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“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?… Has it ever occurred to your, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?…The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact, there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”1984, George Orwell
|The new, neutral inspector|
You see it everywhere: CPD courses with names like ‘Teach the Ofsted way’ or ‘Integrating discovery learning into your virtual learning platforms the Ofsted way.’ Books, INSETs and agendas, all genuflecting at the altar, sacrificing children’s interests in the hopes that this year’s harvest of absolute grades and relative progress will be a happy one. Will the Gods be pleased? Have we done enough? Are our offerings sufficient, like Abel’s, or will we be marked, like Cain, as Unsatisfactory, and doomed to walk the earth, cursed by parents?
|‘And where is VAK in your planning?’|
Which finally brings me to the opening quote. The problem, which I’ll return to in a later blog, is the contemporary language of education. For decades now there has been a creeping shift in how it is even possible to speak about teaching, learning and schools. To put it bluntly, there is now a Newspeak dictionary of what it is possible and isn’t possible to say. People now talk about students as stake holders, and I think, Jesus, when did that happen? Classes as Learning Zones; corridors become break out areas. Pointless surveys and opportunities to bully staff are justified as ‘student voice, innit?’
‘…there is strong evidence from a range of sources that the overall standards of behaviour achieved by schools is good and has improved in recent years. The steady rise in standards needs to be celebrated….the great majority of schools are successfully achieving satisfactory or better standards of pupil behaviour…’
‘According to Ofsted inspection data, the majority of schools have Good or Outstanding levels of behaviour. As at December 2011, 92.3% of all schools in England were judged Good or Outstanding for standards of behaviour. A further 7.5% were judged Satisfactory and less than one percent (0.3%) were judged Inadequate.’
‘There is mixed evidence on the extent of poor behaviour reported by teachers... However, another earlier survey showed 69% of members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) reported experiencing disruptive behaviour weekly or more frequently (Neill, 2001)‘
|‘SAY ‘ALLOW IT’ AGAIN! I DARE YA!’|
|‘Nope…no bad behaviour in here…’|
|‘Ah! The laughter of children!’|
From the rural womb of Wellington, a post-modernist cement baby is born. If the Summer Edfest is James Blunt, the London Festival is Tuliza. Even the banners and livery of the event were spraypainted, Banksy style, on tarpaulins reminiscent of a CND march. If it had been any more metropolitan it would have had a roundabout.
After Gove, I bolted to see Charlie Taylor take part in a panel discussion about the future of teacher training. The former behaviour czar has been reincarnated, like the Doctor, as the head of the Teacher Agency in charge of the stuff, so I imagine this panel wasn’t too taxing. ‘Yeah,’ he could say. ‘It’s like that. Touch me.’ Taylor’s a rare thing: a man up to his armpits in the education business who actually knows which way up a child goes. Everything he did and said as behaviour advisor was intuitively and demonstrably sensible, and I expect he’ll be no slouch in training reform either.
He talked about School Direct, the school-based qualification system that emphasises practical experience. This has been criticised by some as dislocating teachers from the wealth of educational history and theory that underpins the profession. I’d respond by arguing that 99% of that theory is utterly useless until you have a bit of teaching under your belt. Sometimes even then. The consequence is complete greenhorns walking into school worrying if they’re meeting the 45 basic competencies, or satisfying the fifteenth spoke of the learning bicycle or something. Teaching is a profoundly practical activity. There is no tension between whether it’s an art or a craft or a profession or a blancmange; it has elements of the first three, at different times, in different proportions. It’s an acquired habit; it’s a character set; it’s a body of learned content; sometimes it’s even an interaction between all three. Sometimes it’s like shaving a chin or planing a door; at other times it’s as conscious and planned an activity as having sex on a ladder.
|The Institute had never looked lovelier|
Charlie’s top tip for new teachers was to lie in a dark room for a few hours every week and think about what you’ve done, like a chastened boy in a corridor. Dennis Hayes, his co-panelist, suggested going to the pub, but I suspect most teachers won’t take a great deal of prodding. Hayes, who spoke a terrifying level of sense about the intellectual poverty of much educational research, added that he thought every teacher needed to have read three core texts to consider themselves fit: Plato’s Republic, Rousseau’s Emile, and Dewey’s The Child and the Curriculum. I have. The films were better.
Then it was my turn. After a clandestine coffee with OldAndrew I was contestant number three in a Gardener’s Time Q&A on behaviour: me, Paul Dix and Professor Susan Hallam. Michael Shaw, the assistant editor of the TES, hosted: a man who presumably keeps a painting of a wizened old man in his attic. He’s the Benjamin Button of the teaching press, and every time I meet him I want to buy moisturiser and maybe lay off the smokes.
Q&A; minimum preparation, and you have to sing for your supper there and then: produce the goods or get out, much like a classroom. I did my usual schtick of saying ‘Get them into trouble when they’re naughty and reward them when they’re good’ in as many variations as I could. It’s also the title of my next book.
