Posts Tagged ‘education’

Education: Crap for Teachers and for Students Too. Part1.

February 26, 2017

Education: Crap for Teachers and for Students Too. Part1.

Only people living under rocks, or politicians in their infinite ignorance, are under no illusion that Education in many parts of the world is in melt-down crisis – the UK, the USA and Australia, to mention a few relevant systems that are entirely unfit for purpose and sadly in no danger of getting better any time soon. Who is suffering here: students and teachers. Whose voices are dismissed and not heard: students and teachers. After all, who in their right mind would ask those who know the most about anything what they think!!

Swiftie globe

This week in the UK stories are out again about the crisis in teacher recruitment – that for the third year in a row targets for recruitment have been missed. No teacher in the country is surprised by this – not one teacher in Oz or the US will be either. Too many experienced teachers are leaving before retiring and not enough young enthusiastic tyros are coming in the other end. The reasons for this, for both ends of the shortage problem are no surprise, have been clearly articulated for several years now, yet none of those in power are listening. They seem to think that slick advertising campaigns, bursaries for study and the much vaunted Teach First program will make a dent in the problem.

The powers that be seem to willfully ignore the issues and while they do, and continue to blame teachers for the ills of the world then nothing will improve.

Which makes me believe that perhaps they are quite happy with the parlous state of state education in their various parts of the world. After all, we aren’t really talking about private education here … No, we are talking about state funded, government education for the masses. The masses who voted for Brexit and Trump and brought Pauline Hanson back and even returned an Australian Liberal government that has continued to screw the worker and the less powerful since re-election. Think about that for a moment… If you think that right wing, conservative politicians care about the masses you are a fool. You need only look to the appointment of Betsy De Vos in the US to know that things are going to dramatically worsen in the States for students and teachers alike. She’s already said she believes teachers are paid too much…

If they cared, they would do something about funding state education so that it worked (yes, and the health care system too). So that repairs to buildings occurred, so that school supplies could be purchased for all, so teachers could attend Professional Development – especially in this massive time of change (yet a-fucking-gain) and so teachers were paid what they are worth. Yes, state education is a massively expensive enterprise and increasingly – as with health – governments are refusing to spend what is needed to make it work.

Teachers – maligned, over-worked, vilified – are what keeps the whole embarrassing mess from toppling over the edge of the abyss.

Teachers who care. Teachers who consistently go the extra mile. Who work all hours, who spend their own money to make things better, who ignore their own families and lives and even their health. If it wasn’t for caring teachers who go beyond their job descriptions again and again the whole creaking straining edifice would have crashed to the ground years ago.

 

Why is recruitment such an issue? The government here in the UK knows – God knows the teachers’ unions do enough surveys about work conditions and teacher ‘satisfaction’ for want of a much better word. The powers that be know, they just don’t want to face up to it. But let’s spell it out one more time in a simple, easy to read list:

1.Constant criticism from all – politicians, parents, celebs – essentially anyone who went to school and therefore thinks they are an expert on Education. This has been going on for years and continues – it is relentless and then ‘they’ wonder why people leave and why no-one in their right mind wants to step inside a cess-pit of blame and criticism. Really, would you choose a job where you are blamed for everything – where everything you do is wrong, but not the other people in the system?

2.Constant, relentless change to everything – curriculum, exams, assessment, Ofsted criteria – nothing has a chance to bed-in, let alone last long enough to be reviewed and assessed as to it’s worth. Change is not a new thing – I remember sitting in a meeting in around 1998 about the latest changes about to be introduced in the NT and thinking that there’s no point in getting as upset by this as my colleagues were, as by the time the ink was dry on this approved change, something else would be in vogue. I was right – it was an epiphany and it helps me cope here – to an extent. But what is killing teachers in England is the constancy of change – in the 9 years since I’ve been in London we’ve had 4 changes to the curriculum in English – no nothing has bedded in and the kiddies get caught out by it and they suffer more than we do. I won’t even mention the plethora of changes Ofsted has cascaded through to us…

2b. Test, test, test and then test some more. When did education become a series of tests and exams at every stage? What do tests do – tell us things we already know in different ways but what they do more significantly is raise stress levels in students and tell them they are failures almost from the moment they set foot inside a class-room. Oh, and tests/exams/SATs/NAPLAN – whatever you call them – tell teachers and schools that they are failures too. This bit of madness needs to stop too. 100% external exams means teaching to the exam. You ask any GCSE English or Maths teacher in England at the moment and they’ll tell you that’s all they are doing. Seriously, is this the sort of education we want? A legacy of yet another egotistical politician, our dear Michael Gove – dear in this sense meaning expensive and costly NOT beloved.

3.Levels of responsibility – somewhere down the line it went terribly wrong. Teachers are responsible for it all – for students’ progress, for having the frequently mentioned fucking pen, for tissues, for them having breakfast and a good night’s sleep. Oh and we’re responsible for the exam boards whims. Oh, yes we are, as an Ofsted inspector pointed out to me 18 months ago when the grade boundaries were suddenly shifted and we missed our projections. According to him I should have predicted that and taken it into account. Yes, I had to so bite my tongue. That’s the nonsense level of responsibility we work within. Every other bastard in the system has an excuse, so classroom teachers carry the ever increasing can of shit. Accountability is all well and good and fair, but being responsible for everything that moves and shakes and sneezes and shits in your working world is plainly nonsense.

4.Life-work balance – we’re back in the dark ages of vocation, where people became teachers because they were ‘called’ to it and it would be their life and therefore nothing else mattered. When I first began teaching it was a lovely normal sort of job, where I had time to plan good lessons, kept my marking up to date and had a lively and interesting social life. I worked in the evenings or half a day at the weekend to make it all happen but it didn’t stop the rest of my life. When I had small kids I was Head of English and seemed to manage it all – family, friends, extra study, a husband. But now there aren’t enough hours in the day. The expectations are extreme. A number of my team struggle to keep all their balls in the air and it’s not because they aren’t good teachers who aren’t working hard enough. It’s because the system wants too much from them.

