Why Do Boys Fail in School?

October 23, 2016

Why Do Boys Fail in School?

Warning: this is long and ranty!

I want you to take note of how I have titled this blog. I could have said, as do much of the media – Why do schools fail boys? – but I want to step back from the constant blame-the-teacher, slag-off-the-school culture that is endemic across the media in both the UK and Oz (and the USA). I am pushed to write this blog in response to an article in last week’s Times Magazine (My Son and Britain’s Boy Crisis, 15-10-2016) where a father of a white British boy waxed damnation against the current education system that according to a raft of statistics is failing boys.

He is correct: the stats are worrying. Girls out perform boys at every level on their way through school: by 8 years 83% of girls achieved level 4+ in reading, writing and maths, as opposed to boys achieving 77% (2015); at GCSE level (15/16 years) girls have out-performed boys for over 25 years, with girls achieving 61.8% 5 A*-C grades compared to boys achieving 52.5% (2015). At university in the UK there are 90,000 more women than men. Add to that there are 65,000 more unemployed male NEETS (not in education, employment and training) than there are females.

The stats are of concern for white British boys across all measures and, in what is no surprise to many of us, a quarter of boys start reception (aged 4) struggling to speak a full sentence or follow instructions. (These stats come from the magazine article but are widely known in this country.)

Education in too many parts of the world is not fit for purpose and the current push in Tasmania to make students start school earlier will not help address some of the issues faced by a range of students. In the UK there is an alarming trend to diagnose boys with ADHD more and more, and for them to be labeled failures before they even finish primary school.

The father in the Times article blames teachers and the education system. He states boldly: ‘The gender education gap has been in existence for at least 30 years and is no secret… It is unacceptable that governments of all colours, the education sector and the trade unions have willfully continued to turn a blind eye to the issue.’ These are the words of an angry father.

Understandably he doesn’t know what happens within the education sector or what teachers have to deal with on a daily basis. He sees education in a limited way, as a parent, albeit a worried parent but one with enough clout to have his opinions and ideas published in a large circulation newspaper.

The issue with failing sections of the community is not a secret in schools. We are constantly being asked to cater to particular cohorts; for many years it has been Black-Caribbean boys in the UK; at home it has been Aboriginal students. Now things here have shifted and it is white British boys who are failing most dramatically. In schools we know this, we have them in our sites and are bringing to bear a range of interventions designed to stem the tide of failure.

But, in all honesty, by the time they get to secondary school the rot has well and truly set in. Some students can always be inspired and turned around but to think that schools can do this alone, or single teachers are somehow responsible, is somewhat delusional.

Pal art


Let’s unpack some of the issues facing boys (and many of our girls too).

1.School structures – the way education is delivered has not really changed over time: one teacher delivering information, setting tasks, assessing tasks, to the many. Students are expected to co-operate, do their best, ask for help and actively engage in the work. It’s a nice idea but in practice it isn’t the reality. Once upon a time students were governed by fear and corporal punishment; the teacher free to dispense whatever justice they deemed necessary to control the class and get the learning done. Yes, class sizes were much bigger. But teachers had more control and there were consequences for failure – you did not progress willy-nilly through the grades just because you were a year older. No, you could be 14 and sitting in a class with 8 year olds – a bit of an incentive to pass.

These days there are very few consequences for students who neither learn nor behave. While I do not endorse corporal punishment, the powerlessness that teachers have to contend with does make controlling the unwilling and unable a challenge on a daily – sometimes hourly – basis. The amount of paperwork a school has to amass before a student can be excluded is obscenely excessive. A lot of pain has to be endured by many before a student is removed from education. Students do not need to pass anything on their way through school and in fact in the UK we call anything above a C a ‘good pass’. You can get as low as a G and that’s somehow okay too – it’s a result!

2.School starting age. Students start school very young here and, as noted, there is a push for that at home too. I wonder at this indecent haste to push young people into what could be described as a factory system of education… what are we hoping to achieve? The most successful systems in the world – yes, the Scandinavians – start school later and there is overwhelming evidence that starting school before 7 is more likely to be counter-productive. (see article: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence) Yet, those who have no understanding of how learning occurs, through play, through a wide range of activities; who don’t understand how development works, (hello Piaget) believe children should be forced into more formal learning situations sooner.

So, why do governments push for early school ages? Because so many children, mainly boys, are already educationally behind, because they believe in the holy grail of formal factory style education?? Because you can blame schools for failure but it’s harder to blame parents?

But the truth is that many kids aren’t ready for the sit still, be quiet and comply regime of primary school. Young children need to be playing, learning consequences, discovering boundaries and books in a more relaxed, informal setting. But the family unit is under pressure, families need two incomes, or more often there isn’t a father: we need to face that problem too.

But, back to early starting – which gender suffers most from being forced to sit still, from not playing rough or outside enough? Oh, yes, it is boys. And so they find it harder to conform, to behave. They are being asked to do a range of things before they are ready and are being failed as a consequence. And then labeled. Failure. ADHD. There is a huge range of research that shows that boys tend to develop later than girls across a variety of skills. This doesn’t mean they are failing, or stupid or have some condition. It simply means they aren’t there yet. But most of them will get there: they will make it, if they are given a fair chance.

dragon -grad

3.The testing regime. I’ve never worked anywhere that loves a test as much as the British Education system does. Let’s test them right from the start, which means, let’s fail them right from the start. The range of tests in Primary school takes little account of the variations in student readiness, in the fact that students – regardless of gender or ethnicity – learn at different rates and just because you can’t do something at 4, doesn’t mean you won’t have caught up by the time you’re 7 or 11.

