I enjoyed Panorama tonight; I always do. There’s something so intuitively respectable about the BBC’s venerable investigative magazine that I would default to unqualified admiration even if it were to tell me that spaghetti grew on trees. This week: Troops To Teachers (TTT)- Michael Gove’s drive to inject a bit of military discipline back into classrooms by aggressively recruiting and retraining ex-military servicemen. It apes the Troops to Teachers program in the US, launched 18 years ago after the first Gulf War, and since then it’s seen over 15,000 men and women swap green berets for cardigans with leather patches (or whatever the symbolic equivalent is in America).
If you watched the program you would be forgiven for assuming the the program is an unqualified success; we were treated to the example of Lordswood Boys’ School in England, which entertains no less than 1 in 12 staff from military backgrounds, which shouldn’t really be a surprise seeing as how the smallish Birmingham comprehensive has an assistant head who used to be in the Infantry, an ex-Sergeant from the Territorials, and a former sergeant major acting as a shooting instructor. Quite. Still, variety is the spice of life, and one thing that schools have to be praised for is diversity of strategies, trying different things, and adapting tactics to meet the needs of the local community. Looking at the prospectus and the Ofsted report, it seems a bit of a success story. Students like Hakeem Nawas spoke proudly of how it had transformed his self-esteem and motivation to be involved in Cadet activities, and Neil Macintosh, the aforementioned Assistant Head proposed that ex-military were ‘more resilient…less down-hearted…and more robust.’ As Mandy Rice Davies, said, ‘Well, he would, wouldn’t he.’
Actually I have no issue with this: in fact I admire many of the principles that inspire it. I particularly liked how the servicemen spoke about how they maintained order- they didn’t have to raise their voices, they said. The students agreed. ‘They just look at you,’ one said. I know what he means. Screaming your head off is usually a sign that you’ve blown your stack, and for most kids it’s better than telly. Speak silently, they say, and carry a big stick. I couldn’t agree more. Who do you respect more- the small dog with the big bark, or the silent dog with the claw hammer behind his back? Exactly.
|Troops to Hogwarts|
Then we were off to Huntingdon Middle School, in Virginia’s Newport News City (honestly- I wouldn’t make up a name like that because you wouldn’t believe it), where a clutch of ex-military had taken over their classes like Desert Storm. The story here was the same, it seemed- lines of biddable, disciplined and enthusiastic students queued up to enter classrooms, and we were presented with crocodiles of marching students who were noticeably not selling crack pipes to grandmothers or auditioning for The Wire. Glee, maybe.
Geoff Lloyd, the poster boy for this school’s TTT project spoke proudly about bringing ‘discipline into an undisciplined world,’ and frankly, I couldn’t agree more. His robust, direct attitude to being a responsible adult in a classroom full of students who need clear boundaries and someone they can rely on was more inspirational than a dozen Dead Poets’ Societies or Dangerous Minds. I would put him on my fictional Heroes of Education list, but unfortunately he’s a real person, so he’ll have to content himself with a notional award instead.
So far, so good. As I say, I actually applaud many of the aims of this program. I think that what many of the ex-servicemen said made perfect sense- courage, responsibility, discipline and carrying your own water. Amen to that, brother.
And then- with the inevitability of the Sun rising- came the research. Because that’s what we do whenever we want to justify something: we wheel out the academics who biddably endorse whatever is being flogged to us. And that’s when it got interesting for me. William Owings of the Old Dominion University sat in an agreeable, respectable setting and enthusiastically waved the flag for the TTT program, his eyes twinkling as he did so. He twinkled a lot. ‘Ex-military stay in the profession twice as long as non-servicemen,’ we were told. ‘Troops in the T2T program outscore all other teachers,’ it was said. Owings also provided my favourite quote of the show- T2T had provided a ‘stellar performance,’ he said. Twinkle, twinkle.
