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Shazam! Teacher training, Teach First, and Gove’s balls of marble.

‘The wisdom of Solomon! The strength of Hercules! The stamina of Atlas! The power of Zeus! The courage of Achilles! The speed of Mercury!’

In the old Fawcett comic strip, Captain Marvel, the eponymous Olympian, magically embodied the six greatest qualities of crypto-history’s six greatest heroes, which conveniently formed a mononymous acrostic in a way beloved of lazy english teachers setting homework everywhere. (Seriously: stop telling small children about this form of poetry. You condemn teachers to a stream of homeworks that look like this:

Brilliant
Intelligent
Lovely
Laughs
Yummy

You SEE what Billy did there? DO YOU SEE? Give me strength. I usually smile, and say, ‘Hahaha how long did this take you on the way in?’ And we all laugh about it years later when they’re robbing me on a night bus. Acrostic make wonderful mnemonics, and for fans of obsessive-compulsive disorders, and pedantry, I’m sure it’s a hoot. For twelve year olds: less instructive. I’m sure some will defend it as an entry-level introduction to poetry, which is why I always start my kids off with John Cage’s ‘4’ 33”, as an introduction to nursery rhymes.)

But I digress, like a turkey stalling for time on Christmas Eve.

I suspect our very own wizard, Michael Gove, has been at the educational pick and mix too, judging by this speech he gave at the National College annual conference this week. ‘The High Expectations of Singapore! The Success of Finland! The Exanple of Charter Schools in New York! The Transformation of London!’

Which spells ‘Heset’. Hmmmm. MICHAEL GOVE ARE YOU F*CKING WITH MY MIND? See, this is how loonies get switched on to the Bible Code, or hearing messages from The Horned One in the lyrics of Judas Priest, or Katy Perry (especially her last hit Natas evol I)

It read…HESET.

Of course, any announcement by an incumbent Education Secretary will provoke gales, raging from hurricane hysteria to squalls of support. So what’s the loveable rascal saying now?

1. Isn’t London doing jolly well?

Is it? He quotes the stat that 62% of London kids leave with 5 A*-Cs, compared with 58% nationally. So far, so what; a 4% lead won’t moisten any seats. But he ‘digs deeper’ to reveal that while nationally 35% of Free School Meal kids get 5 A*-C (including English and Maths) in London that figure is 52% Hooray! LET FREEDOM RING FROM THE HILLS OF HACKNEY ROAD TO THE SWAMPS OF HAMPSTEAD. He points to this miracle as being borne out of Academies, Outstanding schools supporting others, and ‘a focus on improving the teaching- including Teach First.’

Except that this just doesn’t follow. Regular visitors will know my pet saw; that in educational science, figures mean what you want them to mean, and linking cause and effect is as easy and  plastic as Playdo. If, every Saturday morning I wake up with a sore head, do I conclude that Saturday mornings cause sore heads? Or might I look to the pile of empty Talisker bottles that decorate my Ottoman? It’s telling that he points to a metric that he replaced- the 5 A*-C bar, because that success criteria was famously gamed by schools in a Darwinian scramble for better and better results. One way this was achieved was by the adoption of BTECs and other qualifications, with their massively disporportionate equivalence to GCSEs. And where were these qualifications targeted? The D/C boundaries, and below. More capable kids didn’t reap the same proportionate benefits, of course.

‘Oscillate you hip and don’t take pity
Me want fi see you get live upon the riddim when me ride.’

And schools aggressively targeted the C/D borderline kids, in one of recent educational history’s most vile campaigns of injustice. Did you think schools were for everyone? Not a bit- bright kids could swim already, the least able could go drown in a shitty barrel because they would anyway, and the nearly-there’s were VIPs, invited and goaded into interventions that must have made them feel, if nothing else, jolly special.

So while we can all pat ourselves on the backs for such a lovely FSM bottom line, let’s not ignore what the figures conceal. After all, the coalition has successfully argued that schools were gaming the system, and changed the rules. And schools will bend themselves to that new order, and what is not measured will ultimately be ignored, as it always is.

