Payment by results: what’s the reward for culture change?

In the last three days I’ve been on the road, meeting people, enjoying the new train franchises (up to a point) and promoting the future (cautiously). In addition, magpie-like, I’ve been picking up trifles to feather the Word of the Day nest. No new words, but reading free papers in the hotels I was delighted by two items that made me think there’s scope for a series on business and education when I run out of words for the day:

Carpetright chief piles on the incentives for academy teachersFinancial Times, 28 November 2007
“When it comes to hiring and retaining teaching talent for his academy schools, Lord Harris of Peckham, chairman and chief executive of the Carpetright chain, has got it covered. Successful applicants can look forward not only to bonuses of up to £200 under a novel payment-by-results scheme, but also 15 per cent off all their flooring needs at any one of the outposts of his carpet empire.”

The paper adds (in anticipation, I assume, of the derision of its normal readership): “The scale of inducements being considered may seem modest by City standards.” At least the FT had the wisdom to provide a little background on payment by results, including a critical comment from Headteacher – sorry: ‘High Master’ – and former English teacher Martin Stephen, of St Paul’s School, London: ‘Mr Stephen concluded: “You are actually damaging the child.”‘

Excellence, outcomes and culture change
The Independent, meanwhile carried an advertisement from The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF). (In a strange link, someone told me this week that she remembered the Department’s new initials by calling it the ‘Department for Curtains and Soft Furnishings’; are they sponsored by Carpetright too?) Anyway, DCSF have ‘launched a bidding process to award a grant to deliver the business of the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes (CfEO) in Children and Young People’s Services.’ That’s quite convoluted, isn’t it? ‘To award… to deliver the business..’. Doesn’t one ‘carry out’ a business? Ah, but the CfEO ‘will likely be a virtual body’, which explains a lot, such as the brief ‘to influence the required practice and culture change’. As if changing the culture weren’t enough (getting rid of post-modernism, perhaps, and re-introducing logical positivism?), the CfEO has also ‘to support a focus on outcomes and action’ – rather than ‘a soft focus on soft furnishings’?

Sorry, I can’t link to the advertisement itself (when I tried the ‘Independent’ website said it was an ‘IllegalArgumentException: No bean specified’, old bean…), so those big enough for blue skies thinking on culture change need to go to the Every Child Matters site.

Stephen rightly said this kind of thing was self-parodying, so I apologise that I couldn’t resist the extra jibes.

Comments are now closed on this item

Blam! There goes a clanger

There’s a strange headline on the main comment piece in the Times Educational Supplement on this week (23 November, page 28): ‘Politicians, don’t play the blam game.’ I thought this was a play on some new edu-jargon, but either I’m very dense or ‘blam’ was the sound of the TES dropping a clanger. That was a pity when the comment is making the very reasonable point that for all the talk of freeing the teachers from oppressive educational establishment, it’s government edicts, tests and targets that make the real establishment – and the Tories, with their talk of insisting on synthetic phonics, reading tests at age 6 and unannounced inspections, are no better.

A few pages earlier there’s a photograph of a placard with the words: ‘CAPITOL PUNISHMENT’ – which on inspection was a call to hang Ian Brady and Maxine Carr, not to impeach the US President. I suspect the sub-editor selecting that picture felt the mistake offered a silent comment on the placard’s sentiments – a pity that the sub-ed for page 28 wasn’t so self-aware. Unfortunately you can’t see this online as the TES restricts access to a few teaser articles until a week after publication, by which time I expect they will have corrected it.

‘Their name liveth for evermore’

Remembrance Day round-up

War MemorialThe period running up to Armistice Day (November 11th) usually produces a little crop of poignant stories, including both official British Legion publicity to news stories deemed apposite at this time of year. The Poppy Appeal this year featured McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, the original inspiration for the adoption of artificial poppies after the Great War (at first, it seems, by an American woman who arranged for artificial poppies to be made by women in war-ravaged northern France to help provide for children who had suffered because of the war). The Legion understandably wanted to use McCrae to support the Poppy appeal, not his appeal on behalf of the dead to ‘take up our quarrel with the foe’. Background from the British Legion or, for an alternative view, the Peace Pledge Union (this link is to the education section on the Great War: Sassoon was an early sponsor of the PPU).

