Monthly Archives: February 2016

Sir Michael Wilshaw and his Moans

o-MICHAEL-WILSHAW-facebook.jpg

Sir Michael Wilshaw is concerned about the teacher ‘brain drain’ as teachers are attracted to work abroad in leading private schools that have set up overseas franchises. He is concerned about the staffing crisis in schools and he suggests that policy makers should look into providing ‘golden handcuffs‘ to ensure staff stay in the state sector for an amount of time. You can read his report here.

He doesn’t mention that some of those teachers going abroad might be doing so to get as far enough away from him and OfSTED as possible.

Now, I am not against the idea of paying staff more but I also think that there is far too much contact time in the average school day for most staff; if something was done to increase non-contact time allowing teachers to calmly plan and mark and do all the other things they have to do without having to be constantly ‘on the go’ then that might help recruitment and retention. However, I can’t help but think that at least part of the perceived problem might be down to some of the comments made by Wilshaw himself over the years.

For example: he uttered the words: “If anyone says to you that: ‘staff morale is at an all-time low’ you know you are doing something right.” As reported in the Guardian, Monday 23rd January 2012 . Maybe the staff with low morale took it upon themselves to get out of the profession, after all their low morale was a sign of the system being led correctly.

Just in case the staff with low morale were feeling stressed, on 10th May 2012, Wilshaw decided to take them on, he is reported to have said that [teachers]: “Too often make excuses for poor performance – it’s just too hard, the children are too difficult, the families are too unsupportive, this job is far too stressful.” Maybe teachers with low morale, who were feeling stressed, decided that this was the time for them to leave, or look for pastures new… maybe it just sowed a seed that grew over the years saying ‘it’s time to get out…’

Headteachers weren’t spared Wilshaw’s wrath either:

“I have no time for head teachers who go around moaning,” Sir Michael told heads, teachers and academics at the Institute of Education, in London. “They have to get on and do it. “They are now paid well – they are paid much better than ever. All the resources are in the schools. They have got to grasp the nettle and improve their schools and I have little time for heads who don’t accept the challenge.”

Knowing that the person ultimately responsible for inspecting your school has little time for you if you dare to ‘moan’ about something just might make head teachers or aspiring head teachers think twice about whether the job is respected, after all it is such a responsible position in our society, that if a head teacher has a moan the least one can do is listen to it. It is through a lack of listening to people’s moans in our institutions that is possibly the cause of a lot of the build up of problems that seem, according to Wilshaw, be bearing fruit with our recruitment and retention crisis.

Suffice to say, it might not just be a problem to solve with handcuffs, perhaps by trying to reduce the daily stresses on every day classroom teaching might help. It would help to work out why some staff have low morale and not celebrate this. If some teachers are saying the job is too stressful instead of denigrating them it might be useful to work out why and see if anything can be done. And if head teachers are moaning, then listen to what they are saying, spend time with them rather than say you have no time for them.

As Wilshaw reaches the end of his time at Ofsted, I wonder if he will reflect on whether he has helped exacerbate any of the problems he now sees in the system and also whether, going forward, Ofsted, in its current form, is part of the solution.

 

 

 

The Rise of the Stupid Teacher and Blogger

karl_marx.jpg

In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels describe Capitalism as being a state in which “All that is solid melts into air…” Where new products replace old and new ideas ride on these products backs, a system in which all is replaceable man by machine and machine by man…

Fredric Jameson refers to the post-modern period that we may still be living through as being born from ‘late-capitalism’ where the grand narratives of the past melt into air to be replaced by a ‘universal logic of the market’. Instead of relating to the means of production through a job for life, late capitalist humanity is shaped by how and what it consumes.

Jean Baudrillard wrote about how “commodity and signs merge in the implosion of the real and everything becomes part of the hyper-reality of the media age.” This dystopian place where all that might be true is undermined by its impermanent throw-away nature.