Now that didn’t strike me as the careful, cool, neutral perspective of the scientist, I thought. And as soon as someone starts to mention educational research, my spider sense starts to tingle, and frankly I start to sweat a bit. Because, as regulars to this blog will be painfully aware, I’m allergic to the way that some educational research is used to hustle strategies and big ideas that are composed, it is eventually seen, of equal parts moonshine and optimism. As a teacher of some years, I’ve been making a list of the Initiatives and Great Ideas that the hucksters of education try to flog us, and my hackles start to mambo whenever someone calls along and says, ‘Hey, you guys! I have a great new idea for turning schools around! I just need your credit card number and your uncritical commitment…’ I’m just funny like that.
So I did a bit of, rooting around on t’interweb. Just what IS the Old Dominion University, anyway? It sounds awfully grand. And it is, I am sure, a paragon of academic vigour, rigour and propriety, even if its mission statement does say that ‘Our philosophy is simple: Knowledge should be productive. Research-driven solutions that make sound business sense.’ Which isn’t really a philosophy, is it? More of an admission that if something is worth something, it has to be worth money. Ah, it brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it? .
As I say, I’m sure it has the noblest intentions. It also has an interesting link to the Troops to Teachers program, as its website says: ‘The state office for Virginia TTT is located on the ODU campus.’ That’s the state office. Of course, that doesn’t suggest that the Old Dominion University might be a less than partial witness to the efficiency of the TTT program. I’m just saying, that’s all. Isn’t that a marvellous coincidence, though?
So I did what few civilians have done before: I had a peek at a couple of the papers quoted on their website as showing terrific, supportive data that confirmed the TTT program as a winner, and the ones that William Owings was quoting so freely on Panorama. You can find two of them here and here. They are, as most social science papers are, a thrill a minute, and I heartily recommend you print them off and read them on the way to work tomorrow. Unless you drive. Or listen to Coldplay while you read them.
The 2005 study was, broadly speaking, a survey of Teachers who had gone through the program, and of their supervisors. It asked if they felt that they had been appropriately trained to approved standards. It also asked supervisors of these teachers if they felt they were as good as, or better than teachers of similar experience who hadn’t come through the program. The answer was strongly in favour in both cases. How many were surveyed? A fair few. Over 2000 teachers and their supervisors were sent surveys. That’s not a bad study by any standards. Except that the response rate was 65%. We don’t know why the other third didn’t reply. We don’t know what attempts were made to convert those no-shows. We don’t know on what basis the surveys were sent. We can probably assume that surveys weren’t sent, or at least answered, by teachers who had dropped out of the program.
And it’s details like that, that make this kind of research so hard to value meaningfully. Big numbers are good, but without transparency about who answered, what their motives were, and show inaccuracies were avoided, the purity and reliability of this kind of data is always going to be hard to measure, let alone accept. I’m certainly not impugning William Owings, or any of his co-writers, but these are substantial, significant impediments to the development of social scientific research credibility.
Another problem is that this paper relies on perceptions- ‘how well do you feel …’ questions. These questions fall short, IMO of the clinical precision and neutrality of the genuinely inquisitive, and stray into the territory of market research. When did you stop beating your wife? Who’s to say that the TTT candidates were actually trained properly? What’s to prevent the supervisors betraying their own inclinations, preferences and prejudices through their own opinions. Nothing. Nothing at all. This isn’t the same as measuring the temperature at which mercury boils- it’s like interviewing a series of marathon runners at the finishing line and asking if they feel out of breath.
The paper does acknowledge some of this. Actually, it seems to acknowledge all of this:
‘the study does not provide evidence of T3’s self-reported or actual teaching behaviours. Neither does it provide empirical observations of school administrators watching T3s’ actual teaching behaviours. Nor does it provide evidence of students’ learning gains as a result of working for a period of defined time with T3s as compared with other teachers of similar experience. Further study of the actual teaching practices from T3 self-report or assessment of their students’ measured achievement, although very complex and difficult studies to undertake, would provide important information about T3s’ quality as well as feedback about how to strengthen T3 preparation.’
