Tom Bennett

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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Emotional Intelligence. It doesn’t actually exist, does it?

I’m with stupid.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) has appeared on my radar this weekend, as a few teachers asked me the best way to teach it. The problem is:

  • I don’t think we can teach it. 
  • I’m fairly sure we can’t assess such a thing anyway. 
  • And I’m also pretty sure that it doesn’t exist anyway. 

So, you know, that makes it rather hard to advise on it.

 Why do we want to be arbiters of children’s emotions? The moral flaw in the EI argument is that it presumes a level of authority over the individual that we might genuinely balk at accepting: authority over their feelings. Who am I to tell someone else to feel? How long, for example, is it appropriate to grieve? If someone loses their life’s companion, and then starts to drink, or mope, or hide from the world, we might hope and advise them to get busy living again, but really, who gets to decide what the appropriate reaction is? If someone subjected people I love to torture, I hope I would have the integrity to avoid rampaging in revenge on them; but unless you’ve been in that situation, what is appropriate? I have the right to tell children, within prescribed limits, how to behave in school; as a matter of practicality, safety and efficiency. But should I be able to tell them how to feel? When I am not even sure myself what such a thing would mean?

This level of assumed expertise is perhaps one of the biggest flaws with those who claim we should teach EI. How many of us would say that we were experts in human interaction? That we understand the moods of others to an expert level? That we knew the appropriate emotional response to any given situation? Some schools have begun to teach lessons in Happiness, as if the solution to such things had been cracked, codified and reduced to a learnable structure. Good luck to them. How many instructors in such things, would say they were happy? On a scale of ten? And what would such a scale mean anyway, when happiness is an internally experienced, subjective quality. What is my six compared to your four? How would we know? This is the realm of the aesthete and the moralist; it is certainly not the realm of the scientist.

There is no evidence that emotional intelligence is something that even exists, because there is no agreed definition of what it means. There is certainly no evidence, as Goleman claims there is, that it is the polar opposite from IQ, and that it is something separate form it. Many critics have pointed out that EI as Goleman defines it, is simply a skill; a correspondent of general intelligence and perceptiveness- I have high EI when I can recognise behaviours that signify emotional states in others, and I have good reactions to those emotional states in as much as I react in a way that seem sot benefit myself and the other person concerned.

There is no evidence that it can be taught formally. Even the DfE has rubbed its eyes and woken up from the dream:


In 2010, the DfE commissioned another piece of research, The SEAL Program in Secondary Schools, by Humphrey, Lendrum and Wigelsworth.  The aim of this research was to evaluate the impact of the SEAL program on measurable outcomes. Its findings were hard reading for anyone interested in SEAL: it said that implementation of SEAL had been ‘mixed’, with resistance from some schools (fancy that). The assessment of impact was even more damning:

‘Finally, in terms of impact, our analysis of pupil-level outcome data indicated that SEAL (as implemented by schools in our sample) failed to impact significantly upon pupils’ social and emotional skills, general mental health difficulties, pro-social behaviour or behaviour problems.’

Which is social science-ese for ‘Three hours in the oven, it’s a turkey.’ Want more?

‘In relation to school-level outcome data, our analyses indicated that SEAL (as implemented by schools in our sample) failed to have a positive impact, although the results were less straightforward here. Analysis of school climate scores indicated significant reductions in pupils’ trust and respect for teachers, liking for school, and feelings of classroom and school supportiveness during SEAL implementation.’

Everyone’s a winner, I’m sure you’ll agree. At the time of writing (late 2012), support for the SEAL program has melted like snow, but like zombie facts, that refuse to die no matter how discredited, zombie attitudes persist. The language, the vocabulary of emotional intelligence lingers on in much school discourse; it only takes a brief search of the internet to find scores of thousands of mentions of it in relation to schools. A cursory search of school websites and prospectuses will find EI trumpeted as a major part of the school ethos or vision. Ofsted reports are still heavy with the language of EI. This perhaps indicates that once adopted systematically as part of a new dogma, even the removal of formal recognition fails to remove all traces of the roots, once they have taken hold.

Emotional intelligence, appropriately enough, isn’t rational. It’s the well-meant invention of people who believe that all difficulties of the human condition can be solved directly, by formal instruction. I don;t believe they can. In fact, in some ways, the pain is part of who we are.

Department of Justice and Education criticised for tough new rookie Judge assessment

‘I can hear you chewing gum in there!’

There was outrage last night as Chief Judges in the Hall of Learning approved a harsh new system of formal assessment for rookie teachers. Dubbed ‘Block War’, prospective teachers will be paired with a more experienced mentor and assigned to a day in one of Mega-City’s toughest schools, with the simple message- last a day.

Judge Dredd, one of the most prominent advocates of this form of in-at-the-deep-end training, only had this to say yesterday: ‘It’s all the deep end,’ before arresting the reporter for obstructing a GTP program.

