*copyright A A Gill
When Hercules died, Zeus granted him immortality by transforming him into a constellation. I felt similarly blessed this weekend as I attended the Mount Olympus that is the Wellington College Festival of Education, the old-money Zion of matters secondary-academic. In its second year, I was frankly delighted to find myself invited to pontificate. Teacher shall speak unto teacher, in agreeable, well-appointed rooms.
|A depressing example of inner city decay.|
|d’Abbro: before Dream school.|
The first gig had me so outside of my comfort zone, if I looked behind me I could see Voyager 1 in the distance, puffing away after me as it left our solar system and entered interstellar space.
The next session was my very own, and I had ten minutes to dash there. There was a lovely man who wanted to talk about education, right up to the point I closed the door on my toilet cubicle; it was really odd- as if he wasn’t sure where we were, and I wasn’t in the position to nod and engage. So I engaged.
|Birbalsingh: ‘Not Satan.’|
|VIP section in the master’s Lodge.|
And I met Katherine Birbalsingh. Nicely enough, John d’Abbro introduced us after the panel, and I have to say that, despite her portrayal in the left-leaning press (normally so considered, unpartisan and reflective), she is apparently devoid of hoof and horn. She was, in fact, a confident, charming and gracious woman who genuinely believes that education is vital. And as I talked with both of them, a truism floated into view: that, despite the blog-fog, and the smoke and heat generated by the media, most people in education share an enormous amount of common ground. If you put any of us into a classroom, I bet most of us would move in ways similar enough to each other to identify us of the same taxonomic group: teacherus professionalis. There are differences in method and means, but the impulse is the same- the education, the welfare of children. That is the axiom that unites us all. As long as you possess that, then you are part of a community that should spend more time standing up for itself, and less time throwing stones at each other in pointlessness and pettiness. I have a few reservations about the Free School movement, but those reservations aren’t enough to make me wish her anything but the greatest of success in her project. She struck me as possessed of laser-like focus and self belief. Small empires have been formed with less.
Just finished 2 days at the Sunday Times Educational Festival. I feel pedagogically clobbered. However, I now have enough celebrity edublog material to last a month. Bear with me as I enter my decompression bathysphere and learn to breathe East End economy air. It was like Valhalla for educational navel-gazers; ‘Swot’s’ Glastonbury’ as A A Gill called it. What with that and the Dream School Educational Select committee, I’m in danger of needing a clone to meet my self imposed requirement to exhaustively record and unpack every edu-meme of trivia I can. I shall not let you down. Watch this space.
‘This is the stewardess speaking: does anyone know how to fly a plane?’
Oh boy, oh boy, oh BOY, am I happy- and for all the wrong reasons. I was going to write about so many things today, but now, now there’s only one game in town, and it is righteous: the news that Jamie’s Dream School, my all time favourite piece of pedagogic TV, is back in the news- and for all the wrong reasons. It’s like Christmas for edusphere bloggers like myself, and this time they’ve served up a turkey so large you could saddle it and ride it through Admiralty Arch.
The House of Commons Education Select Committee ‘regularly meets with representatives from across the education sector, including students, parents, teachers, social workers, inspectors and academics’, or so its website says. And who, in its infinite wisdom has it decided to consult on the realities of mainstream education, and the challenges facing pupils, teachers and educators? Why, the Dons and Alumni of TV’s Dream School of Course! Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous. I am absolutely hugging myself with joy, and not simply because it gives me a chance to return to my favourite fictional subject since Mad Men series V got put on ice.
This is almost as good as when they awarded Henry Kissinger the Nobel Peace Prize. Can you imagine the thinking that inspired this glorious piece of consultation? Education is famously in a permanent state of contention; manhandled and pawed at by every successive administration until it feels soiled and unchaste as a penny-dreadful heroine-in-distress; its aims and successes are never settled. It remains permanently open to speculation and endless adjustment. I’ve written before about the enormous intellectual and professional cavity that exists in education; that because hard science fails to rigorously establish the efficacy of one system over another, and because education itself is subject to redefinition so easily, that any number of oleaginous hoover-salesmen can bound down from the mountain top and claim the magic beans they have in their pocket are actually a beanstalk to academic success. There aren’t enough frying pans for the violence I would do to this clan.