From ‘I think therefore I am’ through ‘I work (in a factory) therefore I am (working class)’ to ‘I buy, therefore I am…’ life is now a dressing up basket in the present tense. All that was once solid, has melted into air. In all walks of life the breaking of boundaries, fluidity, means at first sight freedom, freedom away from the grand narratives but it also means a loss. Grayson Perry said that: “…all the art I love is quite traditional, and so even though I can intellectually engage and even appreciate some of the more expanding field of art, I still am more emotionally attached to the old thing.” This desire for something to mean something, to be recognisable, categorisable is something unbridled capitalism takes away from us, especially when allied to technology that accesses it all. Perry, again: “After a lecture once, I had a student come up to me and she said… “How do you decide what to do your art about?” And I was like “Oh …” I said, “Well” – and I was sort of struggling to say something – and I looked at her hand and she had her iPhone, and I said, “Well I didn’t have one of those.” Because she has every image, access to all information in her hand. When I started, I had none of that and I think it’s a challenge for young people today.” This is akin to what Stuart Hall called the: “Maximisation of individual choice through personal consumption.” Or what, in the Rocky Horror Show, is idealised as: “Don’t dream it, be it…”

This accessibility to everything, allied with choice to be anything, allied to a philosophy where all narrative is oppressive, leaves us without values, without ideology, without the means to understand anything about humanity and our world, beyond that of a supermarket checkout, or worse, the Amazon ‘one-click’ button.

The logic of a marketised system attempts to turn teachers into consumers and sellers. Anything goes. Just as in an art world in which all can be art the most important thing to say is ‘well, that isn’t art,’ so in the education world we need to be able to deny education can be about anything and done in any way ‘as long as it works’. Just as the art world needs boundaries, so does education.

John Dewey wrote that: “New inventions, new machines, new methods of transportation and intercourse are making over the whole scene of action year by year. It is an absolute impossibility to educate the child for any fixed station in life.” Education, therefore, should be for its own sake.

Instead of being at the start of the ‘knowledge age’ we are at the precipice of the ‘ignorant age’. And some of us have already fallen. Imagine if the teacher of the future were to be stupid, having no idea what they are doing in the long term scheme of things, they have taken for granted the ‘marketised’ idea that teaching is a collection of techniques. They love short term resources more than the long term unfolding of the subject. They think all they need to do is go online and download lessons. They’d buy kindle books about 100 techniques and 100 ways. They have bought into the short-termism market. They’d think creativity equals iPads or whatever was the thing, and that critical thinking is vital, though they won’t think their way critically out of a shopping trolley, and teachers will become resource consultants and teaching, a business and no need for training.

Education is in danger of melting into air, this is the logic of Jameson’s late capitalism where the teacher no longer has an interest in anything to do with passing on knowledge. If we all succumb education will dissolve into entrepreneurship and the market we deliver to will be one full of salivating teacherpreuners who think the quick fix, bought off the shelf, here today, gone tomorrow, is a perfectly reasonable way to educate children for the future.

Buy our resources! Save time! Scream the online ads directed at teachers. Overworked, under duress teachers grab them with one hand whilst caffeinating with what ever drink they have in the other. “I’m not prog or trad,” the teacher says, “I just do whatever works on the day, whatever my children need I give to them… I just get on with delivering my lesson and waiting for the data…” And the consultants and companies latch onto this  desire, or help create it. Tap onto resources marketplaces and consume.

I agree with Grayson Perry where he says: “I still am more emotionally attached to the old thing.” where teachers care about long term thought, cared about constructed and very grand narratives. The old progressives understood this. Freire wrote that: “Our advanced technological society is rapidly making objects of us and subtly programming us into conformity to the logic of its system to the degree that this happens, we are also becoming submerged in a new “Culture of Silence”…” At least Freire, Dewey, et al had vision. Now we are faced with the possibility of educators losing their central mission, teachers as consumers, and pupils as objects to count in and out of the gates. It goes on silently, just the occasional mutter that something might be wrong…

…as education bows to the marketplace.

