New A level D&T: Dull & Tedious?

Screenshot 2015-08-18 19.15.35There are a lot more things in A level Design and Technology than are dreamt of in the current DfE proposals

Just when you were sharpening your pencils ready for the start of the new term and feeling pleased with yourself for getting your DfE GCSE D&T Holiday Homework (see Fixated by Design) out of the way at the start of the holidays instead of leaving it until it’s too late like everyone else, along comes another assignment…  This time it’s the draft specification for AS and A level Design & Technology, published in late July and which needs to be responded to by the 24th September – holiday dates doubtless chosen by the DfE and Ofqual to be as inconspicuous as possible in the hope that no-one will actually notice them. You can download the documents on content here and assessment here.

But after the encouraging noises of the proposed GCSE D&T spec., these documents, to put it bluntly, are far from being at the cutting edge and are utterly unimaginative and unenlightened. They read more like a narrow description of 3D design and technology as it was in the latter half of the 20th Century, still rooted in the demands of 1960s industrial, mass-production engineering and management methodologies. For example, references to Critical Path Analysis (1950s), Six Sigma and Scrum (1980s), which are about making large product volumes efficiently according to plan, are now widely disregarded as they conflict with the current movement towards agile processes that focus on an ability to change to meet rapidly evolving needs and demands.

Further thought also needs to be given to the specialist areas of knowledge. Today, the disciplines of product design, engineering and textiles are increasingly intertwined, not separated out. And why is it fashion design and development, and don’t they have to meet needs and wants in the same way that product designers do? And anyway the content is not about fashion, it’s about textiles. Who writes this nonsense?

Meanwhile there’s only brief passing reference to iterative design, marketing, sustainability, smart materials and 3D printing – aspects that should now be taking centre stage – along with the critical need for designers to have a rigorous grasp of the psychology of visual and tactile aesthetics and user experience interfaces that drive customer purchase and satisfaction. Another major, almost unbelievable omission, is an emphasis on the importance of developing a designer’s ability to communicate effectively with a variety of clients, users, manufacturers, public bodies, manufacturers, venture capitalists, etc., using a wide range of traditional and digital technologies, appropriate to their intended audience. It’s one thing to come up with a creative, innovative idea, and quite another to persuade others of its potential.

And nowhere is there a mention of the early 21st century methodologies behind Design Thinking, User-centered design, Service design, Architectural and Communication design, Branding and marketing in the social media age, participation and collaboration, cross-disciplinary digital making, the possibilities and impact of the ‘internet of things’, interaction design, and the necessity for understanding potential sources of funding, or indeed the ways in which the very notion – let alone employment opportunities – of the professional designer will change substantially over the next ten or so years. And what about some coverage of the history of design & technology and material culture as a source of understanding and inspiration? Or a knowledge of contemporary designers and design practices? As such – and surely the most important comment to make in any response – the proposed specification fails to provide a suitable progression from the proposed GCSE D&T and towards meeting the emerging requirements of working in the design and creative industries.

We need Designers and Technologists to initiate future change, not to have an academic knowledge of the manufacturing processes of the past. Somehow the Df-ingE have managed to take the most amazing, exciting and compelling subject on the curriculum and rendered it a grey, flabby and lifeless list of random bits of content with all the good bits squeezed out. Do they honestly think that Vivienne Westwood, or Johnny Ive or Zahid Habib would have blossomed after being subjected to all this dreariness at the age of 17? If All Change Please! were a bright young teacher or prospective A level student today it would never ever want to teach or study or go anywhere near this course. If this specification remains as far behind the curve as it is, it will never catch up.

And finally, while D&T A level might be the next step on the pathway for a small number of future professional designers and engineers, All Change Please! can’t help wondering if it currently offers enough as a component of the more general education of all those students who take the exam but decide to go off in other directions?

Is the A83 the way to go?

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No, not that A83..

Most of the proposed new specification for D&T could easily have been written forty years ago. Which, by an amazing co-incidence, is exactly around the time in the 1970s and 80s when we already had a highly regarded, forward-looking world-class D&T A level examination. It was offered by the Oxford Board of Local Examinations (long ago absorbed into OCR), and widely recognised as a demanding, rigorous and exciting course.  Sadly it’s unlikely that anyone currently working at the DfE will be aware it ever existed.