But I had no idea that the cavity was so cavernous that you could reasonably assemble the cast of Gandhi inside it. Has the chair forgotten that Jamie’s Dream School, fabulous in so many ways as it was, was a school of twenty? That they were all post school age (i.e. adults, not school children any more)? That none of the teachers were qualified to teach? So: no students and no teachers. This is a school?
That the Head Master inexplicably had no powers of sanction other than, you know, sad eyes and the ‘I’m worried that we’re failing you,’ talk? That its sponsor was the fantastic but essentially, ‘nothing to do with education’ Jamie Oliver? That the curriculum was a Bizarro World impersonation of what they would study? That they were free to come and go as they pleased? That all the collective expertise of the ‘teachers’- which, focused on a single spot could have bored a hole through the Earth’s Crust- was essentially as useful as an ashtray on a hang glider?
This wasn’t a school. This was a circus of optimism, ambition and benevolence. Who will they ask next? Mr Chips? The cast of Waterloo Road? F*ck me, don’t give them any ideas.
|The cast of TOWEI: not invited to the committee. Yet.|
Of course, this isn’t to say that the people involved have nothing credible to say- Bad Boy D’Abbs is the respected Head of the New Rush Hall group- he’s got as valid an opinion as many, and more than some; Alvin Hall, David Starkey and Lord Winston and Mary Beard are no idiots (the mass of their combined education threatens to create a wormhole in Time and Space). And Lord Jazzy of B seems like a good and wise man. But in the same way that Jamie’s Dream School (the series) was far more successful as a mirror from which educational matters could be usefully teased and discussed (*gives a small girlish cough and winks*), the lessons to be learned from the school itself as an institution could be gleaned from one day in any mainstream comprehensive. The challenges that that Andrew Motion and Simon Callow faced in their lesson laboratories are the same ones that every teacher in the UK (and I imagine beyond) face on a daily basis. If you call a building, twenty kids and a dozen or so untrained teachers in the same place with TV cameras a ‘brave experiment in education’, then I suppose it was.
But it wasn’t, it just wasn’t. It was a well meant attempt to solve the challenges of education that teachers have faced for thousands of years: how do you switch the kids on (answer: reboot switch under the scalp, like Westworld)? How do you maintain order (clue: create it) and so on. Plato, Avicenna, even Maria bleedin’ Montessori, have all had a pop at these questions before. The idea that ambition and warmth and subject expertise were the sole requirements for starting a school was touching, but wrong. It presumes that anyone can have a crack at it. How hard can it be? The school was based on the premise that teaching doesn’t require professional teachers- an axiom that, apparently the Education Select Committee shares.
And of course, it will surprise no one to hear that the first forty five minutes of the hearing will see selected students from the Dream school giving evidence to the Committee. Joy unlimited! That alone is worth my license fee for 2011, and on Tuesday the 21st of June, there’s only one thing my BT box will be set to- the Big Ticket Box Office of the Dream School Kids from Fame. I rejoice, and the world of teaching rejoices. Please, God, let Harlem return to the spotlight; if the BBC has any sense, they’ll revoke their clause prohibiting commercial broadcasting and turn it into a pay-per-view. I have my credit card ready.
‘Amongst the issues the Committee will explore are behaviour and discipline (a recurring theme in the series), curriculum and qualifications (including the importance of creative and practical learning), and teacher training and autonomy (in light of the Government’s Free Schools and Academies programmes).’
|”Jamie’s Dream Hospital, hmmm…”|
And what, I wonder, will be the input from our celebrity panel? Alvin Hall achieved some success by linking maths to their self interest; Mary Beard managed to get them feeling a bit sorry for her; Winston surprised them with Trumpian resources; Starkey took on Connor in what I thought was going to be the world’s weirdest rap battle. They all had some some success, a lot of failure, and all looked like they’d aged a decade through the experience. Hall successfully summed the pupils up as mostly childish and anti-entrepreneurial- full of desire but little ambition or strategy. They should invite Jamie’s Dinner Lady, who memorably chided him, saying, ‘You’ve created a beautiful world here for them, but it doesn’t exist.’ Here is wisdom.