How would you feel if you were being told you were a failure every few years in school? Wouldn’t you turn off, give up, accept the label? This is what the British system is doing to children, and yes, especially boys. Do you think teachers don’t know this? Do you think they are happy about this?

No, teachers are NOT happy about this, they do not support the plethora of changes that are constantly sweeping through education, that do nothing to help students learn and achieve, that demoralize staff and fail students. But teachers are not listened to. The father from the Times article needs to realize that: teachers do not have a voice when it comes to educational policy. We are silenced. Union bashing is used to silence us. Demonizing us is used to silence us.

4.Recent changes – the Gove changes – do not help under-achieving non-academic students. The focus on academic subjects, on facts, on exams, does nothing for modern students. Gove’s changes fly in the face of a modern world. He has denied the Arts, ignored vocational courses; made the curriculum narrow and mean (rather like him, some might say). He, along with many others, has ignored the needs of the students, those who have to cope in a modern world.

We are told to cater to student differences, to differentiate in our planning, while all the time working towards the same final assessment – exams. Never mind if you can’t cope in exams, never mind if you can’t remember quotes or facts, never mind if you are more creative, you still get to sit the same exam. And we all, from primary school through to A level, have to teach to the exam. How wonderful is that?

Yet we teachers have to implement these changes, despite knowing they are not educationally sound. I teach dead-white British male writers (mostly, with a few token exceptions) to classrooms stuffed with students of all colours, cultures and ethnic persuasions. How do these students connect with such out-dated writing, with experiences that they struggle to make sense of? How do they read out-dated language structures when they don’t read anything modern, other than text-speak on their phones?

How can you encourage a love of reading when a xenophobic Oxford educated white man has taken English back to the 1950s and willfully ignored the modern literary world?


Yes, it is my job to make the connections, to point out the relevance of Shakespeare today, to show that Jekyll and Hyde still resonates today despite the torturous language and the complete lack of female characters. But my job would be so much easier if there was something a bit more modern that Lord of the Flies, or An Inspector Calls. Yes, the classics matter, but some of them should be from other countries too…

5.The importance of reading. Boys need to read. But a lot of boys can’t. They can’t recognize words or pronounce them. They can’t sit still long enough to read a page, let alone finish a full novel. Is reading really seen as a girly pursuit, as something unmanly? Sadly you would think so in schools. The resistance to reading is palpable – yes, all genders, but especially boys.

Men need to read, to be seen reading, fathers need to read to their sons; head teachers need to support their English departments when they want students to read silently in lessons and not tell the Head of English that ‘silent reading doesn’t show adequate progress, so it must stop’. Yes, I am quoting an actual head-teacher – a man, who told me silent reading was a waste of time, never mind the educationally sound evidence and research.


6.Fathers need to step up. Whether they are part of the family unit, or weekend dads, they need to take responsibility for their sons’ educations. This means things like reading, like accepting the rules, playing fair, owning their own behaviour; respect for women, especially given that schools – especially primary schools – are full of women. Fathers need to work with schools as mothers do. Fathers need to set good examples for their sons. (Yes, I know, many fathers do and I have known many wonderful fathers, so don’t get offended out there.)

7.Not enough male teachers. Without doubt there is an issue with the gender balance in most schools. Primary schools are traditionally the province of women but secondary schools tend to be female heavy too. In both cases the men tend to hold the senior positions and are not as present in the classroom. This is an issue. Boys do need to see more men in schools. It was similar in northern Australia where Aboriginal people needed to see themselves as teachers, to see themselves in such important positions to help get the message that education was for them too, and significant programs were set up to enable this to happen.

Ask yourself why teaching remains such a female dominated profession. Why do so few men choose not to become teachers, especially primary teachers?

There are some very simple answers here. There has been too much down grading of the profession by politicians (and others) over the years. Teachers are persistently blamed for the ills of society. In English schools teacher are held responsible for the progress of all their students. The students are somehow not responsible for their own progress: no, it is the teacher. How can that be? It doesn’t matter what you have done, you could always have done something else.

The man in The Times article subscribes to this view. The teacher is the problem, the reason he fears for his son’s future. Yes, there are crap teachers, of course there are. But there aren’t as many as you would think. There are also crap students who do not respond to anything, who do not care about their own education or others and who, sadly, are supported by their parents in their destructive ways.

The problem is that young teachers are not staying in the profession and older, experienced teachers are fed up, or being forced out because they are too expensive, regardless of gender. The much lauded Teach-First program has a 50%+ drop out rate after the obligatory 2 years are completed.

The big problem in recruiting male teachers is that the profession has been so demonized, so devalued and relatively under-paid that no male in his right sense would become a teacher, or if he did, remain in the classroom with the students any longer than need be. In primary schools it has been worse, with scare mongering about pedophiles and foolishness about men being too near young children, as if all men are sexual predators.

