Thursday, December 31, 2009

Layer 235 . . . End of an Era


I'll see her no more
That small figure framed
In her favourite armchair
Faint through the net curtain
On many a tired arrival.

She became too weary
To rise up and greet me
At the door of her small world
Where she insistently and rightly
Lived to the very end . . .

Letting myself in, just like
The home help and the lunch delivery
"Hello, hello - how are you today?
Oh you forgot I was coming?
Never mind; it's only memory . . . "

How she hated getting old -
Losing memories, becoming feeble -
But it somehow became her
As soft smiles of acceptance
Replaced her feisty challenges.

All gone now, though the Christmas bouquet
Still blooms with snow-white lillies -
The last I'll ever buy her -
A cyclamen still flames and glows
And hyacinths struggle into fragrant flower.

The Christmas cards still stand
Red, gold, silver and shiny
Testimonials to her from friends and family,
Mingled with framed photos of loved ones -
Not a single one of her, of course:

Too little ego, or too much?
She saw herself still as a flame-haired girl
And disowned the tottering grey person
On unsteady legs, with wrinkled skin,
Smoking another cigarette.

"I'll live here till I die", she proclaimed
And so she did, though she had
Little appetite for food or life
And sometimes secretly wished to end
The struggle and the fight.

She lived on her pride and determination
Appreciating the affection of those
Who knew she was a Good Person
No matter her want of diplomatic grace,
Or inability to say "I love you".

Actions spoke louder, much louder than words,
And now the silent empty kitchen,
The half-empty packets of biscuits and cigarettes
The brand-new lighter she still struggled to enflame
Speak only of loss, and sorrow, and pain.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Layer 234 . . . . The New Learning Revolution . . . and The Aims of Education

To tie the ideas together from the previous two blogs on the subject of transforming schools, learning and education - I'm going to reiterate what I've written previously about Dryden & Vos's seminal book – The New Learning Revolution.

(See Layer 147 -

Read large sections of it here on Google Books -

The subject matter of this book is new ways to learn, teach, think, create and communicate.

It is now the world’s biggest-selling non-fiction book.

10 million copies of this book have been sold in China alone.

The Chinese government has completely retrained its teaching force in order for them to teach on the basis of these progressive ideas about learning and teaching. This was a massive project, and represents a radical and progressive break with their traditional methods of teaching.

Why do this? Because the Chinese government has understood that learning has to be a dynamic process, driven by the needs and wishes of learners to be responsible for their own learning and to become equipped with creative thinking and communication skills.

This stands in contrast to traditional models of education which are based on the acquisition of a specified body of knowledge and the ability to pass tests on one’s memory of that curriculum.

In a world where information is available day and night from a laptop computer or even a telephone connected to the Internet, why should hundreds of millions of pupils and students be sitting in rows of desks facing their teachers in classrooms designed for a different age?

Very soon it will be possible for all advanced countries to provide every pupil with a cheap laptop computer. In eight or ten years time it will be possible for every pupil to own a pocket computer. Those who don’t possess this technology will be severely disadvantaged.

Traditional schooling is breaking down. In Britain record numbers of pupils are being excluded from school because of their undisciplined behaviour. Frankly, many of them are bored and cannot see the point in doing what schools are asking them to do.

Not only are many teachers and schools offering no intellectual stimulation, they are also failing to provide learning in social, emotional and spiritual intelligence.

In the foreword of this book Christopher Ball, the chairman of Britain’s ‘Campaign for Learning’, says, ‘This book explains what is going on in the gradual collapse of the old model of education, and the advent of the revolutionary new models of learning’.

He goes on to say, “The old school model is as dead as the industrial revolution that spawned it. The flight of both pupils and teachers from traditional schooling will soon become an embarrassment for governments in developed countries. Neither the curriculum (what is taught) nor the pedagogy (how it is taught) is any longer sustainable.”

“What lies at the heart of this book is a shift of focus from teaching to learning, and a recognition that a new philosophy of learning must lead the curriculum.”