The program, one of many new reforms brought in under the coalition of chief Judges Cameron, Klegg and Fergee, has prompted angry reactions from many teachers, who have accused the Chiefs of letting the profession down.

‘This system is completely without justification,’ said one blogger from Stephen Twigg block, who didn’t want to be named for fear he would be transported to the prison planet of Titan and transformed into a cyborg drone.

‘Yes, bike cannons WERE necessary.’

‘It’s simply a pass or fail; not even a chance to endlessly resit, like with the aptitude tests. We need something more fluid, more nuanced, that nurtures teachers into the world’s greatest profession. Training Judges in ridiculous, outdated 21st century skills like unarmed combat, using the Lawgiver pistol, and field medicine, has no place in today’s 22nd century civilian war zones. Instead, we believe Judges will be best off learning how to develop perps’ emotional intelligence, possibly using their Thinking Helmets to work out a cooperative, collaborative solution that catalyses independent citizenry.’

When asked what evidence or experience he possessed  that such teaching techniques actually prevented Judges from being kidnapped and brutalised, or assisted the prevention of the 17 serious crimes reported to the Hall of Justice every second, the anonymous blogger was less candid.

‘I think I know what I’m talking about; I’ve seen a documentary about these blocks. The people there just need to be allowed the freedom to blossom into beautiful butterflies.’

Judge Gove is doing ten in the cubes.

Wilshaw ‘Not Satan’ shock dunking reveals: why good teachers needn’t take umbrage

Sir Michael Wilshaw (artist’s impression)

Did you read the latest? The Head of OfSTED claimed that teachers were lazy, bolted on the bell like Usain Bolt on poppers, and wants teachers to earn salary hikes by working their fingers into a jammy paste, like white mice barelling round an exercise wheel. What a bastard.

Except he didn’t. If you read how his interview was reported, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he had, though. There is an uncomfortable spectacle in debate, and one that I see regularly in my sixth formers: polarisation, then calcification, as what could be an exploration of the truth devolves into the more comfortable territory of binary brawling. Wishaw has become a victim of this, and some now can’t listen to the man without hearing the words ‘I hate teachers and all they stand for’ buzzing in their ears like reverse subliminal messages from Old Nick on a Judas Priest album.

A cursory examination of what he actually said, rather than a game of Chinese Whisper outrage, reveals something quite different. His deractors claim that he advises teachers who leave at 3 to have their pay capped, when he didn’t say anything like it. This literal interpretation is frankly, a bit simple, and makes me worry about these people being allowed to hold scissors. His remarks are clearly aimed at teachers who do just enough to get by, instead of enough to do well.

‘Michael, are you SURE this is strictly necessary?’

Here is wisdom; everywhere I’ve worked, every institution and industry, has been populated by a diverse range of abilities and aptitudes. I would say that in teaching, most teachers are pretty damn good; that there are a few who are superheroes; that there is a broad body of dedicated pros slogging their guts out for the greater good. And then there is a small minority who, like in any workplace, who are there for the wrong reasons; who don’t plan their lessons enough; who dodge every chore; who mark only when Hailey’s Comet runs a ring round us. The ones who don’t give a damn. Every teacher knows teachers like this, and if you don’t then you are fortunate or lying.

Now, as the head of a body designed to inspect and regulate education (much as I rail against its functions in many ways) he is surely entitled to set a bar; to lay out his stall and say ‘THIS high, f*ckers.’ Some people apear to have mistaken him for the Candy Man, or someone who will rub talcum powder into their tummies after they shower. He (to the best of my knowledge) is not this man. He is the arse-kicker; he is Chief arse-kicker. His job isn’t just about saddle-punting, but it is partially this. He is not the Cheerleader; he is not the Teacher’s Champion. His job is to draw boundaries for schools and say, ‘That’s where you stand.’

Wishaw, yesterday.

True confessions: I rate the guy. Unlike many rentagobs that saturate the edusphere, he actually did it; he walked the Green Mile of tough teaching. He ran a school in a hard area that acted as real engine of social mobility for kids who, had they been left in other circumstances, might have fulfilled the prohecies of their statistical destiny. Yet even his success with Mossbourne is explained away by those who just can’t accept that his way might be right in his school, or many schools similar. Gove and his coven are often accused of ‘ideology driven politics’ but I see just as much of that in the Mossbourne deniers. It’s madness. They claim the intake is weighted towards the wealthy, when in reality the Free School Meals stats are breathtaking; they claim the staff are young and unburdened with familial responsibility, when I know from personal experience that this isn’t true AND would that matter anyway? What’s wrong with hiring new NQTs? God knows they need a job too.

Claims that he is a media disaster are made by people who endlessly misquote him, creating a media disaster. It’s like pointing at someone and then berating them for being attention seekers. The media does with him what it will; lazy journalists will draw whatever caricature they think will make the best story; lazy media commentators (especially ones who have never dealt with the media) will claim that he ‘should have known’ the flack his comments would generate, and then generate the flack without, it seems, reading what he said. Or being aware of the irony.

