Posts Tagged ‘Gove’

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…

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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?

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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)

The Power of Pets

March 1, 2014

When I was a little girl (no jokes about how long ago that was) all I wanted was a wombat for a pet. I’d read a book by Nan Chauncy and the girl in that had a wombat, so I became determined to have one. My dad, God love him, took me seriously, found out some information about keeping wombats – destructive tank like creatures with their impressive teeth and claws – so he build a concrete and corrugated iron house behind the washing line for my wombat, complete with window and door. I was excited and happy.

But – yes, you knew that was coming – I did not get my wombat. Further advice was taken from a zoo keeper who said it really wasn’t possible to have a wombat as a pet, despite my father’s building and my desperation, it was deemed an idea destined for disaster.

Gentle reader, I did not get over this, despite appearances to the contrary. A few years later there was a TV show in Oz called A Country Practice and on that show the doctor had a pet wombat, called Fatso. I was a very-very unhappy girl – how could this be so, when wombats were not pet material! This injustice remained all my life, so when my baby girl said she wanted a pig for a pet when we moved from Darwin to Deviot in Tasmania, well, there was no way she was being denied the way I had been.

Rosie

Rosie could easily have been a wombat. She too, was a tank of an animal with that powerful snout and aggressive trotters. She turned her pleasant undulating enclosure into dirt and mud in a matter of months. She had a concrete and corrugated iron shed, with an open door, and a view over the river.

But she was never quite the pet we imagined in our promissory conversations. She escaped regularly, only enticed back by food; she killed the odd chicken who came into her space; she frightened the life out of Zanz when he was brand new; she bellowed for food and seemed on the whole not a very happy pig. To be sure we made many errors and would do it all differently now, but, and this is the key – Pallas loved Rosie and it’s fair to say Rosie loved Pallas back. Pallas was allowed into the enclosure to change straw, rub her tummy (as was Dave) and generally be with her. Rosie knew whose pig she was. And Pallas knew her parents loved her enough to get her the pet she wanted, despite the many and varied challenges Rosie presented for all of us.

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In the early days of life with my beloved I had two cats and he had one. There were pecking order issues, but we rubbed along together. Siska, my abandoned fluffy white beauty, was not that fond of other people. But she took a shine to Dave and her affection for him, when none had been present for any previous boyfriend, was one of the main reasons I knew he was the ‘one’.

siska and dave

So, we have had a range of animals and children since we took up together all those years ago in gorgeous Gove, a place no-one whose lived there ever gets over. Our first Shepherd was a ‘give away’ on the Gove notice-board and Persia was the sweetest, gentlest thing, who coped with toddlers shouting at her and rolling over her, bashing her with their little fists. My beloved and I were heart-broken when she had to be put down. Since then we’ve had more cats, dogs, chickens, ducks, turkeys, fish and rabbits.

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There is a large body of research about the benefits of pets, for the young, for the ill and for the elderly. Pets help in the recovery from illness; they help the old and lonely feel connected and wanted; they help kids learn responsibility and sadly, about death and loss. Pets love you, no matter what. They ask for very little: food, grooming, a walk (perhaps not your tortoise or hedgehog, or fish), affection and attention – yes, they need time and the right space for their needs. A pet doesn’t shout at you, gossip about you; they forgive you and love you unconditionally. A pet does you far more good than you do it.

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Animals get to you, they get inside your lives, your hearts and minds and when things happen to them it is like something has happened to members of your family. I remember when Siska died in 1986, from kidney failure. I was alone in Darwin, on some in-service, and all I could do after I’d spoken to the vet was cry the night away. An over-reaction perhaps but she and I’d been through a lot together. She (and Bundy, her kitten) were my first pets; she’d followed me to uni a couple of times and managed to get herself lost, and then found; she came to Queenstown with me and then to the NT. She was my mate, my fluffy, huffy gorgeous girl and I cried buckets. Attila, Dave’s cat disappeared in Darwin, never to be seen again, so we were left wondering… Not nice either.

attilla and dave 1

This is the downside of pets. They die. You outlive them. Despite all your hopes of immortality for them, they expire before you do. And it’s hard. It’s horrible but it’s not enough reason not to have them.