5.Behaviour and student needs – this is linked to the responsibility thing. An increasing amount of students are less and less inclined to own their own behaviour. They are not, for want of a better word, socialized – they do not know how to behave and have to be contained and controlled all the time. What do you think happens to learning then? And there is an increase in the needs of students – of students being identified as having ‘special needs’. There is an argument that this is progress, that students are no longer labeled at thick or stupid because they don’t understand or can’t learn in a particular way. Yes, that’s very nice but what about the poor teacher who already has 30 in her class and no support and has to plan for that child too? How do you think that happens? How do they find the time to plan for all the needs in the classroom??

6.Pay – while many teachers down-play this angle, I think it is significant. Teachers carry the future in their hands – we shape the future, for better or worse. So, if the future matters and if you want smart, driven, caring people entering the profession then pay them what they are worth. Education is at the core of a productive, intelligent, creative caring society. Teachers are the centre of that core – the magma of it all, so pay us what we are worth. Increase the status of teaching and people will stay and the right ones will chose it as a career. Remember Walter White from Breaking Bad would never have ended up wreaking all that murder and mayhem had he been paid a decent salary and was able to access affordable health care…

7.Trust – the system does not trust teachers – read this to be clear about that https://debrakidd.wordpress.com/2017/02/20/a-broken-system-progress-gcses-and-sats/ … Hence the constancy of criticism, the constant changes to stop us cheating or ‘gaming’ the system, the odiousness of observations and Ofsted, the prescriptive nature of the curriculum and assessment regimen. I am not trusted to select texts or topics suitable for my classes. I am not trusted to assess them fairly. I have to be observed frequently, my marking checked, paper work submitted to those further up the food chain. I have to have meetings to explain and justify what I am doing. And now, as mentioned in 2b I am preparing students for 100% external assessment by exams. Yes, because I am not trusted to teach and assess fairly and objectively. Never mind that the system created the cheating, no, blame the teachers (and the senior management who endorsed and encouraged this) who have to meet ridiculous targets and so cheat. What other profession suffers under such scrutiny, such a lack of trust in their professionalism??

 

This list is not a secret. It is not something I know and no-one else does. Teachers are unhappy people, their hands are tied by systems and people who know nothing about education, about children and their world. Our education system is run by people who don’t have the first idea of what it is like in a classroom. Most of them wouldn’t last 5 minutes in a secondary school – they would find your average teenager frightening and not know how to speak to them, let alone control them for 45-60 minutes and actually teach them something.

 

Where education is thriving in the world several simple things happen: 1.Teachers are respected; they are valued and important members of society and usually paid accordingly.

2.They are not blamed for the ills of society. The education system is centred on knowledge not testing, on the child learning at its own pace, on sound educational pedagogy – remember that, Piaget, etc??

3.And, importantly, the education system is about the relevant society, what it needs, what its aspirations and desired future is.

This is Singapore and Finland, the places we look to for inspiration. They are not cherry picking bits and pieces from other systems and mashing them together. Their education systems are thought out, considered, be-spoke for their needs. Changes do occur, but not with the whirlwind destruction and rapidity of ours.

Why don’t we stop this constancy of change and listen to teachers, the ones in the middle of the mess, the ones who have had enough, who know what should be happening? Why don’t we ask the students what they want, what they need?

*Next week: the student perspective. (Image from Private Collection)

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Students – love them, hate them, they keep you going…

July 18, 2015

Students – love them, hate them, they keep you going…

Last week was about the destruction of the profession of teaching, why it has become almost impossible to see a future as part of it. This week, reminded by comments on my blog and the joy that is the student beast, I must write about them, the students: the creatures that frustrate, annoy, winge and complain eternally but ultimately are the centre of joy in the world of education.

Yesterday was the final day at my latest school. It was one of those happy-sad occasions. I am pleased to be moving away from a senior management team for whom I have absolutely no respect, but sad to leave behind some colleagues and my students. The students are where the tears and sadness really reside. As always, it will be the students I miss, the students I remember.

Goodbye

This year’s highlights:

*Liam, in year 10, who has all sorts of social, emotional issues – think Christopher from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – spoke for the first time in years, and then offered to read and responded when called upon.

*Georgia, in year 9, who was permanently in trouble, every lesson really, and struggled with the basics, but a bit of bribery, a letter home (of praise), a chocolate and the tide turned and after Christmas – one day I noticed she hadn’t been in trouble since the term began and she was now making progress. Once the change was in it stuck.

*Jack, in another year 9 class, who was an absolute shit elsewhere but good as gold with me.

*Erin, in year 10, a silent sweet thing suddenly came to life with a stunning speech about art and her love of it.

*Lauren’s version of Lennie (from Of Mice & Men) in our court-room drama – one of the best I’ve seen.

*Shennay, of the ‘your an asshole’ who moaned and whined her way through the beginning of every lesson who managed to end the year with a C in course-work and her mock exam, despite very shaky beginnings.

Shennay

*Ryan, from year 12, was openly homo-phobic, said he would reject any of his children if they came out to him. Another student, George and I embarked on a furious discussion denigrating his position, completely ignoring whatever essential bit of English we were meant to be focusing on. George and I were concerned about Ryan’s ethical and moral soul and so the discussion raged for the lesson. A few days later Ryan confessed that he had gone home and thought long and hard about what we had said and had changed his mind – George and I were right. His homophobia, if not cured, had been smacked about and permanently dented.

*Lauren, Sarah and Kaitlin presented a dramatic re-enactment of key moments from the year in 0-6 with Lauren’s appalling Australian accent – she had the phrases right, though!

*Year 9C lining up to hug me good-bye with gifts of flowers and balloons – even my bad boys – and trying not to cry.

*My 6th form tutor group for their intelligence, humour, recalcitrance, confessions, need for advice, trust and love. It was lovely to spend the first 20 minutes of the day with calm (not really awake) teenagers who don’t have to be shouted at, who can engage on matters in curious and interesting ways. I love them – Y-06, probably my all time favourite tutor group – although my St Pat’s lot were pretty wonderful too. And, you get a whole different level of gifts from older students!!

