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.

Why the school holidays break consumer rights

We broke the back of it folks. Us teachers are officially over half way through our summer holiday. For some of us we have just two weeks left of rest and relaxation. Some of us have already been into school a number of times this holiday. Most of us will be going into school to watch our graduating students collect their A Level and GCSE results. My point is, teacher’s are ‘sold’ the profession with holidays in mind. However, if school holidays were shoes we would return them as faulty.

Before I continue, I want to apologise to anyone who isn’t in the teaching profession for stumbling upon this post. It’s written by a teacher, therefore it has issues that some ‘civilians’ may find disturbing. Any ‘civi’ who objects to holiday’s for teachers may find this useful; they may find it enlightening or they may feel that I’m bleating and I should just be thankful for the rest offered.

Your consumer rights are sacred. Do school holidays break these consumer rights? You have the right that purchased items be:

  • of satisfactory quality – last for the time you would expect it to and be free of any defects (Well it lasts for the advertised time period but free from defects?)
  • fit for purpose – fit for the use described and any specific use you made clear to the trader (Not fit for use described, I’ll come on to that in a minute)
  • as described – match the description on packaging or what the trader told you (Fails spectacularly on this point, see below)

It’s the last one that strikes me as the most pertinent. Imagine, Michael Gove as a salesman peddling insurance (which is probably doing a disservice to such salesman). In his dry, scottish patter, he informs you that, with this exclusive, sort after, insurance package that he is selling you, you could take a payment holiday. You then discover that when you chose to take this agreed upon holiday he hits you with the unmentioned fine print. While you are taking your holiday, you are still required to make small put significant payment contributions. These contributions place a strain on the delicate nature of your finances and mental wellbeing.

This, I’m sorry to say, is exactly what most teachers experience during holidays. School holidays preclude the very definition of holiday. A holiday is defined as ‘a time or period of exemption from requirement, duty, assessment. I, like my fellow professionals, have spent a stupid amount of time organising work for next term. Furthermore, students aren’t except from completing work during these periods. As such, we might need to come up with another name for school holidays.

While it’s true that teachers have time off from teaching students, it would be wrong to say that they have 13 weeks off a year. With mounting expectations for further improvement in exam results and the need now to not only teach but to entertain, not having a ‘holiday’ means that even more pressure is being placed on teachers.

My message for future, would-be teachers? Well the USP of teaching are the holidays and if we’re not going to change their name, I suppose the solution would be, like when buying anything, you should always read the small print.

This post first appeared on The Huffington Post. A link can be found here…http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mike-matthews/why-school-holidays-infri_b_929860.html

Why Jamie’s Dream School works for all the worng reasons

In his new show, Jamie Oliver wants to show education is best when you have inspirational people teaching inspirational things. As pure entertainment, it works quite nicely but as a comment on the current state of schooling in the UK, it falls short. Mikey Matthews has five reasons why.

1) Jamie Oliver
Say what you like about Jamie Oliver but the man is entertaining, and not many people can walk into a room of kids and command their respect straight away but he did. However, some of the things he says are so ridiculous it beggars belief. On meeting the students, he got them onside by telling them they weren’t failures; he is one of them. Then, when debriefing Simon Callow, he described them as feral – yep, feral – before going on to ask what had he got himself into. Are we supposed to believe Jamie was genuinely surprised that the students didn’t just fall into line? He must understand that it takes more than a few funny bearded men to inspire people to learn?

2) David Starkey
Seldom has man, in such a short period of time, managed to come across as so out of touch with the rest of the human race. He may have the entire alphabet after his name; he may have taught in some of the finest institutions in the world; but if you’re trying to inspire someone it’s probably not a good idea to tell them they are big fat failures within five minutes of meeting them. Anyone that has seen Starkey on Question Time will know that he is a caricature but he does makes for great TV. In fact, he was one of the only interesting things about this programme. Every episode from now on should involve Starkey lining the students up and setting them straight, like an erudite Simon Cowell, with insightful comments like “your sovereign ring is so big it could well have belonged to a former sovereign” or “you’re not listening to me so you must be a witch”.

3) Simon Callow’s beard
A truly wondrous sight. Goatee in style, short in length; nothing special you might think – aside from the fact it looked like he’d Pritt-Sticked a skunk’s back onto the bottom of his face. It was literally half jet back and half white. What they should have done is structured an entire lesson around that: famous beards from history; the beard’s influence around the world, that kind of thing. And if they didn’t like that, he could have just made up any old shit – the whole class would have been so distracted by his confusingly-hued chin warmer they wouldn’t have absorbed any of it anyway.

4) The pig guts
The dissection was probably the highlight of my week – you don’t often get to see a pig being cut up with a bandsaw until its entrails gush out all over the table. It was like watching Eli Roth’s Hostel, just without all the pot smoking and naked girls… both frowned upon in schools, apparently.

5) The students
I love them all already. I was worried that they would be starstruck and just sit and absorb everything they were told. However, within minutes of meeting Simon Callow, my worries disappeared – they had no idea who he was. Jamie may consider him one of the best actors in the world but, as they clearly hadn’t seen Thunderpants, these kids just saw some old bloke and described him as “proper posh”. Credit where it’s due, though: when Callow was confronted with one girl’s confusion over the location of Shakespeare Stratford he just nodded and agreed – Starkey would have placed her in the stocks. Henry won my heart over everyone else. When offered the chance to go sailing with Ellen McArthur he begrudgingly agreed to go, even though he already had plans that weekend. I’ve never really understood the popularity of the whingeing globe-circumnavigator – stand her up Henry, mate, stick to your plans.

*This was originally posted yesterday for the blog www.theweekinlists.com. I will be writing regularly for The Week in Lists but not on subjects that directly relate to politics. I have posted this here as it follows quite nicely with previous posts on education.

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.

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.