In the 21st Century “the rewards of the good life will go to those who are most adaptable - who learn best. They will also go to those who learn to use and share the new world of interactive technology, instant communication, collaborative innovation and multimedia creativity.”

To that list I would add that the rewards will also go to those who learn to become emotionally, socially, instinctually, intellectually, physically and spiritually intelligent.

These are the clear goals of progressive education - an education that is needed for the 21st Century.

These are the goals we must reach if we are to become “a more creative, cooperative, sharing world society”. These are the true aims of education.


Here's another page worth checking out -

Pupils under too much pressure to go to university say teachers

There is too much pressure placed on young pupils to head for university, teachers believe, and conversely, too little connection between schools and local businesses.

According to a new study from independent education foundation, Edge, two thirds of teachers think there is too much emphasis on pupils getting a degree at a traditional university while over a third (39%) of teachers feel their institutions still offer too little practical and vocational learning. Involvement with local businesses is seen as widely insufficient with fifty-nine per cent stating that their school or college does not offer enough opportunity for students to learn with local companies.
The study was conducted among over 1,000 teachers and FE lecturers in the state and independent sectors. Exploring their views on the current education system, it shows widespread teacher support for a greater emphasis on practical and vocational pathways – and broad agreement that these routes help pupils to succeed.
Andy Powell, Chief Executive of Edge said: “Teachers know large parts of the system are too academically biased, they recognise a balanced approach is better and they are tellingly concerned that local businesses have insufficient involvement in pupils’ learning in schools.
“We support the teachers’ views. There are many paths to success and we need a richer education with more real-world learning opportunities for young people. Change is beginning to happen, but things are moving too slowly. This generation will be working in a global economy and will have to deal with extraordinary challenges – we have to ensure they are properly equipped.”
The majority of teachers (59%) believe practical and vocational learning often leads to a good career, but they also recognise their knowledge of the qualifications available falls short when compared to their understanding of academic routes.
Edge is inviting the public at large and teachers to have their say on the education system and will feedback findings to politicians of the three main parties prior to the general election. Teachers can join the debate at

The research was conducted online by YouGov between 2nd-8th October 2009. Respondents were drawn from state secondary schools (712), independent schools (105) and sixth form/FE/tertiary education environments (131), making a total sample of 1,034.

 How would you change the education system?

Help revolutionise education now.

Venice hit by high water

Flood waters engulfed the lagoon city of Venice leaving close to 45% of the historical centre under water

 Saw this on the Guardian website – amazing pictures of Venice under water.


Disturbing reports about the national health service -

The worst NHS wards ... where safety is a lottery


Desert Island Discs – Morrisey

For those who didn't know that DID is now available on iPlayer and podcast – wake up!

This piece from the Guardian about the Morrisey programme is less interesting than the comments afterwards on CiF -

Morrissey: This charming Man Friday


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Layer 233 . . . We Are The People . . . and All Our Futures

And so to the movie – We Are The People We've Been Waiting For

Trailer -

A very impressive piece of work. Respect to Caroline Rowland who directed and co-produced.

A quick summary of its points of view?

We currently have a system of education that was shaped by 19th Century ideas that are now bankrupt as ideas suitable for the 21st century.

We still see a teacher as the person who 'knows it all'. Schools are full of 'static knowledge'. We should be preparing pupils for the emerging issues of our time. We live in a rapidly changing environment. Education should be the key to solving all our problems. Does our current schooling help? Does our education prepare children for the rest of their lives?

What is the best education? A love of learning for its own sake? How are children supposed to choose the right path for them to follow? What should they pursue? What experience and knowledge do they have of the world? Should they just stay safely in the mainstream?

Children are the planet's best natural resource. They need to be able to question what they see in the world around them – not just do as they're told. Our system programmes children to be compliant and to conform. We don't develop their creativity. We let their talents go to waste, remain undiscovered.

Thoughtful children believe they should be able to choose their own pathways. They should be able to find success in life in spite of academic failure. We fail to focus on children's strengths because of our obsession with the academic. We concern ourselves principally on their weaknesses, and try to address those academic weaknesses to the exclusion of all else. We are obsessed with standardised tests. Do we really want to turn out kids who have 10 'A' stars who are in many other respects complete 'toe-rags'?