The students’ input should be interesting. But then, student voice is terribly fashionable, isn’t it? Yes, that’s what education has been missing for centuries- the opinions of children. These students were given gratis education for well over a decade, and many of them blew it for all the usual reasons- misbehaviour, boredom and egotism. I despair when I see the flower of our youth offered the wisdom of centuries for free, and turn their noses up at it. It’s sad, and as teachers we work as hard as we can to see that it happens as rarely as possible. But there comes a point when people have to be held responsible for their own educations, when we can no longer say, ‘We’ve let them down’. There comes a point when we all- all of us- have to say, ‘I let myself down. No one else.’ The danger is, of course, that these students will be unable to realise that, for precisely the same reason that they gave school the bum’s rush in the first place- they can’t see how valuable it can be, and they can’t see that the world won’t bend over backwards to kiss their arses. Why should it?
One of Jamie’s themes was that if only the more creative subjects were encouraged, then many children would engage with school in a personal way. And there is truth in this- the thing is, though, that schools already do offer these subjects. As I mentioned in a recent post reply, the last time I checked, we had Music, Art, Design, Textiles, Expressive Arts, English, and that doesn’t even begin to include the enormous levels of creativity and artistry hard wired into the Humanities subjects like RS and Sociology, where interpretation and interaction with the content is vital to success. So where is this enormous deficit in creative and practical learning? It doesn’t exist. Some kids blow these subjects off too, just as surely as they flip the bird to Trigonometry and Boyle’s Law.
The main reason why some kids don’t succeed in school is because they choose not to work and learn. They choose, not life, but something else. They choose to do as they please. Teachers and parents need to help them learn the character assets of self restraint and dedication, but there is only so far that a teacher can make this happen, even a great one. The earlier they learn this the better. If they don’t learn it at an early age, then the gap between their possible learning and their actual learning gets wider and wider, until by the time we get them in secondary, some of them have been habituated into patterns of self-interest and whimsy, seemingly unable to grasp that the world exists as anything other than a nuisance, or as a conduit to their gratification. Kids of two see the world as an enormous solipsistic playground. By the time they hit GCSEs, you’re kind of hoping they’ve grown out of that. Some don’t.
But there may be Solomonic gems from them yet. I often meet kids on the street (because that’s how I roll) who have left school and confess that they mucked about too much, and wish they had done otherwise. It gives me no pleasure to hear this- I’d rather they applied themselves at the time it was most efficient- but at least they have grown that much, and perhaps they can take that lesson into the next phase of their lives. God knows, enough people mature at different rates and find their paths in their twenties or later. Life isn’t over until the flowers hit the lid.
Jamie’s Dream School. Episode 8. Tuesday 21st June, 10:00am. The Parliament Channel. My blog: possibly that night, depending on whether I can calm down enough.
Sympathy for the Devil
Poor old AC Grayling. While it might seem difficult to feel sorrow for the world famous, internationally renowned philosopher (poor him), the poor old pedgogue has been getting such a kicking this week that laboratory Beagles chipped in and sent him a card. His crime appears to be- and I am taking this on advice- that he had the temerity to say that he, and a Brains Trust of Olympian Alpha Eggheads have decided to set up the New Humanities College, in association with the University of London, issuing degrees.
|‘Hitchens, you rotter! This was YOUR idea!’|
To be honest, I’m vaguely at a loss as to see what’s actually so criminally wrong. I even read Terry Eagleton’s sermon and everything. I scanned Twitter (rapidly becoming my go-to source of veracity, even more than Wikipedia and tea leaves). Were I to encourage my neighbour’s elderly Labrador to take a poop in an empty cereal box, garnish it with Dolly Mixture, and advertise it on eBay for a fiver, whose business is it other than mine (and presumably, my by-now uncomfortable neighbour)? Is he hanging around the gates of the local primary school, dangling packets of black heroine? Has he recommended, as one immaculate Kuwaiti political candidate did this week, that conquered foreign nationals be legitimately used as sex slaves? Did he vote for Jean Martyn in the BGT finals?
