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.

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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.

Russell of discontent

Ofsted Inspector: Well Mr Britland, your lesson was outstanding! The learning that took place in your room was inspirational. Your use of technology was mind boggling and I have never seen a department or school run so well.

Mr Britland: Why thank you very much. We work hard here to make this a successful school.

Ofsted Inspector: Whoa hold on there…let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. What university did you go to?

Mr Britland: University of East London. Why?

Ofsted Inspector: I’m afraid that’s not good enough…as a consequence your lesson was inadequate and your school unsuccessful.

The Guardian today reported that while addressing the Independent Academies Association (IAA) conference in central London, Lord Adonis said: “You need a good mix of teachers (in secondary schools) of course, at any successful school, but you cannot be a successful school unless you at least have a certain proportion of your teachers who have themselves come from leading universities”.

Is Lord Adonis, a man whom I used to have respect for, suggesting that this is going to be something else that schools are going to be judged against? Now I will concede that there is value in having teachers that have been educated at leading universities, as long as they are able to engage with the students that they are teaching. However, this is a standard that should be applied to all teachers.

Why are our politicians so obsessed with top universities? A school should be deemed a success on the educational outcomes of its student body, both academic and social. It shouldn’t be deemed a success by exam results alone or by the number of state school students who get accepted at leading universities; Or for that matter, the number of Cambridge graduate teachers it has on its staff. Education should be about learning and nothing else. Not exams, learning.

You can’t always quantify success. Success is not always nuanced.

School report for citizenship – could do better.

What a nice break that was (although adding another child to my family could/should hardly be considered a break).

I’ve worked nearly every day I can since the age of 16. I worked so I could put myself through college; I worked so I could put myself through university; I worked so I could experience all the trappings of ‘Old London Town’, recently I have worked to keep a roof over my family’s head. Cards on the table time….I’m a teacher, a nurse, a diplomat…I’m a public servant. I, like most public servants, pay taxes. I also pay student loan repayments and pension contributions. I don’t have a credit card or an overdraft, in fact, apart from my student loan I’m totally debt free. I have never been arrested…I am a public servant. However, I am the only bread winner in my beautiful family of four. By 2013 I will earn just above the cut off limit for child benefit. Since May I have seen my pay frozen for the next two years, my children’s child benefit taken away and now I face the prospect of a de-facto pay cut if the findings from the Hutton report are implemented. I am a public servant.

I am told that in order to be a good citizen it takes more than just, raising a family, paying taxes, abiding by the law and teaching the leaders of tomorrow. I’m told that I have to do more…my country needs me. I, like most citizens of this country, work extremely hard. Since September I have worked an average of 55 hours a week (this includes Sunday)…I am most definitely not on my own and there so many more people that work harder and longer, and for less. I am a public servant. I guess my point is, what more can I do?

I didn’t go into teaching for the holidays or the generous pension at retirement; I went into teaching because I wanted to offer children a better standard of education than I received…I wanted to make a small difference to the country in which I grew up in. I don’t feel that I should be bribed into doing it and I don’t feel that I should be bullied into leaving. I am a public servant.

We were told today by Emma Boon, campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance: ‘It is not right for taxpayers to be subsidising million-pound retirement benefits for the public sector elite while seeing the value of their own pensions plummet’. I look forward to announcing to my colleagues tomorrow morning that we no longer pay tax, not only that, we also each get a million-pound on retirement. Now I’m not saying that being the campaign manager for the TaxPayer’s Alliance isn’t a proper job but Ms Booth is clearly not good in her current role as she has failed to understand, recognise that public servants also pay tax.

I’m sure that when the coalition have finished demonising the unemployed, public servants, the north, local councils, the police, the NHS, Europe, immigrants then I’m sure they will get around to the tax evaders and the bonkers bank bonuses. The coalition are some what correct in their approach to citizens that choose not to seek work or undertake work if they believe it beneath them. However, the proportion of those that fiddle the benefits system doesn’t come close to the proportion of those that fiddle the tax system. The top 10% of this country own 90% of it’s wealth, this leaves 10% of wealth to 90% of the country.

So to sum up, I need to work longer for less money, I have no right to financial assistance through the taxes that I pay and I have to work for free during the only time that I get to spend with my family. I am a public servant…is this fair?

Top Trumps – Labour Leadership 2010

September 1st 2010 is a significant date in the diary for many reasons. For most schools in Britain it heralds the start of the new academic year. It marks the 25th anniversary of the wreckage of the Titanic being discovered. Uzbekistanis celebrate the 19th year of independence from the former Soviet Union. For Ed, Ed, Dave, Andy and Diane the 1st of September takes on a special significance as it marks the day in which the Labour leadership ballot begins to drop. Throughout the month, Labour party members will be voting in their thousands until the 25th when the results are announced.

Regular readers of the blog will know that this isn’t the first time I’ve strayed from the subject of the coalition. As I’ve stated before you can’t separate the coalition from the Labour leadership election because the winner will have a direct impact on the success or failure of the Con-Dems. If the correct candidate is elected, then they will have the challenge of trying to form a credible opposition.