You can download a .pdf copy of the Oxford A83 / 9883 examination syllabus here and as far as All Change Please! can tell, this is the first time it has ever been made available on this new-fangled interweb thingy which as we all know will probably never catch on…

The first thing you’ll notice is how short it was, as most exam syllabi were in those days when less was clearly more. But it’s all there, because a lot more was left up to the school to build into their courses. Then there’s the wonderfully open ‘definition’ of a designer  – ‘anyone who consciously seeks to determine some part of man’s environment in a way most suitable to man’s purpose‘ – provided of course one now substitutes the word ‘human-being’ for ‘man’ – and of the broad intention that the syllabus is concerned with the ‘physical, rational and emotional nature of man, as well as with the shaping of materials and the production of well-designed goods within the total environment‘.

And then the breadth of the examined content – no long tick-box lists of detailed requirements or endorsement sections, and in essence covering much the same – needs and wants, ergonomics and anthropometrics, design methodologies, production methods and the properties and characteristics of a range of materials. A particular feature of the written paper was the requirement to include extensive specific references to existing and contemporary products and designers.

Not to mention the entirely open-ended coursework requirements, which, although not detailed in the main syllabus document, required a major project and a number of supporting short coursework activities which included a dissertation in which candidates were required to analyse their growth of understanding and application of design and designing with reference to their practical work. And the assessment for coursework – completed by the teacher and externally moderated – was holistic in approach, not involving the awarding of a series of micro-marks, but involving placing a tick on a line against half-a dozen descriptive criteria.

The range and quality of work produced by candidates was often extraordinary, and certainly equivalent to the first year of a degree course. Many students were readily accepted onto University courses in schools of 2D and 3D design, architecture and engineering, and indeed, having kept in contact with them, some of All Change Please!’s own have since gone on to become highly successful professionals, now often running their own UK design companies. Perhaps one day we’ll finally get back to something as good?

But of course, the Oxford syllabus must be placed in context. In those days there were only something like 300 to 600 candidates, and it was only offered where there was a good teacher who knew what they were doing, i.e., able to develop their own course based more on a philosophy than a tick-box checklist. And today, sadly, there are probably not enough teachers with the necessary confidence and experience to do that.

Mind you, with D&T candidate and teacher numbers dropping the way they currently are, maybe it won’t be long before they fall to the levels of the 1980s again..?

In the meanwhile, it’s absolutely essential that you tell the DfE and Ofqual exactly what you think of the current proposals.

With thanks to Tony and Jane.

Image credits: Top, Dan Pledger, Head of Design, Simon Langton Boys’ School Canterbury.

Middle:  Flickr: Stephen Mackenzie

 

Fixated by Design

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So as the academic year desperately drags to its inevitable conclusion and teachers’ thoughts turn to escaping for a long, hot summer somewhere nice, it’s kind of the DfE and Ofqual to set everyone some holiday homework. Yes, with typical impeccable timing, the latest draft GCSE D&T specifications have just been published for consultation, due for return by the 26th August.

Along with the consultation forms, the specifications can be downloaded from here and here.

Generally, for Product Design-fixated teachers everywhere, the draft looks very encouraging. There is a clear approach to the use of explore/create/evaluate iterative design processes and of multi-materials and technologies. And the slightly odd jumble of proposed contexts from the previous drafts has been replaced by a list of suggestions for ‘contextual challenges’ that essentially read as ‘anything that does not prompt the use of a specific material, technology or discipline’. As expected though, coursework, or NEA (Non Exam Assessment) as it is curiously now known, is reduced to 50%, with a 50% completely inappropriate written paper: if Art and Design can be 100% NEA, why can’t D&T?

All that really remains is for one or two important details to be sorted out and clarified, and for the Awarding Bodies to get busy over the summer starting to develop user-friendly final specifications and examinations. Oh, and of course over the next couple of years, an awful lot of CPD to help the more traditional single-material specialist teachers who will have to develop a somewhat broader approach to delivering coursework, and to work out what the word ‘iterative’ actually means.

Obviously it’s up to each individual to decide for themselves how they wish to respond to the consultation, but here is All Change Please!‘s list of things it thinks would be worth mentioning, which you may or may not agree with, but you are welcome to include in your response if you wish – though do make sure you suitably personalise your comments!