In other words, we know it’s all just opinion and self analysis. But we don’t think it’s a problem. Of course, opinion and subjective experience have a place in analysis; but it’s not the same place as objective, viewer-independent data. It doesn’t prove anything more than the people who responded felt the way they felt. It’s not corroboration that these teachers are better: it is what it is.
The other paper I looked at, from 2010 (and also by our hero from Panorama), focused on TTT candidates who went on to become Principals. This time it was 107 subjects; ah, boo, much smaller. Their supervisors (I didn’t even know Heads had supervisors) overwhelmingly (90% plus) said that they thought such principals were better on a variety of scales than similar, non TTT Principals. Yes, you may also find it unsurprising that supervisors, who I assume are involved in the selection and support of these principals, overwhelmingly thought that they were doing a jolly good job, and hadn’t they made excellent decisions hiring them? Again, we don’t know the conversion rate, the response rate etc.. I’m sure it was fabulous, given that 107 is a very small number. Still, the data comes out rather well, doesn’t it?
So is there nothing concrete at all to support the view that TTT candidates have a, if you will, tactical advantage over their civilian counterparts? Not a bit of it. Here it is:
‘In a 2008 Florida study comparing measured academic achievement of elementary,
middle, and high school students taught by TTTs, results indicate that compared to all
teachers, students served by Troops teachers performed about equally well in Reading and
achieved a small but statistically significant advantage in Mathematics. In comparisons
where each Troop teacher was individually matched to another teacher, teaching the same
subject in the same school, with approximately the same amount of teaching experience,
students served by Troops teachers achieved substantially and statistically significantly
higher in both Reading and Mathematics (Nunnery, et.al, 2008; Nunnery, et. al., 2009).’
Call me a gutless limey cynic, but ‘equally well in Reading’ and ‘a small but statistically significant advantage’ in Maths doesn’t exactly strike me as cause to start popping the champagne for the cause yet. Incidentally, the Nunnery paper mentioned above by Owings is co-written by…..yes, William Owings. And it wasn’t published in an academic journal, but, as the report says, ‘submitted to ‘Educational Administration Quarterly
October 2008′. I can submit a poem written on bog paper to the Sunday Times. Does that mean I can say it was printed? Have a look at the front page. It’s got a lovely ‘Troops to Teachers’ logo all over the front. I’m don’t have a Ph.D. in this exact subject, but I suspect that means they might have something to do with the report….
(I stopped reading it at that point, because I don’t believe in an afterlife, and I value every precious minute I possess.)
In fact, so do the previous two papers I mentioned, both of which are prefaced by the sentence, ‘A Report Prepared for Mike Melo, Director, Virginia Office of Troops to Teachers,’ and ‘Report to Dr. William McAleer, Executive Director, Troops to Teachers, Pensacola, Florida.’ So all of the reports mentioned were written for (can I presume commissioned?) the TTT itself. Hey, waitaminute…..
It’s not that I’m against the idea of ex-military training for schools: good luck to ’em, I say. And I think that there might be something in the idea that men and women who have experience with leadership, developing self-discipline and oiling rifles might have something useful to teach children (sniping, for instance). But it doesn’t do anyone any good to use research like this that seeks to support proposals with empirical claims that can at the very least be contested as meaningful or verifiable in any real sense. Michael Gove needs to look elsewhere for better arguments, and maybe we might start to take research based policy more seriously.
After doing a few seminars last month with the lovely people of the Times Educational Supplement, I’ve been asked back to take a few more. They last about 2 1/2 hours, and I focus entirely on what teachers need to be doing to run a well behaved classroom. The last few seminars went really well, and the feedback was pleasingly, reassuring optimistic. It’s a concentrated session, with no time wasted, no sugar paper, no waffle; just straight talking, practical advice and, I’m delighted to confirm, tea and biscuits.
It’s held at the TES headquarters (elegantly named TES Towers, which I find fabulous), in facilities that I can only describe as ‘well-appointed’, like the boardroom in ‘The Apprentice‘ (UK version, not Trump’s old-money torture chamber). There are two sessions, on Saturday the 19th of March; one in the afternoon and one in the morning, in order to cater to people who may not live in London. Some of the previous attendees made a weekend of it in the West End, although I can’t be held responsible for the quality of Les Mis, or anything…
Feedback from previous sessions:
‘A very useful session which has made me think about strategies and ways of dealing with classes.’