Yr12 prez

What I am reminded of is that young people matter. That literature and books and writing and spelling are important but it’s the other stuff, the bit about life about becoming a decent human being, one with confidence and a belief in themself that matters. My cards are full of those ideas: thanks for the help, thanks for listening, for being there, for believing, for making me a better person, for liking me even though I’ve been a shit most of the year.

I will miss my collection of Jacks (all cheeky lads), Ruby, Ella, Erin, Shennay, Georgia, Paige, my Liams, Dylan, Harriet, Katie, Kirsty, Paige, the Katelyns, Emily, Lauren & Sarah, Connie, Issy, Beccy, Shaun, George & Ryan and the others who have passed through my door this year. Some will remain large in my memory, others will fade but my memory of this particular school will be based on them, and it will be a good memory.

Flowers & balloons

My students remind me why I do this, why I continue to do this and why I rail against the machine – there is so much more to education than a C in English, or good GCSEs. We must remember that education is about the child, who will become a person, hopefully a decent citizen, one who will make a difference too. Happy holidays all. xx (Images from Private Collection)

 

Education: Stupid talk is back

November 15, 2014

Just when you thought the pollies had run out of stupid pills and were edging towards some sort of sense, Nicky Morgan opens her stupid fat mouth and says stupid ignorant things and instead of wooing teachers back to the fold, she fucks it right up again. I was starting to think the Tories were really getting the wood on Ed and his lot, especially with Nicky’s understanding of the work-load issue, her compassion for the ludicrous hours we work; she’d even gone soft on her anti-gay stance.

She was looking promising, especially when Tristan Hunt had managed to piss us off with his ‘licensing’ of teachers and his latest beaut idea about firing us if we can’t control 30 15 year olds forced to read Dickens cover to cover. (Bring it on, Tris, you come and have a go!)

But Ms Morgan couldn’t help herself, she couldn’t keep it in, couldn’t stay nice and away from the stupid pills. No, she announced that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) subjects were the only choice, that Arts subjects “hold them back for the rest of their lives”. She also says that Maths is the subject employers value the most. I wonder where that came from – it hasn’t washed into my halls of learning.

chello

It’s inconceivable isn’t it in one of the world’s leading producers of culture and Arts that the Education secretary says it holds you back – limits your career choices. Possibly it does in other parts of the world, but here, in London, where the money made from theatre, galleries and stadiums is excessive, where one of the biggest draws for tourists is the West End and the museums and galleries, what is she on about?

This type of subject-ism is already damaging students’ futures. We’ve already seen the downgrading of subjects such as DT and Food Tech. Music and Drama have been disenfranchised in the government sector, as has Art. These subjects are being culled from school curriculums and are increasingly only on offer in exclusive, expensive educational enclaves. The Arts are in danger of becoming the province of the rich and well to do. Actors are increasingly coming from the posh lot, not the working classes – no more Michael Caines. And what of music? Will it all be Mumford and Sons and X-factor desperadoes? No more Keef and Mick, or Sting?

Why publically value one set of subjects – and therefore students – over another? Why say these people are better because they can do this? Do I look at my children and say my Physics degree child is more valuable than my Fine Arts degree child? Morgan has been as damaging in her pro-STEM comments as previous commentary about the value of other subjects, in perpetuating the erroneous belief that one stream is better than the other, that choices made at 11 or 15 damage you for the rest of your life. Limit is not the same as damage, and the world is full of people who chance job, make choices as they grow older.

Society needs all sorts of people. It needs the builders and makers, the thinkers and doers, the outside-the-bloody-boxers.  Importantly, Arts and Sciences are not separate beings: they are compatible and complimentary. An engineer or architect making bridges and buildings is as much about aesthetics (Art) as it is about numbers and science (STEM).

leadership

Think about Brian May – guitarist extraordinaire with Queen, who has a PhD in Astrophysics. Everyone’s scientific darling Brian Cox also played in a chart topping band and Richard Dawkins is married to an actress. Nicky Morgan might like to consider Brian May’s career choices. His A levels were awash with Physics and Maths, yet he chose music and I hate to think how much money he’s made. More than as an astrophysicist, wouldn’t you reckon?

ANU

A child should have a rounded education in all areas, be able to make intelligent choices about their future based on their skills, their abilities, what they can contribute to society and not just on what their earning capacity might be.

A society bereft of Music or Art, or Theatre and Dance is an impoverished place to be. It lacks heart and soul and we may as well be under the rule of ISIS or any hard-line Communist regime. The Arts breed thinkers, dissenters, those that can see the world as it really is and then make it into what it should be. Ah, that’s the problem – this government doesn’t want thinkers or dissenters, it wants sheep and cannon fodder. Silly me…

classroom

This is a stupid question, but I’ll ask it anyway. Has Nicky Morgan sat in a class with students who hate Maths, who don’t get it and just want to be free from the subject as soon as they can? No, she hasn’t. And she hasn’t taught 18 year olds still attempting to struggle through their GCSE in English because someone says they have to have that too!

Can we get a grip on what Education is and what it should be and shut the fucking politicians up before they do any more damage to an already broken and shattered part of society? Now would be good. (Images courtesy Private Collection)

Who Do You Hate Now (that Michael Gove has gone)?

July 19, 2014

Hate is a powerful emotion, as powerful as love, possibly as destructive as love, but without the power to heal and redeem us. So, dear friends, what do you do when someone you hate is no longer there, when the figure of all your negativity, your anger and frustration with your world is gone? To wit, what do we do now Michael Gove is no longer running Education in the UK?

It’s easy to see why Cameron has removed him. In the end Gove was too divisive, too antagonistic, too easy to hate and blame. It was a powerful move, bust him down to Chief Whip, losing more money than many of us earn in a year from his salary, before he got locked in the loo. The Gove haters amongst us could not have hoped for more. If ever there was confirmation that Karma existed here it was.