Men don’t choose teaching because it is not a prestigious or valued profession. If you want more men in teaching then you have to pay more. Female professions are traditionally paid less, and valued less in society; thus it is with teaching. If you want to recruit men and keep them you have to value education in society and stop trying to pull it apart.


Think on this, those who blame teachers – our Times father who claims to ‘know what bad teachers look like’ – for the ills in education, for failing to meet the needs of students, especially boys. Most head-teachers are men, most PMs and Education Secretaries have been white British men; Ofsted chief inspectors certainly are white British men and yet, as the man in the Times says, the state of education for British boys is a state of national disgrace.

Who should really shoulder the blame for British boys’ chronic under-achievement? This fed up female teacher is happy to point the finger… (Images from Private Collection)

The New 3R’s of Education

October 16, 2016

The New 3R’s of Education.

As the world shifts and changes and becomes both more amazing and more disturbing we need a new focus in schools, a big focus on becoming decent people; citizens of an ever-changing world, able to survive, manage and even thrive in whatever is to come. So today’s schools must focus more explicitly on Respect, Responsibility and Resilience. Once upon a time this used to be the covert curriculum, and much of this rested in the hands of parents. But now it needs to be front and centre in schools too.


Respect covers a range of sins and must be paramount as we become a more uncertain world with borders shifting and changing, identity and gender being more fluid and more open, with religious and cultural differences more defined as we become a global community. It is as simple as respect for yourself and for others. But it is so much harder in practice.

There was a time where we embraced the ‘live and let live’ ethos of a more tolerant and accepting view of each other. But now we seem to feel free to abuse, vilify and attack on the slenderest of reasons. Indeed Social Media and the constant streaming of ‘news’ has to take some share of the blame for the rise in hate in society, but it can’t be that simple, can it?

Why do we feel free to berate and abuse others? Where did that ‘freedom’ come from?


Schools must be vigilant about respect, and in truth, many are trying to address the constancy of social issues that ever creep into our crowded curriculums. Respect is about tolerance, patience, consideration and kindness. It is being aware that others have different beliefs, customs, ways of living, attitudes and ideas. This is important as we don’t really want an homogenous society where we all think the same and parrot platitudes and dangerous ideas that are never challenged. Oh, yes, too much agreement and similarity is a very dangerous thing.

Thus instilling respect as a central tenant of how to live a decent life is crucial. 1.Respect for yourself, so you keep your body safe, so you can express your ideas freely but thoughtfully without hate and vitriol.

2.Respect for others, so they can get on with their own ways of life, be it of a different colour, different religion, different sexuality, different beliefs and ways of doing things.

3.Respect means understanding that there is no right way to do things, that there are many voices, many ideas, many people and we all have the right to exist peacefully in this world.


Responsibility is perhaps the thing in schools and society that does my head in most. For fuck’s sake, get a pen, learn how to cook, stop buying sugar-laden shit and expecting to be healthy, vote in elections, accept when you make a mistake and stop blaming everything and everyone else for your shitty life.

Being responsible for yourself, for your life can start early. Simple things like making your bed, putting your clothes in the wash, doing your homework, packing your school bag for the day ahead. Parents do need to build in these little pathways to responsibility early and naturally. It doesn’t mean you make them self-sufficient by 11 but by the time they get to secondary school most kiddies should be able to do a great many things for themselves.

Responsibility means being responsible for what you say and how you behave – under pressure and under normal circumstances – organizing your own life; owning it and making things happen.

Not being responsible is to expect all sorts of other people to make things happen for you and blaming them when things don’t fall the right way for you. So teaching responsibility early is vital for a human being who is self sustaining, accepts that sometimes things are their fault and doesn’t spend their life blaming, in no particular order – their parents, their teachers, the government, politicians, God, ISIS, Pauline Hanson, Trump, Clinton, etc, etc – for all that is wrong with their lives.


Loving parents and good schools (even when the system is against them – whose GCSE results are they??? Just ask a failing school…) ensure that young people take responsibility for what is theirs and do the right thing in owning both the good and the bad that they say and do. Responsible youngsters become responsible citizens who take on more than just managing their own lives, who take responsibility for making the world a better place.


Resilience became a fashionable term a few years ago and there were various programs designed to help make students better able to cope with their worlds when things went wrong. For my mind responsibility and resilience go hand in hand. A responsible person can accept their own short comings and face up to them and do something about them. They are able to work through the tough times and stay afloat.

A person who blames others, a child who is so cosseted by their parents (and yes, schools too) that they cannot cope with slights, or failures is going to have a very tough life. All this helicopter-parenting, this Tiger-mothering of the young does them no good in the harsh light of the real world.

Resilience is perhaps more important than ever in this world of cyber-bullying, trolling and stalking. Young people are more vulnerable than ever to the slings and arrows of others, piercing their young feather-light hides with barbs and poison that stings to the core. Teenagers are horrendously sensitive creatures, their self esteem balancing on a pin head. Of course they are vulnerable and in the glow of their screens, in the dark of their rooms they are more vulnerable than ever. Recent studies deplore the levels of self-harm and unhappiness that young people feel, not to mention the constant stress of exams and that old faithful, peer pressure.