1. It’s important to send a positive message supporting the multi-material, iterative design approach, and the specification as a whole.

2. On page 3 the explanation of the word ‘prototype’ is generally helpful, but the understanding of ‘product’ less so. A prototype might not need further design development as such, but simply require the use of manufacturing technologies not available in a school workshop. The final ‘outcome’ of design practice is likely to be a ‘proposal‘ rather than an actual finished, saleable object, except perhaps where the item is a ‘one-off’.

3. On page 5, point 7, there is a requirement for ‘at least one prototype and at least one product… based on a brief they develop..’. This lacks clarity, and possibly confused thinking on the part of Ofqual. It needs to be replaced with ‘at least one prototype or one product’ (which is how it is expressed in 2. in the Introduction).

4. In the Technical knowledge and understanding section the content seems a bit muddled. Ideally there would be a clearer distinction between the general, broad core of knowledge of materials and tools and a more in-depth knowledge of certain areas or aspects, chosen by the student.

5. In Designing and making principles (9) again some clarification is required. Ideally it should read:… ‘one design brief and at least one design specification‘ (as distinct from a manufacturing specification). It would also be useful to add.. ‘even though the design requirements might change during the development of the design’.  And presumably they mean ‘from their own consideration of…, supported by those identified by others‘, rather than a separate brief and specification for a problem they have identified and a separate brief and specification for a problem someone else has identified? Are students expected to undertake one or two pieces of coursework?

6. On page 7, re. ‘use different design strategies’, the term ‘design fixation‘ is not currently in common usage in D&T. It does of course mean fixated by a single design idea, rather than with design and designing itself!

7. Then, still on page 7, ‘design and develop at least one product…’ Again this needs to read one prototype or product. The explanation of innovation, provided at the bottom of the page, needs improvement. It would be more appropriate to use the word ‘creative’ to cover something new or novel, and perhaps unusual or unique. The word ‘innovation‘ indicates a design that will potentially lead to the widespread adoption a new type or class of product as a solution to a problem.

8. And re. ‘appropriate materials and components…‘, again there is the confusion between ‘one prototype and one product.’

9. While it is good to see the links with Science and Maths at the end, thus helping establish the contribution of D&T to STEM, it’s a shame there are no links with Art & Design (the clue is in the name!). This would help identify the important aesthetic dimensions of design, which are not otherwise directly mentioned.

And last, but by no means least, while the specification potentially succeeds in encouraging a high quality, rigorous, intellectual and academic learning experience in design & technology, it does little for students who have traditionally sought the D&T department as a refuge where they can make potentially useful artefacts and develop valuable workshop skills. What’s also urgently needed are alternative specifications to meet their needs and wants.

Please forward this post to any D&T teachers you know!

 

Image credit: Flickr/ ji young Yoon

Flowers in the Rain

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This week it’s the unusual turn of Alan Titchmarsh to provide the provocation for the latest missive from All Change Please! In his recent Telegraph article he begins in potential prize-winning petunia fashion:

“It is surprising, but there are still some people in this world who think of apprenticeships as second-best, as a career path to be followed only by those unlucky enough to achieve grades that will not win them a place at university. It is a sentiment that is as inaccurate as it is flawed, and it has resulted, over the past 30 or 40 years, in a completely unbalanced workforce: a workforce lacking in practical skills and overpeopled by those with academic qualifications that have no relevance to their eventual employment.”

But then unfortunately his article starts to sprout a few weeds: “I bemoan the general lack of respect today for those who are good with their hands.”, which is followed later by references to a bouquet of “horticulture, thatching, building and wood-carving“.

It’s great that he is promoting the need for a drastic increase in the number and range of apprenticeships, but a shame that he mainly presents them in a 19th century way, associating them with rural crafts as activities that have always been portrayed as being essentially mindless and thus more suited to the non-academic amongst us: our hands do not work independently from our brains and our senses, but in close connection and interaction with them. Meanwhile in today’s world it’s the ability to create and communicate using the latest in material and production technologies that is the most sought after, alongside the ability to continually learn and update our skill-sets as things rapidly change.

