ICT has been cut loose, not set free

The english language, unlike computer coding, is beautiful. The language is ever changing, different words from different counties make it the language of business and love. It allows for many words or expressions to be used in many different ways. It has rules that can be broken without any seeming rhyme nor reason.

The english language, unlike computer coding, is open for interpretation. One word or expression can mean something different, depending on the context and the way in which it has been used. For instance, when Michael Gove says ‘From this September, all schools will be free to use the amazing resources that already exist on the web‘. What he really means is ‘From this September, all schools will be cut loose to wade through the myriad of resources that already exist‘.

The idiom ‘cut something‘ loose means ‘to get rid of something’. To abandon, to give up on something. Today, Michael Gove ridded himself of ICT; cut it loose from government control and influence.

The speech that Michael Gove delivered today wasn’t wholly without merit. There were many aspects of these proposals that ICT teachers have been trumpeting in forums for years. For instance, by having an open source policy it is allowing teachers the freedom to breathe new life into the curriculum. As a result, we should see the subject reinvigorated with fresh ideas that will allow the scope of the curriculum to broaden and tap into unexplored or lesser travelled routes of learning. To a certain degree, it will allow each school/academy to tailor its delivery of ICT to the needs of its student body and therefore make differentiation less time consuming.

For all the positives there are of course the obvious negatives. There are real concerns about how this open source approach will work in real terms, at the removable dry-wipe marker face. Too much scope and schools will end up with too broad a curriculum that tries to be all things to all people but ends up being as thin as a LED-VDU. When new exam courses are written, schools will end up teaching to the exam as they do now, therefore negating any such freedoms given.

The single biggest issue will be getting the teachers in to deliver the new curriculum. Gove placed emphasis on training for teachers. Will this training be free? Probably not. Will it be available for a September start? Probably not. Teachers need the training, after all, you wouldn’t allow someone to teach maths if they couldn’t add up. The training will be offered at great expense by the very companies now calling for fundamental change.

Which brings us to Michael Gove’s true and unwritten agenda. In his speech today he set the wheels in motion towards his ultimate aim. Which is a curriculum that is designed and built based on what private companies think are important. He has already stated that he has no ideological opposition with companies making a profit out of education.

It should take no-one by surprise that these proposals were announced at BETT, the world’s leading event for educational technology. By cutting ICT loose from government control and handing the reins over to Google and IBM, he is allowing education to be dictated to by market forces. With government cutting ICT loose and getting out of the way, there will be no-one to guide institutions as to what works and what doesn’t. The market will decide and as we have learnt from recent history, the market doesn’t always get it right.

Yes, there are some positives in this speech and some good will come out of it, it always does. However, I would say that Michael Gove, under the pretence of setting ICT free, has in fact, simply cut the subject loose. Abandoning it to fend for itself against private industry and interest who see only pound signs not exam marks.

Gove’s First Exam.

Could you imagine what Sir Alex Ferguson would have said if the FA had told him half way through last season that they were changing the rules for success? Instead of being measured on how a match was won by goals scored and conceded but also by the combination of goals, assists, free kicks and throw-ins. Not only that, they are going to use this new system this season but also on the previous seasons successes as well. Hairdryer treatment? Possibly; Would Fergie have instructed his team to then play by the new rules? Absolutely.

0%! That was the total percentage of how many of our students achieved the EBacc last summer. When the results were released in January of this year no one at my school was surprised. We all knew that our students weren’t entered for a modern foreign language. Within weeks of this data being released the MFL department was subjected to an Ofsted inspection. This summer we achieved 3%. When the government set about changing the ‘rules’ of success half way through the game, my school then had no choice but to play by them.

Asking students to give up, refocus their attention or undertake additional subjects over half way through Key Stage 4 is not ideal. In fact, it adds significant extra pressure to both student and teacher. The student, who now has more work then they may be able to cope with; The teacher, who is now faced with additional students or classes on their timetable or the flip side which is students focusing less on your subject because it is now deemed not to be as important.

I can see from the results at our school that the introduction of the EBacc did indeed have a negative impact. Our results improved in the EBacc but our 5 A*-C (Inc.English & Maths) fell from 47% to 45%. It could be argued that in order for our students to reach the new standard, they had to stretch themselves too much at too late a stage.

These students started their EBacc options 12 weeks before taking exams and submitting coursework. Many of the students who I spoke to this morning were disappointed with the results they achieved in those subjects that they hadn’t originally chosen over two years ago. A lack of perspective was on display. However, what did we expect? If you expect students to live and die by their results when they fail to achieve the benchmark, they are then obviously disappointed, no matter how difficult the challenge was.

These results leave more questions than answers. Where does this leave the school now? Was it fair to ask so much of our students and teachers? Was it fair to expect so much from them considering the timescales allowed? Where does it leave non-EBacc subjects?

What is clear today, is that you can’t expect to achieve great results from a 2 year GCSE course in just 12 weeks. What will become clear over the coming hours, days & weeks will be that there will be a significant increase in the pass rate for the EBacc. Just 16% of students achieved the EBacc last year and 175 schools didn’t have a single pupil who were eligible to achieve the EBacc. I would think that this year you will see both of those figures increase significantly. The obvious conclusion to draw, is that most schools altered student options during year 11.

