… will you welcome please The Employers with a completely different priority. For them it’s not schools or children first, it’s the future economic success of their own businesses, or as they prefer to call it…’the country‘. Sadly, while the great and good generals, politicians, company directors and academics all appear to be having great fun scoring points of each each other in the name of education, it’s the innocent children and teachers in the trenches who are being slaughtered on a daily basis.

What’s really needed is some sort of balanced consensus that meets the differing needs of the children and the country, delivered within the realistic constraints of the schools, the managers and the teachers.  Surely that’s what the politicians should really be trying to achieve?

Meanwhile, the one clear approach that seems to be winning through can only be described as Gove-centred learning, and surely destined to produce a country full of Mini-Me Gove replicants. And in seems that in Australia it’s already happening….

“The clue about the approach Pyne is seeking to follow this week is in the snappy new glasses he unveiled at his Blue Room press conference. They are remarkably like those of Michael Gove, the current British secretary of state for education, who is busy prosecuting a culture war in English schools. This combines a radical commitment to setting up new schools outside of the framework of local government or professional regulation, while simultaneously trying to make exams harder, the curriculum more “fact” based, and leftie social workers named as the root of all contemporary evil.”

Image credit (top) SDASM Archives

Image credit (middle): Flickr vivido/rosefirerising

There’s No Supporting Truss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terminal Report

school-assemblyA typical English School from both 1968 and 2014

All Change Please! has just received a copy of a speech made at the end of last term by the Headteacher of a school near you.

Well boys, as the end of the Michaelmas Term draws nigh here at the Michael Gove Academy Comprehensive Free Grammar High School it is time to reflect on the past year. I must of course first highlight the outstanding number of students who achieved entrance to an Oxbridge College, and with the record number of Open Scholarships being awarded. Our A level and GCSE grades were also the best ever recorded. As you know I dislike highlighting the success of individual departments, but this year the results in English, Pure Mathematics and Science were exceptional. Meanwhile on the Sports field we excelled in Rugby, Cricket and Rowing, easily out-playing all local and national sides.

But I must also of course mention the recreational subjects such as Art, Music and Drama that provide you with some well-earned respite from the demands of your academic studies. In Drama we were enthralled by the performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar put on by the English department and the Middle School. I must confess I dislike modern, populist interpretations of such classic works, and so I was delighted that it was set in Ancient Rome and performed in Latin. Then of course there were the exciting annual visits to see the Gleaming Spires of Oxbridge and Cambridge, and the outings to the Houses of Parliament and the Old Bailey.

It is of course sad when members of staff leave us, and it is with such regret that at the end of this term, due to the decline in numbers taking the subject, we must say goodbye to Miss Paint, our part-time art teacher. We also say farewell to Mr Word, Head of ICT, as of course there is no longer any need to learn how to use computers, but he will shortly be replaced by Mr Coding. Meanwhile our Careers Master, Mr Jobsworth, is also retiring, fortuitously as it happens as funding for his post has been withdrawn by the government. His strong, ideology-led  left-wing bias will be greatly missed. However, with everyone now bound for a Russell Group University anyway and a job for life, this will allow greater funds to be made available where they are really needed. And indeed we have been fortunate to secure the services of Dr Wu, who next term will be teaching us all how to speak Mandarin.

But Christmas is also a time to think of others, less fortunate than ourselves. So let us pause to think for a moment about those children who attend so-called 20th Century schools and are often forced against their will to work together, or ‘collaborate’ as I believe the term is. They are regularly asked to do projects and solve creative problems, but fail miserably in doing so due to their complete lack of knowledge and lack of rigor. And as a result they are quite unable to write essays or participate in their school Debating Societies. These poor souls will likely spend their sad and miserable lives perhaps running businesses, working demeaningly in the Creative Arts, or becoming popular entertainers or social workers.

So, let us end with our traditional Christmas Cheer. All together now:

Three hearty cheers for Gove!
(For who?)
For Gove –
(Why, what did he do?)
I thought you knew;
He saved our schools from the future!
3 Cheers for the wonderful Gove!

original-winnie

“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.” (AA Milne)

Of course, as we all know, in reality Michael the Gove was a Minister of Very Little Brain.

Lower image credit: Ernest H (no relation) Shepard

The Gove Who Stole Arts Education

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Following last year’s highly acclaimed (and well worth another read if only to discover that sadly very little has changed in the past twelve months)  The Gove of Christmas Present adaptation of a well known story , All Change Please! is proud to present a brand new freely adapted fractured fairy tale, this time based on The Grinch Who Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss. Don’t worry if you are not familiar with the original – the plot is not difficult to follow!

Every Pupil and Teacher
Liked learning and teaching a lot…
But the Gove,
Did NOT!

The Gove hated schools! The whole learning process!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be that his head wasn’t screwed on quite right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

But,
Whatever the reason,
His heart or his shoes,
He stood there in Parliament, hating the schools.

Then he growled, with his Gove fingers nervously drumming,
“I MUST find a way to keep Arts Education from coming!”