No, he didn’t. He’s created a University (I believe that the very posh ones get called colleges again, in the same way that surgeons drop the doctor and chest-bump to Mr again)- well a virtual one at least. And the big fuss, it seems is that he’s charging a kidney and a mortgage for it. So what? Who’s business is that? If someone wants to do it, it’s no worse or better than the numerous ‘English Language’ colleges that used to dot the Bayswater road. I believe that setting up commercial training institutions is now common practise. Where’s the harm if Gray-lo wants to bum a pension from the parents of wealthy Brainiacs? Who does it hurt? If it does well, congratulations. If it goes nipples-up, then chalk one up to bad management. Never trust a philosopher with money- they’ll only remind you that value is an abstract, relative concept with no intrinsic substance. Then they’ll beg a fag off you because they’re skint.
Have I missed something? Eagleton apears to be hopping up and down and I can’t quite see why- every one of is arguments is boiling with insubstantiality.
‘If a system of US-type private liberal arts colleges like this one gains ground in Britain, the result will be to relegate an already impoverished state university system to second-class status.’
If the streets were made of trifle, we’d all be wearing wellies. If we all saved up, we could buy the world a coke. If, if, if. Let the rich send their children to Welsh mines, Gretna Green or wherever they want. How on earth does it concern anyone else how they choose to educate their- adult-, remember- children? The state can provide for the VAST majority who can’t afford the Mega-fees of the NCH and its ilk.
Rich people are taxed, I believe. Those taxes help pay for state Universities, schools, and everything else. The rest of their money is theirs to do with as their delicate fancy possesses them. A C Grayling has slogged away in the Logic Mines all his life. Academia is an occupation rich in A-Team magnificence, light in remuneration. Who is to stand between this man and his high end Evening School? How will it even knock a pebble from the edifice of state tertiary education?
Trying to explain himself at the recent talk in Foyles, he was greeted with smoke bombs, preventing him from speaking. Who on Earth do these people think they are defending? Take your smoke bombs, and your righteous, infantile fury and let them detonate in every fee paying educational institution in every high street in every borough, from home tutor centres to adult education classes. Take your placards and your fury to every private school and independent boarder in the country. And ask yourself, Who are we fighting for? It’s enough to make poor ACG think the barbarians are back.
And it’s Two weeks until the Sunday Times Festival Of Education, where both D’Abbs and ACG will be speaking. If anyone gets a smoke bomb out they’ll feel the toe of my shoe.
|‘Turn to the person next to you and tell them what you hope to achieve!’|
Education is a bit like Doctor Who right now. We’ve had Tom Baker, and the unmentionable McCoy, and now it’s regenerating into a new character, and everyone’s hugging each other with excitement about which handsome English character actor will be piloting the blue box. As a result, everyone is (once again) discussing which magic bullet education needs now. If you’re stupid, or worse, if you’re stupid and you believe grim fairy tales like Shift Happens, or most anything by Ken Robinson, you’d be forgiven (almost) for thinking that schools need to be torn apart and rebuilt for the 23rd century, or something, so that we don’t get left behind by Tonga, or the Nordic miracle.
Or perhaps you believe (because you’d believe anything) that children no longer need to be taught content in an age of Google, and that skills, yes skills I say, are the way to transform our lumpen generation into perfected ubermenschen. Maybe you also believe that fairies drop crumbs of sleepy dust into the corners of your eyes at night, and Simon Cowell allows fair and free electoral data to determine the outcomes of his slavish vaudeville. Perhaps, perhaps.