There is another debate about academies, but let’s not pretend that the figures show that they are grade-boosting engines of destiny. There are great ones and terrible ones, just as there are champions in the state sector, as well as chumps. The irony is that the more prescriptive the state system got (and let’s be frank, it was getting to the point where we were nearly having our urine tested), the more damage to teaching resulted. Try and make every teacher and school fit into the same cookie cutter and see how far it gets you. Oh, we have. Ah.

This government is often accused of being both tyrannical despots of dictatorialism AND dismantlers of a state system that unifies and directs practice. Which is it? We appear to be run by Bruce Banner. There’s an odd two-lane system in education right now- the national curriculum is being reworked at the same time as schools are being encouraged/ strong-armed out of the LEAs. The message seems to be ‘ACADEMY STATUS WILL SET YOU FREE FROM THE TYRANNIES AND INEQUITIES OF……THE THINGS WE’LL TELL YOU TO DO.’ What is going on?

Let me be clear- I think schools should have more autonomy; I think we’ve reached a point of synthesis in education- the internal stresses of the last few decades have to break something somewhere. But the argument that they result in better grades simply won’t do- there isn’t enough data yet; and claiming that they are the philosopher’s stone to low grades just isn’t scientifically tenable, when there are so many other possible explanations for grade improvement.

And that’s without even beginning to get into the debate of whether grade progression is, or should be the main way that schools are assessed externally.

I’M MICHAEL FUCKING GOVE, MATE

2. Teach First: better, faster, stronger, harder.

Then he claims that Teach First teachers have made a small but significant impact. I’m calling this one out, as I was involved in a similar predecessor program called Fast Track. Where’s the evidence that it’s building the teachers of tomorrow? The Fast Track was an expensive recruitment campaign, and most of my peers from my cohort have long since buggered off (or ‘taught first’, I should say…). The expectation seems to be that we’ll have better teachers if we aggressively recruit top-flight graduates and those with business experience. But while I always applaud any drive to ensure that teachers are as academic as possible, it’s not a sufficient condition of being a better teacher, above a certain level of certification. And as for business experience, I am reminded of the Troops to Teachers-style recruitment currently being rolled out. It’s not that great graduates, business managers or ex-soldiers wouldn’t be great teachers – I’m sure many would be, and are- but that the skill sets don’t overlap in a particularly meaningful way. 

Besides, I can’t find any data that suggests that TF teachers have done more or less to change education than any other cohort. Some, I bet, are total stars; some are Smeagols, no doubt. Funny that. Just like everyone else. And also, the training is punishing; all on-the-job, where the stakes couldn’t be higher. It’s a route (like GTP) that suits some, but is a devilishly risky way to teach a teacher. Here’s some deep water, dive in. Oh dear, etc.

Oh, and I gather the drop-out rate for TFs isn’t too impressive, which isn’t surprising given the incredibly stressful way they’re introduced to teaching. Yet the GTP route is being fazed out, which had many of the same stresses and strains.


3. Bursaries for highly qualified teachers to train.

I have no complaints about this (surprisingly enough), as I see no harm with putting incentives in front of prospective teachers with better degrees. Which isn’t to say it’s a necessary condition for a great teacher (see previous), but a good asset to have rather than not. Especially in shortage subjects. Eeh, I’m old enough to remember when there were bursaries for RS teachers, ah… good times.


4. Teaching Schools.

An aim to have 500 of these by the end of Parliament (I presume he means this session, but you never know; they might be dismantling the Old Lady or something. The Queen’s been looking shifty lately, that’s all I’m saying). The Teaching School Network: applications of this were so high, sayeth Gove, that he was ‘blown away, man’. I applaud and fret about this: too many teachers enter the profession knowing more about Learning Hats than practical teaching skills, and there have been many, many members of the training establishment who were so out-of-touch with classrooms that they could barely remember which way up kids the USB went into the kid. But what they do provide is a useful reflection point on the training, and structured interpretation of the the teaching experience.

Training schools- they MIGHT work, but I’m curious: the quality of provision would be crucial, and that depends on people, not policies. Get a great teacher-trainer and you get great teacher training. Get a mug, and end up swimming in ordure. These schools would have to work their knackers off keeping great teacher-trainers. And how do you assess that? By other great trainers, I would suggest, although given my experience of the marketised school system, it will probably be moderated by an Ofsted-style tick sheet. Plus ca change.