Then he got an idea!
An awful idea!
THE GOVE GOT A WONDERFUL, AWFUL IDEA!
“I know just what to do!” The Gove laughed in his throat.

“This is school number one,” The old Gove hissed
Then he slithered and slunk, with a smile most unpleasant,
Around the whole room, and he took all the Arts!
The Painting and Drawing! The Drama and Music! The Singing and Dancing!

Then the Gove heard a sound like the coo of a dove.
He turned around fast, and he saw a small child!
She stared at the Gove and said,
“Why are you taking our Arts Education? WHY?”
But, you know, that old Gove was so smart and so slick
He thought up a lie, and he thought it up quick!
“Why, my sweet little tot,” he lied,
“The curriculum is broken, so I’m taking it home.
“I’ll fix it up there. Then I’ll bring it back here.”
And his fib fooled the child. Then he patted her head and sent her to bed.

Then
He did the same thing
To the other schools

“Pooh-pooh to the Schools!” he was Gove-ish-ly humming.
“They’re finding out now that no Arts are included!
“They’re just waking up! I know just what they’ll do!
“Their mouths will hang open a minute or two
“Then all the schools will all cry BOO-HOO!”

“That’s a noise,” grinned the Gove,
“That I simply must hear!”
So he paused. And the Gove put a hand to his ear.
But the sound wasn’t sad!
Why, this sound sounded merry!
It couldn’t be so!
But it WAS merry! VERY!

He stared down at the schools!
The Grinch popped his eyes!
Then he shook!
What he saw was a shocking surprise!

Every child was singing! Without any Arts Education at all!
He HADN’T stopped the Arts from coming!

Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Gove, stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?
Then the Gove thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe the Arts” he thought, “doesn’t come from my political whim.
“Maybe the Arts…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

And what happened then…?
Well…in schools they say
That the Gove’s small heart
Grew three sizes that day!
And he brought back the Arts!

But do remember children, this is a fairy story in which an education in the Arts lived happily ever after. Real life is not always like that…

Little Diss Trust

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Every year thousands of tourists from all over the world visit Britain to soak up its history. Countless heritage visitor experience centres provide a glimpse of what our life was like in the past. The latest addition to these highly profitable venues are of course our schools where the public can immerse themselves in what it was like to receive a English education in the 1950s.

Elizabeth Truss speaks about curriculum reform
https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/elizabeth-truss-speaks-about-curriculum-reform

All Change Please! will leave it to others to challenge the reliability of the use of PISA statistics in Ms Truss’ speech, but meanwhile here a few responses to some of the other statements she made:

“Whatever pupils want to do after school, and whether vocational or technical training is right for them, a solid academic core helps them get there.”

So why does the ‘core’ need to be academic? Indeed isn’t it precisely because the core is academic that so many non-academically orientated children fail to grasp the very basics of spelling, grammar and times-tables?

“..our EBacc prioritises the subjects employers value.”

Not according to most businesses who want so-called ‘soft’ skills – creative problem-solving, communication, team work and collaboration.

“Good schools are taking advantage, providing activities like debating, public speaking, negotiation – a school in my constituency is offering business mentoring, for example.”

So why have you removed the speaking and listening component from GCSE? And why isn’t business studies part of the National Curriculum?’

“Pupils who haven’t yet achieved a C at GCSE will keep studying Maths.”

But as they don’t have to do an exam at the end they probably won’t bother to turn up to the weekly lesson.

“By 2020, the vast majority of young people will be studying maths right up to 18 – every one of them achieving the highest standard they possibly can.”

Just because they study something does not mean they will achieve the highest possible standard they can. But of course as you’re not a teacher you couldn’t be expected to understand that.

“The earnings return for a level 3 apprenticeship in engineering or manufacturing is double that of arts, media or business administration apprenticeships.”

But if your interests, abilities and talents lie more in the creative and performing arts or business, you’re unlikely to make very much money following a career – or even get a job – in a STEM subject.  And the arts, media and business also make a very substantial contribution to the UK economy, or at least they did before the EBacc was introduced.

“Our new design and technology courses focus on the practical application of science. It will expose students to the most exciting and transformative technologies – 3D printing, robotics, biomimicry, computer-aided design.”

So why did you remove any specific reference to these exciting and transformative technologies in the final version of the revised curriculum?’

“Coding – one of the essential skills of the 21st century – will now start at age 5. We are aiming to develop one of the most rigorous computing curricula in the world, where pupils will learn to handle detailed, abstract computing processes and over-11s will learn 2 programming languages.”

Coding is the new motor-vehicle maintenance. It’s now mostly done by a computer via someone much cheaper in India. Being able to code, even at a detailed and abstract level, in itself is unlikely get anyone a worthwhile job in the future – a much wider, creative problem identification and solving skill-set that identifies and meets needs and opportunities in a business context is what’s really required, and which unfortunately our children will not be prepared for while at school.