Teachers, ‘Cheating’ and ‘Selling’ Achievement

771e6f2d-42e0-4266-8250-59461a62ce28-2060x1236.jpeg

Does your school have a quasi ‘delivery unit’? If you’re not sure what this looks like or might be, a D.U. can be known by its actions. Do you have members of staff setting targets for other members of staff and also pupils to deliver? The delivery unit believes in continual improvement for the school: the figures are expected to climb, therefore your results are. Different children every year are expected to perform better than children did the year before. This means that although every year the children change, the school is expected to improve, the children are not the reason for this improvement, the school is.  This is not teacher centred or child centred education, it is school centred, and with statistical modelling it will be school eat school out there.

That performance related pay might make the teacher more of a focus than the school is not a heart warming prospect. Stressed teachers becoming the focus of the exam season, ready to fall on their red pens for the good of the school is not going to alleviate the problem.

As grades are currency in the real world it is always good to hear of children doing well, getting on a course, getting an interview, getting a job that they wouldn’t have got were it not for that ‘B’…

But…

If the child is but a cog in an exam machine we can but wonder if the child that got on the course clutching their B to their bosom is the same child that the new course teacher expects them to be. The more a school or teacher does for a pupil in order to get them through the exam there has to come a point where the exam is not really down to the pupil at all. This means that the exam currency for the pupil is destabilised. For some Higher Education providers this will only be alleviated by ignoring or paying scant attention to grades and by setting up their own entrance tests and also through their interview processes.

Glenys Stacey, the outgoing Chief Executive of Ofqual, bemoans the fact that: “There isn’t an ethical code for teachers… Teachers are in an invidious position at times and where is the guidance?”

This quote comes from an article in the Times, which also reports that the ethical ‘grey areas’ include around thirty things and that there is no clear agreement about them, here is a flavour:

Discussing what might come up in exams.

Not teaching all the syllabus to focus on likely exam topics.

Focusing help on “borderline” pupils.

Encouraging pupils to memorise mark schemes.

Choosing qualifications to improve place in school league tables.

Entering pupils early for exams to allow resits.

Switching to an ‘easier’ exam board.

Telling pupils to use revision guides not textbooks.

Encouraging pupils to rote-learn answers.

Giving hints to pupils during controlled assessment. 

A lot of these are common practice in many schools, we could also add teaching GCSEs over three or even more years, teaching ‘easier’ and ‘shorter’ texts year upon year and weekend/after school ‘drilling’ of targeted pupils, and a myriad of other maybe ‘ethically dodgy’ practices.

Added to this problem we have some in education who feel the practices of psychology cults and sales conventions have more relevance to schools than do meetings of groups of academics discussing their subjects. Tracking progress, diagnostics, therapy, incentivising, action planning, targeted assessment, are all ideas that might better suit a sales force out to rip off old age pensioners in middle England than they do an educational institution, but these are the terms being bandied about in schools that have fallen for the hype. For example, over at the PIXL Club webpage I am sure some people positively bubble over with excitement because there are: student centred personalised learning checklists, and that there are ways of:  enabling individual student PPE marks to be automatically populated into a Smith Pro Forma so that student insecurities are accurately identified. And that: software to support student-centred personalised learning checklists is available, as well as pro-forma to ensure: that student insecurities are accurately identified, along with the very necessary: Interactive methods to enable staff to identify student insecurities. This language of diagnosis, therapy and testing is a sad indictment of what is occurring in our schools, yet it is one that is on the increase.

I once went on a course and learned how to sell double glazed replacement windows. I became very good at it, I was able to sell the products to people who probably didn’t want them and might not even have had a need for them, but my figures were good therefore I must have been successful. Later, I had a crisis of conscience and left. If one can make someone buy something that they might not be able to afford or have no need of, should one? Should a school involve itself with practices that belong more to a sales team than they do teaching? Should schools be using practices that, arguably, are less to do with pupils knowing about and excelling in the pursuit of wisdom and more to do with narrower indicators of performance from day one? I could sell windows; should schools ‘sell’ achievement?

If  Glenys Stacey got her way and there was an ethical code for teachers would we be tolerating the cultish sales crew behaviour that is gaining ground in our midst?