The man who had spat vitriol and bile at teachers for the last four years, who had marched through his agenda for change with nary a thought for students, or parents, or schools or consequences had got his come-uppance. Indeed the viral world was full of rejoicing. Which was fair enough. And it was made even sweeter when his silly wife revealed how betrayed the Goves really were, how terribly ripped off they felt. Altogether now, ahhh…

Gove:guardian

But now, who do we hate? Gove may be gone but his policies remain alive and afloat, if only for now. We have a clean-skin replacement, a woman and a mother, Nicky Morgan. So a clear attempt to soften the voters, despite her stance on gay marriage and being a corporate lawyer, deep in the bosom of acquisitions and asset stripping (watch this space). But she talked about stopping all the Tory hate-speak. She seems to be the face of reconciliation – not someone teachers or unions or the Labour Party will be able to vent their spleens about. We can expect soft words and perhaps some lessening of the reforming zeal.

Cameron may be a fool and an idiot and an awful lot of other useless things but the removal of such a hate figure as Gove seems to be a very smart move: it takes the wind out of a flotilla of sails. It seems it will beach the opposition, as Tristram Hunt has done little but criticise Gove, not his policies.

We need to hate. Sadly it is one of mankind’s uglier traits, along with anger and jealousy – all emotions that do very little for you, as an individual or nation. Is not the Middle East conflict based on hatred going back years? Is not the current War on Terror between the West and Islam similarly about hate?

Do you remember when the Berlin Wall came down? I was in Alice Springs, it was my first appointment as Head of English, I was pregnant, young and saw the world as full of possibility. The Wall coming down seemed to be an act of hope: the end of the Cold War, the beginning of peace between the West and the Eastern Bloc, the end of the Red Terror.

But how long did we survive without an enemy, without someone to hate? 1990 when the Wall came down to 2001 when the Twin Towers came down (Albeit with the Gulf War in between). Just over ten years – not very long, not long at all. Once again we live in a world driven by hate, by the need to have an enemy.

Is there someone in your life you need to hate? Do you need to have an enemy, are you in a constant state of war? Are you spending your time and energy in negativity, in hating someone that probably doesn’t know or care? Yes, we hate our bosses, our parents, our partners, former lovers, devious friends. But do we need to? Is our hatred of them simply hatred of something in ourselves?

Abbott:news.com.au

Life is too short to hate. Hatred has no up-side. It depletes you, makes you bitter, nasty, twisted. It takes time and effort to hate, time and effort you should be putting to better use. Rejoice that Gove has gone. Be pleased you no longer have to hate someone you didn’t know, who didn’t care, but who has got what he deserved. And you know what, he’d have got his Karmic punch without you (and me) hating him as much as we have. Now go and be positive somewhere else in your life and do not look for another object of hate to waste your life on.

But if you’re lost without Gove, remember there’s always Tony Abbott, equally offensive, arrogant and stupid. (Images: Michael Gove – The Guardian; Tony Abbott – News.com.au)

“Lesson” Plan for Surgeons – imagine if…

May 17, 2014

Imagine if every professional had to write plans, or context sheets for what they were going to do at work each day…. But perhaps other professions like doctors and bankers should be under the same, even more scrutiny, than teachers? After all I don’t think teachers kill people or send their countries into recession. Just a thought…

Dr's hands

Operation Objectives: Patient 1of 7- Female, 40 years.
To remove the brain tumour as one in timely fashionPatient to survive both the operation and for an extended time

To meet NHS targets for time and patient care

Operation Outcomes
Cancerous tumour is removed

There is little or no damage to brain from operation

Patient doesn’t die during operation

AFL: Assessment for Life (Signs) Opportunities
  1. Check patient is alive as we start, share a brief pleasantry with them as they succumb to the anaesthetic
  2. Check that team are alert and awake – shout a bit, threaten a few, make a joke or two, depending on who I am addressing and the time of the operation
  3. Check monitoring equipment for life signs – on-going
  4. Double check we have the right patient for the right operation
  5. Poke the patient to see if they’re still with us – from time to time
  6. Shout at someone again to make sure everyone is on their toes and no-one gets to die today
  7. Visit patient post-op to check they really did make it through in one piece
Differentiation
*Play different music at different stages of the operation to make me concentrate and/or feel good –sailing and water themes today, then heavy metal to conclude

*Rude and snappy to some of the team – especially the Surgeons-First lot (see below)

*Cheery and jokey with my trusted off-siders

Resources
State of the Art operating theatreLots of machines that go bip and flash from time to timeShiny sharp metal instruments

First class team

Decent sound system with music pre-programmed for the event

Health & Safety Issues
Two Surgeons-First people – “doctors” from Russell Group universities who have first class degrees (in History of Art and Mandarin) who are being fast tracked to be surgeons – need to keep them as far away from me as possible so they don’t distract or upset me such that I stab them with a scalpel instead of modeling outstanding practice (and/or let the patient die!)
Getting Down to It: The Operation ProperStarter: Get the Operation off to a Zippy start
*Check everything is ready, equipment, assistants, patient is prepped, scrub up

*Prepare a couple of jokes to set everyone at ease and be in positive frame of mind

*Ensure this is the right patient (always best to be safe than sorry- measure twice, cut once)

The Actual Operation (aim for 3 different activities)
Part 1 – Make incision at the specific area on the skull in order to locate and remove tumor, ensure I am in right spot – set music to soothing calm, beach like stuff today – Chris Rea, Australian Crawl

Part 2 – Double check all scans and information, ensure I have the right tools, proceed to remove tumor, taking all care to remove only the tumor and not cut, nick or damage anything else – a bit of Enya to help me concentrate – Orinoco Flow on repeat. Prepare to remove Tumor.

Part 3– Tumor removed, send off to pathology, brow mopped, sip of water – change music, some AC-DC – Highway to Hell and It’s a Long Way to the Top. Close and leave everything neat and tidy.

Plenary – consider the operation against the Operation Outcome
1. Ask the team how well they thought the morning’s work wentWWW – what went well in terms of the whole operation and in terms of your own role and othersEBI – how would what we have done today have been Even Better If … we had done what… (ie, what did we cock up?)