What’s currently missing in education is a ‘Third Way’ that combines intellectual and practical creative and technical problem solving skills with an understanding of how the real world works – things that neither academia or many traditional purely craft-based apprenticeships currently provide. Such studies are not the most appropriate for everyone, but there are a sizeable number of bright and able, but non-academic, children who are going to miss out if – as appears to be happening at present – it becomes a two-way choice. Courses in Design and the Creative and Performing Arts used to provide such experiences and opportunities, but their second-rate valuation within the EBacc system and their increased academic content is diminishing their accessibility.

Surely we want all the plants and flowers in our garden to grow and bloom? And to do that we need to account for the fact that each variety develops and matures in different ways, at different times and in different conditions.

And here’s a post from someone who agrees!

https://designfizzle.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/the-apprentice-too-little-too-late/

 

Photo credit: Flickr / Tony Hammond

Design & Techknowledgy: revised GCSEs

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So what does the new draft D&T GCSE content add up to?

While the new draft GCSE content for Cooking and Nutrition was extensively covered in Thursday’s press, you could be forgiven for having missed the fact that the new draft content for the Design and Technology GCSE was published on the DfE site as well (along with Drama and Citizenship).

It remains to be seen whether the final content for D&T does follow this draft structure, and most importantly the eventual breadth and depth developed and packaged by the examination boards, but in the meantime it’s worth highlighting some of the major proposed changes.

1. There will be just one subject called Design and Technology, i.e. there will be no separate courses for Resistant Materials, Textiles, Electronic Products, etc. Food Technology will no longer exist as such and will be replaced by a separate non-D&T option called ‘Cooking and Nutrition’.

2. Students can elect to design and make a product in a series of ‘areas of interest’, which include fashion, interiors and furnishings, advertising and promotion, consumer electronics, leisure and mechanical systems.

3. In addition to knowledge and understanding relating to their chosen ‘area of interest’, all students will be expected to cover pliable and resistant materials, textiles, mechanics, programmable components and new materials.

4. A clear distinction has been made between ‘products’ and ‘prototypes’, with both being acceptable, provided they are ‘high quality’.

And elsewhere it has been reported that coursework will be reduced to 50% of the final assessment instead of 60%.

There are many positive things about this proposal, though largely in the sense of ‘Well it could have been a lot worse’. There are encouraging references to ‘the iterative design process of exploring, creating and evaluating’ (or ‘having, growing and proving’ as the Goldsmiths e-scape project described it some years ago). And there’s even a remit for student-developed briefs, ‘a creative approach’, ‘taking design-risks’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘collaborative discourse’ (though sadly not collaborative working). But it’s a pity there are no prompts for work in spatial or built environment design, and nothing to promote a deeper understanding and practice of ‘modelling’, which lies at the very heart of design.

Some implications of the draft are issues as to how the course will come to be delivered. Ideally perhaps schools will develop a team-teaching approach with students accessing former subject-specialist teachers and teaching areas as and when appropriate. But others, and probably the majority, will doubtless adopt a materials-based ‘theory’ circus, and/or assign students to work in a chosen ‘area of interest’ right from the start of year 10. Let’s face it…

Fashion = Textiles Technology
Advertising and promotion = Graphic Products
Furnishings, Mechanical systems and Leisure = Resistant Materials
Consumer electronics = Electronic Products

Which just leaves the problem of how to deliver a more broadly-based theory course, unless textile teachers are going to be willing to cover mechanics, and electronics teachers are happy to deal with fibres and fabrics.

Meanwhile the increase in the knowledge-based ‘written paper’ to 50%, although not unexpected (and could have been even higher), continues to defeat the whole point of studying D&T. Every D&T teacher tells stories of students who are excellent designers but fail the examination because of the difficulties they find with the written papers, and similarly of students with minimal practical capability in D&T who get high grades simply as a result of being good a formal exam technique.

There remains the age-old problem of the statement that:

“The word ‘product’ is understood throughout to be a generic term for all 3D final outcomes of design practice including systems and objects. “

Beyond the fact that this understanding is somewhat out-dated in design these days, it presents issues in the advertising and promotion area for the production of promotional 2D graphic work, and in particular ‘digital promotion’, which presumably involves websites and video?

Although the distinction between ‘products’ and ‘prototypes’ is helpful, it still needs further consideration. It should perhaps read: ‘Final proposals should be presented in such a form as to effectively communicate your design ideas to a client, user, manufacturer or financial investor.’ Or even better still: ‘Final proposals for design ideas should be uploaded to Kickstarter in order to obtain feedback and potential funding for further development’.