‘Fantastic tips, much I can apply to my lessons, thank you.’
‘Tom is great, he is “safe blud” as my little monkeys would say.’
‘Very useful content and a speaker who was easy to relate to. Good to talk with someone who has experienced the same difficulties as me.’
In other news, I’ll also be at TES Towers on Tuesday the 1st March between 5 and 6:30 hosting a live webchat on marking, reports and paperwork, for anyone looking for tips on how to climb up the paper mountain in schools. Look forward to, as Frazier Crane would say, taking your calls. Posts? I don’t know. I’ll be there, anyway.
|Draper: unconcerned by Value Added.|
Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Hackney’s celebrated Mossbourne Academy has been making headlines by suggesting that school leaders need to be just that- leaders, rather than democratic pansies more interested in harmony and coalition than decisions and actions. True dat: schools are ravenous beasts, bubbling with hundreds of agendas (the kids, the staff, the LEA, the parents, the governors), and if there’s one thing I learned running night clubs in the Wild West of Soho, it was that if you want to lead people you need to actually want to lead them. It meant that, even if you had reservations about one’s right to dictate to another, there it was- that was your job, and if you felt uncomfortable with it then there were plenty of other people who would be happy to oblige. Or worse, you could just hang on and try to ride every wave that surged beneath you. You could do that for quite a while, actually. You would never achieve very much of what you set out to do, and by the time you left things would be how they panned out, rather than where you wanted them. But if you were happy with that kind of existence then it was possible.
Or you could try to be a leader. Which meant discovering what your views were, and deciding that was what you would pursue. I learned to my cost that if you didn’t have strong views about how they should be, then you would never create anything worth while. Schools are bodies made up of hundreds of sentient cells, all with their own views about how the world should work. They can’t all win. And if you try to keep as many people as possible happy, all you create are the conditions where the unhappiness is maximised. I liken it to a classroom: can you imagine how it would look if you said that every student could do what they wanted? Of course you can- some classes are like that already.
|‘Hello, OfSTED. Let’s get you out of that dress.’|
The point is that the teacher has to set the agenda for the benefit of the majority. I think that ever since the invention of democracy we have somehow absorbed the belief that democracy is the best and only way to run every institution, at any level. That may be true at a national and international level, but the closer to the private sphere we get the poorer that paradigm looks- it’s like using telescopes to examine tissue samples. No parental relationship can run by the single transferable vote; no first-past-the-post can govern the workings of a factory. And governance by committee doesn’t work in a school, or as I like to describe them, ‘dream factories’.
The ironic thing is that when presented by strong leadership, people often complain about it; but when it vanishes, everyone realises that they miss the good old days, and can the grown-ups come back? That doesn’t always translate to the national theatre, but there are echoes. And something that always strikes me about leadership is that I’m not entirely sure that it can be taught in any meaningful way. Oh, I know there are courses and INSETS and colleges and expensive three day residential coaching clubs where you can drop a month’s salary on some hard-on with a clip-on microphone telling you how to Awaken the Giant Within. I’ve been on some. But did anyone come away with anything other than a vague sense that being a leader somehow meant walking up to people and telling them how awesome you were?
Leadership, like status, is one of those metaphysical entities that exists in a non-materialist way; it’s a relationship, a subjective state that exists between two people. If you possess an official rank of some sort it helps, particularly with adults who acknowledge that rank. Being possessed of a certain character is enormously helpful- stubborn, single minded, confident are three qualities that spring to mind. It possibly also helps if you’re a bit unbalanced too, maybe slightly scary or unusually charismatic in a fashion that usually masks enormous insecurity or enormous levels of self-possession. But I think I might side with Nietzsche when he said that character isn’t a quality you possess; it’s a description of how you acted, thereby making it a retrospective assessment of your career and character, rather than something that can be obviously emulated.