 

2. Evaluations and Reflection

Do you agree with others’ feedback

How will this help you/me

What have we learnt from today’s operation

Do you think this was useful task for us to complete today

*Make sure you all include this in your e-port-folio for evaluation and pay progression

Post Operative ActionsHomework
Remember to visit the patient in the ward, check their progress, make sure they’re happy with my work and not thinking about suing me or the hospital…
Surgeon’s Reflection on his work
All good.Tumor removedPatient alive

Didn’t lose temper with Surgeons-First twats

Should consider different play-list – but no time before the next op

doctor?

So, which is sillier, plans for surgeons for each of the operations on their lists for the day or for teachers to produce bits of paper like this to satisfy management, so we can prove we know what we are doing, instead of just doing it? (Images from Private Collection)

GCSE’s – bring on the ungrateful

May 3, 2014

In some parts of the world children are dying because they want to be educated. In some parts of this country children would rather die than be educated. Think that’s a bit harsh for a Saturday?

Well think about this. This week 230 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from school while studying for their final exams – who knows what has happened to them and lord knows their government hasn’t been doing a great deal to find out. They reside in a part of their country where going to school can be fatal. This week my year 11s came back from their latest gee them up and boost their confidence assembly with this: ‘Why should we care about our education, why should we have to do anything about it?’ Coupled with a general: ‘Oh my god, are you going to make me work this morning when I’m so tired from the weekend?’

Needless to say I was not terribly compassionate to those who have complained this week about how much they have to do to get their C, or make progress in English. No, I’ve been singularly angry with those who don’t care, with those who think it’s all a joke, all somebody else’s problem. (Please note there is a disclaimer at the end regarding sweeping generalisations and students.)

I am appalled and disgusted by the attitude of too many children I have met over the last six years who simply don’t give a shit. Fair enough, my non-teaching friends are thinking, let them fail. And in a fair world we would. But Education in England is not about the consequences of your actions, or even learning; no, it’s about teaching. Specifically it’s about league tables, year on year improvements, and meeting and exceeding targets, that actually are not realistic or based in any sensible or rationale logic, just some massaged numbers.

Education is not about learning at all! It’s not about the students (and their families) taking responsibility, no it’s about teachers and schools busting their guts to get the numbers, to not fail, to not have Ofsted breathing down your neck, to avoid being bullied out of your job or sacked, or ending up in Special Measures.

At the moment, across the country teachers are offering extra lessons, spending weekends at school, creating booster packages for home study, running residential weekends; are doing everything they can other than write the exams themselves to get their students over the line. Teachers sit in meetings where management asks – what else could you do for them? Why isn’t management asking the students – what else could you be doing for yourself?

Why are schools chasing students to attend classes, offering inducements to attend extra lessons, ringing them up to remind them to attend extra lessons, allowing extra time for everything, even driving to their homes to pick them up for the exams? Why don’t students and their families care enough to do these things for themselves?

The poor woman who was stabbed this week was doing such a thing – in school on her day off to teach an extra lesson for her GCSE Spanish class.

Indeed, why do teachers care more about students’ results than they do, why are we working harder than they are for their GCSE’s????

In other parts of the world students are desperate to be educated, some walk miles and miles to get to school, some get shot on the way, especially if they happen to be a girl (remember Malala) and their schools do not have remotely adequate facilities. In other parts of the world students compete fiercely to get into the government schools (Shanghai) because they know if they don’t they’ll never have a decent job and there is no welfare to prop them up the rest of their lives. In other parts of the world students take responsibility for their learning; they read, they complete their homework, they focus in class and do their best.

pal studying

Here, in failing schools across the country students don’t care. They want to be entertained, because education must be fun! They don’t want to be in class every day or work effectively when they’re there. They don’t read and wonder why they can’t pass an exam. They get to year 11 having done bugger all for too many years and wonder why they aren’t going to get a C. And they blame their teachers because finally it starts to sink in, school is nearly over and what the hell am I going to do – it must be someone else’s fault…

And you know what, it isn’t actually all their fault. It’s the system that is failing them. Not their teachers, who are as much the victim of the pernicious focus on league tables and Ofsted as they are, but a system that has taken away the students democratic right to failure and to their own true success.

They exist in a system that is not about learning, not about becoming a worthwhile person, a person who doesn’t understand the worth of an education because they have not had to work for it. No, they are failed and continue to fail because schools are not allowed to fail and so we spew out endless young people whose C is not theirs, who haven’t read an entire book in years, who don’t know how to think, who have been drilled and coached and had words and phrases shoved down their throats so they know how to pass. But they don’t know anything worth knowing about English.

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In Shanghai and other places there are consequences for not learning, for not trying. Schools work because students and families respect education, know that learning is the only way to a good life, self respect and security. Teachers are respected, not blamed. Education is valued.

Gove’s reforms are doomed. Not just because he’s an egotistical idiot, but because he is dealing with the symptoms, not the underlying cause, not the disease at the heart of education. Ofsted and league tables breed lies, cheating and all sorts of scurrilous behaviour. Exams are a blunt instrument, but given everything else in the system is singularly lacking in refinement and finesse what do you expect?

It won’t be until this country looks at itself, at its issues, its massive gap between the rich and poor, and creates a bespoke education system, one for all the people who live here, not just patched in from bits from the rest of the world, that all children will have the chance of a good education and a better future. Someone really should be asking how you can have such world class universities as Oxford and Cambridge and such a third rate government sector… someone still needs to be joining the dots much much better.

Singapore and Shanghai looked inward, looked at themselves and what they needed and then they changed their systems. The best performing Scandinavian countries do the same. They didn’t cherry pick from the rest of the world and now look at them!

Disclaimer: I have taught some amazing and hard working students here, those who have really cared about their education and were impressively decent people. I still do! I have also worked with some amazingly dedicated and hard working teachers. Teachers and students are not the problem, not at all… (Images from Private Collection)

Let’s talk about reading, baby, let’s talk about a rich life, shall we?

February 1, 2014

It’s that time of year in the UK, kiddies starting to panic about their exams, about their GCSE C grades and wanting it, but not actually being prepared to work for it. There are many serious problems in Education, too many and too depressing to consider here, but the daddy of them all of them is Reading.

