Tom Bennett

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Dear Santa Gove: this Christmas I would like…

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‘The cheeky f*cker!’

Dear Santa Gove

I know a lot of people say that you’re not real; I know a lot of people don’t believe in you at all. But in the spirit of Christmas, here’s my wish -list for the teaching profession (and myself) this year. I’ve addressed it to Mossbourne Academy, because that’s where you seem to be the most.

1. An OfSTED inspection followed by a Section 48 Inspection where I get graded Outstanding each time OH YEAH I FORGOT I ALREADY GOT THAT THIS WEEK DAMN BETTER NOT MENTION IT

Sorry, got that out of my system now, I promise.

2. A unified Exam Board, or at least exam boards that don’t whorishly lie back and whisper how easy they are, to tempt a stream of suitors into their boudoirs. The exam system has been exposed this week, in a series of shocking revelations that many teachers, myself included, can only describe as No Shit, Sherlock? Exam boards compete with each other for market share, you say? Surely not! This is the worst kept secret in education. I used to mark for different exam boards, and I was shocked by how easy it was to be recruited- fill out a form or two and you’re in. Training was all online, and moderation was done in a suspiciously positive way (‘I think you’re being a bit harsh’ etc). What was even odder was that I was asked- repeatedly- to mark papers in areas where I had clearly expressed that I wasn’t qualified. Of course, I declined, but it doesn’t say much for the ‘stringency’ that an exam spokesman expressed this week. Sir, you have BALLS in your mouth.

The new AQA reps, yesterday.

38,000 papers in England and Wales were regraded this year after teachers asked. 38,000! When 100 people say you’re dead, lie down. When 38,000 people say you’re dead….well, lie down, I guess.

I’ve already blogged about grade inflation (here), but I can confirm a few things: I have heard of examiners passing on ‘tips’ at ‘training sessions’, and I know teachers who have been told what ‘might’ come up. But even without empirical evidence, it stands to reason, by all that’s holy, that when you have several boards all selling their products, the pressure to compete, however fractionally, is overwhelming. They would have to be moral paragons NOT to do it- that, or not-for-profit organisations. Aw, shucks, they are. It is planning for disaster to create a situation where boards compete; it is the point where the market must be absent; when quality is required, not utility or quantity. Capitalism is a fabulous tool for achieving many things, but when it comes to values like integrity and academic rigour, it can f*ck off.

They can’t massively outbid each other, of course- too obvious. So they slack off, year by year, eyeing each other like perverts in a car park, careful not to lunge ahead of the pack. Which would result in a gradual year-on-year improvement in grades. Goodness, which is exactly what we’ve got.

So, Santa, nationalise the buggers please.

2. Stop worrying about Finland, for Christ’s sake. Finland is Finland. Let them worry about how they teach their kids. Stop comparing grades with other countries, like some anxious willy-watcher in the Leicester Square lavvies. How on earth can different country’s grades be compared when- and I say this with some patience- WE DON’T SIT THE SAME EXAMS. I’m no statistician (I use tongs rather than handle the filthy thing) but the last time I looked, trying to divide bananas by porcupines simply left you looking stupid, and your fruit bowl looking somewhat ghoulish. Pisa says we’re falling behind. Others, like the TIMMS tests say we’re just dandy.

‘Now I like Ed Balls….’

Now, I like Pisa. But I also like TIMMS. But which is better? There’s only one way to find out…..

FIGHT!!!

CHILL the FUCK OUT about Pisa, Santa.

3. Remove the requirement that schools that exclude pupils have to suffer their exam grades in the hereafter, AND have to fund their places at their destination schools. You say you’re interested in behaviour? Well, Holy Smokes, me too (check my nick-name if you don’t believe me). That’s because there is NOTHING more pressing in education right now than helping teachers and schools get behaviour sorted. And to be fair, you’ve made many encouraging moves in this direction. But then you blow a hole in the bloody boat by adding that cowardly clause at the end. There is nothing more certain to discourage a school from excluding a pupil than the treat of financial impediment. Schools are propelled by money, and they will do many, many things before they will wave good bye to a £5,000 cheque, even if it does mean holding on to a mentalist and ruining it for others who value education enough not to tell their teachers to go fuck themselves.