If, like me, you occasionally inhabit the virtual world of people who care about education, you would be struck immediately by how partisan and troubled it all is. There is, it seems, an enormous lack of consensus about not only how to cure the patient, but what, in fact is wrong with it. We all appear to be like medieval sawbones, standing over a pale victim- some recommend leeches, others decry that as barbarism, and recommend water treatments; another swears by arsenic…meanwhile the patient whispers, ‘I’m not dead yet!’ while John Cleese hits him with a frying pan and tells him to keep his mouth shut.
What are the main problems?
1. Everyone has an opinion about what to do with education, except teachers.
Who decides policy? Ministers (and increasingly since the eighties, the PM’s office. Estelle Morris was rumored to have been so disheartened by the disintegration of her office’s power that she left her post). And education is so very, very attractive a department for any incoming regime. The Fascists were the first to realise this properly in the modern era- the Jesuit adage about being given a child and he will give you the man remains as true now as it did when it was first coined; although interestingly enough Napoleon also took a keen interest in education as a means of influencing the next generations. Why? Because it is far easier to influence the minds of children than adults; and because the most obvious way of instituting social change (for fair means or foul) lies in moulding the impressionable minds of those who will succeed you- it is hoped, at least.
Policy is now decided by ministers. The CfBC did an interesting survey on this last year, and found that the main reasons why ministers preferred one policy over another was for the following reasons:
- Ideology- does the policy fit their political world view?
- Personal experience- what kind of schooling did they receive?
- Anecdotal- what kind of stories have they heard from friends and other people they trust?
- Financial reasons- Can we afford it?
- Popularity- no democratic elected representative can ignore the phone-in vote
- International Comparisons- also known as the ‘do they do it in Finland?’ factor. Dear God, give me strength. Are we Finland? No. I consider the case closed. Can we stop going on about f*cking Finland, please?
Research came an unfashionable, embarrassing sickly last. Actually I’m not devastated by this- for reasons I’ll explain- but there is something more interesting here: decisions get made concerning teachers that have almost no input from teachers themselves. Certainly no direct input. I don’t mean the Education Committees that meet every so often with the odd appearance from Sir Alan Steer or the Head of Ofsted, or something. It is, and remains, appalling that so much is decided for teachers, by people who have never taught. By people who have never set foot in a classroom, unless it was being painted for their sainted inspection. By people who have- and I tread softly here- have never experienced what it means to be in a mainstream comprehensive. Personally I have no axe to grind with the independents- if you want to drop a few suitcases of green on your kids’ education, be my guest. But how realistic is it for someone who has never been taught in the state system to have an informed opinion about how such institutions should run?
State education is an enormously different beast from the private sector, in terms of intake, in terms of demographics, of parental support, of pupil motivation, self-image…a whole host of factors that means that state schools are not the same species as private schools, in the same way that lap dancing clubs are not tea rooms, although they might follow a similar economic model (OH, the humanity. the crumbs…) Gaze lovingly across the CVs of the past twenty or so Education ministers and PMs: not an enormous amount of experience in the state sector, I think you’ll find.
So that’s problem number one: state education (and let’s face it, when we discuss education reform, that’s really the sector we’re talking about) is moulded and sculpted by hands unfamiliar with the clay it holds. Have you read Peter Hyman’s excellent (if chilling) ‘One out of Ten’? Hyman was an assistant to Blair (and Brown before him) in the glory days, who later went into teaching and is now, I understand setting up a Free School. Read the book; the accounts about how education policy was created on the hoof, on the way to meetings, in order for it to sound good, so it would impress an audience…it nearly makes you want to give up. It was almost entirely based on expediency and ideology. At no point did anyone say, ‘You know what? Let’s ask some teachers.’ A decade (plus change) later, and teaching was buried under the weight of geological layers of good intentions and late-night ruminations. All created by people who never went to a state school, let alone taught in one.
