No Minister! No, No, No…

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So, the Great EBacc Consultation is over, and doubtless the Df-ingE are in a whirl having been inundated with a whole digital cement mixer load of responses that they are going to have to sift through very closely if they are to find any particularly helpful solutions as to how they can persuade 90% of children to order the Full All-day English EBacc.

Last week, social media was alive with the sound of distraught teachers and senior managers blogging their responses – such as this one that All Change Please! wrote with Teacher Toolkit – expressing their deepest concerns and fears about the destructive impact of the EBacc-Bomb

Meanwhile, it’s certainly not all over. It’s difficult to see the Df-ingE backing down and admitting their proposal was both undesirable and achievable. To help them on their way though it would be useful if MPs were now made more aware of the implications of the Df-ingE’s aspirations for the schools in their constituencies and be encouraged to start asking some awkward questions in the House. Given the emerging teacher shortages, the key issue is exactly how the Df-ingE proposes to guarantee that there will be enough qualified and experienced academic EBacc subject teachers to provide an adequate standard of teaching for 90% of all children?

With this in mind, All Change Please! has written a letter and left it on the table. It can be downloaded here and viewed below. Feel free to borrow, re-draft, edit, adapt or do whatever you like with it, providing it ends up being emailed to your local MP as soon as possible.  (Do make sure you make it clear that you are one of their constituents). Find the contact details for your MP here.

Of course there is one simple approach that could solve all the problems. Entering children for the EBacc is not a legal requirement, and if all headteachers in a local area got together and agreed not to play the game, the whole thing would simply extinguish itself. League table accountability is all relative, and so each school’s position would remain exactly the same.

But of course that’s unlikely to happen. Somewhat more probable is that in a few years’ time, when a growing number of parents confront the reality that their children are likely to fail all their EBaccs and are being prevented from taking other subjects they might have succeeded in, many schools might decide that the best way forward will be for them to develop a reputation as a successful non-EBacc school that offers a wide range of Arts and vocational courses. In which case it won’t be long before there will be two types of schools: those in which all students take the academic EBacc (previously known as Grammar schools), and those that decide to continue to offer non-Ebacc subjects (previously known a Secondary Moderns). Perhaps that’s been the Government’s intention all along?

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Meanwhile here’s what All Change Please!‘s letter to your local MP says…

Dear…

I would like to bring your attention to a number of matters arising out of the DfE’s recent consultation process on the implementation of the policy that 90% of children should take the full EBacc GCSEs. In the first instance the consultation did not invite views on the desirability of such a policy, but asked a series of limited questions as to how it could be best achieved. It should be noted that this measure did not form part of the manifesto on which the government was elected.

There are many reasons why the policy is both undesirable and undeliverable.

First, to clarify, under the new proposal, pressure is to be placed on schools to enter 90% of children for GCSE courses in English language and literature, maths, two sciences, languages, and history or geography.

The average number of GCSEs taken by children is 8.1 (and not 9 as Nick Gibb has claimed), while those from less affluent backgrounds take less. This leaves most children with just one further subject option, choosing from subjects such as a second foreign language, religious education, art & design, design & technology, engineering, music, drama, business studies, economics, PE and, if not chosen as one of their two sciences, computer science. The result of this will be that many of these subjects will cease to be offered as class-sizes will no longer be viable. Losing courses in design & technology and engineering will restrict the growth of inter-disciplinary STEM subjects nationally. Teaching of the Arts in schools will be seriously diminished at a time when our world-leading Creative Industries make an increasingly significant contribution to the economy. The non-EBacc subjects will also be less likely to be chosen for A level, further increasing their disappearance from schools.

To enforce the policy, the number of entries a school makes for the full EBacc is to be given a more prominent role within the Ofsted framework, and schools that do not follow the requirement will appear lower down in school league tables. Headteachers will therefore be placed in the difficult position of having to decide whether it is better to enter individuals for examinations in subjects in which they are likely to achieve a low EBacc GCSE grade, or for those which they show more interest in and aptitude for.