What won’t become clear for a long time will be the impact of those subjects that aren’t included in the EBacc. In 2010, I had 10 ICT classes in year 11. This coming year I have 4. The year after, 2. If the trend continues I may well be out of a job very soon. I would like to say that this isn’t out of a lack of interest in the subject but because my school needs to focus more time on the EBacc subjects. It could be argued that employers need their employees to have a greater understanding of ICT than that of Latin or Biblical Hebrew. However, they are EBacc subjects and ICT is not. Subjects should not be left to die just because they don’t fit an academic model of achievement.

Michael Gove would argue that he hasn’t enforced the EBacc benchmark on schools, they are not judged against it. However, you can’t expect to introduce new rules into a game and not expect people to follow them, irrespective of the cost.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

This afternoon Michael Gove and his Department for Education scaled new heights of arrogance.

“On the substantive points he [the judge] concluded that it was a rational decision and that the authorities involved had no expectation of being allowed to proceed with their projects.”  “The Secretary of State will now look again at his decision with regard to these authorities with an open mind, taking representations from them. “The judge set out, however, that “the final decision on any project still rests with him and…. No one should gain false hope from this decision.” – Department for Education

Such a bullish response considering that Gove had just been firmly put in his place. Today the councils of Waltham Forest, Luton Borough Council, Nottingham City Council, Sandwell, Kent County Council and Newham won their legal challenge on the scrapping of the BSF programme. This ruling opened up questions that need to be answered and answered quickly.

The judge allowed the legal challenge on the account that Mr Gove had failed to consult the councils before cutting the programme. He ruled that the decision was so unfair that it amounted to an abuse of power. Only Michael Gove can see any semblance of justification in his decision from this devastating assessment of his actions.

Three questions now need to be answered following this ruling;

  1. Does this now leave the door open for other councils to challenge the cancellation of their BSF programmes? If so, will we see the government scale back its cuts agenda to allow for additional capital funding to be channelled back into state education?
  2. Does this raise questions about the Free Schools programme and it’s consultation process. A process that should be taking place but is frequently accused of not happening with any degree of transparency?
  3. Does Gove’s response confirm that he is officially the most arrogant MP sitting today?

The first two questions will be answered in due course but the third can be answered now. That answer is firm yes.

There have been question marks about his judgement and his decision making  from day one. Today’s ruling only confirms what we have known for a long time and that is Gove doesn’t care what people think. He has an agenda that is both blinded by arrogance and morally wrong.

Gove now needs to stand up and admit once again that he was wrong. He needs to say sorry for the pain that his unlawful decision has caused to thousands of students and teachers. Not just to today’s victorious councils but to all students and teachers that have been touched by this “abuse of power”.

Back in the Gove

“Are you really saying to young people and employers today that dead languages are more important than business studies, engineering, ICT, music and RE?,”

Andy Burnham asked this question in the Commons on Monday. As a teacher, these are the type of questions that we want answered. This was the response from Michael Gove;

“I am surprised you have the brass neck to stand here and say working-class children shouldn’t study modern foreign languages, shouldn’t study science, shouldn’t study history and shouldn’t study geography”.

Now correct me if I’m wrong but Burnham wasn’t saying that working class children shouldn’t study modern languages, science, history or geography for that matter.

Maybe Gove is confused? Maybe in his world latin or biblical hebrew are modern languages. Languages that are at the cutting edge of business in this modern age? Maybe we missed the Apple launch of the next generation of iPad with dual dictionary capability? The dual dictionary that not only predicts english spellings but also latin? Steve Jobs was heard uttering the words Carpe diem as he showed off his new toy?

Burnham was making a legitimate point about the introduction of the English Baccalaureate. Not once have I heard an opposition MP complain that those aforementioned subjects weren’t important, or shouldn’t be studied by working class children. The complaint is that the process of introducing such a measure as the EBACC was so fudged, that it wasn’t fair to schools or students. Students that are being judged against something they had no control over since they took their options 2 years prior whilst in year 9.

The other complaint now, is that, just with BSF, Gove is once again not listening to people at the coal face. Questions have been raised about the modern importance of subjects such as ICT, business studies, engineering, etc. Those legitimate questions have been cynically manipulated to argue that you can’t have have both sets of subjects. It’s the old Bushism, you’re either with Gove or you’re against him. You either believe that ICT is worthwhile and hebrew isn’t. In which case you some how think that working class children are thick. His axis of evil seems to consist of business studies, ICT, engineering and subjects considered ‘vocational’.

I’m not going to go into the specifics of those subjects and how they are as much academic as they are vocational; or even comment on the fact that having a vocation is somehow now wrong. A child can study any subject that they want to. I know of schools that offer 2 GCSE options in year 9, again in year 10 and once more in year 11. The school timetable can be altered to fit everything in.

My major gripe is once again levelled at Gove. No one is saying that history, geography, science, english, maths, french or german aren’t important. But that’s the argument he seems to want to have. When is he going to answer the question about latin having more importance than ICT? Maybe he can’t? Maybe he should Ask Jeeves, maybe he should search on Wikipedia? Maybe he should seize the day and answer the bloody question?

