Tilting at Wind Turbines

Arts and Media students to keep our wind turbines turning?

You can’t be serious? For those of you assuming that the idea of Arts and Media students maintaining wind turbines is just another one of All Change Please!‘s weirder satirical fantasies, then you’d be wrong – this time it’s for real….

Last week in her Annual Report, Ofsted’s very own Amanda Spielman spoke of her concern about colleges:

“flooding a local job market with young people with say low-level arts and media qualifications when the big growth in demand is for green energy workers, will result in too many under-employed and dissatisfied young people and wind turbines left idle.”

As such she continued to reveal her considerable lack of understanding of the way things really are in schools and colleges, and at the same time managed to perpetuate and reinforce the mistaken populist opinion that all “superficially attractive” courses in Arts and Media are a waste of time. And All Change Please! can’t help wonder why those who show an aptitude for Arts and Media courses should be singled out as being particularly ideal candidates for maintaining wind turbines? Surely there must be other just as low-level, worthless courses offered in other subjects too?

At one level Ms Spielman’s suggestion that more students should perhaps be encouraged to consider becoming ‘green energy workers’ is fair enough, but just saying so isn’t going to make it happen, because things don’t work like that. And, beyond the ‘Ofsted blasts ‘low-level arts and media courses‘ sensationalist headlines (which is as far as most readers get), she does admit that “This doesn’t mean that the courses the young people are taking are completely worthless”, and that her target is “the small minority of our colleges that have under-performed or been stuck for years”. But by then, it’s too late, and the damage to public opinion has been done.

While it is true to say that many post 16 students take courses in Arts and Media, Ms Spielman’s makes no attempt to consider why, and what needs to be done to encourage them, and others, to take more ‘technical’ courses instead. It’s also a shame she does not define exactly what she means by ‘worthless’ courses, thus tarring all such courses with the same brush.

So why do so many students opt for Arts and Media courses? Is it the fault of FE colleges engaging in ‘market push’, as Ms Spielman suggests, or more a case of ‘market pull’ in which students are asking for them? When it comes to what is now quite a restricted choice in selecting which GCSE subjects to study, children who are considered to be the disaffected ‘less-academic’ are often steered towards Arts and Media subjects, mistakenly thought of as ‘being easier’ rather than that they are more appropriate to developing their potential skills and abilities. Such children are likely to be struggling with theoretical science and maths subjects (surely important for green energy workers?), and the more traditionally ‘academic’ subject teachers tend not to want them in their classes anyway as they are considered to be more likely to drag down their final departmental examination results and be more ‘challenging’ to have in the classroom.

Thus two or three years later when it comes to post-16 choices, the only non-academic subjects such students have encountered tend to be in the Arts and Media, where they have at least found some confidence and success, and quite probably achieved their highest GCSE grades. As a result, it’s hardly surprising that these are subjects they want to study at college. Unfortunately simply offering FE courses in Green Energy is unlikely to attract many takers, and it might also be anticipated that the content of such courses is likely to be educationally and technically quite narrow.

Ms Spielman admirably says that we need to “radically improve the quality of vocational and skills education in our towns“, but if she is serious about recruiting green energy, and other, workers, then she needs to be doing is to promote the introduction of more practically-orientated technical and vocational equivalent GCSE courses that have parity in the league tables and with EBacc and Progress 8 measurements. Waiting until teenagers are 16 or even older is too late. This is exactly what successive governments and university-feeder schools have completely failed to do over the past fifty years.

Part of Ms Spielman’s argument is that there is an over-supply of Arts and Media students for the employment market. As usual there’s surely a contradiction at work here? A level English students are not all expected to become award-winning novelists. Very few History students will end up working in museums. Physics students will not all end up working as theoretical Physicists. So why should it be assumed that all Arts and Media students will end up working in the Arts and Media professions? Indeed, more than any other subject, Arts and Media courses are under-pinned by the highly transferable so-called ‘soft-skills’ that employers are so keen to recruit at present. Amongst other things they require students to learn how to ask questions, find information out for themselves, work to briefs, produce specifications, develop ideas, plan their time, organise resources, collaborate, present themselves well and to be able to communicate appropriately according to purpose and audience. Not to mention the general intellectual, emotional, cultural and social development such courses provide, as discussed here.

In reality the value and ‘worth’ of these Arts and Media courses depends primarily on how well they are taught and the extent to which they develop and prepare students for professional practice and for life in general. And, like all courses, future success depends on how well students are suited to them and how hard they work at them. For the successful there are plenty of employment opportunities in the Arts and Media, and indeed anyone with good basic skills in computer-aided design (e.g., Desk-top publishing, photo manipulation, video editing, web design, game design) is much in demand.