We teach kids how to take tests -  we don't educate them. (Ken Robinson says our whole purpose in education seems to be to produce university professors.) The system is geared towards selecting small elites at the cost of the failure to properly educate all the others. We should be drawing out what is within our children, not stuffing inappropriate things into them.

No wonder so many of our children, both the able and the less able, lack engagement with their own learning and are sometimes physically and often mentally truant.

30,000 British kids leave school each year with NO GCSE passes. 140,000 leave with no grades higher than a D. They've effectively wasted their time in school.

In the USA each year there is $8 billion of crime related costs. 7,000 kids a day drop out of high school. Kids burn down schools  - resentful of their lack of opportunities and their wasted childhood. But they KNOW they have talents. We should be helping them to find the things they're good at, whilst helping them to overcome their weaknesses. They need to engage with more relevant and exciting forms of learning.

The head of education at Unicef says that education is merely used as a political football in unenlightened countries. We need to do something radically different. We need to reinvent our approach to education.

We need confident and creative thinkers. We need holistic education and learning. It's what affluent parents are already choosing for their children.

Too many children have family histories of total academic failure. We need to 'bring children back to life'. (Ken Robinson) We need 0% drop-out rates. We need intrinsic motivation to learn, and choice in our pathways to learning. We need 'mind and hand' learning together. The practical and the theoretical. This is how children learn best. Learning through doing.

We need to design new systems. We need to capture and channel children's instinctive spirit of risk-taking, and help them to become more independent and entrepreneurial. In our culture most children think only of 'getting a job'. This is even true for the most able. We need innovative and pro-active thinkers who know how to harness their own talents. Practical learning should have equal esteem with the theoretical and the academic. Why should practical skills have less respectability and esteem than essay-writing? Law and medicine, after all, are vocational qualifications. Children need theoretical AND applied knowledge.

We need to work with industry and businesses of every sort to show children the opportunities that are available to them, and to help them realise that  through lifelong learning they don't have to stick to one trade or craft or profession throughout life. Not if they are flexible, curious and eager to learn. Not if they are able to USE knowledge and have the ability to make good choices.

Why do we have hierarchies of subjects we study? Why are music and dance regarded as irrelevant and marginal? Why is maths so revered? Why can't young people choose studies that reflect their interests?

We need teachers who can communicate their passion and love of knowledge and learning, not subjects. We need teachers who are skilled in creative thinking and can pass on those skills.

We need a different pedagogic model. Are our teachers ever excited about what they do? We need teaching to be a highly respected profession, as it is in places like Finland.

The headteacher of Summerhill school believes schools should be helping children to grow into real people who are confident , self-assured and realistic. They also need to learn to take responsibility for themselves and their actions, their decisions. They need the confidence to research and to experiment.

As one pupil said, “It's nice being creative.” Having discovered the joy of creativity in one area, children begin to realise they can be creative in many areas, not 'stuck down one path forever'. Hairdressers can also be poets. Textile designers can also be singers and dancers and entrepreneurs.

We need to build a more suitable model of education. We need to consider the role of technology in unlocking potential. Technology can also empower teachers. School is no longer the source of information – it's a portal. We have to help pupils to find their own ways to learn. We need to provide different ways for pupils to reach their own goals. We need to make schools pupil-centric. We need mass customisation and the ability to tailor learning experiences.

Key skills and attitudes must include pride in oneself, ambition, self-direction, persistence, resilience and determination.

We need more than change. We need transformation. We need attention to human and spiritual needs.


Congratulations to Caroline Rowland – the film's director and co-producer, and head of Moongate Films.