“People say that technology has transformed the world. But it’s actually made writing more important – so much of the new technology requires written communication. I think it’s right schools focus on getting the basics right”

So much so that new technology – in terms of predictive texting and voice recognition and activation – is about to fundamentally challenge the very nature of written communication. Perhaps that’s what we should be debating and working out ways of preparing children to deal with?

We are indeed fortunate, are we not, to be able to rest assured that our Heritage Education Curriculum is safe in the hands of the National Truss.

Image credit: Dullhunk  http://www.flickr.com/photos/dullhunk/380814854

Every Tom, Dick, Harry, and Sally too

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Mr and Mrs Smith were blessed with four children, all of whom are now grown up.  Although they love them all, they are particularly proud of Tom, who works in the local care home. He helps people in their old age, making their final days as easy and pleasant as he can, and he’s a highly valued member of the local community. Meanwhile Dick has set up his own successful business and supplies and advises on the latest energy-saving gadgets and fittings for the home, saving the planet, and saving people money on their electricity bills too. Sally is very different – she’s an entertainer, and sings and dances, bringing joy and laughter to her audiences. Using her self-taught IT skills she’s set up her own very creative website and social media network to promote her band.

And then there’s Harry. To be honest, he’s a bit of a disappointment. He’s no good at making or mending things, has no business sense and often finds it difficult to communicate with others or working as part of a team. At school, all he was interested in was reading books and regurgitating odd bits of trivial knowledge. As a last resort it was suggested that he might be best suited to doing an academic degree at a Russell Group university. He seemed to quite enjoy it there, but it was a complete waste of time – he now has a large debt to pay off and he’s still not able to find a job as, despite Sir Michael Wilshaw’s hopes and expectations, he wasn’t interested in becoming a lawyer, solicitor, politician, judge or surgeon, and there are few opportunities for university staff these days as everything is now online. His parents can’t help feeling that the education system has failed him.

The sad thing is that there are a lot of other people, just like Harry, who have become over-dependent on high-level qualifications and have drifted into a life of pointless academia. They deserve a better future, and desperately need our help and understanding. Please give generously to the ‘Save The Children From Gove’ campaign.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Dick_and_Harry

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom,_Dick_and_Sally

Image Credit: 123RF

The forgotten majority

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“Eng-ger-land! Eng-ger-land! Eng-ger-land!”

For somewhere around 20% of the population of under 12 year-olds – the 20% that are potentially academically able and motivated – the news that GCSEs (England) are to become a great deal more demanding is good news. But for the remaining 80% it’s decidedly bad news. The prospect of perhaps achieving a 1 or a 2, or even perhaps a 0 (to replace a U?) is unlikely to encourage them to even bother turning up on the day of the exam. Unless of course they are crafty enough to realise that they could then claim on their CVs that they have ten 0 levels?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2013/jun/11/gcse-pupils-compete-asia-gove

“In maths and science, questions and content will be more demanding, so that state school students can compete with their contemporaries in Singapore and Shanghai, acquiring the skills that the rich pay handsomely to pass on to their children and that are the guarantee of future opportunity,” Gove wrote.

“Exams will test higher-level skills, such as more essay writing, problem solving and mathematical modelling, that universities and businesses desperately need.’ DfE

The whole misguided premise seems to be that simply by asking more demanding questions, academic standards in state schools will rise and children from poor backgrounds will all go to Oxbridge. And All Change Please! still remains to be convinced that businesses need higher-order skills in essay-writing and advanced ‘there’s just one-correct-answer’ problem-solving.

Meanwhile for the long tail of the forgotten 80% we can perhaps expect to see a substantial growth in non-academic subjects that do continue to include coursework, such as art & design, design & technology, engineering, drama, P.E., etc. What’s really needed now is a means of more formal recognition of success in these so-called ‘soft’ skills – surely what most employers are actually looking for these days, alongside some sort of certification that identifies an ability to read and write, do basic maths, follow instructions and be able to deal with the public – as opposed to being able to write essays about a Shakespeare play or solve quadratic equations? Someone is going to have to pick up the pieces – maybe there is some hope for a Better Future here?

But perhaps the best news of all is that ‘iGoves’ will go down in history as one of the shortest living ideas in education. And instead, in an attempt to revive our world rankings back to their heady 1966 levels and to differentiate them from the easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy, my mum did my coursework for me in her lunch break Welsh GCSEs and Scotland  where of course they sensibly don’t actually have GCSEs, the new GCSEs will actually be known as GCSE (Eng-ger-land! Eng-ger-land! Eng-ger-land!*). Perhaps the intention is that the prospect of achieving better results than their Welsh and Scottish counterparts will drive our children upwards to even higher academic achievements?

Or perhaps there will be an outcry when it is realised that in order to mark that many essays they will have to be out-sourced to places like India and China in addition to Australia, as is already the case? Or that perhaps the number of marks needed to get a 5 (the so-called pass-mark) will be mysteriously adjusted so that an acceptable percentage of children appear to pass?

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

*Eng-ger-land is apparently what the English sometimes chant at football matches because it’s easier to say (it just rolls off the tongue).

Image credit: Flickr: crabchick