Teaching the Timeline: Chronology as Core Curriculum

teacherhead

Increasingly, I find myself drawn to the issue of chronology; the importance of understanding the scale and sequence of historical eras and the framework for locating every event and every historical figure relative to every other.  This is the big picture; the story of everything we’ve ever known and ever done.  This hyperhistory site is great place to start exploring chronology although the internet is awash of timelines of one kind or another.

As a science teacher, I find that a strong historical framework is essential in developing the concepts and making connections between them.  One of my all-time favourite books is Bill Bryson’s A Short
History of Nearly Everything:

The book pulls together various strands of science so that you get a sense of the significance of certain discoveries and theories.  For example, the audacious revelations of Darwin’s ‘Origins’ are all the more remarkable given that the prevailing wisdom…

View original post 1,348 more words

Curricula, Curricula!

Summer Turner

I love curriculum. Talking about it, playing with it, designing it, implementing it, enacting it, assessing it. (So much so that I often find myself singing ‘Curricula, Curricular’ to the tune of ‘Spectacular, Spectacular‘.) I spend a good part of my working life looking at, and a large chunk of last year writing a book about, curriculum and its bedfellow: assessment. So I’m hugely excited about our inset day today, where I’m leading whole school CPD on curriculum.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that a school dedicates so much time to discussing what I consider to be the very heart of a school, but it is sadly true that curriculum has often taken a back seat in the face of data, pedagogy and behaviour. With limited time in schools for CPD – we prioritise; the choices we make here indicate to our staff and, consequently, our pupils what it is…

View original post 424 more words

Our Rhetoric Roadmap

teacherhead

Yesterday we published this document, sending it out to parents. Since working with Martin Robinson on our Trivium-fueled curriculum, Rhetoric has been high on the agenda.  We appointed a Director of Spoken Literacy – Andrew Fitch, our 2 i/c in English – and he has produced some superb guidance for structured speech events in the classroom – as captured here. We have also promoted the idea that teachers should teach student to speak properly – very explicitly, as captured in this post.

However, our feeling was that, despite the guidance and encouragement, it’s too easy for this important idea to be left to chance.  I don’t want it to depend on a particular child’s unique combination of teachers as to whether they get a regular diet of opportunities to develop their capacity for rhetoric.  We needed a plan.  Using our CPD structure we asked all departments to…

View original post 188 more words

Tradition vs Progress: a True Dichotomy

c4e12b20f7ae0913d80d3dd16ca3-is-tradition-an-obstacle-to-progress.jpg

Dichotomy: A division or contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different OED

I keep seeing references from people, too numerous to mention, that traditional and progressive can happily co-exist as, in reality, it is a false dichotomy. There is a problem in this argument and that is tradition and progress are as dichotomous as they come!

Dichotomy comes from the Greek for ‘cutting in half’. A dichotomy can be false if it is proved that there are more possibilities or that the sides have more in common than not.

‘Tradition’ tradicion was mentioned in the Wycliffe Bible in 1382 in the sense of a belief, custom or practice being handed down. It is drawn from the Latin trāditiōnem, meaning ‘delivery, surrender, a handing down’.

Whereas ‘progress’ way back in 1425 meant a forward movement, from the Latin prōgressus meaning to go forward. Progressive is first noted as meaning advocating reform in political or social matters in 1884. In education its use as meaning “that of aiming to develop the abilities and interests of pupils rather than fitting them to a given curriculum” * is first seen as early as 1839 and was later popularised by John Dewey in the 1920s.

Tradition means from the past, progress means toward the future. Traditional is conservative in the sense of keeping things the same; progressive is radical in the sense of reforming things. Conservatives and reformists have been engaged in ideological battles for centuries in many different societies around the world. Even socialists can be conservative or reformist, look at the battle for the heart of the Labour Party with the ‘traditional’ heart of the Party currently being claimed by the Corbynistas whilst the ‘modernisers’ argue for reform.