It has recently been predicted that the number of children achieving good GCSE passes in the ‘more rigorous’ academic EBacc subjects is likely to fall by some 23%, with the result that there is also likely to be a substantial increase in the number of disaffected students who see themselves as being failures when entering the 16-19 phase of education. Furthermore they will not have had an adequate experience of problem-solving creative and technical subjects on which to base appropriate choices of further and higher level courses.

Despite this, the DfE have stated that: “We know that young people benefit from studying a strong academic core of subjects up until the age of 16”. However, there is no evidence to support this statement as being applicable to 90% of children. Meanwhile there are many outside the DfE who would support the statement that there are many children who benefit more from following Arts-based and vocationally-orientated GCSE courses, with the latter providing a better preparation for apprenticeships.

At the same time there are also an increasing number of employers who are removing academic qualifications as an entry barrier, and are seeking those with a greater understanding of the way in which business, industry and commerce works. The DfE have also stated that ‘Our reforms are leaving pupils better prepared for further study and more ready for the world of work’. While the former may be true, the latter is certainly not.

There are also issues regarding the inclusion of Academies in these measures, which do not appear to have been considered. A particular feature of the Academy movement is a school’s freedom to follow its own curriculum to meet local and community needs, which this proposal contradicts.

The DfE have also stated that the 90% entry rate is not a school-based figure, but a national one. There has been no indication as to how head teachers will or can be supplied with the necessary figures that will inform them of the percentage of children that will be required to be entered in their individual school.

While every school should meet the entitlement for all children to take the full range of EBacc subjects if they wish, there should not be external pressure for them to do so. In the longer term this measure is likely to produce a two-tier system, in which there will be two types of schools: those in which all students take academic EBacc subjects (previously known as Grammar schools), and those who decide to continue to offer a wider range of non-EBacc subjects (previously known a Secondary Moderns).

Finally, and most importantly, it is difficult to see how the current policy can actually be practically implemented as presented. Although denied by the DfE, the current teacher shortage in many subjects will soon be exacerbated at secondary level as an increased number of children move into the sector. The key question therefore is exactly how does the DfE propose to guarantee that there will be enough suitably qualified and experienced academic EBacc subject teachers to provide an adequate standard of teaching for 90% of all children? The substantial costs of recruitment, re-training and retention of the necessary work-force does not appear to have been considered or calculated.

Can I therefore strongly urge you to challenge the DfEs proposal to introduce the requirement for 90% of children to take the full EBacc, both in terms of its desirability and practicality.

Yours sincerely

[Name and Name of Constituency]

Image credits: Flickr/Howard Ignatius and Tim Morgan

 

D&T: No More Logos Any More?

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In a recent speech, Diana Choulerton, the new D&T subject lead at Ofsted, is reported to have made a number of observations made about the current delivery of D&T in schools that make good sense in terms of the challenges that lie ahead for the subject. For example:
• Design [in D&T] isn’t really DESIGN’. There isn’t much TECHNOLOGY.
• D&T lacks challenge. Is there real problem-solving happening?
• The issues five years on remain the same.
• There is an over-focus on making [and] ‘taking something home’.

Well all good sense, except for just one or two things, that is. For example, apparently Ms Choulerton suggests there is too much ‘soft’ D&T, e.g., designing a logo, adding decoration or suggesting a colour. Now in a sense she may well be correct in that there is too much, but the real problem is that many teachers tend to deliver these activites at too low a level of challenge and content. But in highlighting the matter, she’s giving the impression that these things are of less importance – you can almost hear all those HoDs busily tappity-tap-tapping ‘Ofsted says that we mustn’t do the logo project anymore‘.

In reality these so-called ‘soft’ activities (which are by no means soft in their practice) provide excellent contexts in which to teach children about creativity, rapid iterative modelling, the nature and use of symbolic representation and the psychological aspects of design, and as such the very language of the subject – which is of fundamental importance to learners being able to progress. Effectively expressing the quality of a product or service in a simple, distinctive and memorable symbol of logo presents a considerable challenge, as does producing a final detailed specification that enables it to be accurately reproduced and applied – and these days this usually involves producing an animated version for use on digital platforms. Meanwhile such work provides an opportunity to start to discuss the impact and reality of the global impact of branding and marketing, without which design as we know it today would not exist in the market place. So-called ‘hard’ D&T (which for some reason presumably only occurs when ‘hard’ materials are used?) tends to ignore, or at best minimise, these important, highly transferable areas of knowledge and skill.