But, to be realistic, the statement that students are required to ‘demonstrate the ability to:

• design and develop innovative, functional, aesthetic and marketable products that respond to needs and are fit for purpose’

is somewhat ambitious to say the least, because if they can succeed at doing so in their GCSEs they would be achieving what most teams of professional product designers fail to do in a lifetime! How about ‘demonstrate they have the potential capability to…’ instead?

And going back to the proposed ‘areas of interest’, this article suggests that opportunities have been missed to really drag the subject into the 21st Century by following the suggestions made for categories for future professional design disciplines, listed as:

• The Design Coder
• The Design Entrepreneur
• The Hybrid Design Researcher
• The Business Designer
• The Social Innovator

Or even:
Sustainable design pioneer

But there’s one statement that really can’t be forgiven, it’s:

“The types and properties of the following natural and man-made materials:“

Yes, you read that correctly: MAN-made materials. What is this, the 1970’s? Synthetic, manufactured or just made materials, please. Or, following the ‘less is more’ design principle, how about just ‘…the following materials’?

Whatever happened to Food Technology?

While the new GCSE in Cooking and Nutrition can only be welcomed, it must be regretted that Food Technology appears to have been dismissed from Office. Far from being toxic, overall it was the D&T GCSE that probably achieved the highest, most rigorous standards and the only one that really succeeded in delivering practical work in school alongside a real understanding of the issues of scaling up a ‘one-off’ into a batch or mass-produced product. And while the future demand for 3D product designers is at best modest, there will continue to be a substantial need for expertise in the extensive UK food industry. The proposed new course can only be described as ‘dumbed down’, a phrase an enthusiastic Nick Glibb strangely omitted to use. All Change Please! therefore hopes that some form of higher-level GCSE Food Technology course, either within or outside the D&T framework, will be re-considered.

And at the same time however, it seems only reasonable that similar courses in Woodwork, Metalwork and Needlework should be re-introduced to compliment Cooking. After all, the next generation of young men and women who fail their more academically-demanding GCSEs are going to need to be able to do something useful during their long hours of future unemployment, aren’t they?

Consultation

Details of how to make your views known can be found on the DATA website.

Image credit: Flickr/Josef Stuefer

No, Stop Messing About!

 

 

As readers of a certain advanced age will know, Kenneth Williams was a cast member of the popular 1950s radio programme Hancock’s Half Hour.  And that his catch-phrase was ‘No, Stop Messing About’.  Fast forward some 55 years and the cast members of Matthew Hancock’s Half Hour seem intent on doing what they know how to do best: messing about with education.

Further to the examples they recently gave of their plans for new world-class 19th century vocational education, the DfE has since come up with another to add to woodwork, dressmaking and how to wire up a light bulb.

“In the past, too often they would learn some abstract theory at school. They might describe an engine, for example, rather than actually strip down and rebuild a motorbike. They would then struggle to find work, or an employer willing to give them the training they should have already received”.

Ah yes, good old motor-cycle maintenance. Yes, a lot of employers are currently looking for school-leavers able to plug one end of a computer cable into a motorbike so that the completely closed system can be automatically repaired and fine-tuned. Still All Change Please! supposes such a course might come in useful when they need to ‘get on their bikes’, Norman Tebbit style, to go to look for work in some other country.

Meanwhile, somehow the DfE have been messing about so effectively that they have somehow managed to completely miss this report from from the New Economics Foundation Innovation Institute, which clearly sets out the issues for STEM-related learning.

“The skills crisis is a well-aired issue, but forecasting the skills requirements tends to be based on immediate local or short-term priorities. There is no coherent vision and no national strategy.

The problem has been exacerbated by the rapid technological change that is sweeping through the workplace: 3D printing, robotics, nanotechnology, cloud computing, mobile technology and the internet are causing major disruption in many sectors. New roles are proliferating, while traditional skills are falling out of fashion.

Why, for example, are so many colleges focusing on carpentry and bricklaying and ignoring building information modelling software, which will become compulsory on all government construction projects from 2016?

We should also move away from outdated assessment and qualification models. These create artificial learning levels that can hold back a student’s natural pace of enquiry and development. Learning should be student-led, with the tutor acting as coach and facilitator. It should be grounded in real-life scenarios and placed into context.”

