Tuesday, September 28, 2010

For Better or Worse

Those in charge say that kids are getting cleverer as evidenced by constantly improving exam results. Employers and cynics like me say that the average state educated child is less able than they were 25 years ago. (And in my opinion there is even more of a decline at the top end of the state sector).

Why is this?

a) Lack of discipline in schools which prevents any effective teaching

b) Fashionable new teaching methods which have replaced the simple and highly effective:

Teach something and make the kids practice it over and over again.


Group discussions, peer assessment and individualised methods of learning.

I have criticised these silly ideas so many times that I feel I am starting to sound like a stuck record. Maybe I should just give up blogging and stick to working on Chalk Enterprises.

Immigration Cap

Although we are producing ever greater numbers of graduates, businesses are complaining loudly to the Government that the proposed cap on immigration will prevent them recruiting enough highly skilled people. Wasn't the whole point of increasing student numbers to make sure that we did have enough of them?

Presumably we are just churning out an endless stream of 21 year olds with degrees in worthless subjects.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


I love urban myths or common misconceptions. Here's one that was repeated in yesterday's Times:

"Teflon was one of the many spin-offs from the Space Race"

It was actually invented in 1938. Feel free to impress your friends with that and contribute any others you might know.


A few posts ago I claimed that most of the work teachers do is a complete waste of their time. Meetings are a good example.

As a teacher, I used to have to regularly sit through an hour's excruciating tedium as one person after another asked for some minor clarification of a totally unimportant issue, or asked a question that had been answered only 5 minutes previously. Somebody would always be using buzzwords, management speak or stock phrases which meant nothing to me. Somebody else would always raise ludicrous objections to the most obvious of improvements. I would watch the clock hands creep round, trying desperately not to scream with frustration as my life ebbed away and my soul was devoured by the unrelenting mediocrity of it all.

Now that time is money, meetings are short and effective. They are only held when necessary, everyone says what they want, a deal is reached and usually everything is wrapped up in 15 minutes. It's not because we are particularly efficient, we just have better things to do with our time.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I have always stuck to my theory that if something to do with computers isn't obvious then it's probably not worth learning, because if you wait around for a while then someone will come up with a easier way of doing it.

One thing I did take the trouble to find out how to do was the 'out of office' email auto-reply. When my SMT took to emailing staff in the evenings and at weekends with requests for this and that, I naively assumed that nobody in their right mind would bother replying to them, only to discover that many of the staff, especially the younger ones, grumbled but then simply did what they were asked.

This idea that staff should be contactable 24/7 is now becoming increasingly commonplace and it's even more frightening that some people accept it. If you haven't done so already, learn how to use auto-reply before it's too late. (There's always one even if the IT nerd denies it)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Science without the Science

After looking through a popular syllabus for year 7 and 8 Science, one thing struck me as odd.

There did not appear to be any Science in it.

There were endless fun activities where children could 'discover for themselves' although why the teacher doesn't just teach them something and then see if they get it by making them answer some questions, rather than let them waste an hour looking for something that they don't understand is a mystery to me. (It's all very well saying that they are 'doing what a scientist does' but we forget that the scientist spent many years diligently studying science first.)

There were 'investigations' into concepts such as force and pressure, but no recommendation that the pupils should practice calculating them. Come to think of it, there wasn't even a textbook!

There were endless opportunities for 'discussion' 'brainstorming' and 'group work'. However I couldn't see any formulas and definitions to learn or tricky problems to apply them on.

Maybe I'm getting old, but all this is just replacing rigorous science with easy entertainment. It might make the lessons more enjoyable but it certainly isn't going to produce any scientists.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

State and Private

There is a huge gulf between the quality of education you get at a private school compared with what you get at the average state school. There are several reasons for this: private schools have more money to spend on each pupil so they can have smaller classes and they often select potential pupils by ability, so they don't have to deal with so many hard-of-thinking. Competitive sports are strongly encouraged and a huge range of after school activities are offered. Parents are also generally more cooperative as they are paying good money for their offspring to attend and on a statistical basis, Harry and Henrietta tend to be better behaved than Lee and Lewis, so less time is wasted dealing with constant low level disruption.

However, here are two additional factors that you must promise me never to mention out loud in the state staffroom...

Firstly their teachers tend on average to be better academically qualified in the subjects they teach than their state counterparts and they haven't all had their heads filled with nonsense on a PGCE course. The standard retort that they wouldn't last five minutes in a tough inner city comp is also true however.