All Change Please! wonders just how extensive Ms Choulerton’s current awareness is of the level of technical skills are needed with programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator to create images? No, not very. Thought not. Meanwhile finalising the design of a logo is really just the start. Anyone who has ever prepared artwork or a digital file for a professional printer (which All Change Please! rather doubts Ms Choulerton ever has) will tell you that there are then a whole long list of things you never dreamt of that have to precisely specified if you want want your design to look anything like the way you intended – there’s just as much high-level knowledge of traditional and modern reprographic print technologies needed as for 3D manufacture. And if you’re still not convinced, then it’s perhaps worth mentioning that a good logo designer can earn a very decent wage, and there’s a much greater demand for graphic designers than there is for 3D product designers.

So surely what Ms Choulterton should have said was that too many so-called ‘soft’ D&T tasks provide excellent opportunities to learn valuable D&T skills, but are poorly taught?

Screenshot 2015-11-01 12.25.07Milton Glaser’s original, now iconic 1977 ‘I Heart New York’ logo is known and copied the world over. Each year it earns New York State millions of dollars in licensing fees.

Meanwhile Ms Choulterton is also reported to have provided a list of projects that shouldn’t be included as part of a 21st Century curriculum, such as ‘storage, clocks, 2D logos and moisture sensors‘ (for some reason 3D logos appear to be OK then?). Ah, there those HoDs go again – ‘Ofsted says we’re not allowed to do these popular and successful projects anymore‘. But as All Change Please! has always maintained: ‘It’s not what you design it’s the way you design it’. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of the projects she highlights, provided they are delivered in the right way – storage, telling the time, creating 2D logo identities and using sensors are just as much 21st century problems as any other, and indeed new technologies provide plenty of opportunity for them to be solved in new and exciting ways – though again the real problem is that teachers are delivering them that way.

Indeed it’s a shame that she then seems to have missed the opportunity to promote the approach of the digital maker movement, which is the one thing that could really save the subject and provide it with an exciting way forward into the 20th century. With the current severe shortage of teachers in the subject, somehow D&T needs a fresh start with a new breed of teachers who have not come from a 3D-obsessed, ‘handicraft’ background, but a wide range of more broadly-based design, marketing and service-related areas, including architecture and the environment, communication, IT and business.

And finally, while we’re D&T talking, the community is busy trying to convince the government that the subject is important because it will produce future generations of designers who will in turn produce higher-quality products for export. While that may indeed be the best strategy for helping ensure the subject survives in the current climate of El-Bãcco and forecasts of severe teacher shortage storms, it’s important to remember that D&T is primarily there for the majority who won’t ever become designers and technologists. What these children will gain by taking the subject is to become better and more creative problem-solvers with an increased understanding of and sense of empathy for the human needs and wants of others, and the ability to communicate their ideas and suggestions for the future – just the sort of so-called ’soft’ skills most employers are looking for it seems.

 

BREAKING NEWS…

The Df-ingE has just announced the final specification and assessment structure for new GCSE Design & Technology courses. They can be downloaded here:

Assessment arrangements unveiled for GCSE design and technology

D&T Subject Content November 2015

There are no obvious major changes, but some minor ones, particularly in the weightings of the assessment structure. Whatever, it’s too late to complain now and it’s up to the exam boards to make some sense out of them. At least there’s no more horticulture any more…

 

6526559341_0d29281c4b_oAh – doesn’t that feel better now…?