Having explained to Brother B in Nigeria my enthusiasm for the film, and having run through its key messages, he said, “So what? We knew all that already didn't we?” Indeed we did. But the film did a brilliant job in images and sound of bringing to life important ideas that can seem difficult and abstruse to non-specialists, to non-insiders. I just wonder what impact the film might have on the thousands of Guardian-reading professionals who take the time to sit down and watch it. Most young teachers, hothoused through their PGCEs, will never have encountered such a powerful evocation of what proper education can be like, and will never have been exposed to such a powerful challenge to re-imagine how schools might operate. Will they now demand change?


Of course Oxzen has blogged about these ideas many times, and commended to readers Ken Robinson's arguments in favour of a transformation in the way we run schools and the curriculum. See also All Our Futures, especially Sir Ken's personal introduction.

Layer 171 – Education: A Whole Lot To Answer For.

Layer 169 - . . . The Nuffield Review . . . (How Children Became Customers)

All Our Futures – note – this has now been taken off the government website for education!  (

Look here instead -

The Purpose of this Report
 In 1997, the Government published its White Paper Excellence in Schools. It described education as a vital investment in 'human capital' for the twenty-first century. It argued that one
of the problems in education is the low expectations of young people's abilities and that it is essential to raise morale, motivation and self esteem in schools. The main focus of the White Paper was on raising standards in literacy and numeracy.
But this will not be enough to meet the challenges that face education, and the White Paper recognised this. It also said:

If we are to prepare successfully for the twenty-first century we will have to do more than just improve literacy and numeracy skills. We need a broad, flexible and motivating education that recognises the different talents of all children and delivers excellence for everyone.

It emphasised the urgent need to unlock the potential of every young person and argued that Britain's economic prosperity and social cohesion depend on this.

By creative education we mean forms of education that develop young people's capacities for original ideas and action: by cultural education we mean forms of education that enable them to engage positively with the growing complexity and diversity of social values and ways of life. We argue that there are important relationships between creative and cultural education, and significant implications for methods of teaching and assessment, the balance of the school curriculum and for partnerships between schools and the wider world.

Our aim is to urge the need for a national strategy which engages the energies of all of these to provide the kind of education, in substance and in style, that all young people need now, and to enable them to face an uncertain and demanding future.

The business community wants education to give a much higher priority to promoting young people's creative abilities; to developing teamwork, social skills and powers of communication.

New technologies are providing unprecedented access to ideas, information, people and organisations throughout the world, as well as to new modes of creativity, personal expression, cultural exchange and understanding. The opportunities are considerable: and so are the difficulties.

Issues of creativity and of cultural development concern the whole of education. They are influenced by much more than the shape and content of the formal school curriculum. These
influences include methods of teaching; the ethos of schools, including the relationships between teachers and learners; and the national priorities that underpin the education service.
Our consultations suggest some tensions in current provision.

The key message of this report is the need for a new balance in education: in setting national priorities; in the structure and organisation of the school curriculum; in methods of teaching and assessment; in relationships between schools and other agencies. Over a number of years, the balance of education, in our view, has been lost. There has been a tendency for the national debate on education to be expressed as a series of exclusive alternatives, even dichotomies: for example, as a choice between the arts or the sciences; the core curriculum or the broad curriculum; between academic standards or creativity; freedom or authority in teaching methods. We argue that these dichotomies are unhelpful. Realising the potential of young people, and raising standards of achievement and motivation includes all of these elements.
Creating the right synergy and achieving the right balance in education is an urgent and complex task, from national policy making to classroom teaching.

Education throughout the world faces unprecedented challenges: economic, technological, social, and personal. Policy-makers everywhere emphasise the urgent need to develop 'human resources', and in particular to promote creativity, adaptability and better powers of communication.
We argue that this means reviewing some of the basic assumptions of our education system. New approaches are needed based on broader conceptions of young people's abilities, of how to promote their motivation and self-esteem, and of the skills and aptitudes they need. Creative and cultural education are fundamental to meeting these objectives.

There are many misconceptions about creativity. Some people associate creative teaching with a lack of discipline in education. Others see creative ability as the preserve of a gifted few, rather than of the many; others associate it only with the arts. In our view, creativity is possible in all areas of human activity and all young people and adults have creative capacities. Developing these capacities involves a balance between teaching skills and understanding, and promoting the
freedom to innovate, and take risks.