Plato and Plutarch saw leadership as a list of virtues one had to possess; in the 50s Stogdill and Mann believed that people who were leaders in one circumstance might fail to be leaders in another- witness the modern attempt to describe some PMs and Presidents as good at war, bad at peace, for example. Apparently identifying virtues is now fashionable again in leadership theory, which is nice.
I wish all the Neo-Caesars seeking the Big Chair could just can the reflective mind maps, and stop fretting about whether they’re autocratic, democratic, authoritarian, narcissistic or laissez faire, or whether or not they meet the emotional appetites of the people that work for them, and just bloody get on with it. Just bloody lead. Dare to be wrong, and make some sodding decisions. Life isn’t a committee. You may make an arse of yourself. That’s why you’re paid the big bucks. Oh, and grow a pair.
|Celebrity Free School|
Jamie Oliver’s at it again.
Not happy with his earlier campaign to harpoon the kamikaze attitude that some of our kids (and let’s face the truth, their well-meaning/ unpleasant and red-faced parents) have towards brightly coloured yoghurts and breakfast cereals with the word ‘Coco’ in them, he’s going for the White Whale this time: inspirational teachers. While you could quibble with the authenticity of anything made for television, I can’t help but wish him luck as he assembles an all star cast to try to re-engage disaffected kids back into education by using field leaders (and inexplicably Cherie Blair. I’m unaware that they had made a GCSE out of ‘Being Ghastly’ yet) to seduce the NEETs back into the classroom. Of course, it’s possible to suggest some slightly dodgy assumptions behind this all- that teaching is something anyone can do, and all they need is expertise in a field, which in my experience is far, far from the truth- teaching is a skill and a character set separate from the discipline you teach, and it’s why new teachers have a hard time for a few years before the kids have a war council and say, yeah, she’s had enough, allow it.
But you have to admire his guts, and I wish him all the best. Frankly if Daley Thompson had been my PE teacher I might have done a bit more jogging, but that’s mainly because I assume he wouldn’t have amused himself by calling me a poof and jeering at me as I missed passes like most of my teachers did.
Floella Benjamin is making a stand!
The former Playschool presenter turned politician (typical- Italy gets Cicciolina, we get Floella Benjamin) is standing in the wilderness wearing sackcloth and ashes, living on a diet of wild honey and crickets, and warning us of the dangers of…childrens’ television. Apparently some parents use it as a child minder. How about that? Strange: I seem to recall a childhood sitting in front of the test card, waiting for the girl to make her move at tic-tac-toe before I sat down to an unguided, parent-free hour of…Playschool. It must have been an invented memory.
|It is unlikely your teacher will look like this.|
Saw The Children’s Hour at the Comedy Theatre last week, Lillian Hellman’s powerful drama about two teachers destroyed by the false accusations of one of their students. Although the star wattage sometimes threatens to overcast everything else (Keira Knightley and Elisabeth Moss act the stage off, although it was nothing compared to the dumbstruck sensation I felt when I realised I was in standing right behind Christina Hendricks, who turned round and met my eyes with what I’m sure was a moment when she thought to herself, ‘Don Draper? Here?‘), it’s a fine story that feels like The Crucible set in a boarding school, or the McCarthy Trials, as insinuation and allegation become just as damaging as the truth could ever have been.
It reminded me that at present teachers aren’t guaranteed anonymity when allegations are made against them, although the new Education Bill promises to remedy that comic state of affairs. But many teachers still suffer with suspension ‘while matters are being investigated’, something which by itself can be seen as mortally shaming, and indicative of guilt in the eyes of others. It also reminds me that in many cases, one teacher’s word is simply not enough to substantiate a claim. A colleague of mine used to work in another school, where one of the pupils told him to ‘Go f*** himself sideways,’ or some similar Wildean barb. The teacher took it to the Head who told him, ‘Ah, it’s one word against another. Nothing we can do.’