Two memoirs by men who served in the war were in the news. Pipe-smoking Captain Alexander Stewart recounted the “Horror and dark humour of the Somme” according to the Guardian. Better-known J B Priestley wrote of ”trenches full of heads’ in his letters from the front, again reported in The Guardian.

Two poets also drew re-evaluations: Ivor Gurney, whom Adam Thorpe describes as ‘one of the finest of his age’ in The Guardian’s review pages. Before the month was out, Vernon Scannell had died; he served in the Second World War but wrote movingly about the First in ‘The Great War’. Alan Brownjohn’s obituary appeared in The Guardian, as did a less predictable glowing tribute from Simon Jenkins, who was taught by Scannell and concludes: ‘Scannell was even better than a good poet. He could teach.’

Finally, the BBC carried the touching story of how 89 years after Stanley Cubiss drowned when HMS Opal sank off the coast of the Orkney Islands in 1918, his wedding ring was returned to the family by divers who found it at the bottom of the sea.

To be annoying in Internet with style

The curse of Babel Fish – or, the limitations of computer-speak

Annoying... with style!This poster is, in its own delightful way, a summary of this blog’s aim, or at least the result: to be annoying, and with style if we can possibly manage it. It is an advertisement for an Internet cafe found in the lower station of the delightful funicular railway in Montecatini Terme in Tuscany. On the left, the Italian reads: ‘Navigare in Internet con stile’, which I assumed had some relationship to ‘navigation’ – my Rough Guide phrasebook duly translates ‘navigare’ as ‘to sail’. The techno-savvy Internet Center had, however, sailed into the choppy waters of Altavista’s Babel Fish, for when I drop the Italian into the Babel Fish translation panel, it duly renders this in English as: ‘To be annoying in Internet with style’. Priceless, if also rather undermining the claim to ‘all that that others do not have’ – since there are many on the Internet, alas, who annoy. Recalling the original Babel story, we should not be surprised: ‘Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth’ (Genesis 11:9).

Just to demonstrate that the Italians can do things with style, even on a railway station, here are a couple of signs from Florence’s imposing Santa Maria Novella station – much better without translation.
Firenze: Binari Firenze: Dirigente Movimento

Tragic marker?

As electronic marking becomes more widespread there have been some disturbing stories about its shortcomings.

Alongside the predictable photogenic female twins with 12 As on the front pages of the papers (and the predictable prediction of these stories) there’s been a new element in the media reports this results season. As electronic marking becomes more widespread there have been some disturbing stories about its shortcomings. Here are the links: decide for yourself whether these are the teething problems of a brave new world or the inevitable consequences of letting the technology mess up a perfectly good system. Or, of course, something else:

  • Tragic marker: Alastair Harper has no experience of teaching. But that didn’t prevent him taking a job marking this year’s GCSEs. (Guardian, Friday August 10, 2007)
  • In capable hands? Minimal training, no experience of teaching … these are just two of the criticisms made today of Edexcel markers. Is this really how exams are being assessed, asks Felicity Carus in The Guardian, Tuesday August 21, 2007
  • Writing too much hits online marking: Edexcel asks students to keep answers concise and in black to suit its on-screen system. TES, 24 August 2007
  • Less is more for online marking: BBC report on same story, 24 August 2007.

Please add your own comments and links here to continue the argument.

What have you been reading recently?

Anybody out there read Night Watch?

Night Watch
Trevor put this as a comment on Alice, but it needs more prominence:

Not much discussion going on here Tom! How about a ‘what’ve you been reading recently’ strand? Anybody out there read The Night Watch? I wonder what you thought of the back to front time scheme? Been done once or twice before, I know. I found it frustrating. What drives a narrative is ‘what happens next?’ rather than, ‘How did we get here?’. And however hard you try, individual sections still have to be written in a forwards direction so it’s kind of counter productive. Other opinions?

