BSF [lack of] policy is like Deal or No Deal

The whole Dick Clamberon style of government here is having a major impact on what has been a significant and systematic improvement to the infrastructure of school buildings across the country, i.e. the BSF programme. There is no clarity about what will/will not happen and, it seems, we will have to wait for a spending review in the autumn before any decisions are taken about individual projects that have already been signed (back as far as last July apparently).

This article from an industry source caught me eye. As it explains, the whole mess is like a game of Deal or No Deal:

The whole £55bn schools renewal programme should be a carefully thought-through plan to give our children a better chance in life, instead it has turned into a game of Deal or No Deal. If you are working on the six schemes given the go-ahead in March by the then education secretary Ed Balls, the box you open is likely to contain a blue. If you are lucky enough to be in line for work as a preferred bidder the chances, if this week’s Fenland example is anything to learn from, are you will open a red box. But actually no-one can bank on it until their number is up. For contractors up and down the country incurring millions of pound in costs keeping experienced bid teams together this is simply not good enough. It is not fair on the project teams nor the management who are worrying whether their staff’s talents could be put to better use elsewhere. It is unrealistic to expect a lot of detail at this early stage, but education secretary Michael Gove must issue a statement about the Government’s intentions for BSF. Expecting the industry to sit around for months wondering whether they have chosen the £250,000 or 1p box is no way to handle things.

It’s unacceptable but not, unfortunately, surprising.

Howard Jacobson on why education should focus on ‘the best’

Howard Jacobson’s piece in The Independent last Saturday caused my hackles to rise somewhat. I won’t bore you with the whole thing (which you can read here should you want to), but rather just quote the bit towards the end of his piece about the new Education Secretary – Michael Gove:

I confess to a liking for Michael Gove. He is a cultivated man and looks the way a cultivated man should look – always just a touch unkempt, cross-toothed and with a bit of a headache (I’m talking of impression, not fact), ironical, intellectually impatient, not quite inhabiting the space, as the two Cs (that’s Cameron and Clegg) occupy space, carved out for him by privilege. He is also, against all the prevailing orthodoxies, Arnoldian. Continue reading

The Coalition Agreement – what we have to look forward to in relation to schools …

The Coalition has published its new programme for Government today. The website crashed straightaway (not a good sign of stability really!) but here is the bit that relates to schools:

The Government believes that we need to reform our school system to tackle educational inequality, which has widened in recent years, and to give greater powers to parents and pupils to choose a good school. We want to ensure high standards of discipline in the classroom, robust standards and the highest quality teaching. We also believe that the state should help parents, community groups and others come together to improve the education system by starting new schools. Continue reading

Laptop composers and a puppy called Cubase

John Adams has written a great spoof on the whole issue of using laptops and notation software as a compositional tool. I’d highly recommend that you read it. You’ll find it here. As a piece of writing, it’s amusing because it touches on a number of issues that most of us know are true. But, as with any polemic, there is much left out and several of the commentators on his blog are pointing things out. Of course, I’m sure Adams is fully aware of these.

His story reminded me of a lovely exposition on the relationship between user, tool and objective in Wertsch’s book Mind as Action. Whilst Adams suggests that pencil, manuscript and eraser might be a better toolset to learn about musical composition, in Chapter 2 of his book Wertsch points out that processes of long division are often mediated by pencil and paper. Without a calculator, one relies on the tool to carry out the task. For most of us it is almost impossible without reliance on these tools. However, Wertsch’s point is that the tools that we use implicate our thinking in an essential way. Werstch extends this example by considering the use of the slide rule as a design tool in aeronautical design. It is a brilliant exposition and highly recommended.

For us, the question might be, what have we lost in the rush to use laptops and notational software as a composition tool? And in terms of a compositional pedagogy, what might be the advantages in promoting musical thinking and understanding through the use of a range of tools including, perhaps, those from our past (e.g. paper and pencils, analogue four tracks, etc). The rush to composition as a inclusive activity does, in Adam’s view, have many downsides, not least the possibilities of opticians playing you their latest opus and a puppy called Cubase (check the end of his article) – perhaps that should have been Cakewalkies?