If there was more respect for others, more tolerance of difference, of the outsider; if we took responsibility for our words and actions from the youngest age, there would be little need for resilience training for the young. But we must be aware that not all of us have the capacity to deal with the tough times, that not all of us have people who care enough to hold our hands and keep us steady through failure, rejection, self doubt, illness, bullying and harassment.

Resilience doesn’t make you callous, it doesn’t stop you feeling, it allows you to deal with the darker side of life and we need to prepare students in dealing with those things, the things that de-stabilise young people – lack of friends; ill, dead or absent parents, abusive families, drugs, bullying, failing to get the grades we expect, or into the uni course we so desperately want.


As a parent and a teacher I can bring these three elements to my teaching, to my dealings with young people. Honesty, integrity and authentic relationships with young people matter enormously. They need people they can trust – parents, teachers, coaches, other adults; people who will listen to them, be there for them, tell them the truth, and offer support in a practical and useful way.

Surely at the end of every day what we want is a better world, full of people who care about each other and themselves and are bringing good to the planet. God knows it needs it! (Images from Private Collection)

Sometimes Your Face Just Doesn’t Fit…

October 2, 2016

Sometimes Your Face Just Doesn’t Fit…

You know the feeling – you’re qualified for the job, your application was first rate, you prepped for the interview, it went well. But you didn’t get the job and really what reason was there? Someone who had the slightest of edges, or simply that you didn’t quite fit with that company, that work-place; it’s ethos or something equally impossible to quantify. You’ll never know and all you can do is move on, get over it and start again.

Sometimes, through no fault of your own you simply don’t fit in where you are or where you want to be. This can afflict all parts of our lives and all stages – work, friendships, and of course, romance. It can be horribly upsetting but all too often there’s bugger all we can do about it, other than accept it and move on.


Remember school– the in crowd, or a group that you wanted to belong to? You hung about on the edges, sometimes invited into the centre but never truly a part of the scene. How many social occasions did you not get invited to, how many secrets were you not privy to? No, you weren’t the right stuff and more often than not, in hindsight, it’s probably a good thing. But at the time not being part of that group was soul destroying. What elusive element did you lack that made you not belong?

Pal's pals@GCSE

Work shifts too – are you really incompetent, unable to do your job or is it that there is something about you that management doesn’t like and they can’t quantify it (or maybe it’s illegal to do so – age, gender, race, sexual persuasion)? Instead you are under-mined, excluded, persecuted or over-looked for promotion again and again: effectively pushed, or even hounded out of your job. There may be all sorts of things you can do to address the problem; work harder, seek advice from your line manager; grievances, your union, legal advice, but in the end you have to face the fact that you can’t beat them, they have all the power and you simply have to move on. If your face doesn’t fit, if management don’t want you you’re better off out of there, before your health, self respect and self belief are battered beyond recovery.

A work-place where your face doesn’t fit is one of the most toxic environments you can be in. So, be smart and move on before it’s too late. But you need to remember that it isn’t necessarily about you – it’s as likely it’s nothing to do with your skills or your ability to do your job. (Indeed, I do speak from bitter personal experience!)


And let us not forget love. How often has our face not been the right face – not the one that the object of our affection has wanted to gaze adoringly upon? How our hearts have heaved and shattered as we see them gaze upon another in the way we gaze upon them. Oh, how devastating is that! But we can do nothing, we can’t change ourselves beyond recognition to make our face fit just to be loved by someone we love, or think we love. How could that ever result in happiness, in a deep and abiding love?


Your face not fitting is not the end of the world, although it may very well feel like it at the time. Take the time to step back from the situation, from the rejection because really, that’s what we are talking about. Dealing with rejection is always difficult. The adult in us knows that rejection is a normal part of life, but the child in us is always hurt to the core and wants to lash out or hide away forever more. Neither is sensible.


What’s to be done then? Take stock, re-group, move on. When things don’t work out the smart thing to do is to reflect on your own actions or behaviour. Is there something that needs to change, are you approaching things all wrong? What can you learn from this rejection? It maybe something small, something you hadn’t considered before but it could be useful going forward. But it may be something bigger, more troublesome, something that you need to address to avoid future rejections.

It’s always useful to step away from a situation, ask for advice from someone you trust – how much of this rejection is down to you, or down to issues with the other party? God knows romantic rejection is a mine-field so be careful about how much self-loathing you indulge in once it’s clear your face ain’t never gonna fit. Sometimes you have to face the fact that you just don’t have the right stuff for this situation – yes, it is you not them! But, before you get carried away with self-indulgent self-pity, it’s just as likely that there is nothing wrong with you, it is simply the situation.


Once you’ve had a good look at yourself, accepted the rejection, then you must move on. It’s imperative that you get back on whichever horse has thrown you off. But, if you’re wise, if you’re lucky and read the signals right, you’ll end up in a place where your face fits perfectly. Remember most of us have good friends, a decent job and someone who loves us as much as we love them. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of time and place, not a matter of you having the wrong face. (Images from Private Collection)

Un-plug: Be still

September 24, 2016

Unplug: Be Still

I think I must becoming old – I find the relentlessness of watching people being plugged in to things all day long quite baffling. I’m as fond of FB and internet chatting of all sorts of persuasions as anyone but surely you need more down time than most modern people seem to have these days?