Image credits:

Flickr/Alexander Edward

Milton Glaser/Tristram Shepard

Flickr/Cokestories

 

Now We Are Six

NowWeAreSix

Ever since All Change Please! celebrated its first birthday, it’s been waiting until it could fully reveal the extent of its intellectual middle-class up-bringing by using the title of the book of poems by AA Milne it was bought up on, and to point out that its alter-ego is not the only person to spell their surname that way. Anyway, finally, today’s the day…

As has become the tradition on this great annual celebration – in future doubtless to be recognised globally as All Change Please! day – it has become customary to review what’s been hot and what’s not over the past twelve months.

Rather than building the suspense way beyond the unbearable and then dragging out the final moment of truth for as long as possible by making you wait until the very end of the post to find out, All Change Please! will immediately reveal that and winner of The People’s Vote, i.e. the most read post of the last year, is…

Mark My Words…Please! which helps confirm All Change Please!’s assertion that examiners should be paid more for their services.

Meanwhile curiously the Number 2 spot is taken by Left, Right, Right, Right, Right… which was first released in July 2012, and and is followed onto the turntable by the Number 3 spot by another Golden Oldie, even more curiously also from July 2012 Are Janet and John now working at the DfES?.  For some unknown reason these somewhat dated posts just keep on giving, and All Change Please! can only assume that there must be some tag or keyword in there somewhere that keeps on coming up in searches. There must be a Ph.D. somewhere in there, as people keep saying these days.

Other posts that did better than others during the year included Fixated by Design, Virgin on the ridiculous, New A level D&T: Dull & Tedious and Goves and Dolls.

But now it’s time for All Change Please! to reveal its own favourites for the year in the pathetically vague hope of improving their stats a bit. As so often happens in life, what All Change Please! reckons to be its best works are generally ignored, while the ones it dashed off in a matter of minutes and that it didn’t think anyone would be particularly interested in them prove to be the best sellers – which makes it a bit of a shame seeing as they are given away for nothing.

So, if you kindly will, please take a moment to click again on some of these:

Goves and Dolls: All Change Please!’s 2014 Festive gangster satire, written in a Damon Runyon-esque stye

Way To Go: in which Nicky Morgan seems to think that the BBCs WIA spoof fly-on-the-wall comedy series is for real.

And the two Alas! Smith and Journos posts: Have you ever Bean Green and Beginners Please

Meanwhile, here are a few of All Change Please!’s favourite bits:

I expect all the schools requiring improvement will be given those special tape measures now?’ (Jones from Have you ever Bean Green)

Smith:“It’s a new play by Tom Stoppard – you know he did ‘Jumpers’ and ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’.”

Jones: Oh, the National Theatre, I thought you meant the Grand National and there was a horse called Stoppard who was a good jumper, and there were two other horses they’d had to put down.  (from Beginners Please! in which Smith and Jones are discussing the merits of Nick Glibbly’s suggestion that all children need to be able to understand plays performed at the London Doner Kebab Warehouse)

Swashbuckling Pirate Queen Captain Nicky Morgove has recently vowed to board so-called coasting schools, make the headteacher walk the plank, and academise the lot of them to within an inch of their worthless lives. With Nick Glibb, her faithful parrot, perched on her shoulder squawking ‘Progress 8, Progress 8…’”  (from Pirates of the DfE)

‘So the thing is like that with the DfE, in branding terms it’s really boring. It’s like politics and funding and pedagogy. I mean, who’s interested in all that stuff? So what we’re talking here is like major brand refresh surgery.’

‘They’re terribly excited about ‘Strictly Come Teaching’ in which B-list celebs are paired up with classroom teachers to see how really strict they can be in classrooms up and down the country. We love Strictly!’  (from Way To Go).

‘However, instead I am allowed to prescribe you a course of new scientifically unproven Govicol, but I should warn you it’s rather indigestible and you will have to be spoon-fed it. And what’s more it not only has a nasty taste but has a whole range of unpleasant educational side-effects. (from Nice work).

‘We were most interested to learn that Junk Modelling did not involve making scale replicas of boats’, a spokesperson for the Chinese government didn’t say. ‘The delegation offered to send us Michael Gove and Elizabeth Truss to advise us further on a long term basis, but we said No thanks – not for all the D&T in China’.  (from Chinese Takeaways)

 

And finally:

“Now We Are Six”

When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six
now and forever.