In education traditionalists argue for the centrality of subject and progressives argue for the centrality of the child. The traditionalists see the importance of a body of knowledge being handed down and the progressives want to shape a personalised curriculum around the perceived needs of each child. The progressives look to the future and want to endow every child with the skills needed for the 21st Century and traditionalists want to endow every child with knowledge about the ‘greatest that has been thought, said and done’.

The argument about ‘factory schools’ not being centred on the needs of the child, too many tests, pupils being stressed out is made by progressives; the argument that child centred teaching and learning has led to a nation with too many illiterate and innumerate young adults is made by traditionalists.

In every classroom throughout the land decisions are made that imbue that class in being more one than the other. If you do project based learning, following the interests of the child, you are breaking tradition; if you insist that children follow a curriculum full of great books you are keeping the tradition alive. If you don’t care about the quality of the books by arguing ‘who says they are great?’ you are flying in the face of tradition and if you say: ‘how do we know what skills will be needed in the future?’ you are undermining the progressivist cause.

Parliamentary democracy has tried to bring the progressive and the conservative together in a political settlement, in the UK this is seen clearly in the House of Commons where Conservatives face Progressives (though I have already argued these schisms run through the Labour Party as they do the Conservatives). The Conservative/Liberal coalition did great damage to the electoral performance of the LibDems with many people accusing them of selling out, many on the far left look at centrist figures on the left and accuse them of being Tories, the dichotomy is real and it gives shape to our ideals and expression to our values. Although you can try to bring the sides together, you will tend to be more one than the other, rather than having a lot in common with each other one is destroyed by the other, with tradition being pessimistic because it is the side that always takes the biggest losses.

Progress happens and tradition gets destroyed. Optimism pervades the progressive cause, pessimism the traditionalist one. As soon as iPads are brought into a classroom you don’t bring the values of progression and tradition together, you destroy tradition. As soon as you knock down the houses in your old Victorian Street you destroy tradition. As soon as you build the houses in the countryside you destroy tradition. As soon as you bring in Votes for the Workers, for Women, you destroy tradition. As soon as you cut the head off the King, you destroy tradition. There is no halfway, no both together. Tradition has to regroup and, maybe, absorb ‘progress’.

But every now and then tradition puts the brakes on reform and starts to restore the way things were: linear exams, knocking down tower blocks, but other reforms remain and tradition tries to bring the sides together enveloping radical ideas like  civil partnerships into the more traditional idea of marriage but this is clearly a progressive step and angers some who see it destroying what is at the centre of their values. Bring back the cane! Centre the curriculum on Bible studies!

The central problem for those who say that tradition vs progress is a false dichotomy is this: the classroom can’t be both subject centred and child centred. You can try to bring the subject to the child, or the child to the subject but this is just trying to sell the tradition or even lie to the child by making it look as though they have some control, though they palpably do not; or you can put the child at the centre and let them dictate their own learning. There is no halfway house.

Values and ideals are important, for without them, what are we? So the next time someone argues that progress and tradition are a false dichotomy, think why would they argue this? They are either lying and are using this argument to hide the fact that they are either on one side or the other. They might be saying ‘what works’ or ‘the evidence says’ but in their classroom it is clear that they belong to one side or the other… or it might be that they have given up on their values altogether and have sold out to pure instrumentalism and are letting the machine drive them like a driverless car, no longer caring about what happens to the children in their care, they follow the data and make all their decisions based on that. In this case the decision they have made to wash their hands of the dilemma and only obey the orders handed down to them, means that the decisions on the dichotomy between tradition and progress are made by other people.

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types — the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine. Each new blunder of the progressive or prig becomes instantly a legend of immemorial antiquity for the snob. This is called the balance, or mutual check, in our Constitution.

GK Chesterton

*Chambers Dictionary of Etymology

The Data Never Lies

vlcsnap-66119.png

The morning briefings seemed to be getting longer and longer, the Nescafé was colder than usual when it crept to a halt, Mr Bolt was not the only one running out of steam. There were three other old lags who had been there ‘in the old days’, their steamier days were also long since past. Looking around the staff room Bernie Bolt realised that not only was he one of the oldest in the room but that all the newbies, enthusiastic, grinning inanely, had all been given positions of responsibility, all of which meant they had something to say in every briefing. Briefing was no longer brief.