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As an English teacher of extensive and considerable experience it is my considered opinion that the epidemic of non-readers is growing and will strangle the world, immuring us in illiteracy and idiocy. Forget global warming and the increasing divide between rich and poor, the divide between readers and non-readers will define the planet.

To read is to know, to understand, enjoy, think, consider, imagine, explore. To read is to be empowered. At its most basic and fundamental level reading = knowledge. And you must know by know that knowledge = power. Does anyone really think that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and the guys from Google and Amazon don’t read, weren’t readers?

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It’s time to face the facts. Reading is magic. It does all sorts of tricky and scary things to you. It helps your vocabulary, it helps you understand how language works at a fundamental level – grammar and all that lovely stuff – and at the higher level of images and contradictions and challenges in ideas, and concepts. Reading takes you on a journey, to unreal places, to facts and information, to ideas that challenge and confront; to new worlds, both imagined and real. Reading is the fortress for the lonely, for the outsider, for the lost, for the vulnerable and for the smart. Reading fiction helps you understand the world, it makes you more empathic, more able to understand and read others: it helps you to be more successful in business. Oh, yes, there are studied about this.

Smart people read. They know its power. Dumb people, stupid people would rather have their fingernails pulled out than read a book. Oh, yes, it’s true. Stupid people don’t know how stupid they are, because they don’t read. Believe me, I have met too many now – students and parents who actually don’t know what a book is – other than something they had to interact with at school.

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But, more incredibly, there are schools that don’t think reading in class is a sound thing to do. Schools that think silent reading is a waste of time. I know this sounds like insane rubbish but it is true. Reading silently in class (because so many of our students do not read silently or otherwise anywhere else) does not show evidence of progress, means that some are day-dreaming, are not concentrating and simply wasting time.

These are the very schools whose results are on a knife-edge, where students can’t read for meaning or answer anything other than the most fundamental questions about the content. How can they pass an exam worth 60% (soon to be 100%), where half of that mark is based on the ability to read and understand unseen texts? Even the better students aren’t reading a wide and eclectic range of texts, a rich and varied diet of fiction that feeds them and encourages them to go onto A levels and thence to university.

But senior administrators fearful of the might of Ofsted and the madness that mandates evidence for everything cannot abide the quiet, soft, gentle world of silent reading, of a child sitting still, simply reading. Because, you must know by now, if you can’t measure something in English education then it obviously isn’t happening.

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Too many young people do not have the habit of reading. It is easy to understand, there are so many distractions, so many other easier more entertaining things to be doing, why sit quietly reading a book that will take hours or days to finish? What’s the point?

Indeed, I wonder too. Why am I beating my brains out to make fools and morons understand that reading matters, that it makes a difference. Fail your exams, have an utterly impoverished life, know nothing, at all ever.

But you know what, you aren’t in the majority. People read all the time, on the trains, on the tube, on buses and planes – they read the papers and books and e-books and you know what, these people are going to work, to jobs that earn money. Reading got them there. Reading enriches their lives and they know it. (Images courtesy Google Images and Private Collection)

 

Education Wars – stop the black v white view of teaching

April 12, 2013

Education in the UK is a mess. It’s clear that the divisions within the educational community are deep and wide and tremendously destructive. How can we have a world class tertiary sector alongside dismal secondary (and primary) education? How can Gove be so wrong/right and teachers and their unions so right/wrong? How can so many students from public schools get into Russell Group Universities compared to other sectors? Why does opposition to Gove or Wilshaw bring out vilification? Why are teachers led by the nose by their lefty unions, as if they are unthinking drones? Indeed, why are teachers all lefty Marxists who are lazy beasts who have too many holidays and are paid far too much?

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In fact the question to ask is why doesn’t the media ask incisive questions about Education and do some considered investigative journalism about the state of education in the UK. There was a report in a broadsheet recently about the advantages of young teachers and fast tracking promotion in schools. But it was a superficial piece that did very little to look at how schools were deploying staff, only a one sided presentation about the merits of fast tracking, with comments from young teachers. Surely the story about Annaliese Briggs, recently appointed to Pimlico Primary, at 27 years old, without teaching qualifications is worthy of a serious investigative piece? What does this development tell us about the current state of education, not to mention the future of the profession?

Education touches many lives, whether it’s getting into the school of choice, support for students with special needs, league tables, academy take-overs, free schools, curriculum changes, standards, access to universities of choice. For parents it is central to their family’s well being for many years. The stories about couples moving to get into the right catchment areas are legion in the papers, as are the stories of heartache when children cannot get into a school at all, let alone one of their choice! It is no wonder that Education is a topic that causes great division in society.

But, it does not need to be so. I am very far from being pro-Gove or pro-Wilshaw. I consider both men driven by their egos and a belief in their own rightness at the exclusion of all else. All that I read about Gove supports this, from the amount of dissenters to his policies, to the bullying of his staff. I have worked with Wilshaw, so I know thereof what I speak. Both men have an abiding belief in the avenging, correcting all conquering hero, not a view I subscribe to, but observing the parlous state of state education here I can understand their positions.

Dear reader, the Education world does not have to be viewed as black or white, which is what our educational political masters, in league with the media, would have us believe. Teachers are not lead by their unions, nor are they in charge of what happens in their curriculum and not everything Gove says is, or should be automatically rejected by teachers as, rubbish.

The truth is that the politics of division is useful, it manufactures fractures and breaks where there are none, it makes wars where there is no need and it keeps the politicians in the news.

Shockingly, not everything Gove says is automatically rejected by ordinary class-room teachers. I come from a system where there is no such thing as a two tiered exam system, or the chance for endless re-takes – I find this to be the cause of much unnecessary angst and confusion in my school. It’s not actually that difficult to design an exam that caters for the range of students. And there seems to be an awful lot of money being made by the various exam boards peddling their wares to support their curriculum. Is Gove wrong to try and shut them down?

Is Gove wrong to change the way Education is delivered in the UK? Perhaps some of his methodology needs revision, some of his priorities need challenging, as do some of the current educational practises… But to pretend everything is hunky dory is to live as a frightened ostrich does.