Does that sound crazy to you? It certainly sounds crazy to me. Of course, we might expect and frankly understand) any government that wanted to claim the right to direct the aims of education, or at least be present at the conception of the values and content that we as a society deliver to the next generation. They are (as our elected reps) paying for it, after all. I’m not suggesting a return to the Secret Garden (although it sounds like it would make a delightful Enid Blyton romp). But increasingly as the years rolled by, successive wallahs from the Ministry of Silly Teaching have thought that they had some jolly good ideas about how classrooms should be run, even down to the minutia of how we teach. And why not? Teaching is a piece of piss. Anyone could do it. Roll up, roll up, come and throw a coconut at the teachers, they love it.
People seem to feel that, because they once sat in a classroom, that they have expertise on not only the nature of teaching, but the professional execution of said profession. Which is funny, because I’ve been teaching for almost a decade now, and I still feel that I have an enormous amount to learn- and I’m regarded as being a safe pair of hands, frankly. Still, I’m sure that as long as you have a rough idea which way to hold an IWB open, you can have a crack at it. Perhaps I’ll pop into the nearest car workshop and tell the grease monkeys how to strip an engine, shall I? Or maybe I should drop into the next cabinet meeting on the spending review and tell them how to balance the books. Like I say, piece of piss.
|‘I have seen the promised land. No student voice.’|
Net result? Well meaning but inane pieces of professional intrusion that simply take time away from teachers doing what we get paid the big bucks to do- teach.. Such as:
- Three part lessons
- Group work
- Independent learning
- Thinking skills
- Compulsory starters and plenaries
- Showing evidence of progress…within a lesson
- Learning styles
- Student voice
To name but a few. All of them charming. All of them brainless, at least as the dogma they have become in education. If I hear another NQT fretting because he’s spending more than three minutes talking at the kids, and he’s worried that he’s not allowing them to interact with the material more -if he is allowed to actually teach any- then I think I’ll spanner myself. There exists within education, and enormous intellectual vacuum, which is easily filled by thousands of maggoty consultant Charlies, who are often closer to vile Shamanic conmen than actual real people.
Which brings me to the next point:
2. I bet this’ll work.
Education, despite every attempt to do so, simply resists attempts to be reduced to the state of a natural science. Although scientists have for over a century and a half been trying to apply the empirical scientific technique to education, it won’t be manhandled that way. Social science is not comparable to natural sciences. Natural sciences are easy to control for, to randomise, to double blind, the whole nine yards. Social sciences suffer from what Feynman referred to as having a high causal density. In other words, it’s incredibly hard to see if your new technique is having a result or not.
Example: you want to see if using open questions aids student learning. So you set them a test before you start; then you use the questioning technique you want to study, and then you set them another test. Then you see if it worked. Simple?
|‘No, I won’t let your people go through to the next round.’|
Of course not. You can never know if they were learning in a better way- perhaps they were all on the verge of a breakthrough already- and you can never know if your new technique was the thing that caused a difference, even if any is recorded. After all, you set them different tests to analyse the potential differences. Perhaps they understood the wording of the question better? And so on.
Social science has yet to provide any significant predictive powers to practitioners in the classroom. This maddens bad scientists, who want to claim it has the same status as biology or physics. It does not. It is, at best, a commentary on humanity, and context is all. Of course, good social scientists know this. It’s only the people who commission research, the ones who have a vested interest in the answer, who corrupt the process.
As I say, into this intellectual vacuum has stepped an army of creepy gurus, school messiahs and experts, whose expertise usually runs to a degree in psychology rather than any experience of teaching. I like to point out at his stage that John Dewey, the Great Satan himself was an elementary school teacher for a few years before he jacked it in and decided to rewrite the book on how children should learn and be taught. The internet is full of them- ghouls who charge for their services, whose literature is dripping with promises about how kids really learn, how schools really work. They keep me awake at nights. Some of them have even taught (or more often, ‘Have taught in some of the hardest schools in the world, and devised a simple three step plan for student success!’ or some such Lovecraftian horror.)
Social science is useful in teaching when it seeks to discover what is going on in classroom; when it seeks to discover what we should do, it treads on Holy ground. Remove your shoes, scientist.