Author: A.A. Milne

Image credit: Wikimedia

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

 

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

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

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

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

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

2. That’s fantastic news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Shame drives children to work harder.

11. What we need are Chinese teaching methods.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Background image credit: Flickr/starleigh

 

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

The Cordon Blues

1s-5126717777_65394ea08b_oCheers!

‘Teenagers studying for a new GCSE in food preparation will have to know how to portion a chicken, fillet a fish and julienne vegetables, as well as make a variety of sauces from hollandaise and mayonnaise to veloute, bechamel and plain old gravy. The rigorous new examination for 16-year-olds will require them to be able to tenderise, marinate, blanch, poach, fry and braise – as well as make their own pasta, choux pastry, bread and tagine.’                                   From The Guardian

Posh and wealthy Tory-voting land-owning bankers, solicitors and lawyers all heaved a sight of relief last week when the details of the tough new GCSE qualification in Food Preparation and Nutrition were published by the government, allaying fears that the projected short-fall of master-chefs would lead to a reduction in the number of expensive restaurants for them to dine at, together with the consequent need to find other ways of spending their excessive amounts of disposable income.

The increased theoretical content of the GCSE course also means that it will be only taken by the more academically-able, thus ensuring that chefs will be able to conduct intelligent discourse both in the kitchens and with customers. “Thank goodness that in future there will be no more swearing in the kitchens”, said one restaurateur. “I look forward to our kitchen staff quoting Shakespeare rather than the Simpsons.”

Meanwhile spokespersons for McDonalds and Subway, who between them seem to employ the vast majority of today’s school-leavers, confirmed that while the new GCSE would be a desirable facilitating subject, it would not be an essential requirement for future job applicants, as there was not a great deal of demand for ‘palmiers, batons, dextrinisation and gas-in-air foam’ in their outlets. Furthermore they did not think customers would welcome having to decide whether they wanted their burger ‘tenderised, marinated, blanched, poached, fried or braised?’

According to the Guardian, Chef, food writer and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (real name: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) said he would be very happy for any of his children to take the GCSE. “Thank goodness we can all now get back to the way things were in the good old days when the rich ate extremely well and the poor starved”, he didn’t add.

The course replaces the current GCSE in Food Technology which required students to learn about how food products are produced industrially and to solve complex, open-ended problems concerning quality control, scaling up for batch and mass production along with marketing and packaging. This often involved creativity and collaborative team work, skills that will no longer required in the forthcoming 19th Century.

 

And finally, in other news, the entirely fictitious Waitrose Academy Chain has announced an end to their offer of a free daily education. To qualify, parents will have to in future also purchase a treat from the school shop, such as a new item of uniform, sports equipment or educational outing. “We always knew that the offer of a free education for all had to end sometime, but I think they could have perhaps found a better solution” said one disappointed yummy mummy as she paid out for yet another new hockey stick that her wheelchair-confined child didn’t really need.

“Unfortunately our schools were just not making enough profit”, the Headteacher and Chairman of the Academy explained. “However we will still be offering a free takeaway lesson from our customer service desks”.

 

Image credit: Flickr/Eric Baker

Chinese Takeaways

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Creativity lessons in China: How many different uses can you think of for a pair of chopsticks?

China turns to UK for lessons in design and technology – Education

All Change Please! didn’t quite know whether to laugh or cry when it read the above story. It covered the announcement that there’s a crisis in China and they need to adopt a more creative approach in their schools to enable their nation to be able to design as well as make stuff in the future. To help solve the problem they paid for a delegation of D&T teachers from the UK to go out and advise them.

Partly because no-one had invited it on a freebie trip to China, but mostly because it wondered what effective advice the delegation might be able pass on, All Change Please! thought it would provide its own D&T ‘Takeaways’ for the Chinese Government, based on established UK practice:

1. Get a politician to develop the specification for D&T, based on her limited experience of what she did in school in the early 1990s. Ensure Horticulture is included simply as a result of pressure from a powerful parliamentary lobby group.