4. While you’re at it, how about we INVEST in a few special schools, eh? All these pupils I want to exclude (and it isn’t many) need to go somewhere. Right now they just get passed round LEAs like some particularly vile version of pass the parcel, only instead of a parcel it’s a dog turd.

They need somewhere meaningful to go. That means specialist provision, in institutions run by people who are trained to deal with extreme spectrum behaviour AND are good teachers. Yes, that DOES sound expensive, doesn’t it? Tough. If you’re interested in social mobility (and I am) then you’ll want to prevent all those lovely drop-outs turning into NEETS, and you know how many NEETS end up with the title ‘Prisoner’ before their name, don’t you? You know, those frightful coves smashing up Tescos last Summer? Them.

5. Brainwave, Santa! How about we acknowledge that automatic deference from children is a long-gone social institution, and train teachers properly, which means in SCHOOLS and UNIVERSITY together. And focus on behaviour management just as much as bloody Thinking Hats and Multiple Intelligences, for God’s sake.

IT’S THE ONLY LANGUAGE EXAMINERS UNDERSTAND

6. While we’re at it, let’s have an end to the stream of bullshit and cant that pours from academia into teaching. Let’s put social science back where it belongs- as a commentary on the human condition, not pretending it’s a predictive natural science. That way we can stop guff like learning styles and Brain Gym before they even get to the classroom, and we can mothball catechisms of the education establishment like the Cult of Group Work and the Three Part Lesson. Just because we want to put a genie in a bottle, doesn’t mean it can be done. Just because we can measure something doesn’t make it important.

7. Also, a pony.

That’ll do for now. I may think of some other things I’d like. If I do, I’ll let you know. Merry Christmas.

Tom


10 Comments

  1. Joe says:

    Tom,
    This did make me smile…a lot. And I enjoyed your recent post on the Bible but I'm going to have to go all Old Fogey on you and remind you that you just can't seriously expect to a) command children's respect and b) manage their inappropriate behaviour, if you yourself fall back on four letter humour as a failsafe.

  2. Tom Bennett says:

    Glad you enjoyed it Joe, thanks. Going to have to disagree on the cussing, though. I don't swear in my classes, because I don't want THEM to, but there's a time and a place for trash talk, and my blog is a space for my thoughts, some of which are sweary. I'm not exactly Jerry Sadowitz!

    T

  3. I agree with Joe. Stop being such a foul-mouthed motherfucker.

  4. Joe says:

    Tom & Andrew,
    Still smiling…but nothing online is ring fenced!
    Joe

  5. Steve says:

    Tom, you had me at 'hello', er I mean Santa Gove.

    Love your blog. I've just set one up, you might like my 'leaving teaching' post.

    As I commented on someone else's blog yesterday, I have so much anger and frustration against Gove but I can't start to think about it until I get over the fact that he has the most punchable face I have ever seen on another human being.

    The exam board thing last week was hilarious.

    I look forward to reading more.

    Steve

    http://www.Stephendcook.blogspot.com

  6. gillibob says:

    Couldn't have said it better myself- Gov! I mean Gove, oh no i am confused…goes off to sit exam on who is/what makes an educational minister for Govt.

    Upon revision:
    Finds that they will let anyone in, who fills in a resume and sits on back benches for a couple of years. Shocking standards!!

  7. Deirdre says:

    Brilliant and very true.
    However, you forgot to add the cuddly toy!!

  8. Anonymous says:

    I've really enjoyed your blog over the last few months, even though I don't agree with some of what you say. I really didn't like the dog turd comment. Sounds like you're saying that children and young people who need skilled care and education are basically shite. Perhaps this isn't what you meant?

    Yours faithfully,

    KL

  9. Tom Bennett says:

    @KL

    Good God, of course not. My charming metaphor points out the way in which schools actively seek to avoid recruiting excluded children. My point is exactly the opposite- I want them to go somwhere their needs CAN be met, not just passed around from one inappropriate venue to the next. If you read my posts, you'll see it's a theme I return often to.

  10. Tom Bennett says:

    @ Gilibob, Deirdre and Steve

    Thank you all, and Merry Christmas

    T

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