Grow. A. Pair.
|This is why I read books.|
|Ball: legend of mathematics.|
Finally, I see that Johnny Ball’s getting aggro from climate change enthusiasts over his views about the scientific reliability of same. Now without wishing to wade into the rights and wrongs, I’d just like to confirm that Johnny Ball was, at the same time as I was singing about bus wheels along with Floella Benjamin, like unto Jehoshaphat in mine childish eyes, and frankly he could go postal in the Lakeside Thurrock shopping mall and I’d be tempted to fund his legal defence. Johnny, I salute you, and your controversial views, because the more people get engaged with scientific analysis, the more immunised we all become to bullshit and cant. You, Tony Hart and Tom Baker did more to teach me how to love learning (Think of a Number/ Take Hart/ The Book Tower) than a host of drippy educationalists, some of whom mocked my lack of affinity with matters athletic, as I indicated before). May your elbows be empowered.
|‘It’s the workhouse for us!’|
The entire population of Britain was last night reeling in amazement and disbelief after the surprise news that Oxford and Cambridge Universities would probably charge the maximum amount allowed for student degrees. Poundstretchers and branches of Argos were closed all day today, as staff workers struggled to get in due to a combination of grief and shock.
‘I can’t believe it,’ said Cristal Bludgen, a fourteen year old trainee beauty therapist from Dagenham. ‘This is the end for me. As it was, my chances of going to one of the two top ten world universities was slim, what with my forty-hour-a-week exfoliating and cyberbullying commitments. The decisions of the two senate houses has now priced a world class degree in Cyrillic languages completely out of my grasp. It looks like it’s the Lottery and Holby City for me now. Oh well, aut viam inveniam aut faciam, I always say.’
Others took it even harder. ‘This has come out of nowhere,’ said Tarquin Vespa, the owner of two high-end discount leather goods stalls in Roman Road Market, Bethnal Green. ‘Like everyone else, I had somehow assumed that Oxbridge would have voluntarily offered degrees as some kind of charity commitment to the economically unfortunate. After all, the coalition specifically threatened them that they would have to provide evidence of a consistent outreach effort. Who knew that they would be so cavalier as to take no notice of so stiff a sanction?’
‘Now as far as I’m concerned, you could tell me that black was white and I might believe you. It’s a grey day for carefully nurtured prejudices based on intuition and stupidity, and no mistake.’
|‘I’m home-tutoring my Kyle.’|
The Dean of the University of Lewisham High street was unavailable for comment, but it is thought he will announce on Monday a new fee system designed to attract those unavailable to pay the Oxbridge fees. Dubbed the ‘Wheel of Learning’, the application process will disregard applicant’s qualifications and hobbies indicative of social enthusiasm, and instead choose successful students at random after they have called a premium-rate telephone number. ‘It’s as fair as many and as good as any,’ said the porter of Lewisham Lodge, in between his second and third jobs in a kebab shop and an off license. ‘And they can just keep phoning and eventually they’ll get in. I’d say that was pretty fair. Sorry, the phone’s ringing.’
Sir Keith Joseph is 55..
|‘That lesson was bare differentiated.’|
Because I don’t get out much, I have a favourite false (or possibly just invalid) syllogism, and it’s from Yes Minister, the satirical political sit-com precursor to The Thick of It that now seems like a Golden Age of propriety and civic integrity. It goes like this:
P1: We must do something
P2: This is something
C: Therefore we must do this.
I mention this because there seems to be many government ministers and policy formers who apparently see this as the last word in logic. These are interesting times in Education; the Curriculum is being shaken down, sorry, up; Ofsted are being retrained to hunt different prey (presumably using the bloody undergarments of teachers who don’t value Geography as scent-markers). It’s all a bit up in the air again, and education has the atmosphere of the Museum of Baghdad after the liberation of Iraq. No one really knows what’s going on, and schools are feeling sore about the new baccalaureate because everyone looks like they do nothing but teach kids how to fail exams. In many ways it’s a great time to be a teacher.