What proportion of staff could be trainees? There’s a tipping point where the training experience could damage the learning experience, unless the kids were very biddable. And if they were so biddable, then teachers won’t learn much about behaviour management. We already have training hospitals, but at least with them you get a grown-up to make sure no one gets their frenellum stitched to their chins.

So: if Training Schools are just a cheap way of churning out exhausted, nerve-wracked cannon fodder who have no idea why they’re teaching, or any sense of different styles of pedgagogy rather than ‘what I saw from my trainer’ then this could be a disaster. But then any scheme could. It could produce teachers with their eyes firmly on the classroom, and not on Dewey or Rousseau or any of a hundred romantic education wreckers.

I’ll say this for the Goveinator; he has balls of purest marble. He really, really couldn’t give a monkeys what anyone else thinks. Now that might be seen as a weakness by many, but to some extent this is a necessary quality of someone in a position of power. It has been famously observed that decisons made by committee are usually those those that offend the least number of people. Sometimes decisive action needs to be taken, and it takes a hard-ass to steer them through. You may criticise MG’s policies, but I really don’t have a problem with the fact that he isn’t a big listening teddy bear. EVERY education minister drives through their own policies, and let’s not pretend that any politican has any kind of duty to listen to everyone, stroke their big politician chins and pick the decision everyone agrees with. I like decisiveness in a politician: kind of makes a change.

Of course, his content can be challenged. But don’t damn the man for sticking his flag in the sand.  Too many people have decided, ‘Oh he’s a Tory, so everything he says is evil and bad.’ Well, from where I’m standing, I’m not seeing any smoke signals more inspiring from the Labour camp either, as they adopt the arse-in-the-air position of trying to please everyone, so beloved of politicians hungry for votes everywhere.

Gove then finished with a live set that included poetry readings from Michael Rosen,  and a punk acappella tribute to Tupac entitled ‘Only Dave can Judge me.’ Hollah.

AND FINALLY

‘And then the Phonics Monster gobbled him up!’

Phonics. I’m a secondary teacher, specialising in Philosophy and RS. What I have to say about the acquisition of language is loaded towards fuck all. And yet LO: it appears that everyone is now an expert on it. I’m serious- everyone and their maiden Auntie has become a child psychologist, a neuroscientist, and a philologist. Holy Smoke, where can I get me some of whatever they’re drinking?

It’s odd, this sudden expertise everyone has. In fact, no it’s not; listen to any pub full of gym-dodging lardies when the Euro’s on, and you’ll see this punditry in action. Do phonics work? Do phonics decimate language acquisition? I don’t know- and neither, I suspect, do most of the people talking about it. And not just talking, but getting REALLY RED UNDER THEIR VESTS about it. It has become a Shibboleth- are you FOR us, or…..*beady eye* *fingers cutlass* AGINST US, YE DOG? Both sides are apparently convinced that the other side will liquidise the minds of children with their devilish, continental ways.

There is, I’m sure, a decent debate to be had about this, but if your mindset is ‘Gove versus Rosen….to the DEATH, and to the victor the spoils, arrr’, then you need to adjust the contrast on your conceptual telly, because it is set way too high.

BREAKING: New Ofsted inspection criteria found in lapdancing bar

Ofstedgate: Fresh embarrassment for Ofsted as we can exclusively reveal that inspectors actually receive some form of training. This document, the latest in a series of leaks that one observer has described as ‘like the Deepwater Horizon spill, but not as easy to plug,’ was discovered by a cleaner in the popular gentleman’s lap-dancing ‘Pirates and Wenches’ private room of Spearmint Rhino, Tottenham Court Road. ‘It’s awful,’ said Olga Grebenschikov, the burlesque host; I feel dirty just knowing it was near me.’

The Department of Education was unavailable for comment.

Bankers: ‘Better at taking risks with your money than making friends’

Russian Mafia: ‘Applicants not vicious enough.’

People working in the finance sector are good at awarding themselves agreeable bonuses and managing their portfolios, but are poor at empathising with the needs of others or possessing a sense of humour about anything other than cruel jibes at the expense of the impoverished, a survey suggests.

Research by the Institute of Tautologies found that while they scored highly on tasks requiring avarice, egoism and the accumulation of wealth for its own sake, tasks that required collaboration, sympathy and sensitivity to the impact of one’s actions were performed less well.