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A curriculum based on facts and skills is the most sensible way to go. A less emotive word for facts might be content. Skills need to be hooked into content. Many commentators are now ranging the Education wars into those who support the American E.D Hirsch and those who reject him and his list of facts for American students so they can close the poverty and achievement gap – The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Education Gap for American Children. Interestingly he comes from a literature background (not education) and discovered the lack of broader knowledge through reading tests. Most experienced English teachers know that the further students go with studying English – A levels and beyond  (but GCSE’s too) – the more advantaged they are by reading widely from an early age and knowing about the world.

This was brought home to me twenty years ago, incidentally not that long after Hirsch came to his conclusions, when I had several students from Papua New Guinea in my A level equivalent English class. They were hard working, keen and responsive students. But one of the areas of deficiency I could not over-come for them was their lack of knowledge about the Bible, myths and legends and other English literature texts referenced in the literature we were studying. It reinforced what I knew instinctively, that the more widely read you were, the better your ability to understand texts and then write about them and achieve the grades you needed to go onto university.

Thus, dear reader, the importance of reading to your child all those wonderful fairy stories and legends from long ago, and then keeping them reading widely and independently cannot be overstated, despite the electronic temptations of our age.

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I was also privileged to work with some clever people in curriculum design who understood very clearly that you learned ABOUT English THROUGH English. To wit, that skills and knowledge were not separate entities, that they worked together, that certain ‘facts’ of English had to be learnt, such as grammar, spelling rules, structures of texts; that certain texts had to be read. Thus students had to have a diet of Shakespeare, novels, poetry, short stories, modern drama and non-fiction texts, as well as an expectation of independent reading, that would go onto inform their writing and success in exams. Creativity did not suffer and students were excellent at discussion, group work, using evidence to support opinions, and the use of their imagination.

A misconception that needs to be smashed apart: Teachers are not in charge of what goes into the curriculums they teach. They are rarely consulted about what they think about teaching and learning – I’ve been doing this job for 30 years and I’ve been consulted only once about changes. Most ordinary classroom teachers are told what is going to happen next and then go on to do their best to implement the changes in the best way they can for their students’ needs. Teachers are not resistant to change if they see the need for it. But too many changes over the years seem to be about anything other than what is in the students’ best interests. Teachers are not naturally left wing or Marxist and they invariably do what is expected of them within their school structures, following the various curriculum specs their school has opted to work with. Nobody I know who teaches English has been happy with the change from Course-Work to Controlled Assessments and would cheerfully tell anyone who cares to listen what should be happening in the fraught and political world of (subject) English assessment. But, as we were told recently by a senior man from AQA (our exam board) changes would be coming thick and fast for some time and we were all in for a turbulent ride. Where are the changes coming from? The top: not teachers. Our opinions on exam content, weightings, grade boundaries are not sought, believe me.

Labelling is a damaging thing. Left wing, Marxist, reactionary, conservative, liberal, progressive – all labels that are imbued with meaning intended to damage and discredit. Labelling is about marginalising and therefore discrediting comments from the people or sectors given such labels. Therefore quelling opposition and discussion. Surely Education is too important for this on-going mudslinging? We need to stop the commentary of division – just because the NUT says something doesn’t mean it should be dismissed out of hand by Gove and his acolytes. Just because Gove says something doesn’t automatically mean it isn’t worth consideration.

It’s time for all sides to bury their egos and look to the future of the children of the UK, together, in a measured considered way. We need to stop indulging in false dichotomies – rote learning v discovery learning; facts v imagination; exams v course work; academic subjects v arts subjects: Gove v teachers.

snoopy-working tog

Education should not be about which politician or public figure/organisation wins but what is done for the children of this country. We must stop the Us and Them approach to Education, whichever side of the Educational fence we sit upon.  (Images courtesy Google Images)

In Education Wisdom and Youth: you need both

April 10, 2013

It seems to me that a war is being waged against the wiser, less youthful of us in the work-force. There seems abroad a belief that young enthusiastic workers are what organisations and especially schools need. Now I’m not cynical enough to think this is just about money and being able to make young people work harder, or because they’re easier to bend to the organisation’s ethos. But I do wonder why there is a belief that youth is better than wisdom and that, especially in Education, young people should be fast tracked and any old teacher is automatically a drain on the system and needs to go.

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I confess, I stand firmly on the side of wisdom: youth having deserted me some time ago. But once I was a young teacher: keen, energetic and quite good at my job. I was promoted to Head of Department relatively young. The fact that I have remained at that level is incidental – I actually like it. And I firmly believe that any organisation worth its salt, and especially a good school, must have a mix of youth and experience.

When I was starting out I asked my favourite English teacher, whilst on my first round of school placements, why she would want a newly qualified, fresh out of university teacher in her department. I was struggling to see the benefits of inexperience; the memory of rubbish student teachers keen in my memory. She said it was because they brought new ideas and insights about teaching and it was always good to get new ideas and be inspired by others.

In my first school we were all pretty much newbies – teachers, heads of department in their first appointments; even the principal was in the second year of his first time as head-teacher. The only one in the school with any measurable experience was the deputy who had been at the school for 25 years. He was wise and kind and did a lot for this young teacher who made a beginner mistake. I had pushed two year 10 girls into a corner (not literally) and even knew I was doing it while doing it but had no idea how to stop myself and rescue the situation with everyone’s dignity and authority in place. So the girls were duly sent outside, the deputy picked them up, had a soft word and returned them to my care. Later he knew exactly how I’d managed to trip myself up. There was no reprimand, no scolding; no being made to feel a fool. All he said was, ‘You’ll never do that again, will you?’ And he was completely right.

For many years I was one of the youngest in my department, surrounded by women who were hungry readers and old school grammarians. It was wonderful to check with them about grading accurately, correct expression and have meaty discussions about books over lunch. I knew where my skills lay in running the department so never felt intimidated by their experience or resentful of them having some of the best classes in the school – in fact I gave them to them!

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I remain the queen of English (just), presiding over my team like Elizabeth 1 – fierce but loyal, brutal but kind, encouraging but cautious; willing to say yes, but only once I’m convinced of the merits of the proposal. It’s true, young people bring an energy and vigour to an organisation that we elder statesmen no longer possess. We have – if we’re lucky – gravitas, a steady hand, a broad and detailed understanding of the subject we teach, the system we work within and most importantly the nature of the teenage beast.