And in other ways it’s business as usual. The Education Committee of the House of Commons has just reported back the following conclusions:
1. The curriculum should be designed to meet the needs of all children
‘The report by the cross-party committee concluded: “Ministers should bear in mind that if the future curriculum is to have a beneficial effect on standards of behaviour in the classroom, it will need to meet the needs of all pupils and contain a mix of academic and vocational subjects, while being differentiated and enjoyable”‘
Says who? Says Graham Stuart, MP and committee chairman. You would hope that, as Mr Stuart has brought the tablets down from the mountain that he would have some kind of solid experience in classrooms to back up these claims. A brief search of his web page reveals…well, a career in publishing, which is nice, and presumably where he learned all that classroom management stuff he’s so good at. Give me strength.
|‘Er, sums and Homer and that, innit.’|
What other profession would have to endure such uninformed micro-management? It’s a topic I’ve visited before, but I’m happy to drop in again: can you imagine the neurosurgeon just about to perform a cerebrospinal fluid leak repair, when some enthusiastic Sir Humphrey chips in that he should be wearing opera glasses and using a judge’s gavel if he wants to minimise post-operative infection? (On second thoughts, I shouldn’t give them any ideas.)
So why does teaching have to routinely endure the armchair wisdom of so many hapless, uninformed desk-jockeys? Because everyone has been to school, I suppose, therefore everyone has an opinion on it, in much the same way that because I’ve got a mobile phone I have an expert opinion on quadrature amplitude modulation.(I do incidentally; apparently they’re taking all our jobs and living twenty five to a flat. I mean I’m not racist, but they’re not like us are they?)
There’s a recurrent theme here: education is an open field; anyone can have a crack at it. I suspect that this is part of the problem with the Free School idea, but only time will tell. What’s obvious is that education wobbles under the weight of the legion values and judgements of battalions of nosey Norahs who have never set foot in a classroom unless they were learning Latin. The teaching ‘profession’ can barely call itself such any more; the juice has been squeezed from our lemons until these days we’re not much more than vending machines for the latest fashionable ideology or dubious international success story.
2. Good teaching causes good behaviour
‘Behaviour is one of the four key areas to be examined by schools inspectors Ofsted under changes announced.
Ofsted’s last annual report found that in schools where teaching was good or outstanding, behaviour was also almost always good or outstanding.’
Philosophy lovers everywhere can have this one for free: devotees of empirical science will be all over it like hungry dogs. Can you spot the (presumably deliberate) mistake in this reasoning?
P1: Some schools have outstanding or good teaching.
P2: Many of these schools have good or outstanding behaviour.
C: Therefore good teaching leads to good behaviour.
|‘One can do it like the man’dem, man’dem..’|
Does it? Does it really? As Hume would say, this is an invalid deductive argument. It’s barely even an inductive one. Why not just as easily conclude that good behaviour leads to good teaching? Because that’s exactly what I have observed in my teaching career. If the class won’t behave for you, then you can plan a lesson to the millisecond, involve tumbling dwarves and the Dalai Lama, plan a different activity for every child, have rewards, have them waving traffic light cards and pumping them with SEAL, but you ain’t got a thing if they won’t behave for you. Good behaviour is prior to good learning. If they don’t want to learn, if the class is even remotely challenging, then you can plan your little heart out, but you might as well try to teach a colony of seals on the beaches of Shapinsay.
That’s not to say that good lesson planning doesn’t help the situation, or that interesting activities and well-structured tasks that involve variety and challenge aren’t part of your behaviour management arsenal- in fact they should be- but the suggestion that what teachers really need to be focusing on is high quality teaching activities isn’t just wrong, it’s destructive.
Why? Because on the TES Behaviour Forum I chair, I deal with complaints every bloody day from new teachers who are broken men and women, having been fed this snake oil as the remedy to their classroom woes. When they find it doesn’t work with many kids, they do one thing- they blame themselves.
I learned this the hard way, like many teachers; I went into the profession brimming with enthusiasm and ingenuity, but found that to my new classes, I may as well have been talking in Swahili, as they listened in Armenian, because they couldn’t give a monkeys. It was only when I realised that the focus needed to be the behaviour first and de Bono’s Learning Hats second (and believe me, it’s a very, very distant second) that I made headway. Then, when I had tamed them to a satisfactory level, I could restore creativity and subtlety to the lesson.