There are numerous studies about screen time re-wiring young people’s brains: that attention spans are ever diminishing; that the ability to concentrate for extended times is being eroded. And of course every second month someone bemoans the lack of reading by the young especially (that would be me!!).

There are the dangers of fire, the threat of cancer to long term mobile phone users, there is the damage to standard written English through text speak and the growing inability for people to connect face to face. Why have a sustained conversation with anyone when you can look at something inane on your phone or check a message from someone else? People are losing the art of conversation; young people have almost no idea how to listen respectfully and take turns, not shut people down or shout louder. You can now be connected to your work-place 24/7 so you don’t get the opportunity to walk away every evening, or have a weekend. Work is now always with you. Is that a bonus or a blight?


People rely on their phones almost it seems to the exclusion of all else. Or a tablet, or a PC or a games console. Yes the mobile phone has been on an extra-ordinary journey and it does an amazing amount of things – we’ve all seen the memes showing all the different items that are now amalgamated into one smart-phone.

But what I wonder about, what I worry about, is how do so many people – the young – turn off their brains. How do they know how to be still, how to be alone and quiet…

At the end of a phone or a laptop or computer we are always a tap and a click away from connection – a message, a like, an emoticon of approval. But how useful to our ability to just ‘be’ is it all?


Stillness, doing nothing, boredom even, allows your brain to roam, to think, consider; ponder things all on its own. It doesn’t need reference to other people, information or the plethora of mis-information out there. People need space to do nothing, time to recharge their own batteries; time to calm themselves down.

I worry for our future artists and writers. If you are eternally plugged into other people and nonsense how can you dream, how can you imagine other worlds, other realities and want to explore them? How can you watch people and soak up the madness of the real world and write about it if you never pay attention to it? How can you question things if you don’t have the space to think about matters?


I worry for our young people in a world of increased pressure, exams, appearance; being monstered in the ‘sanctity’ of their bedrooms by friends and by casual strangers who thinks it’s fun to trash some naïve girl’s selfie in a bikini, or that it’s somehow okay to text naked pictures of your girlfriend to the universe. Young people are increasingly anxious, increasingly depressed – perhaps all this connection is playing a significant part?

Being plugged in gives a sense of connection, of belonging. It also brings bullying and trolling. The internet is both wonderful and terrible, in all its manifestations. It has become a central part of our lives. I do not wish it gone: I love it too. But it has become a monster that has over-taken too much of our lives. It is possible to step outside the house without your phone. You can walk your baby without being on the phone. You can sit on the bus and just stare aimlessly out the window, letting your mind roam.


Take the time to un-plug your connections. Move away from the screen (after you’ve read this) and be still. Talk face-to-face, go for a walk without anything electronic in your pocket. Gaze at the world again and see its wonder and beauty. Be in this moment and not worried about what is happening somewhere else. The message will still be there when you turn on again, the world will not have stopped turning just because you were un-plugged.

Go on, un-plug, let yourself be still, even if only for half an hour. I’m sure you’ll feel better for it. (Images from Private Collection)

Out-Out – Brexiteers, damnation and fear…

June 25, 2016

Out – Out

Out damned spot

Out out brief candle

Out out damned little egotistical island

Little, less, nothing! – and that ended it.

(with apologies to Shakespeare and Robert Frost)

EU flag

So, the people have voted, and in great numbers, but the result is not great. Brexit is not a clear and decisive matter. Oh, yes the UK has definitively voted to leave but the closeness of the contest – 51.9 for Leave to 48.1 to Remain is not really a cause for great celebration. Indeed, the mood has been rather somber since early Friday morning. My ‘ladies who lunch’ were quieter, more reflective, somewhat worried about what it all meant. My year 10s were panicked and frightened – the lesson was lost to politics and history. Even Boris the bouncing shaggy dog of a man was not his usual ebullient self.

What have we done?

In truth, nobody really knows, which is why we are worried and apprehensive in the wake of this momentous, yes, historical decision. I am reminded of how gutted I felt when Paul Keating lost to John Howard, how I felt the loss personally and worried for the country. But life went on and we coped and PJK faded away as John Howard took us back to the 1950s and the rhetoric of hate ramped up – it was the time of Pauline Hansen, remember. (An Australian version of Nigel Farage, for my English mates)

So life here will go on. But just as Australia did, things will shift on their axis. It isn’t the same world it was on Thursday morning. This moment is unlikely to be a small ripple in a pond. This event has the potential to be a tsunami, wreaking all sorts of havoc and damage; destruction not dreamt of, let alone planned for.

David Cameron is slinking away. Having unleashed this all upon the public he will remove himself from the fall-out, play no part in the new world order. One is not sure if he is wise to leave it to others or is just a coward who misread the public dramatically, and foolishly kept an election promise (what politician ever does that now-a-days?) that has divided the country, divided his party and left him as a lame duck – a loser of the first order. What was he thinking, what advice was he taking? Why on earth didn’t he leave the referendum until the latter part of this parliamentary term?

The more worrying thing is who will take his place? Which of the rampant Brexiteers will it be? Bonkers Boris or Malevolent Michael?