Longing for a return to the days when the coffee was proper and at a good temperature Bernie got through the briefing by wondering what he will get up to after his redundancy, though no-one had yet mentioned it to him, it was his only hope. Retirement was now so late in the day that the last two retirees from the school had managed to die first, this was not an option that appealed to Bernie, though he was sure the lump sum would please his wife.

What had turned into the longest briefing ever involved these twenty somethings reporting back about how the data had revealed that some such pupil had fallen behind in some GCSE or other and how staff had to ensure that the pupil attended, what was rather poetically called, the Internment Room and that the unfortunate child had to bring their teacher with them. The teacher, it seems, was answerable for the performance of the child and was expected to say why they had taught the child badly in whatever piece of second rate knowledge the pupil had failed to grasp. The child was never lazy or thick or a complete pain in the arse, only the teacher could answer to these epithets. It seemed that every child mentioned was either in Mr Bolt’s class or in his form. No matter, as form tutor he was also expected to turn up to internment.

So as not to be unfair to the teacher each member of staff was expected to fill in an (interminable) internment report for each pupil, explaining what measures had already been put in place to ensure that said pupil was surpassing their target and if the pupil wasn’t what measures had the teacher ‘actioned’ to put the child back on to the hallowed path of righteousness. When ‘Bolty’, as the kids, rather unimaginatively, called him, had written ‘clip round the ear’, somewhat facetiously, he was put on gardening leave for six weeks whilst the Academy Chain carried out investigations. He was allowed back, somewhat under duress on both sides, and warned that having a sense of humour might count against his hopes for promotion. As he hoped he wouldn’t be promoted this made him laugh, and the meeting was curtailed with the HR manager asking him to consider his flippant attitude.

Now, here he was having to write internment reports on thirty-five children; each report had to be a detailed and descriptive document on a page of A4 and he was expected to hand these in by midday. Bugger this, he thought, as he cut and pasted his way from previous internment reports and then matched the child according to their gender to each report.

Then he filled out an extra internment report for Terry Tagliatelle a rather dim child of Italian extraction who seemed to have a somewhat anarchic attitude towards authority and saw no point in GCSEs. Bernie wrote that Tagliatelle laughed in the face of our qualifications saying they had no relevance to his future in a job that had yet to be invented. When he had challenged Tagliatelle, he got threatened: “Bolty, you will get the head of a horse on your pathetic Teacher’s Desk…” He went on to report that this worried him so much that he was too scared to have mentioned it before now and something makes him wish he hadn’t, he was now so scared he would like to go home to recover – in fact he had need of a safe space.

Before he handed in his interminable internment reports, Bernie logged on to the online staff reporting and tracking system and added Tagliatelle to various classes, mainly the classes of the grinning fools from briefing. Tagliatelle, it seemed, was doing extremely badly in everyone’s class.

The next day he felt well enough to go back to school. When he arrived Bernie was pleased to note that the morning briefing was in uproar and the grinning ones were no longer smiling. None of them could remember Terry, the naughty child of Italian extraction, they were scared because his uncle had rung up the school that morning demanding to know why his nephew was in internment and saying he wanted to meet each teacher alone and turn them into bolognese. A wry smile crept across Bernie’s face, he could have some real fun with Terry, a child who only existed on the online tracking system was going to be the most troublesome child the school had ever come across.

Is it Time to Ditch the Arts at GCSE for Some Pupils?

masks.jpg

The Ebacc is not a qualification, it is merely a performance measure for schools, therefore it matters not a jot whether a pupil gets it or not, it only matters to the school. The school has a choice, to ride roughshod over some pupils wishes so that it might look good on a measure or to sacrifice its overall ‘academic’ image to enable pupils to choose subjects that some may prefer.