The Institute found that only 25% of leading financial institutions possessed any sense of social responsibility suitable for inclusion in humanity, while the remaining 75% received lower scores than the Cosa Nostra or packs of scavenging vampires in those areas.

Said one recent applicant, ‘While I’m disappointed that I wasn’t selected to join the lowest untouchable rank of their vile anti-life gang of aristocratic desperadoes, I can content myself with the fact that, even stacking shelves in Lidl provides more moral and spiritual nourishment than allying myself with the armies of The Beast.’

‘And while I may be functionally illiterate and incapable of  making a decision beyond which brand of Pot Noodle I choose to mainline for breakfast, I, at least possess a sense of humour. And, indeed, some friends,’ he added.

To read the original report in full, click here.

Breaking Teacher Training News! Kobayashi Maru Test to be adopted as gold standard.

‘Live long…and fail, eventually.’

Teacher training providers in England and Wales have taken a bold and novel approach to next year’s cohort of prospective classroom teachers. Instead of the usual post/ pre graduate routes of the BA (Ed) or the PGCE resulting in a portfolio of demonstrable experiences, future candidates will instead be subjected to The Kobayashi Maru, from Star Trek, as a final assessment.
Little known outside of friendless, internet communities of Trekkies, the Kobayashi Maru is a fictional training exercise that Starfleet officer trainees underwent; a computer simulation of a no-win situation, where participants could never succeed. Rather than seeing if they could beat the program, candidates were tested to see how they coped with no-win situations, in essence, being guaranteed to lose.

As one inspector explained, ‘We were all up late one evening, caning a very agreeable bottle of Cockburn’s port and watching Sky Movies, when Star Trek came on, and we thought, hello; there’s something in this.’

‘And then we read some newspapers where journalists kept talking about teachers failing all the time, and letting the kids down whenever someone doesn’t get a degree in rocket science and become prime Minister. We looked at each other and thought: ‘Kobayashi Maru.’

Tested to Failure

‘In future, all teachers will be dropped into schools in sink estates with little or no training in behaviour management, a head full of guff about thinking skills and happy thoughts that we cut and pasted out of New Scientist, and a bullseye painted on their foreheads. Then we give all the kids air pistols and tell them ‘he just cussed your mum.’ Then we see who lasts longer than a week.’

‘You know that bit in Die Hard 3, when Bruce Willis is made to walk around Harlem with a racist A-board strapped to his chest? We thought that was an effective way to train teachers to be life-long learners. ‘Well,’ he added, ‘They’ll probably learn something.’

‘We feel that experiencing the sensation of perpetually failing in their placement schools, will prepare teachers for the experience of being constantly described as vile losers in the national press, and by Ofsted in general.’

Chief Inspector Spock is 334 Vulcan years old.

Dickens Bicentennial Celebrated by Not Teaching Dickens

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. FML.’

As of next year, students will no longer have to study Charles Dickens- or any other text over 140 characters, or that cannot be summarised easily in a triptych about cats dressed as policemen and Harry Potter characters.

‘We have to recognise that our children are cyber natives and 21st century learners, and we can’t oppress them with our prescriptive notions about reading, writing and communicating with other human beings,’ said the Children’s Poet Laureate yesterday. ‘A curriculum should truly enable our children to be life long learners in an uncertain, turbulent world where all knowledge is out of date before it’s even been discovered, and we need to address that reading a book just doesn’t facilitate their emotional discovery conversation in any way,’

When asked to give examples of how pre-21st century literature would be adapted for the curriculum review, she said, ‘Check this out: turn Great Expectations into a series of unimaginative insults on Facebook Chat, and the kids can vote on whether they want Ms Havisham or Joe Gargery to go through to the next rap-battle. The most popular one at the end will be deemed the winner, and everyone gets a can of Red Bull, a Mars Bar, a 500 credits for iTunes.’

‘Children can’t be fannying about learning about Thomas Hardy and George Orwell- they’ve got virtual learning platforms to explore where they can all design paper-clips made of foam rubber, a hundred feet high. Or something. I’m not sure, Ken Robinson thought it was jolly exciting anyway.’