This intellectual vacuum is also occupied by another plague: the social reformer. They see schooling as the answer to every ill of society, and believe that if they can educate children into appropriate moral and social habits, then as adults they will inhabit a collective space of utopian realised bliss. Teen pregnancies too high? Teach contraception in PAL. Nobody voting anymore? Teach them Citizenship (which is a child without a father if ever I saw one). In fact, Citizenship is the perfect example of this syndrome; nobody was crying out for Citizenship; no teacher, no student ever thought, you know what we’re missing? A new subject that teaches us all about the Houses of Parliament and local government. Well, Citizenship has been running for a decade or two. Have we seen an improvement in civic responsibility? Or even something as measurable as voting proportions? I’ll give you a clue; the answer isn’t yes.
If society has ills, then school cannot be the cure for those ills. We are there to teach children their great cultural and intellectual inheritance. As adults and role models we of course participate in their socialisation as moral beings, but this isn’t something you can directly impart, unless you fancy living in Sparta or Nazi Germany. Well, DO YOU?
So here’s my manifesto for schools:
- Improve teacher training for behavior management
- Remove any constraints on schools excluding unruly students (while retaining an expectation that a school should be able to justify its decision and show due process)
- Open (or reopen) special units for excluded children where they can receive the care and education they need without perpetually ruining the education of millions of other children. These units can be on-site or off- and reintegration can be an option if improvement is shown, but shouldn’t be expected as an inevitability.
- Drop the proposed Teacher Code of Conduct, so long as it includes requirements upon a teacher’s personal life. Such requirements, if they are not covered by law, are no one’s business but the teachers. We don’t need further instructions about what to do.
- Retain the teaching colleges. They might be flawed, but at least they try to uphold an intellectual rigour in the profession. Learning on the job might work for a very, very select few, but it’s lambs to the slaughter for many. And it guarantees that the teacher will routinely only be trained to the level of the best teacher training them in school. This denies the teacher the intellectual inheritance of his professional forbearers.
- Impose an inspection requirement of minimum levels of behavior on schools; schools failing to meet required standards to undergo ‘support’ to restore order and authority in classrooms, so that children can learn in a safe and structured environment. Of course, by support, I mean the kind of professional ass-kicking that the doublethink word usually implies.
- Stop pretending that various silly articles of non-science have any empirical validity at all- learning styles, my giddy aunt. Stop telling us how to teach, for God’s sake.
- Allow teachers to teach any way they jolly please, so long as results are reasonably good.
- Stop using levels. Christ almighty. And sublevels….you might have to tie me down in a minute.
- Drop FFT data from individual pupil’s performance targets. It’s not what it’s for, yet schools till use it as gospel, and not the awkward hoodoo- voodoo it actually is. I imagine people who work at the FFT dress up as astrologers and cut open chicken entrails to read the signs, the signs. Because that’s what they bloody well seem to do. ‘This child will grow up to be a beauty…and a great leader…and have a 65% chance of level six in his year 9 tests, arr…’
- Put a bullet through the head of SEAL. And Citizenship. And Thinking Skills, for that matter.
- Make senior managers from schools all the way up to ministry level who object to any of this teach for a dozen lessons a week in a challenging school- and not their own- to remind them what it’s actually like dealing with difficult classes without adequate support.
The thing that really angers me is that there are so many people who want to stick their oar into education, all of them kind hearted, I’m sure, and all of them coming from a beautiful place in their own minds. But they remind me of Jamie Oliver in his ill-fated Dream School. He thought that all they needed was love and inspiration- which no one objects to in a fuzzy, general way, but good sentiments aren’t enough to teach children. They need structure and love simultaneously. they need to be taught to restrain themselves as well as express their beautiful inner butterflies. The people who often run education, who shout loudest about education, who have influence and clout in education- are often the ones who know least about it.
And the scary thing is that they see themselves as liberators. They think they’re Moses, come to free the slaves. They don’t realise that they’re actually Pharaoh, keeping them in bondage. They don’t know anything about teaching.
Well, I am a teacher. I teach.
And I say, let my people Go.