It’s unhelpful of Ms Spielman to unnecessarily use Arts and Media courses as scapegoats. Perhaps she would be better employed sticking to inspecting what schools do, rather than giving ill-informed careers advice and fighting imaginary enemies, Don Quixote style?

 

 

 

 

Gustave Dore’s illustration of Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote attacking windmills that he believes to be ferocious giants.

 

 

The Game of Life Skills

Do you have what it takes to win The Game of Life? Choose the life you want! Go to college, have kids, or see what happens when unexpected twists change the game. At the end of the game everyone pays their debts and adds up their wealth. The game of life is a classic game of chance.’

Or is it?

But first, All Change Please! asks the question of the moment: “What is a ‘fad’?” A ‘fad’ it seems is ‘an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived; a craze’. However in education the term has a special usage, where it tends to mean: ‘A new idea, delivered by inadequately trained teachers, misunderstood and misapplied by SMTs and then rejected as not working and a waste of time as it does not show an immediate improvement in academic GCSE grades and League Table positions.’ It is a word extensively used by traditional teachers whom, it seems, live in perpetual fear of a fad actually becoming successful with the result that they might have to change the tired and detested methods and content they have been using for the past 150 or so years.

One of the so-called fads that seems to upset traditionalists the most is known as ‘Life Skills’. Essentially the argument goes: ‘There are so many life-skills they can’t possibly all be taught and learnt at school, so we should completely ignore them and just concentrate on teaching nice reliable, easily testable knowledge instead.’ And as the comments to this post reveal:

“How to prepare them for life outside school? Not with life skills as mentioned. Make sure they can read really well and have committed to their very being as much as possible of that knowledge society deems useful and important e.g. Shakespeare, a factual grounding in history of their own country and some history of other places, a wide range of reading of classic texts, knowledge of mythology, legends of their own and other countries (notably ancient Greece), knowledge of the religion that has formed their society and how the politics of their society works. Scientific knowledge (not just how to do an experiment and write it up). Understand maths and be able to do some of it. Sorry if it all sounds a bit ‘dead, white males’ but if you want your students to get anywhere and be able to critique any of that knowledge then they have to have that knowledge.”

Well, yes to the ‘reading well’ and ‘be able to do some’ maths, but as to the rest… All Change Please! is sure it will all be very handy for unemployed graduates to discuss with each other as they serve flat, white coffees on zero hour contracts at Starbucks (or similar such outlets).

Of course not all educational fads / new initiatives are necessarily a good thing, and some are inappropriately promoted by Tech companies. However others do have valid pedagogic credentials and deserve to be seriously considered and implemented properly before being dismissed.

One of All Change Please!s favourite so-called fads / new initiatives was the now much-maligned and now safely archived Personal Learning and Thinking Skills Framework (PLTS), developed by the much-missed QCA around a decade ago. The original list of PL&T Skills involved developing the ability for everyone to become:

* independent enquirers
* creative thinkers
* reflective learners
* team workers
* self-managers
* effective participants

It may not be the definitive, all-inclusive list, but at least it’s a start.

Meanwhile let’s put this another way round and imagine it as a Daily May Tabloid News Scandal Story:

And just for once this would not be false news fantasy journalism, because the reality is that at present our children receive no co-ordinated or increasingly assessed education in these skills in our schools whatsoever.

These skills are probably best not acquired through separate ‘Life Skills’ lessons – although that would at least be a start – instead they need to become embedded in the teaching of all school subjects. Not an easy task, admittedly, but something needs to happen if we are to avoid becoming a ‘Knowledge Rich / Skills Poor’ nation of academics who know everything but can do nothing.

But wait… the other day there was a surprising item of encouraging news reported in, of all the places, the Mail Online: ‘Britain doesn’t need to be nation of Oxbridge graduates, says social mobility expert’.

It seems that no lesser person than Dame Martina Milburn – Chief Executive of The Prince’s Trust, and, with Secretary in A State About Education Damian Hindsight’s personal support, recently appointed as the Chair of the Social Mobility Commission – actually understands something about education, which is surprising given that once while still a child she attended school herself.

‘I think there are a lot of kids at the moment being forced down an academic route that doesn’t suit them and actually doesn’t play to their strengths. ‘I actually don’t think, as a country – and this is my very personal opinion – [that] we kind of need everyone to have a degree from Oxford. I don’t get it. ‘If I’m using a carpenter to build me a new cupboard, I want someone who loves wood and loves what they do and can do it. I don’t really care whether they’ve got a degree or not.

I would like to really look at vocational education. That, for me, is a huge key to making a real difference in social mobility.’

All Change Please! saysGo for it Dame Martina!

Perhaps ‘Education’s Coming Home…’?

The only remaining problem now is who’s going to tell Govey and Glibbly?