Last week we nearly lost Zanz. Out of nowhere he seemed to age 10 years over-night, he was listless and completely devoid of energy – he was absolutely not himself. After some discussion and a terrible walk to the park he went to the vet. His spleen had ruptured and he was hours away from death.

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Happily the surgery was completely successful and after a terrible night of worry and anxiety he came home to us, big scar, shaved tummy and very quiet. But a week later, he’s on his way back to his Tigger-bounce self. He’s nearly nine, so his life is nearing it’s end (big dogs live less than little dogs) and it may be sooner rather than later. But, he’s one of us, a central member of our family, he came from Australia with us, travels to France with us, loves us to bits as we love him. When he finally goes I will cry an ocean for him and be sad for a long time. But I’ll never regret having him. He has brought nothing but joy and happiness into our lives.

Looking after another creature is good for you, it shows you care, it makes you less selfish, a better person. Stroking a pet is a soothing, calming thing, caring for a pet, no matter what sort, connects you to other living things, reminds you of your place in the wider world. Caring for pets improves/maintains your social skills; helps your mental health and, I think, increases your capacity to love and be loved.

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Pets are powerful creatures and don’t you need more power in your life? (Images courtesy 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?

snoopy & marshmallows

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.

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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)

Don’t Blame the Teachers; Think of the Kids

September 18, 2012

Isn’t it sweet how Gove and Clegg look so chummy in their recent publicity shots for their grand announcement about the revamping of the exam system? Isn’t it wonderful how they’ve worked together to over-come the malaise in the education system to rescue standards and improve kiddies’ chances?

Did you read the twaddle in yesterday’s papers? They know about education, about the scandal of re-sits and re-takes and all about English course-work, which actually, boys, no longer exists. It was flushed away in the recent over-haul of English courses, leaving us with the travesty that’s just occurred.

Yet again politicians are interfering with education. Gove has already imposed his will on Primary school curriculum and now he is doing the same for the exam sets for secondary students. Has he talked to a teacher? Does he know what it’s actually like in schools in the UK? No, is the answer. He thinks we are the problem and we have failed the children. We have dumbed everything down in a search for the bottom, in our desperate quest for improved grades and places on the league tables.

Here’s the thing: teachers don’t have a say in what happens in schools. Some collection of people miles above them in the food-chain make the decisions, usually without consultation, or with that faux consultation where your choices are all bad. We just get to carry out orders. It’s more like a warzone, where the generals and commanders sit miles back from the action but tell us what to do, especially what we’re doing wrong. We’re the ones who go out to be shot. Remember Gallipoli?

I’ll tell you what we’re doing wrong- we’re failing generations of kids by this constant measuring and examining. What other country is as obsessed with testing and examining as the UK is? All Gove’s research should have told him that social mobility is not improved by exams. We’re now going to fail oodles more by this retrograde step – the EBacc – which will push the poorest students further away from uni or decent choices about their futures. We will have a 2 tiered system, where some subjects are valued, and therefore some skills, and some subjects are not.

Wither Music and Art, DT and ICT? Where are the creative, making subjects in this brave new education world? Gove and Clegg have thrown us backwards, not taken us forwards. Young people need to think for themselves, be equipped for a changing, evolving world, not just know facts or recite poems (although all of that is nice). They need to be creative, resilient, tough. They should be able to enjoy a range of subjects at school to know what they’re good at, to make choices about their futures based on interest and skills. They should be able to learn without everything being about an exam at the end of it.

Have Gove and Clegg thought of the current batch of students who have just suffered through the latest exam debacle, only to be told their qualifications aren’t actually worth anything? That, really, as everything’s been dumbed down, they are just dumb, dumber than those who were educated in the good old days, when rigor and standards meant something? Seriously, why do we listen to these men?

These fools are busy telling me I’m responsible for the failures of their system. They tell me my students are dumb and unworthy. They’re telling me my daughter’s GCSE’s aren’t worth having, not to mention her choice of A level subjects.

These fools haven’t the first idea and as soon as people realize Education is simply a political football, a way for politicians to grandstand and stay in power and we ignore them, we’ll actually be able to look after the students, teach them things worth knowing and be much better off.

Parents, teachers, students: we’re all in it together, not the politicians. It’s time to tell them where the fuck to go.