The full report can be downloaded here

And if it had recently heard from its collective brain instead of thinking about nothing else but the possibility of an extended playtime, the DfE would have surely studied this Infographic, provided of course that they had not got it messed up and completely obliterated by sawdust and engine oil.  It presents what it claims will be the 10 most important work skills in 2020. Driven by our increasing longevity, the rise of smart machines and programmable systems, a new media ecology, superstructured organisations and the diversity and adaptability of a globally connected, the skills our current generation of schoolchildren will require include: Sense making, Social Intelligence, Novel and Adaptive Thinking, Cross Cultural Competency, Computational Thinking, New Media Literacy, Transdisciplinarity, a Design Mindset, Cognitive Load Management and Virtual Collaboration. And All Change Please! would like to add its own ‘Quality Long-term Health Care’ for those of us who are actually old enough to remember Hancock’s Half Hour.

Of course no-one knows exactly what the skills of the future will be, but that’s the point – what we need to do is to ensure today’s students know how to acquire new knowledge and be able to learn new skills as they emerge during their lifetime.

In this age and culture of technology, surely what we urgently need is a technology-led rather than academic-led curriculum? Now that really would, as Kenneth Williams might have described it, be ‘Fantabulosa’.

But until that happy event, please DfE, just STOP MESSING ABOUT

And finally, if you haven’t already, do scroll back up to the top and watch at least the first couple of minutes of the video to listen to Kenneth Williams trying to pick up a female-impersonating Hancock…

Hancock’s Half Hour

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Talk about taking one step forward and six steps Baccwards…

All Change Please! can report that the other day Skills and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock spent his Half Hour announcing further details of the new TechBacc.

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On the one hand was the laudable statement that “From 2015, all practical qualifications for 14- to 16-year-olds will be forced to meet rigorous new standards… to put them on par with academic qualifications”.  Now if All Change Please! didn’t know better it might believe the DfE really did know what they’re talking about this time, but as soon as it read “Previously, young people were encouraged to study meaningless qualifications completely unrelated to their lives or the rapidly changing world of work”, its suspicious were quickly aroused. The statement continued:

Previously, the development of practical skills for 14- to 16-year-olds was too narrowly focused on abstract theory. This has changed so that pupils could now:

  • in woodwork, measure, cut, joint and finish their own piece of furniture – previously they may have just studied the design of a chair

  • in textiles, students may now design and make an outfit from start to finish using a range of dressmaking or tailoring techniques – previously they may have just analysed the impact of changing technology on dress making

  • in electronics, use motion detectors, batteries and microprocessors to wire movement-controlled lighting – previously they may have just analysed a light to see how it functions.

Given that vocational courses are generally aimed at those who find abstract theory difficult to grasp and write academic essays about, it seems rather unlikely that any previous vocational qualifications were awarded simply on the basis of studying the design of a chair, analysing the technological history of dress-making, or describing how a light works. And of course designing and making furniture or an outfit from start to finish, or designing with electronics have long been a feature of GCSE D&T courses.

It rather seems that the DfE have followed Michael Gove, slipping down some sort of mysterious worm-hole time-warp and have found themselves stranded in a make-believe wonderland back in the 1950s where youngsters who are good with their hands end up learning a really useful trade that will see themselves through life, help them set up and maintain their nice new council house and have something nice to wear to church on a Sunday. What appears to be on the horizon is a return to woodwork for the boys and dressmaking for the girls, or as it used to be called in the good old 1950s, ‘Homecrafts’. Not that there’s anything wrong with learning these things, it’s just not even going to match up to the future needs of the ‘white heat of technology’ envisaged back in the 1960s. Somehow it sounds more like a preparation for life on benefits or the minimum wage.

And whatever happened to good old ‘social mobility’? Over the last thirty years the whole argument against these sorts of courses has been that they did not contain enough academic content to enable children who used to be called ‘late-developers’ to change their ‘learning pathway’ and gain entry to University. So how is that going to be resolved? Exactly how will the standards be equated with academic qualifications? It all sounds like another case of something the DfE have not thought through properly, but that doesn’t matter provided it gets some positive spin in the Daily Mail.