2. Develop an examination system that makes is as easy as possible to objectively assess performance, and consequently penalises students who take risks and demonstrate creativity and initiative.

3. Ensure the final examination includes a rigorous written paper that does not in any way measure design capability but is worth at least half of the marks.

4. Encourage every school to buy a 3D printer so they can mass-produce little green dragons to sell to willing parents in order to raise money to buy another 3D printer to produce even more little green dragons.

5. Decrease the status of the subject by significantly undermining its value in school league tables, so as to suggest it is only suitable for low-ability children.

6. Fail to give D&T a central role in unifying STEM (or better still STEAM) subjects, and build Great Walls between all subjects.

7. Ensure a substantial shortfall of suitably qualified teachers by drastically cutting back the number of available teacher training courses.

8. And – most important of all – fail to make any substantial investment in staff development over an extended period of time, i.e. a minimum of 25 years.

Fortune Cookie* say:  if China can manage to completely ignore All Change Please!‘s Takeaways, then we might indeed soon be seeing more things that are labelled Designed and Made in China. Especially as All Change Please! has every confidence that the DATA delegation will have passed on rather more positive advice of its own.

‘We were most interested to learn that Junk Modelling did not involve making scale replicas of boats’, a spokesperson for the Chinese government didn’t say. ‘The delegation offered to send us Michael Gove and Elizabeth Truss to advise us further on a long term basis, but we said No thanks – not for all the D&T in China’.

‘However we are planning to stage the John Adams’ Opera Dyson In China.’

* Myth-busting fascinating fact: Chinese Fortune Cookies were actually invented in Japan and popularised by the US in the early 20th Century. They are not eaten in China. Well that’s what it says on Wikipedia, anyway.

Image credit: Flickr/Simon Law

Now this is what I call an Importance Statement

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The attention-grabbing building above, called the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, is in Shinjuko, Tokyo, one of the main centres of the vast capital of Japan. Completed in October 2008 and designed by Kenzo Tange, Japan’s most famous architect, it sits between the major railway interchange hub and a burgeoning business district that includes the impressive twin towers of the Tokyo Municipal Headquarters. The architect’s brief included the stipulation that the building should not be rectangular –  something that has very clearly been achieved.

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Now you might be forgiven for thinking that the building, with its 50 floors, is perhaps a luxury apartment building or hotel, or at the very least the headquarters of a multi-national company. But you’d be wrong, because it’s a University building. Described as a ‘vertical campus’ for 10,000 students it is occupied by three vocational departments – the Tokyo Mode Gakuen Fashion School, the HAL Tokyo School of Information Technology and Design, and the Shuto Ikō School of Medicine. It incorporates a 3-storey high atrium “to substitute as a ‘schoolyard’, called the ‘Student Lounge’ and multi-use corridors where communication can flourish.”

Tange’s design is intended to represent a cocoon, and as such symbolize  the academic care that is provided, and “Embraced within this incubating form, students are inspired to create, grow and transform.

It was awarded the 2008 Skyscraper of the Year by Emporis.com.

And it’s not alone. The Mode Gakuen Spiral Towers is a similar 36 story vocational educational facility just outside Nagoya Railway station, also completed in 2008.

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There’s no question that these structures make a clear statement of intent as to the importance Japan places on its vocational education.

Fast forward (or should that be backwards?) to 2012, and here’s Michael Gove defining the way forward for school buildings in the UK:

We won’t be getting Richard Rogers to design your school. We won’t be getting any award-winning architects to design it, because no one in this room is here to make architects richer.”

And according to the Guardian at the time:

“Design templates unveiled for 261 replacement school buildings also prohibit folding internal partitions to subdivide classrooms, roof terraces that can be used as play areas, glazed walls and translucent plastic roofs.”

The templates tell architects new schools should have:

“no curves or ‘faceted’ curves, corners should be square, ceilings should be left bare and buildings should be clad in nothing more expensive than render or metal panels above head height. As much repetition as possible should be used to keep costs down”.

In this case, there’s no question that these guidelines make a clear statement of intent as to the lack of importance the UK places on its vocational education.

 

Photos © Tristram Shepard