Oh, you foolish country, you silly people to allow these too such an easy road to the top. Don’t you know what Gove has done to education, to children’s futures, to teachers’ conditions, to workers’ rights? Do you really think any extra money is going into the NHS, do you really think the refugees will stop, that France will hold the borders in Calais?

EU Europe

Perhaps the EU is broken, perhaps it needs a radical overhaul, perhaps it’s lost its way… But the UK is not Great Britain, as Gove went on and on and on and on about, like some fervent right wing nationalist on the telly and wherever he could get a platform. He may have made sure that children only read British writers in the brave new English (subject) curriculum, patriotically excising the Americans – Steinbeck, Miller and Lee, etc and the odd other nationality – from the reading lists, but that can not and does not make Britain great. It only leads to xenophobia, racism and an extraordinarily limited and dangerous view of the world.

Maybe the UK needed to leave Europe, maybe Europe needs to re-invent itself but the thing we do not need, not at all, and especially not now in this world of lies and mis-information, in this time of brutality to others and desperation of the many, is to ignite fervent nationalism, to identify the other and scapegoat them. Now the scapegoats are immigrants and refugees, but it wasn’t really that long ago the scapegoats were the Jews and we know what happened then…

Be careful what you wish for…     (Images from google free-site)

a small poem of despair

June 18, 2016

A Small Poem of Despair…

Tis the season to be hateful

To incite violence

From the faithful.


Far right, far left

All are quite bereft

Of behaving at their ethical best.


We should hang our heads in shame

For all of us are to blame

For tolerating extremism

Homophobia and racism,

For allowing too many lies

From our political masters and their allies,

From the unholy mess

That is the national and international press.


There is no high moral ground

Simply hatred scattered all around


So for fuck’s sake make sure you vote

Democracy is on the ropes

And you are its last hope


Brexit, Trump and Turnball

An unholy trinity that don’t bear thinking of at all!! (Images from private collection)


5 Real Life Relationship Tips

June 4, 2016

5 Real Life Relationship Tips.

Have you noticed how much relationship advice there is on the internet? Well in my FB feed there is! So much about toxic relationships, gas-lighting, signs of this, signs of that. Ah, the plethora of pop psychology is perhaps the bane of the connected world. But in this connected world where relationships should matter more than money and politics and being scared by an increasingly mis-informing media I thought I would add my pound’s worth on relationships – well I do have a degree in Psychology and I have had many relationships (we won’t go anywhere near some of them!) so here is a bit of Swiftie-wisdom on the matter.


1.Relationships take work. No matter their origins – a slow gentle coming together of like minds and bodies or a passion worthy of Cathy and Heathcliff – all relationships, including friendship, need work and effort to keep them going and to make them actually work. In fact of all the bits of relationship advice out there this is the only one to remember. All of the following points are really just a sub-set of this.

We seem to have some sort of romantic notion that once we fall in love and get married (or commit to someone) then the happy ever after takes over and we’re fine. But as anyone who has been in a long term relationship will tell you that’s bullshit. You won’t like everything about your partner/friend, you won’t agree with everything they say and the decisions they take, especially when they affect you! This is where compromise kicks in, where you need to talk about things, need to keep in touch with the other person, make sure you do still know them and what matters to them.

This is where we have to toughen up and get through the hard times together, and a life together does mean a share of hard times: having children, money, moving/buying houses, extended family, friends, career choices all impact on your relationship. Life takes the romance out of love, it changes everything and if you are to continue together, continue feeling the love then you have to work on things. Together. Sometimes the vows taken in church do have some real life applicability: love and honour; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health. These are the testing areas and you need to work through them. Together. Working through the tough times makes your relationship stronger, your love deeper and truer. Nothing worth having comes that easily, and so it is with relationships too.


2.You must be kind. This means being patient, forgiving and taking the time to listen to your partner/friend. Kindness is a simple and under-rated activity. A simple act of kindness can undo all sorts of wounds and hurts. Making a cup of tea for someone, knowing how they like their coffee brewed, asking them about their day and listening to them, not shrugging off their issues, or rushing to give advice or tell your own stories. Little things show you care, kindness is about awareness of the other person – that they’re tired, upset, need some space, some time to themselves. A small act of kindness is its own reward but it will etch into your partner’s being and they will love you more for it, grant you kindnesses too and let your relationship recover from injury or remain as smooth as possible.

Kindness is often over-looked because it seems too small scale to make a difference. But it’s not and it’s one of those things that if you practice it daily then it becomes a habit and a good habit that builds a positive attitude between you. Kindness is awareness of the other person and their needs: it shows you are paying attention. It’s as simple as thank you for dinner, washing up without being asked, going with them to the doctor’s, buying their favourite flowers, or chocolates for no reason at all.