Claire Tomalin, a biographer of Dickens, agrees. ‘They don’t have the attention span any more. It’s all that  happy slapping and LOL cats, probably. They can’t stomach a good four hundred page marathon full of loose, baggy prose and sentimental characters.’ When asked if she was aware that many of Dickens’ stories were serialised in the first place, and therefore read in short bursts, she pointed to the badge on her lapel that read ‘Charles Dickens #1 Biographer.

‘See that?’ she said. ‘F*ck off.’

Charles Dickens is 200 years old, and is a dead white guy who wrote very long text messages and wasn’t on Twitter.

*with thanks to the masterful Peter Serafinowicz, showing how Dickens can still be integrated with a healthy, nutritious education.

Ten reasons why your sixth formers are late to lessons

‘WHY are you always picking on me?’

DfE Guidelines now suggest that the following reasons for being late to your lessons should be considered as acceptable:

1.      It’s ‘a bit cold’ out.
Research has shown that, on average, the ambient air temperature of ‘outside’ is less than the temperature ‘inside’. This variance increases when one uses the average temperature of the air pocket inside a duvet as the base line. Teenagers may express this excuse in the following way: ‘I read this thing, right, that said if they school goes below, like, ten degrees, right….it has to shut or it’s breaking the law.’
2.      It’s bare hot
Equally distressing as (1), above. If, at any time, the temperature in the school looks likely to exceed the exact, perfect preference of the student, then this entitles absence, on the grounds that, well, it’s nice. At this point, students should be entitled to request that all lessons for the rest of the week should be held in the park. Note that, making this request should be taken by the teacher as fair warning that the student will be unable to attend for the rest of the week due to the dangerous heatwave. See: ‘I read this thing, yeah…’
3.      Some Next Guy started talking to me in the street, yeah? And I was like, leave me alone.
And that’s why they’re late. This one is self-explanatory, of course.
4.      I saw someone sneeze on television
Any indication that viral infections may exist, anywhere in the English-speaking world, are clear indications that the outside world, let alone the petri-dish of the school, is too dangerous to enter. This could lead, of course to…
5.      I felt ‘really sick’.
Students in year 11 have an absence due to sickness rate of around 1 % or 2% in the average school. Amazingly, this escalates to around 25% in the sixth form. At first this might seem odd, or in some way indicative of malingering. Nothing could be further from the truth. The individual is best placed to self-diagnose, due to the internal, subjective nature of illness. If they say they’re sick, they are. Often, students can will themselves to feel nauseous and weak. This is entirely normal.
6.      It’s ‘that’ time, Sir.
At the merest mention of the lady tummy, male teachers should act as if the ‘get out of jail’ card has been played. Interestingly, this syndrome is predominantly absent as a reason given to female teachers, most of whom have, presumably learned to cope with the life-threatening effects of menstruation through meditation and radiotherapy.
7.      I don’t like the teacher
‘We read a thing, right…’
In this situation, steps must be taken to ensure that the teacher is likeable.
8.      I don’t like the subject.
Teachers should be encouraged to thank the student for turning up at all, in gratitude for their mere presence. As Kanye West said, ‘You should be honoured by my lateness.’
9.      I’ve got problems at home.
This mustn’t be confused with genuine problems that some students experience, of genuine economic, social or personal hardship. This reason refers to, for example, a student staying over at a friend’s house the night before and having to get up half an hour early to make the train. It can also include the Monday Morning recovery cycle, after a night out on Merrydown and White Lightning. Teachers should be encouraged to view this reason as the most flexible of all. It is vital that sympathy is expressed to the student, otherwise they may have recourse to report you to the European Court in Strasbourg.
10.   Jasmine’s even later than me.
‘I need a long lie to function.’
Keep your hair on. It’s only a few minutes. Why are you always picking on me? See: ‘Bitches Be Trippin’
Through careful attendance to this policy, teachers will be able to enable student voice, as expressed through the medium of sloping in half way through the lesson. They should also look at ways of ensuring that students are not late, for example by making sure that lessons begin after noon, and involve DVDs about pop stars killing each other and having group sex while driving Ferraris.
Thank you for your attendance.

The Bizarro World of Education: Jamie’s Dream School is BACK!

‘Hoorah! ONSTED!’

‘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!’

The BASTARD.

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.