Gove needs to work on his defero, Burnham is adept at asking the questions that should see Gove put firmly in his locus.

The count-out begins

Over the past week two heavyweights of British politics faced off against each other, again, and again, and again. Gove threw the first punch, kick starting a match off  that is sure to continue throughout the duration of this parliament.

Ladies and gentlemen, this week’s main event. In the blue (and slightly yellow) corner, the elected representative from Surrey Heath; MP since 2005; the Secretary of State for Education…Michael ‘The Cleaner’ Gove! In the red corner, the elected representative from Morley and Outwood (Just); MP since 2005…Ed ‘Spender’ Balls; brought to you by the people of Great Britain, in association with the Lib Dems…Lets get ready to crumble!!!!!

Round One – Last Monday saw Gove land the first knock down after he announced that he was axing the BSF programme. Although it wasn’t a knock down that was entirely unexpected by Balls and his team, he was still sent reeling from the loss of his Education legacy. Gove wins the fist round; Gove 10 – 8 Balls

Round Two – However, Balls was soon up off the canvas as he started throwing some counter attacking punches on Newsnight that very evening. Gove almost went down as Balls came in with a crunching uppercut. An uppercut that was delivered not from his own hands but that of the Permanent Secretary for Education. That afternoon, Balls had received an apology from the secretary over claims that Gove had made during the announcement in the House that afternoon. Bewildered by this assault, Gove was left blinking, his eyes stinging from the pain that surged through his body from this winding body blow. However, the wiley Scotsman wasn’t finished, he countered with the charge that Balls had made a large mess and he was cleaning it up. These two seemed to throw counter punch after counter punch at each other until Paxman, the ever vigilant referee, broke them apart as the bell sounded. Both fighters landed some strong blows in that round so honours even; Gove 10-10 Balls

Round Three – After a motivating pep talk from his corner, Balls came out swinging at the sound of the bell. It turned out that he didn’t need to. In a strange twist, Gove had spent the interval punching himself in the head with the assistance of his own corner. Gove now lay withering on the canvas…Balls, arms aloft, danced around the media outlets claiming victory. Gove was all but out, the countout was ringing in his ears…members of his own corner were baying for his blood…Gove, however, was saved by the bell. Balls storms round three; Gove 8 – 10 Balls

Round Four – Firing on all cylinders now, Balls jumps from his stool as the bell sounds, pumped up, scenting blood. He charges into the ring and demands an apology, which Gove feels like a right cross slamming into his jaw. For a full 30mins Gove stands, Rockyesque, as punches are thrown and land like hammer blows to his coalitions…spurned on by the few remaining voices of support from his blue corner, the voices from the red corner fail to land the killer haymaker. Once again Gove survives and staggers back to his corner. Balls wins the fourth round; Gove 8 – 10 Balls

Round Five Nothing round really. Balls and his red corner, dance around, slightly tired from their unrelenting attacks of the previous rounds. Gove hides in the corner occasionally sticking his neck out to apologise once again. Both opponents feeling the pace; Gove 10 – 10 Balls

Round Six – Has Gove been using the risky Rope-a-Dope strategy? Well just when it looks like he could be down and out, punched out, ready to throw the towel in, he delves deep and finds something. He looks into the stands as he sits, waiting on his bench, he sees a mystical figure, he cries out through bloodied lips CAMERON!! What was said could only be conjecture, it seemed to do the trick, Gove came out of his corner, cocked locked and ready to rock! Gove lived up to his name to land a few killer blows of his own. Every charge that was thrown at him he ducked with ‘it’s all their fault’. With every tired punch he countered with ‘it’s all your mess’. When it came to blocking those haymaker punches he simply held his guard up high to his face and proclaimed ‘you left us with no choice’. An Ali like recovery; Gove 10 – 9 Balls (Gove 57 – 58 Balls)

The fight will continue but as it stands Balls is ahead by one point. Who are the real winners of all this political sparring? Sadly I don’t think it’s parents, teachers, building contractors and most importantly children. Some will argue that the BSF programme was highly bureaucratic and riddled with over spends. However, most will argue that the end justifies the means. Value for money shouldn’t come in to it.

The BSF programme leaked money not because it was a bad idea, it leaked money because it was badly managed. If a school starts to fail because it’s badly managed, you get rid of the Head teacher and you employ someone who can get the school back on track. You don’t simply close the school and say everything about it was failing. What better way to prove that the previous government weren’t up to the job?

We all know that Gove has cancelled BSF for ideological and political reasons. The money that he will save will go towards funding his ‘Free School’ project. It mustn’t come as a surprise that on the list of cancelled projects, academies don’t feel the same level of disappointment as state controlled secondary schools. Once Gove has managed to divert all funding to his pet projects, and as a consequence state controlled schools fall even further behind, he can sit back in his blue corner and pontificate about how successful his ideas were.

Sadly I feel that cancelling the BSF programme was the real and hardest felt haymaker thrown this week. It knocked state education to the canvas, the countdown began, and unless we help it back to its feet, the fight could now nearly be over.