Fu & Terry

3.There needs to be balance – give and take is a central plank of good relationships. It’s not always entirely equally proportioned but the relationship cannot be too imbalanced for too long. We do not want to be Frida Khalo to Diego Rivera, we need to be Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Robert Browning. We do not want one partner to subsume their life, their passions, their needs to the other, to the exclusion of their own needs. This is getting close to ideas about toxic relationships. If you are doing all the giving, all the caring, making too many sacrifices for your partner it is a poisonous mix. Over time you will feel resentment that will grow into bitterness that will kill the relationship.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t devote yourself to your partner during some periods of your life together. When one is seriously ill, when one is consumed by a particular project, be it study or art, or during other times of life. There are times when one person needs more than the other, and that’s what love and kindness is all about. Balance is not about strict equality, it’s about ensuring each person is giving as well as taking. But if you’re the one giving all the time…

Make sure you are listening as well as talking, make sure you are cooking as well as eating. Make sure you are doing things that he/she likes as well as you – watch the movies they like, go to places they want to go. Let them make decisions, don’t run everything; listen to them, ask them questions about their life, their world that shows you care, that you are interested. Make sure your life is as important as theirs.


4.Don’t lose yourself in the other person. This is related to the give and take, the ebb and flow of relationships. It’s so easy at the beginning to merge, to be some sort of two headed, one minded being. You begin to think the same, finish sentences, know what the other wants before they do, know how they will respond to a given situation. This is wonderful, it makes you feel connected, as if you have found your missing bits: it’s as if you’ve finally met the person who gets you. But too much togetherness can be dangerous too. Especially if you lose your connections to the rest of your life. This is where the famous gas-lighting can creep in. A wicked controlling partner will take advantage of your devotion, your closeness, your sameness and they will manipulate you and you will lose who you are, which could be fatal, as we know from many real life horror stories. Togetherness is wonderful but you can’t function in a relationship if you lose yourself. You must keep your friends, your interests, your family, your self-respect. You need some distance.


5.Walk away if you have to. We don’t live happily ever after, even those who want to, who work for it, who do their best. Sometimes relationships fail. Sometimes they simply run their course. A violent, abusive relationship is not to be tolerated. But a relationship that makes you unhappy on most days isn’t any good either. I’m not saying give up when the relationship gets tough, no, not at all – I believe in working at it. But sometimes there comes a time to call it a day. Be brave, you will know when that time comes, it will feel right. To walk away from a failed relationship does not make you a failure. It means you are free to try again. But make sure you learn from the relationship’s failures and don’t hook up with the same person in a different skin and walk the same path.


Look after your loved ones. Take care of your family and friends. Work at your relationships, be kind, be yourself and most of all nourish what matters to you. Mostly, I’m sure you’ll find it’s the people in your life. (Images from Private Collection)

Synchronicity – endings and beginnings

May 28, 2016


Another end of term, another section of life completed, compartmentalized and put away. This time a good term, a successful chunk of time. Which led me to this end of term three years ago, which was anything but the end of a good time. It was a miserable rainy cold day, an appropriate bit of pathetic fallacy as the storm clouds had been fierce and intense for some time at that particular vile and vituperous work place. It was a good place to be out of, and the over-whelming feeling was one of profound relief.

It was an odd time, a very strange weekend, for literally had I stepped away from that pit of vultures, removed that poison from my life, than my father died. Yes, literally the next day. On the other side of the world he had a heart attack while driving and hit a telegraph pole, wiping out the power in the area for some time, and killing himself. It was interesting timing on many levels, as it was also my long dead, much missed mother’s birthday.


You cannot ignore such coincidences, such synchronicity in the universe. It does seem as if there is a higher presence of some sort, a game master playing with us, making us stop and think, stop and wonder. Indeed it made me think as I winged my way home across the hours and miles to bury a father I’d not always loved, not always found easy. In the aftermath of his death there was another curious moment of synchronicity – only known to a few but spotted by one such person and relayed to me. My father’s accident was reported on the local news, as you might expect. But it followed an item about the demolition of a hotel in the middle of Hobart, where a woman had fallen to her death in the late 70’s. Yes, that woman was my mother. The news people would never in a million years have known the connection between the two accidents, but there it was. Both parents died in accidents many years apart, but there they were abutting each other in death in a news bulletin.

And now there is some peace in the world. After three years I only think fondly of my father, but fortunately at the time I was able, along with my brother, to bid him farewell in our own way. We went to his house, stood on his river bank, drank his champagne, ate party pies and as an eagle soared above us in the fading light, said our farewells.

farm night

My beloved eldest daughter was with me during the whole Tasmanian death days. It was appropriate: she was the grandchild most fond of John, most able to dote on him and make him laugh, able to call him ‘foolish’ without a storm front moving in. She helped clean and sort the detritus of a long life, a life of hoarding and not a lot of order. Oh my, did we find a lot of wine, pills and bullets! When we left we thought it was the end, the house, after being in the family for 50 years, would be sold and an important part of my life would be incontrovertibly over.

But the universe has stepped in again and now my daughter lives there: yes, the one who came to help, who perhaps felt the same love for the place I have always had. My tall blonde, fierce, Amazon daughter has settled there on the river bank with her fiancé: her English man, who is ten years older than her, a man who can turn his hand to all sorts of things, a remarkably useful fellow, who is devoted to her. What synchronicity is here, I hear you ask? Well, her mother met an Englishman, who was ten years older than her, remarkably useful in an intelligent and handy sort of way, and settled in a house on a riverbank in Tasmania many years ago.