When I was growing up, my friends and I used to argue about who would win in a fight…who would win between Optimus Prime & Megatron; Dalglish & Kendall; Stallone & Schwarzenegger; Thatcher & Kinnock (ok I made that last one up). Optimus was a truck but Megatron was a plane; Kendall had Sharp but Dalglish had Rush; Stallone had Rocky but Schwarzenegger had The Terminator; Kinnock had Hattersly but Thatcher had Tebbit. We loved nothing more than debating the minute details of each opponent. Sometimes we would fall onto the statistical debating cards, Top Trumps, to assist us.

Well, in a throwback to those salad days, my friends and I were in the pub the other day sharing stories of our complicated lives. During one of our discussions, two of my more troubled friends started to debate the leadership election. As the debate grew to include all of the table, it became clear that we all seemed to share different views of the candidates.  One area where we were all in agreement was on the importance this election has on the country. We just couldn’t agree on how best to judge the candidates…who would win? David has more support from MPs but his brother has the overwhelming support of the Unions; Diane is a woman, the rest all look the same; Well, just for fun, I’ve made these cards to help me choose and I hope they help you decide…the Cameron card is also included in the pack. (Cards not to be used for serious debate…watch out for the ‘special’ election reform referendum pack soon).

Ed 'I'm not David' Miliband

Ed 'I almost lost my seat' Balls

Diane 'I'm a woman' Abbott

Andy 'I'm northern' Burnham

David 'I'm not Tony but by god I want to be' Cameron

David 'I'm not Tony or Gordon' Miliband

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.

What’s in a name?

Juliet:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo & Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

This got me thinking, what is in a name? Do our names reflect our personalities? Do our names make us predisposed to certain actions, to certain ways of thinking, political ideologies even? For instance if you look up the meaning of the word ‘Gove’ (Michael), it means ‘A mow‘. Look up the word ‘Mow‘ and you receive this rather ironic meaning;

‘mow 1 |mō|verb ( past part. mowed or mown |mōn|) [ trans. ]cut down with a machine’

‘cut down with a machine’…well that is what a lot of teachers, parents, students, building contractors & architects were screaming yesterday after his needless dismantling of the BSF programme.

Lets try again, if you look up the word conservative in the dictionary the first description happens to be, ‘disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.’ We also get, ‘having the power or tendency to conserve’ The problem here appears to be that the current Conservative party wants to be all things to all people, it wants to ‘limit change’ while actually proclaiming the opposite; and on the matter of having the ‘tendency to conserve’, well it doesn’t seem that interested in conserving any jobs at the moment.

So lets take a closer look at some other names and their meanings;

Liberal – ‘willingness to give-in large amounts‘  – they have certainly done this. The tories are always stating what influence the Lib Dems have had on the shaping of policy but have they really? Cleggs statement on the referendum for voting reform is a case in point. For as long as I can remember the Lib Dems have been banging on about ‘Proportional Representation’. Now they are willing to compromise and take a new voting system that is the weakest, watered down form of voting reform available. They argue of course that it’s the only deal they could get. By that thinking the next time anyone buys a car we should just take any deal offered to us because at least that way it’s a deal…no matter what ramifications that deal may have.

Labour – ‘productive activity, esp. for the sake of economic gain’ or ‘to act, behave, or function at a disadvantage’ or ‘to burden or tire’ – all three of these meanings could be levelled at the current and previous incantations of the Labour movement/party. They certainly went into government with productive activities for the sake of the country’s economic gain (New deal, Minimum Wage, etc). They have always been hampered or have always had to function at a disadvantage due to the nature of the class system that is still prevalent in the country. Finally no-one could argue that they became burdened and they certainly began to tire.

Cameron – ‘one who had a wry nose’ – On the face of it this is quite amusing…however, if we look up the meaning of the word ‘Wry’, the trend continues. ‘Wry’ means ‘devious in course or purpose; misdirected; contrary; perverse; distorted or perverted, as in meaning and finally bitterly or disdainfully ironic or amusing‘. The disdainfully ironic thing being that Cameron seems to leak every inch of these descriptions. His policies are seen to be devious in course, his ideology is misdirected, contrary to what the public really wants, his party’s mandate to govern is a perversion of our political system, he has distorted and perverted the Lib Dems into his thinking through the purchase of their souls for the mere hint of power.

Clegg -‘one who came from, or lived near Clough (dweller at a hollow or ravine) – Clegg came from or was a dweller of a ravine and that is right where he has left his party. Sadly for the Lib Dems they have been led down a ravine that has now had its natural entrance and exit cut off by the Conservatives. The only way out for them is to climb the steep slopes of mounting public condemnation of their machiavellian pursuit of power.

In all honesty these names are meaningless, no logical free thinking person believes that the decisions that we take are determined by our given names. It could all work out well in the end…someone said to me today that it doesn’t matter that schools aren’t going to be rebuilt because ‘people make a difference  not buildings’. I suppose he was right, however, buildings and facilities aid a students self worth. When walls fall down they need to be fixed, that money needs to come from somewhere, inevitably it will come from monies earmarked for text books, computers, etc.

Martin Buber said ‘The real struggle is not between capitalism and communism, but between education and propaganda.’ – We all need to look past the propaganda and educate ourselves to the true cost of cutting education.