Secondly private schools still teach in a fairly traditional fashion and insist on a high standard of discipline, which funnily enough leads to success, both academically and in employment. In the state sector however, we have embraced every fashion, fad and barking lunacy with an enthusiasm which makes me want to hold my head in my hands and weep tears of despair. (Group work, discussion, peer review, poster making, self expression and varied mediums of learning spring to mind, but these are only the tip of the iceberg). Why not just mix up a random selection of words and invent the next one yourself.

See, I told you not to mention them.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Too Many Special Needs

Well goodness me! Ofsted have finally realised what every decent teacher worked out ten years ago; ie that zillions of kids are being diagnosed as having 'special needs' when in reality they have just never been made to sit still and behave. Stupid lazy parents combined with trendy modern teaching methods that think 'discipline' is a naughty word.

Both the National Union of Teachers and the NASUWT (I still don't know what these letters stand for) have strongly condemned the announcement, which is a bit like the Flat Earth Society telling Columbus that he was delusional.

No link to the Times as they've started to charge, but the Telegraph article's here

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Michael Gove

I like the sound of what Education Minister Michael Gove is saying about introducing technical colleges where pupils who aren't academic can go at 14 and learn something that will be of use to them, such as plumbing or plastering rather than History and French. Christine Blower from the National Union of Teachers opposes the plan, which is almost the definition of a good idea.

Gove also says that he wants to get rid of the excessive health and safety as well as the compensation culture that makes teachers reluctant to do anything interesting in case a parent sues the school. He also wants to give boys more opportunity for competition, which everybody knows they thrive on, rather than wrapping them up in cotton wool.

Good on him, but let's see if he actually does any of this. He will really have his work cut and will have to take on the teaching unions, parents and lawyers.

Gareth Malone

I can vividly remember watching the film Dead Poet's Society in about 1989 and deciding that I knew everything there was to know about teaching kids.

It's a popular storyline that has been repeated many times. Somebody with a bit of personality comes into a school and revolutionises things. The other teachers are sceptical but all the pupils love them, with all the fun activities and excitement. The public says "We need more people like him in teaching etc." There don't seem to be any exams in this world.

Enter Gareth Malone, teaching the kids outside, throwing flour bombs and going camping. He doesn't seem to need to fill out long risk assessment forms for any of this and is unaffected by health and safety requirements. The kids don't run away, start fighting or fall over and injure themselves. The head never tells him he can't do anything, or calls him in for a coffeeless interview and the parents never try and sue the school (well none of this happens on camera anyway.

My point is this: it's easy-peasy to come in to a school, be completely wacky, get the kids cheering for you and declare the whole thing a success. Then you can clear off, leaving the regular staff to pick up the pieces and answer questions like "Why can't we climb a tree and play with the chainsaw like we did with Mr Chalk?"

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Koran Burning

If you are unable to join Pastor Terry Jones in his Koran Burning event this Saturday, then why not meet up with the crowds heading to a school near you in order to burn a copy of "It's Your Time You're Wasting"

It lights easily and burns with a soft yellowy-blue glow, giving off a pleasant warmth which is just the thing to ward off the mild chill of an early autumn evening.

Special Needs

A friend showed me a class list the other day, covered up the kids' surnames with a piece of paper and challenged me to say whether it was a top or bottom set just by looking at the first names.

Top Set, Bottom Set is the easiest game in the world and it took me about three seconds to announce that it was the bottom set (Kay-Tee and Colt for example are hardly likely to be anywhere else). What did surprise me was that out of 19 pupils, 15 had some sort of label ie ADHD, ADD Aspergers, School phobic, etc.

Now I know that since virtually all the special schools have been closed down, large numbers of children with all kinds of 'special needs' have been dumped into mainstream education where we can't cope with them. Their parents are very keen on this, saying that they want their child to integrate, which is fair enough, but often doesn't work. Most teachers have no special needs training and aren't really interested- they just want to teach their subject to children with a reasonable range of abilities and behaviour, which is after all what they signed up for in the first place. You don't see Lee throwing a tantrum (and a handful of test tubes) on these teaching adverts, do you?

I just can't help but wonder how many of these conditions have a genuine medical basis and how many are simply down to the child never having been shown how to behave and actually made to, rather than just being asked politely (Parents do seem genuinely afraid of being seen to control their child in public nowadays and you see comedy moments in every park or supermarket, where a fed up adult is trying to reason with a naughty three year old, rather than just giving them a good smack and telling them not to do it again. No doubt the same happens at home).