P&T - dec 2015

I sit here this morning a world away from my own riverbank, from John’s and Phoenix’s riverbank and marvel at how the world turns out. Three years ago the world spun off its axis for me. Things shifted and changed and although I could not see it at the time, it has turned out to be very much for the better. I am in a much better work-place: one where I am valued and appreciated by students and staff. One of my lovely year 11s yesterday brought me chocolates and a card and thanked me, telling me I had rescued them. It was one of those sweet moments in a teacher’s life.


My father’s house, which had been my grandfather’s house is now my daughter’s house. And I can only be pleased with that. We live, we die and others move the world on and so the house that Hector bought is the house that Phoenix will take to the next level and sooner or later fill it with more than baby chickens and German Shepherd puppies. A house that was the happiest place I ever spent with my father will now be a happy place to spend time with my darling daughter (when I eventually get back to my own river bank…) (Pix from Private Collection)

An English Teacher’s Lament

May 21, 2016

An English Teacher’s Lament

Tis but a little poem today

Because most of my words have flown away

No words


This morning I have not enough words

For although the world remains absurd

Nothing startling has fallen from the bough

To urge me to write just now…


Instead, in land of exams and data and marking do I dwell,

I must admit it is a living hell

No time or space to set the imagination free,

For the kiddies or for me…


There is no time to think, no time to rest

Must teach to that fucking stupid test

Make sure we all do our best

To avoid the ire of the Ofsted pest,

Before the exam boards do their thing

And shift the ground boundaries again.


Swiftie globe

Perhaps there is finally nothing left to say on a dull or cheery Saturday

Or is it this just a temporary stay? (Images from private collection)

English Summer-time and the Weather is Stupid

May 14, 2016

English Summer-time and the Weather is Stupid!

Last week we had several days of wonderful sunshine, in fact several days where it got progressively warmer and we had a BBQ-worthy weekend. And as Aussies abroad that was what we did – burnt some snags on a patio sized Webber. And enjoyed them very much. It wasn’t quite home, it wasn’t thin beef BBQ sausages, there wasn’t a keg of Cascade somewhere with blokes gathered around it, but there was tomato sauce and salad and fresh rolls and the odd drink (Pimm’s I confess: something British that I do quite like).


This week we’ve had temper tantrums from the Gods of weather – sunshine and rain, heavy cooling rain. It’s just like growing up in Hobart: you never know what to wear, you need your brolly with you every day; you’re too hot or too cold, never, like Goldilocks porridge, just right. It was one of the best things about living in the NT for so many years, the utter reliability of the weather. Hot and dry for half the year, hot and wet for the other half. Brilliant.

Does the warm weather cheer people up, does it make you feel better? The moment the sun pops out for an extended period here people descend on the parks and beaches in droves and yes, they do parade their whiter than white, paler than pale flesh far too early and so suffer the ensuing pinkness for several days. Picnics in the parks are one thing, but bathers and exposed sun-scared flesh as well? Really…

The sunshine here reminds me of the stereo-typical trope of the English and their mania for talking about the weather. Indeed the man at my local shop where I buy my weekend papers and croissants engaged me on the weather this morning. It’s a step up from nodding acknowledgement, to ‘good mornings’ to today’s: ‘it’s a bit odd this weather we’re having’. Face-book fills up with comments about the warmth, just as it does about the rain and the snow when it happens. It is true, the English do love a chat about the weather, about as much as they love a queue.


The sunshine and warmth does not cheer up the kiddies. Oh, no: it simply gives them another reason to moan and complain about life, and then if it’s Friday afternoon and you’re fed up and know you’re going to fail your GCSE’s it gives you an even better excuse to sleep. They sit in class, sweating, fanning themselves with hand-fashioned paper fans, guzzling their water, moaning – we can’t work, it’s too hot, open the windows, Miss, how can you stand it? I look at them with amusement and faint pity and think, and sometimes say: Well, my dears, twenty years in the tropics gives you a sort of immunity – a tolerance for heat, no, in fact it gives you a love of heat and warmth, and anyway, this is NOT hot. And indeed it is not, it is only 23 degrees, hardly heat-wave, hardly fainting in the street from heat-exhaustion. But the English, especially the teenage English, love a good moan.

I have mixed feelings on the sunshine, on summer creeping in, on the longer days. It is lovely when it warms, when the evil icy tendrils of winter recede, when the short days lengthen and the darkness evaporates. It’s nice to go to work and come home in the light. It does lighten one’s spirit.


Summer is lovely. It’s wonderful in our old farmer’s cottage in France, where it really warms up and the countryside hums with the sounds of summer, of crickets and cows and weekend markets and street cafes for lunch; where I can spend all day in our walled garden reading in the sun, doing virtually nothing for as long as I want. Summer is a good way to end the school year as the weather warms and even returning to the fray as summer fades is fine too – you begin in a happy place – provided your exam results were good enough!


But, oh does the warm weather make me homesick! Indeed, ironically, far more than the winter. Come summer and I just want to go home, to be in my house, on my river-bank, having BBQ’s on my verandah, gazing on the water, appreciating our gardens, enjoying the fading light of the long summer day sparkle on the river; visiting my daughter on the Huon. Yes, summer does my head in – it’s always been my favourite season and now it is the season that tortures my soul, bringing joy as the light and warm fill my spirit, but a wistful sadness that I am not where I want to be, that I am not at home.(Images from Private Collection)