Quite – so come on folks, let us know!

Alice in Sunderland: or, I stole my wife’s birthday present

As Alice herself said, ‘what is the use of a book without pictures?’

Alice in Sunderland
Yes, I have to confess that for once I read the book before she has. And it was the one our dear boy bought his mother for her birthday! Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot is sub-titled ‘an Entertainment’, and it certainly is. As Alice herself said, ‘what is the use of a book without pictures?’ This book consists entirely of pictures – with accompanying words, of course. And what a terrific range of styles he uses! The epigraph quotes some fine chap called Edmund Miller: ‘Reality is not enough; we need nonsense too.’ Quite right, of course.

So if you want to find out about the history of the Sunderland Empire (no, it’s not like the British Empire – it’s more fun, even if 191 children did die there in a tragic accident in 1883), the origins of ‘Mackem’ (and why they hate the Geordies), and what it all has to do with Lewis Carroll, get hold of a copy of this book and find out for yourself. There are even pages by Hogarth and Leo Baxendale, creator of the Bash Street Kids. The title is so good it must have been used before, I thought – and it has, as the book tells us, in 1965 by the Shadows.

You don’t have to have Sunderland connections to enjoy this book, though of course it helps, nor do you need to be a Carroll enthusiast. But don’t just take my word for it – see the review in The Observer, where it’s described as ‘one of the most exhilarating books I’ve read in years…. a minor masterpiece’. Then add your own comments right here!

Look new, feeling blue?

Visitors to the new pages on the First World War, on finding out about names on war memorials and on Remembrance Day texts, will have noticed a new, blue look. The look has also been applied to a few other pages as they’ve needed updating, though I’ve not dared yet to take the home page.

What do you reckon, folks? The new style, like the old one, is borrowed from another site – this time from someone offering design ideas, so I don’t feel bad. The Actis style I ripped off for the previous look was not only old-fashioned (even Actis had abandoned it), the company doesn’t even exist…. I spent a while (too long) experimenting with colours – are these cool or drab? The use of a style sheet (impressed?) should make it easy to change colours, though I’d need to spend a while finding a range of tones to keep a similar range of (subtle?) contrasts.

Welcome for the new A Levels

Now that the exam boards in England and Wales have published their draft specifications it’s possible to begin making comparisons.

Now that the exam boards in England and Wales have published their draft specifications it’s possible to begin making comparisons. In alphabetical order, they are:

That only leaves CCEA in Northern Ireland, which is waiting till September.

Today’s Times Ed seems surprised that NATE’s John Hodgson has ‘taken the unusual step of welcoming as “very positive” changes which will require students to read more books and write creatively’. The journalist seems to be making out that NATE is a bunch of grumpy contrarians who hate it when students read books! No, Warwick, you were at the Conference – we love books, it’s the SATs we hate!

Of course there are concerns about the changes. The same TES item quotes a teacher who’ll ‘teach brutally to the exam’ – which sounds horrible! And the ‘creative’ aspect seems to worry some – though many see this (which is a QCA requirement) as stimulating. AQA, for example, define this as ‘personal / original interpretation or creative / transformational writing’, which seems to me to allow plenty of scope.

AQA’s new A Levels go live

AQA publishes new A Level specifications for 2008

In case you haven’t spotted this, the new AQA draft specifications for 2008 are now on the AQA site. There are also specimen question papers and mark schemes to give you an idea of what the new papers might look like. I’m probably biased: I think the reading lists for AQA Literature A look really interesting, both for the set texts and the coursework lists – the sort of reading that should benefit anyone thinking of studying English after A Levels as well as being an enjoyable and coherent course. Teachers can ask for approval for other texts, but they’ll need to fit into the theme chosen. Outside the ‘set’ texts, reading is likely to be more selective, perhaps by extracts and overview rather than the line-by-line approach used in the past.

But take a look for yourselves and post a comment here. AQA is running training sessions on these new course this term and next.

No news yet from Edexcel, it seems – they must be keeping their powder dry…