I wouldn’t mind, but education needs more than this pointless pontificating; at the bottom of this invented media circus of froth and foam, are the kids. And from what I’ve seen, kids in the kinds of schools we need to be most concerned about- low income areas- need the medicine this man is prescribing: boundaries; consequences; tough love; high expectations; teachers who can do this. And if we care about social mobility, maybe we should listen.

Twilight of the GCSEs; new balls, please

Not waving, but marking

Is anything much happening in the world of education? I’ve been finishing a book, so I guess someone would have told me if anything had ha-

Ah. Did someone order the Ragnarok? 

Michael Gove appears to have been inhabited by the demons of Legion. Rarely have I seen a politico in such a balls-out, damn-your-eyes-for-a-Christian mood. They call D-Cam Flashman? I see more of Tom Brown’s dastardly polyglot nemesis in the eyes of our current SoS than in the countenance of our fey premier. I can imagine him, plotting in his hollowed out volcano underneath the Isle of Dogs, chuckling away with Anthony Seldon as they dip kettle chips into the tears of martyrs and wonder how they can annoy the Guardian any more. ‘And then,’ he’ll say, wiping away the tears of mirth, ‘And then we’ll make them memorise the periodic table. CAN YOU IMAGINE THEIR FACES? AHAHAHAHAHAHAH.’

‘Consultation?’ he’ll say in my Holodeck version of reality, ‘Consultation? How’s about this for consultation?’ before wiping his undercarriage with the National Curriculum. ‘I consulted my f*cking bollocks, how d’you like THEM apples?’

I don’t think that Gove holds much truck with consultation. Perhaps you noticed? But, as others have pointed out, people only complain about consultative processes when they disagree with the outcome. The assumption is that consultation will come to the correct answer. If you have ever consulted anyone you will know that this is not inevitable. Also, from my limuted vantage point in my billionaire skyscraper you will know that there is as much consensus of opinion in education as there is in the Tower of Babel.

I won’t weep at the final act of GCSEs. They’re as fit for purpose as the Whisky-flavoured condoms in the bogs of the nightclub I used to run, that said in microprint on the back ‘Not suitable as a barrier protection; novelty only.’

1. Module resits. This led to the practice of students knowing that, however badly they did, there was a safety net. But the safety net became a crutch; rather than a method for fixing students with bad days and personal issues, it became a snooze alarm. ‘Five more minutes,’ they thought. ‘THEN I’ll try really hard.’ Take them away, and what you have is the examination equivalent of the last bus home, a vehicle that gets chased with the ardour of a pervert, when its eaerlier incarnations are ignored and undervalued.

2. Adios coursework and controlled assessments. Thank the stars; finally. There is no mechanism more liable to encourage the worst excesses of human nature, than the chance to craft an assessment with the help of others. Except as every teacher knows, the help often went far beyond help and became plagiarism. Cheating, in other words. Of course, most teachers are above that, but it’s no secret that some weren’t. To think otherwise is childish. There are teachers who would coach, coach, coach kids into pieces of work that only possessed a fraction of the student’s DNA. That’s one of the biggest scandals in education in the last few decades, and I include the GCSE English hoo-hah. Unfortunately, people often only complain about injustice when it disadvantages them.

3. Introducing a high stakes terminal exam. Yes, yes, and yes to this. There is very little that an exam cannot assess; knowledge, understanding, skills, whatever tickles you. People frowning on ‘facts’ as ‘merely facts’ make me wonder when we started to get so stupid. You can’t understand anything without facts; knowledge only exists as knowledge OF something, understood in context. If you believe that they’re second rate learning objectives because of, well, Google, then you have displayed the kind of stupidity that collapses civilisations.

Give kids an exam- of a manageable length- and watch them study for it. Exams are not impartial observers; they affect the outcome. Kids work for exams; here is wsidom. We should take advantage of that. Ask your average student if they work more or less hard when they know they have a test, and see what they say.

So actually, I’m pretty groovy with the whole Swan Song of GCSEs. They were soiled and sodden by one-dimensional league tables, until their whole purpose became to leap frog themselves every year, displaying the kind of linear, utopian annual growth that the pigs of Animal Farm could only dream of. Production, comrades, was constantly up. The regime goes from strength to strength.

Except it wasn’t. Were kids getting smarter? No. No, they weren’t. Were the exams getting easier. Oh God, yes, of course they were. Compare them. Just do it. Were schools pouring kids into over-equivalated vocational subjects that were worth far too much? Yes they were. Were exam boards pimping themselves as ‘the easy one’ like painted ladies in a port? Why, yes, we have them on camera. Both front benches agree on this.

What we get next might be very different. But what we had was a discredit to our profession, and any teacher who cares about children’s education, and not merely league table power-ups, should be glad to see their interrogation and demise.

Cheerio, GCSEs. Don’t let the door slam you on the ass when you leave.