Meanwhile these days simply having specific ‘practical’ skills, while better than nothing, is not enough to ensure worthwhile 21st century employment. For example, to have any relevance at all, the ‘woodwork’ course will need to offer a much broader based experience, from wood crafts, coppice management and sustainable forestry, through construction carpentry and joinery, to automated wood fabrication techniques and modern engineered cellulose materials derived from wood products. And the content will also need to ensure that students have a wider understanding of the nature of business and the expectations of the workplace.

And anyway, if we’re going to have a TechBacc, isn’t it also time we had an ArtsBacc?

In other news… an article by Liz ‘No support’ Truss Britain-needs-a-revolution-in-the-classroom claimed that teaching was now the preferred option for Oxford graduates. And that’s the problem: academics are simply breeding more academics – education is little more than a self-perpetuating academic renewal device completely unconnected with the real world.

She’s right of course in one respect, Britain does need a revolution in the classroom. Just not the one that she has in mind.

And finally… some breaking news… Apparently:

Alan Milburn, the Government’s social mobility tsar, says that schools are “wasting young talent on an industrial scale” as figures suggest 2,000 bright pupils from poor backgrounds never reach their potential.

Meanwhile yet another spokesperson from the DfE said: “Improving the life chances of children from disadvantaged backgrounds and closing the gap between the rich and the poor is our overriding ambition.”

By ‘potential’ Alan Milburn means attending a leading academic Russell Group University and doubtless ending up with a job serving coffee at Starbucks, or, of course, teaching. As opposed to the quite unthinkable alternative of following a technical or vocational course and setting up a successful business. Provided that is it’s not in woodwork or dressmaking of course.

 

Image credits: Flickr  Philip Howard    /  Britt-Marie Sohlström

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.

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

Back to Badges

First-Best-Moment-Award-Winner

There’s a growing trend in on-line learning to award students electronic badges for succeeding at various tasks: http://www.openbadges.org/  and http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2013/05/23/explaining-open-badges-through-analogy/

Now never having been a Beaver, let alone a Cub or a Scout, All Change Please! has been somewhat sniffy and superior about the idea of badges, especially as neither it, nor its alter ego, has never won an award for anything, ever. Until now, that is, because the very kind and lovely Jenny Pellett, a regular All Change Please! reader and forthwith legendary No.1 Fan, has very kindly nominated its Can I See Tea? post for a ‘Memorable Moment Award‘. And as a result All Change Please! has had to very carefully re-examine its attitude to badges, and has decided that actually, on the whole, all things considered, it now really rather approves of them. Especially as what the world needs now is more skills and less academic qualifications.

So, according to the rules, an acceptance post must be published – which is what this is – and in turn further nominations for an Memorable Moment Award must be made for one or more posts by other bloggers. So, in no particular order, the All Change Please! nominees for a Best Memorable Moment Award go to….

(insert inappropriately long pause here to build tension)

(wait for it…)

(and keep waiting interminably and/or you’ve given up all interest and have gone to put the kettle on)

JJ Charlesworth for his post: Are You Experienced?

Most art critics spew out a load of incomprehensible gibberish, but JJ is a rare example of someone who has something interesting to say that is eminently readable. At the same time he somehow manages to convey the impression he is actually enjoying what he is writing, and, like All Change Please! isn’t afraid to plunder popular music titles of the late 1960s. The fact that he is a former A level student of mine from way back when is, of course, entirely co-incidental.

Next, Carla Turchini for: I Do Not Like This Game

There are no holes barred in this hard-hitting, no-nonsense critique of what it is like to work in the design industry where the value of good design is being severely compromised by short-term commercial pressures. The fact that Carla is the designer of many of my most successful books is, of course, entirely co-incidental.

And finally, Simon Shepard for: Fundamental Principles: One In, One Out

for his ability to take an ordinary, everyday situation and use it as an analogy for an approach to writing code. That’s my boy. The fact that…, etc., etc.

But wait – I should have known better… How could I forget this blog (which it seems I did)? So, from me to you: a special Lifetime Blog Achievement Award for Fred Garnett‘s visceral ‘9 after 909’ account of music, society and culture in the Sixties. An absolutely excellent and memorable read, and particularly so if you are a Beatles’ fan. Oh dear – it’s all too much.