The cynic in me also firmly believes that the number of 'rich world diseases' will continue to rise for ever more as drug companies dream up new and profitable mind altering drugs to sell to us.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Reinventing the Wheel

Unlike me, teachers work very hard. Unfortunately, as I've said before; most of what they do is a complete waste of time. Across the country, thousands of them are busy duplicating each others' efforts, all producing plans for teaching the same lesson, or some weird and wonderful new method of teaching which was probably tried out and abandoned last year at another school half an hour's drive away. The number of teacher hours spent each year repeating somebody else's work is absolutely staggering and extremely depressing.

Large successful businesses do not make these basic mistakes. (Which of course is why they are successful). They have a set way of doing things in every branch or shop, based on what has been shown to work in the past. Procedures are laid out in great detail and followed rigourously. Problems can be analysed and solutions worked out based on what has happened elsewhere. I've heard the argument many times that 'every school is different' but to be honest they aren't really. They are all trying to do the same thing, but most could be so much better with a bit of guidance. As I've said before- run them like Tesco and see the improvement.

Axa Respect On The Road

If, like me you ride a bike sometimes, then you may well have had your life endangered by the various wretches of the road. Boy racers, half asleep drivers, too comfortable and lethargic to notice you, or those who simply have no spatial awareness whatsoever. I've always thought that too many drivers feel invulnerable when behind the wheel with the stereo blaring and behave toward other road users or pedestrians in a way they would never dare do in a face to face situation.

In order to try and draw attention to the problem, AXA Car Insurance are running a campaign at the moment called AXA Respect On The Road Click on the link I respect the road to visit their website and see a few details, or to add your own story of poor parking, motorway madness or traffic terror.

There is a Facebook Fanpage here which I urge you to 'Like' and a YouTube site here

Primary teachers might find the video ‘Road Rage kids’ useful.

It is acted entirely by 5 year olds, who imitate driving behaviour that they have copied from their parents. Children are the drivers of tomorrow, so anything we can do to try and influence them now can only be a good thing, especially as every blockbuster film bombards them with ever more ludicrous car chase scenes where nobody ever gets killed or injured, except possibly for a slight scratch or bruise with a bit of dust if the actor is male. Also, anyone who has to teach PHSE might well like Cab Cam, in which AXA took to the streets of London in a black taxi to carry out a survey of public opinion. (The driver doesn't appear to be wearing a seatbelt though!)

This post was sponsored by Axa Car insurance.

Sponsored Post

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Pope's Visit

Can anybody explain to me exactly why my taxes are being used to help fund the Pope's visit? The man's views range from the merely bigoted to the truly bizarre. At least when some mad mullah comes over they pay their own way and provide an amusing spectacle.

Rod Liddle

Yesterday in the Sunday Times, Rod Liddle described bloggers as "that vast network of talentless and embittered individuals tapping away at their keyboards in the intellectual vacuum of cyberspace." I never realised that he read mine.

Whilst this might seem a bit rich from someone with no work experience outside journalism who writes a column each week about topics that were unlikely to have been covered in his Social Psychology degree, I don't blame Rod for launching an attack. He knows perfectly well that the mainstream press faces an ever growing problem, which is that the public now have a choice. They can read for free about the lunacy in for example, local councils, the justice system, the police, education or the NHS from people who actually know what they are talking about because they have worked for many years in these institutions, or alternatively they can pay to read a journalist's opinion on a topic they have no experience or understanding of.

Mind you, at least they know how to neatly finish off an article.

Friday, September 03, 2010

William Hague

William Hague has claimed today that when he used to do the deliveries for his dad's soft drinks company in Rotherham, he would regularly sleep with 14 women a day.

Getting a Grip

Aaargh...It's started already! I have been inundated with emails from teachers who have returned to find new computer systems that don't work, printers with no ink, photocopiers without paper and the entire staff email directory vanished without trace. Despite having 6 weeks off, there are numerous schools that haven't managed to issue timetables, registers, sets or even class lists.

Every Head needs a plaque with the phrase "Get a Grip!" nailed to their desk so it is the first thing they see each day.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Exams are NOT getting easier

Just because 5 year old Desiree Alli passed GCSE Maths this year does not mean that the exams have been getting steadily easier for years. It was simply a one-off and we should remember that an averagely intelligent child would have absolutely no chance of passing until they were 9 or even 10 years old.