The BBC’s strategic review

I’ve finally had the time to read, in full, the BBC’s Strategy Review. The one that caused so much furore in the (broadsheet) media about the closing of 6Music, and which also included plans to shut BBC Blast and BBC Switch, both targeted and teens and the first an admirable venture which was once seemingly at the centre of the corporation’s vision for learning. I haven’t seen the numbers on takeup, but this seems to be a decision to leave the teen learning space to Channel 4, who have been making the running for a little while now (if not as ambitiously as many, including me, might like). This is probably a fairly sensible admission of defeat, and is good politics, if a great shame for Blast, which was at least a very good idea (I never really investigated it fully).

The review never really addressess the perennial and fundamental issue. This is the BBC’s constant need to balance audience numbers with “distinctiveness” (which is impossible to define) and “public service” (which is an essentially elitist idea and therefore potentially horribly unpopular as well as unmeasureable and undefineable). And, of course, to fend off its (sometimes justified, sometimes not) commercial critics.

So, as usual, it’s a fudge. Does anyone who does believe in the idea of “public service” (like me) have a way of justifying it which doesn’t sound elitist when you try to write it down? I am trying – will post anything if it comes to me…

A historical start?

Just been having a brief look at the BBC’s A History of the World in 100 objects site. It fills me simultaneously with hope and slight disappointment. It’s a great, exploratory learning site, and firmly public service. It encourages serendipitous discovery, it isn’t patronising, there’s nice user-generated content and localisation (local museums), it’s linked across the BBC brands and channels.The site is pretty useable and looks good. If this is the direction BBC learning (and Learning) resources are heading, it’s encouraging.

But – the offer for schools is woefully thin right now (a bunch of lesson plans and text-focussed flat pages rather than the tools and pan-UK projects which could have been exciting). And the whole thing feels as if it could have been really amazing with more money – I don’t see much narrative to bring me in to the site, and all the academic’s comments seem to be text or audio. There’s no Simon Schama to draw me in or reconstructions of what these objects might have been used for. So – a good start. I hope someone’s working on the truly ambitious follow-up.

Love this – hope it works commercially!

This is elegant and a good idea. I hope it works.

Storybird is a service that uses collaborative storytelling to connect kids and families. Two (or more) people create a Storybird in a round robin fashion by writing their own text and inserting pictures. They then have the option of sharing their Storybird privately or publicly on the network. The final product can be printed (soon), watched on screen, played with like a toy, or shared through a worldwide library.

Storybird is also a simple publishing platform for writers and artists that allows them to experiment, publish their stories, and connect with their fans.

A crisper way of putting it

After a recent conversation with a friend re-starting her teaching career and viewing it all with fresh eyes, I realise that there’s another way of expressing my previous post. Labour education policies since 1997, whilst worthy and well-intentioned, have removed much of the delight, joy, serendipity and creativity from teaching. In these grim times, which would you rather: that our children are infused with these optimistic emotions, or with tough-minded, micro-managed, slightly cynical pragmatism? If it’s necessary or indeed possible, how do we strike a balance between the two?

Avoiding a state theory of learning

A thought-provoking evening last night at the RSA, where there was a discussion about the newly released Cambridge University/ Esmee Fairbairn Foundation Cambridge Primary Review Final Report . This has come in for a lot of press comment in the last few days and seems to have been (perhaps inevitably) misrepresented and over-simplified. From what I have read and seen, the report looks like a truly worthwhile contribution to the debate about how we should educate our children in and for the twenty-first century and I share much of its philosophy.

Overall it was particularly interesting to me for its critique of the last twelve years of Labour education policy – with Strategies, SATS and DCSF-commissioned research mostly focussed on retrospectively evaluating the Department’s own initiatives rather than on exploring alternatives, we are coming worryingly close to what they called “a state theory of learning”. Their experiences mirror my own in schools and some teacher training organisations, where sometimes there is very little questioning of the “party line”, and a resulting lack of the values that I think are the most important in any educational endeavour – a constant awareness that you should keep questioning what you are doing and how you are doing it. The Cambridge team were (reassuringly) committed to empowering teachers and learners to think and work for themselves, and believers in evidence-based policies that should constantly be debated . They talked of education being moral rather than instrumental, which I firmly believe too.

The irony is that Labour seems to have been moderately successful in their ruthlessly focussed and very laudable mission to raise the “lowest common denominator” of standards: more children are leaving primary school being able to read and write well enough (although the statistics are still hardly great reading). But their highly controlling method of doing this has been at considerable cost and has disheartened the more creative teachers (and probably learners). I am gradually coming to the conclusion that a lot of really good state schools in England keep their heads under the radar and just get on with doing what they believe in, rather than make a fuss about their achievements and attract the unwelcome attention of policy makers and target-driven bureaucrats. They empower themselves in spite of the pressures from above by treating the simplistic target culture with patient resignation. Whoever our next government is, let’s hope that they don’t have to carry on doing this.

Malcolm McLaren and education at Handheld

I never expected the creator of the Sex Pistols to be a devotee of Baudelaire, but so it is. Malcolm McLaren gave a great and thought-provoking talk this morning about education and himself at the Handheld Learning Conference. Many will have found it a ramble, but the style was an elegant exposition of the substance of his talk – which asked why we have become a “karaoke culture” in which the stupid is cool, and life is lived by proxy (reality TV) and instant gratification, rather than an “authentic” one which celebrates “the messy process of creativity.” I’ll post the link when it’s up, but MM celebrated how we should sometimes (he would say always) be enthusiastic amateurs, open to possibilities (especially those involving “glorious failure”), and celebrate learning for learning’s sake and art for art’s sake. Malcolm McLaren the flaneur – a new one on me.

It’s also the first ever time I’ve had the question “so how do we fix our culture then?” answered with a metaphor involving four-letter expletives and rubber dolls…

Losing confidence

Seventy percent of primary teachers are considered to be confident and competent using ICT in the curriculum – down from 80% in 2007. The percentage has also decreased in secondary schools with 60% in 2009 being confident and competent using ICT – compared to 68% in 2007.

The fifth page of BESA’s ICT in UK State Schools 2009 summary report is pretty grim reading. Bear in mind this is a trade association which has a vested interest in selling educational products, but its conclusions do ring true. It coincided with a conversation I had yesterday with somebody working in Australian educational publishing. From the outside of the UK, it looks like we have a mature, well-funded and well-informed market for electronic educational materials. The DCSF rhetoric clearly works. Regrettably the reality is somewhat different.