Rules for the BEST MOMENT AWARD:  1. These nominees (now winners) repost these rules completely after their acceptance speech. 2. Winners now have the privilege of awarding the next awardees! The re-post should include a Thank You for those who helped them, a NEW list of people and blogs worthy of the award (up to 15), and the winners posted here will then notify their choices with the great news of receiving this special award.   Download the award’s logo at MomentMatters.com/Award and post it with your acceptance.

And finally, thanks again to Jenny Pellett  http://charactersfromthekitchen.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/to-all-the-best-moments/, without whom this post would not have been possible.

So as All Change Please! breaks down in tears and is helped, or rather dragged, from the stage, all it needs to do now is to find a needle and thread so it can proudly sew its first badge on. Anyone got a woggle they no longer want?

DIB DIB DIB, as they used to say in the 1960s. Apparently DIB stands for Do Your Best, which perhaps explains why spelling amongst the 50 somethings is sometimes a bit erratic. Oh and just in case you weren’t wondering, DOB DOB DOB stands for Do Our Best. Not a lot of people know that, as Micheal Caine apparently never said.

Getting IT Right – again

All Change Please! is still the tiniest bit concerned about what seems to be a distinct lack of debate concerning what schools should be teaching in terms of IT. The broad media message is that spreadsheets, databases and presentations are now Out, and that coding is In. The first question no-one seems to be asking is exactly what level of coding needs to be taught? Clearly some basic principles should be established during primary school, but flogging away at dead computer languages through secondary school is going to be about as relevant as learning Latin, and indeed probably even less interesting and fun. I first raised this in Rasberry Pi in the sky back in March. And indeed here is some evidence of what all pupils will be doing if we are not careful: 12 Things to do with Raspberry Pi. It’s not that there is anything particularly wrong with this Boys’ Own construction kit approach as such, providing it is just a small part of a much wider programme of IT-related learning.

Next question:  how essential is it actually going to be for everyone to be able to code as the 21st century progresses? Back in the late 1980s if you wanted to use a PC you needed to have some understanding of DOS – and then along came Windows. In the mid 1990s if you wanted to set up a website you had to learn html – and then along came a variety of iWebGoLiveDreamWeavery programs that more-or-less did all that for you. And just a couple of years ago if you wanted to create an electronic multimedia textbook you needed to be able to apply some fairly heavy-duty coding – now you can use iBook author. So I’m not entirely convinced that in the future everyone needs to be fluent in high-level programming languages. Though obviously at the same time we do urgently need to find ways to attract and encourage our more capable students – and especially girls – to consider working in the IT industry.

Meanwhile the flavour of the month appears to be ‘Create your own App in your bedroom and make a fortune‘, which I have to say I find a little dishonest, in that the average student probably has probably got as much chance of doing so as they have of winning the ‘X factor’ or ‘Britain’s got talent but I just hope this isn’t it’. Creating successful apps involves a great deal more than a good idea – thorough market research into user needs, wants and behaviours is required, along with some high-level coding expertise, an Apple developer account, a US tax reference number and a substantial marketing budget. If we really are to become a nation of enterprising app-builders we need to be teaching coding in the context of creativity, risk-taking, on-line collaboration, business management, venture capital and crowd-sourcing, along with user-interface design and information metrics.

We also need to be seriously questioning whether IT as such should be ‘taught’ as such in the current formal education system, particularly given that, by and large, the BBC Model B/Microsoft Office raised workforce in place to teach it often have little or no experience of the reality of the fast-moving, agile and highly competitive IT industry. The anticipation in the late 1990s was that IT would soon simply become embedded in the curriculum as a whole, with a properly coordinated scheme in place that ensured appropriate coverage and progression over the years – which of course never happened. Would it perhaps be more beneficial for schools to focus more widely on how to effectively use IT to learn independently, rather than how to create new content?

Meanwhile outside the school system, those who are sufficiently interested and motivated (aka ‘geeks’) should be offered guaranteed access to regular informal sessions to develop their expertise, alongside an online collaborative network of professional programmers and designers who recognise the need to themselves participate in the life-long learning community. Now that really would be 21st Century Learning.

These may not be all the questions that need asking (or indeed the right answers) but at least All Change Please! is asking them…

*Older readers might recall that Getting IT Right was the title of a series of KS3 ICT textbooks and support materials All Change Please! was the series editor for back in the late 1990s.