The thinking behind the Ebacc, originally, was to steer pupils towards taking subjects that were more ‘academic’ and this meant that the arts and technology subjects were, alongside ‘soft’ academic subjects, deemed unsuitable for inclusion in this measure. At the same time OfQual  embarked on a process to make exams ‘tougher’.

Then along came ‘progress 8’ which the DfE describes as:

…designed to encourage schools to offer a broad and balanced curriculum with a focus on an academic core at key stage 4, and reward schools for the teaching of all their pupils, measuring performance across 8 qualifications. Every increase in every grade a pupil achieves will attract additional points in the performance tables.

Progress 8 will be calculated for individual pupils solely in order to calculate a school’s Progress 8 score, and there will be no need for schools to share individual Progress 8 scores with their pupils. Schools should continue to focus on which qualifications are most suitable for individual pupils, as the grades pupils achieve will help them reach their goals for the next stage of their education or training.

And attainment 8 which will:

… measure the achievement of a pupil across 8 qualifications including mathematics (double weighted) and English (double weighted), 3 further qualifications that count in the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) measure and 3 further qualifications that can be GCSE qualifications (including EBacc subjects) or any other non-GCSE qualifications on the DfE approved list.

To which they add:

It may benefit some less able pupils to work towards good grades (and hence score more points) in fewer subjects, with the emphasis on doing well in English and mathematics, rather than to take more subjects but achieve lower grades overall.

You can see the thinking here. Maths and English are the most important subjects that all should do as well as possible in. After that we have ‘Hard’ Sciences, Languages, and two ‘Humanities’, then a space is left for one to three other ‘softer’ subjects Arts, Technology etc. And they all count, so there is no problem for the Arts or for pupils taking the arts, all will be well!

In the meantime, something else has happened, let us look at the case of drama GCSE, it has become less about the art as practiced and more about the art as theory. In the latest incarnation the GCSE looks as though it will be a 70% ‘written’ exam – 10% of that will be through a ‘portfolio’ or similar and the rest through written exams. The practical component which is very difficult to mark objectively has been sacrificed to enable the exam to become ‘tougher’, less open to malign examiner and teacher-examiner subjectivity, and at the same time has become, arguably, less ‘soft’. If you were a teacher advising a less academic child about what options to take you might have used to ‘steer’ them towards ‘practical’ and ‘less-academic’ subjects, you might wish to continue to do so but then you might think – hang on, what with the huge ‘academic’ nature of the new drama GCSE and its similarity to English this child might be better off concentrating on their English exam as it might: “Benefit some less able pupils to work towards good grades (and hence score more points) in fewer subjects, with the emphasis on doing well in English and mathematics…” And you would be right to do so, but what happens to these pupils chances of experiencing “a broad and balanced curriculum?”

In their rush to make Arts exams harder, which on the face of it might be a good idea, something has been lost, and this something might be exacerbated by ‘Progress 8’ and other measures. To make drama harder, ‘fairer’ and more academic in nature, the very subjective quality of the making of the Art has been downgraded and it is this that might hit those pupils who had performance ability in abundance but struggled academically. Some of these pupils have always benefitted from being involved in practical work, it would be a great shame to deny them this possibility.

The now more academic nature of drama might enable teachers to inspire children who see themselves as less academic to become more academic, arts subjects might become a ‘gateway’ to academic life and that will be a wonderful thing. In some cases, however, schools could think about whether to enter these pupils for other qualifications such as LAMDA or TRINITY exams which are far more practical or to give them more opportunities through school productions etc. It might also mean looking at your drama department not as merely delivering exams but also extending their wider role within the school. If fewer children are taking the, now, academic qualifications in drama look at how co and extra curricular work can enrich the life of pupils in the school. Arts departments already do a lot of this around the school, most often ‘voluntarily’, but I think it is time to recognise the importance of this work by employing teachers as directors, workshop leaders, writers etc. so that they might do this work more ‘formally’ in curriculum time.

It might be time for the Arts to become more arts oriented as well as delivering the more academic curriculum being demanded of them.

I am running a course for Osiris on the new Drama GCSEs details of which can be found here.