My young people bring their up-to-date knowledge of modern culture, they plan fastidiously, they mark late into the night, they make beautiful power-points and resources, they invent exciting ways to engage the students. But none are ready for the fast-tracking advocated in some quarters. Their practise is strong but still developing. They need to teach A levels, work in different schools, experience a greater range of students and organisational structures.

Some of my crew will go onto be amazing leaders one day. But to promote them now would be cruel. They would be faced with situations they could not manage, people who would not co-operate; asked to be accountable for much more than their own students. At the moment they need to develop their craft, hone their skills as a teacher, work on that for a few years. Many years ago where I worked in Australia you could not be considered for promotion before you had completed a 6 month assessment and you could not do that before you had been teaching for five years. Interestingly, as I noted in a previous blog, this amount of time corresponds with Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours to become an expert.

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Ability needs to be rewarded. Advancement should not be just about seniority. The merit principle should prevail. A department or school that is too full of inexperienced teachers – as my first school was – is a dangerous place to work. A department or school too full of experienced teachers waiting to retire is a recipe for stagnation. You need both – energetic bright young minds mixing in with calm and experienced warriors. We rub along together and rub off on each other. My team love me and I love them – but importantly we learn from each other, improve our practise and do the best we can for our students. (images courtesy Google Images)

But Miss, I Don’t Have a Pen

February 3, 2013

Sadly I hear this all too often – still. Not daily, it’s true but too much and I still boggle at children who rock up to class without their equipment – to wit complete devoid of pens, pencils and the various accoutrements needed to function in a classroom. And then offer a load of rubbish excuses.

Why is this so? I have pondered this mystery frequently over the last five years, because, dear reader, it was not something I heard that often in the Old Country. In Oz students by and large have a well stocked pencil case, they look after their own books, they have lockers they (mostly) look after. No, they are not paragons of virtue and pictures of perfection in a classroom. But there is a different culture in terms of student responsibility.

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As a secondary school teacher I’d not come across book tubs – they were for primary schools and not part of the secondary scene at home. In my London school they were everywhere. Why was the teacher looking after student books; why did that responsibility lie with the teacher? I found the same with pens. Nothing to write with was commonplace. Students expected teachers to provide pens virtually every lesson. No pens meant they didn’t need to work; they had the best excuse. And in this place of constant inspection, of teacher-fear and teacher-responsible-for-all the teacher readily hands over pen after pen after pen. We, the responsible teachers, can’t allow something as trivial as a pen to stop their learning. And so we have boxes of pens in our rooms so there are no excuses and they can write. The same is true of books in boxes – here is your book, here is your pen, so now learn. (Heaven forbid we set homework to be completed in the books – they’ll never come back! Ah, so we have two books…)

Actually, this lack of basic responsibility in the classroom is a major issue and I think lies at the heart of the lack of progress of some sectors of society. It is part of the Welfare State mentality and while I support aspects of the Welfare system (a compassionate society must care for those less able, less fortunate) too many of the elements of expectation, of entitlement have crept into areas they should not. The classroom being one. It’s reminiscent of Nirvana’s ‘Here we are now, entertain us.’ As if teachers should be grateful that the child is in the classroom and should provide all parts of the entertainment – the equipment as well as the show.

Okay, so as adults we have to teach responsibility, we have to show children what is expected and be consistent in those expectations. We need routines and consequences to help them learn about how the world operates and as well as teach them subject content and skills, prepare them for work, for being decent socialised citizens.

Surely the parents/carers need to buy into this as well?

And t he student has to take these things on. They have to come with a readiness to learn, and that is shown in the small things, in their uniform, in being equipped for their day. PE kits fall into the same category.

Bill Gates’ list of 11 rules of life (which is actually from Charles Sykes’ book Dumbing Down Our Kids) is worth mentioning here. Teachers know that the world of school is an artificial bubble, that much of what happens there does not replicate the world of work or life. We know that a lot of what we do does not prepare students for anything much at all. The making too many allowances all the time, the constancy of re-takes, the massaging of egos without sufficient reason is not helping anyone; no child is helped by this and it does nothing for the much desired social mobility.

We know that handing over pens – even in exchange for phones (yes we have stepped up our expectations and standards) does not help the student. We should allow them to sit there doing nothing. Allow them to be bored rigid because they can’t write their assessment, to be shamed by their lack of preparedness, to be made to come back after school with their pen to do it then. We should allow them to sit there and be ‘consequenced’, let them be seen by a member of senior staff and read the riot act. But that won’t happen. Instead the teacher will be asked why this child isn’t learning, why haven’t they got a pen, what has the teacher done about it??

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I do not come from a middle class privileged background; I did not go to private schools: I went to the equivalent of a comprehensive. My parents were not particularly well off. But I went to school every day with my books and pens and locker key so I was able to do what I had to in school to get to Uni to become a teacher. Most of my schoolmates did the same thing. They’re now doctors, engineers, bankers, businessmen and teachers too. We didn’t go to school making excuses, we were expected to have our equipment and we did. Teachers were not held accountable for our carelessness, our slackness. The same was true for my children at their schools.

Is this the divide in the UK between those who succeed at school and in life and those who don’t: the students who know they need to bring their own pens to school and take care of their own equipment and not blame others for their lack of success?

Yes, we must increase our expectations for students from the inner cities and other failing schools across the country. This means we expect them to take some responsibility for their own progress. But while the system, to wit Gove and Ofsted, continue to lay the blame for all ills in education at the door of teachers then nothing will change.

A child needs to understand that learning is not all about fun or being entertained, that learning takes effort and commitment, that when it gets hard you keep going. That learning is what they do and they need to be prepared for, work at it, and make their achievements their own, not the teachers.

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A pen is a simple, cheap thing. A pencil case of equipment costs very little. It is not about poverty or privilege; it is about attitude, about children and their families taking some responsibility for their own way in life. About not making excuses: about being successful. (Images courtesy Google Images)