These things are never completely separate of course; but the emphasis in the early days needs to be getting the classes under control first. As the control deepens, so too can challenge and intricacy. Putting them the other way around does nothing but break the hearts of those new to the profession.
This myth is cultured in other political Petri dishes:
‘Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said: “An appropriate, relevant and broad curriculum that keeps pupils engaged is absolutely fundamental to good behaviour.’
Again, there is some truth in this, but misplacing the emphasis can lead to teacher training disaster: ‘absolutely fundamental’ means, to me, ‘cannot exist without it’. This is demonstrably untrue: I know scores of experienced teachers who could sit a class down with an open book and tell them to work through 100 maths questions, and not hear a peep for fifty minutes. Not exactly what you might be looking for in a class necessarily, but it proves the point.
I want lessons to be interesting, challenging, fun and inspirational- who doesn’t? I would love it if they were all like that. But just because something is desirable doesn’t mean that it is a necessary component, or even that it is possible. Put simply, much of the work that needs to be done in order to achieve a good education is boring. (Just saying that makes me feel like Ofsted will burst down from the ceiling on static climbing ropes like Harry Tuttle in Brazil.) But it’s true; it’s not all interesting; in fact I’ll go further- a lot of learning is a bit dull, and takes effort and resilience to complete. That’s not an excuse for all lessons to be boring, but a admission that education sometimes requires repetition, rote learning and routine. To be frank, that shouldn’t even be a controversial statement, unless you think that the suggestion that ‘building up your quadriceps will require exercise’ is controversial.
Somewhere along the line we picked up the assumption that all learning can be fun. Oh really? A big shout going out right now to every single one of the children I have taught who studied and worked hard even when my lessons weren’t based on quiz shows or involved human pyramids or playing at Rock Stars. Nothing hard ever happens without hard work. If we demand that all lessons engage then we are making an electric rod bristling with broken glass for our backs. What we demand is that all pupils try, that they behave. Then it’s up to us to make it as engaging as possible. But I won’t apologise for some lessons that bore even me. that’s the nature of learning sometimes. To accept that lessons must all be engaging simply shifts blame to the teacher when children misbehave. ‘It’s your fault- the lesson didn’t engage,’ the argument goes, which is about as logical as the proposition that people get burgled because their homes aren’t secure enough, or look too affluent.
|Free Schools led to unusual sponsors.|
The Shadow Education Secretary, Andy Burnham doesn’t want to be left out, either. The curriculum revamp is ‘narrow and restrictive’ he says, and could lead to children behaving badly. Oh aye, they’ll all be out on the streets with burning torches and pitchforks when they have to do Geography and French, won’t they? (Presumably Citizenship and BTECs do nothing but soothe the savage breast. Oh that’s right. They don’t.) Andy Burnham is well placed to talk about the effects of the curriculum on education, having spent a few years as a researcher for Tessa Jowell before entering politics, so he knows exactly how these things work. And next week he’ll be redesigning the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, because he saw Horizon once.
While I have my sopabox out, there are a few observations I’d like to make about the new education Bill:
1.Pornography and mobile phones added to the list of items schools can search for.
Fabulous. The power we’ve all been waiting for. Actually, if my biggest worry at school was the possession of a few mouldy Jazz mags, my life would be a lot easier. And frankly I’d be more surprised to not find pornography on the average adolescent’s mobile phone, but there you go, it’s nice to know we can.
2. Schools told they can search for anything they have banned
Brilliant. So to that list I’ve just mentioned you can add, ‘anything else you can think of.’ Actually this is a rather good idea. I vote for ‘existentialist literature’ and ‘unhappy thoughts.’
|‘Nah mate, it’s the fan belt.’|
3.Appeals panels are no longer allowed to tell schools to reinstate a pupil who has been expelled, but they can ask them to reconsider their decision.
And we’ll say ‘F*ck off, thanks.’