Creativity can be 'taught'. Teachers can be creative in their own teaching; they can also promote the creative abilities of their pupils. The roles of teachers are to recognise young
people's creative capacities; and to provide the particular conditions in which they can be realised. Developing creativity involves, amongst other things, deepening young people's cultural knowledge and understanding. This is essential both in itself and to promote forms of education which are inclusive and sensitive to cultural diversity and change.

Assessment and inspection have vital roles in raising standards of achievement in schools. But they must support and not inhibit creative and cultural education. There is a need for a new balance between different types of attainment target in the National Curriculum, and between the different forms and criteria of assessment and inspection. Raising standards should not mean standardisation, or the objectives of creative and cultural education will be frustrated.

We are not advocating creative and cultural education as alternatives to literacy and numeracy, but as equally relevant to the needs of this and of future generations. We support the need for high standards of literacy and numeracy. These are important in themselves. They can also enhance creative abilities: equally creative teaching and learning can enhance literacy and numeracy. These are complementary abilities, not opposing objectives.

Ability comes in many forms and should not be defined only by traditional academic criteria. Academic ability alone will no longer guarantee success or personal achievement.

Children with high academic ability may have other strengths that are often neglected. Children who struggle with academic work can have outstanding abilities in other areas. Equally, creative and cultural education of the sort we propose can also help to raise academic standards. The key is to find what children are good at. Self confidence and self esteem then tend to rise and overall performance improve. High standards in creative achievement require just as much rigour as traditional academic work.

We live in a fast moving world. While employers continue to demand high academic standards, they also now want more. They want people who can adapt, see connections, innovate,
communicate and work with others. This is true in many areas of work. The new knowledge-based economies in particular will increasingly depend on these abilities. Many
businesses are paying for courses to promote creative abilities, to teach the skills and attitudes that are now essential for economic success but which our education system is not designed to promote.

We are advocating a new balance between learning knowledge and skills and having the freedom to innovate and experiment - a system of education that fosters and channels the diverse abilities of young people and which gives everyone the opportunity to achieve on their own merits.

In publishing this report we believe with even more strength than we did at the outset, that the tasks we identify are urgent and the arguments compelling; that the benefits of success are enormous and the costs of inaction profound.

The foundations of the present education system were laid at the end of the nineteenth century. They were designed to meet the needs of a world that was being transformed by industrialisation. We are publishing this report at the dawn of a new century. The challenges we face now are of the same magnitude, but they are of a different character. The task is not to do better now what we set out to do then: it is to rethink the purposes, methods and scale of  education in our new circumstances. This report argues that no education system can be world-class without valuing and integrating creativity in teaching and learning, in the curriculum, in
management and leadership and without linking this to promoting knowledge and understanding of cultural change and diversity. The arguments and proposals that follow are to help set a course for the next century while addressing the urgent demands of the present.

It makes you wonder what the impact of this report would have been had someone bothered to make a film like this when All Our Futures was first published.

Pycnopodia – the seastar – the star of this week's edition of 'Life' on BBC. A truly horrendous creature.


The Art of Spain – Andrew Graham-Dixon

It seems incredible now to think that Franco kept Spain locked in a fascist dictatorship for the best part of 40 years, and the very first time I went to Spain he was still in power.

Last night's film about Spanish art highlighted the fact that Picasso lived and worked for most of his life in France because of Franco's dictatorship.

The film claimed that both Gaudi and Picasso produced work that focused on the tension between spirituality and sexuality, or carnality. Well it seems to me that's a whole blog in itself – does there have to be 'tension' between those two life forces, or can each of them be a direct pathway to the other? Aren't we all designed to be spiritual, sexual and 'intellectual'? Isn't the very interplay between those forces and faculties at the root of creativity? Isn't creativity itself an attempt to celebrate both spirituality and sexuality? And can't the warped and distorted expressions of each of them often inhibit and prevent the proper expression of the others?

I prefer 'interplay' to 'tension'.