Most questions were perfectly sensible; nobody wept. We picked over their entrails and poked around their chamber pots and divined and diagnosed. The standout moment came, however, when a lady in the front row asked us what should be done if students display, misogynistic and sexually aggressive behaviour. Professor Hallam, who is undoubtedly a woman of repute, intelligence and craft, gave an answer I can only describe as surprising. ‘Flirt with them,’ she said.
Uproar in the court. Mind. Blown. I could see a hundred eyeballs practically detach from their retinas and pop out onto the carpet, mine included. I have no idea what possessed a woman to say such a thing, and perhaps it’s unfair to expect a non-classroom practitioner to answer such a question, but I fear that this exemplifies a very serious point: the best people to advise on how to run a a classroom are those who actually do such a thing. Research is often a million miles away from practice, and boy, was it ever here. Flirting with kids who want to treat you as a sexual object will only do one thing: encourage further predatory behaviour. It demeans and insults the teacher, and provokes the aggressor to further heights of inappropriacy. The way you deal with sexual intimidation in classrooms is by shutting it down; by standing up to it; by crushing the merest flicker of it as it emerges. God help the child on my watch who tries to trash-talk a female teacher because of her gender.
The Good, the Bad and the Unsatisfactory
Finally to the Pale Rider himself, the outlaw Michael Wilshaw. I’ve written before that I rate the Bishop of Mossborne highly. Unlike most of his detractors, he has actually pulled off the Holy Grail of education: turning lead to gold, or low-achievers into high. He attracts ire like lightning to a copper weather-vane, seemingly for having had the temerity of giving thousands of kids a chance of social mobility where little seemed to exist before. I know, burn the witch, right? He also doesn;t give a f*ck about what people think of him or his methods, which practically has me screen-printing T-shirts.
|Are you still using VAK?|
If other rooms were packed, this was a gangbang in a coffin. He read from notes, perhaps mindful of the press tendency to surgically dissect the most controversial words in any of his speeches and randomise them into headlines like ‘Wilshaw calls all teachers bastards‘ or similar. Everything I’ve ever heard him say was tough but practical. Criticisng the status quo doesn’t imply blanket condemnation; merely that things can improve. In a room full of teachers, he spoke of how good schools came from good leadership, and I saw an entire room full of people nod at once. He’s no fool. He seemed to go out of his way to congratulate teachers for being the catalyst of change in London, and foreshadowed the format of his annual report: more regonalism, more emphasis on the people who sit in the big chairs. A room full of people with little chairs lapped it up.
Then he launched into his new hit single: Oftseds with less box-ticking and more lesson observations. Inspectors trained not to look for specific teaching styles, gimmicks and legerdemaine. By this point the crowd were waving their hands in the air with lighters aflame. If he’d chosen to stand on the table, turn around and fallen backwards like Peter Gabriel, he could have crowd-surfed to Russell Square. He should do this kind of thing more often.Maybe he’ll do another tour.
Taking questions, he explained how he was often taken out of context; that the Dirty Harry comments were just a throwaway remark, although the chuckling press corps next to me conveyed their suspicion that The Man With No Shame rather enjoyed the Judge Dredd caricature. They might be right: he comedy-checked himself as he said, ‘I was marching- sorry, walking down a school corridor.’ Riffing on his own stereotype? And he got the laugh he was looking for. By this point in his own session, the Sorceror of Sanctuary House was dogfighting with the Red Army. The Unforgiver, by contrast, was dropping LOLZ like Dean Martin at a roast.
Time will tell if he also has enough medicine to drive his army of inspectors before him, or if they’ll continue to harrow schools with witless prescription, mono-dimensional metrics and snake-oil dogma. But he doesn’t deserve the rep that a hostile press has brewed for him: I haven’t seen a man more suited to the despotic reform that inspection needs, and schools should support his project in order to support themselves. They should expect inspectors to explain their judgements; they should expect them to be supportive and suggestive of ways to improve. An Ofsted Inspection should be seen as a chance to shine and improve, not an opportunity to pimp your data and get the FSM kids singing songs from Oliver, wearing flat caps with target levels painted on them.
Every Which Way But Home
|The Wellington College party arrived with little fuss|
If you live in an edububble it’s important to escape at times and speak to normal people, so I left, although before I did to my joy I saw Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington Towers being carried down the stairs in a sedan chair by monks in white samite*, just in time for his final address. The country mouse was visiting the town mouse. I wonder what he thought?
The Festival was a splendid thing. They should do it every year. It worked for Christmas.
*This may not have actually happened.
PS Thanks to Chris Husbands, Michael Wilshaw, Gerard Kelly, TES and the IoE for hosting the event, and for letting me come and caper.
|The Watchmen: now hiring. No superpowers required.|
The title of this blog is a headline you are unlikely to ever read. But before anything is invented, it is first an idea, so let’s at least entertain the idea and aspire to its subsequent genesis. Why so serious? Because, like the rotten apple of Gotham City, the people tasked with directing and protecting education have become as wanton and derelict as any flatfoot with a roll of fifties and a guilty conscience. The Office for Standards in Teaching, has been caught in flagrante delicto. Who are the Watchmen? Ofsted. So who hires the Watchmen?
Reports in the TES indicate that:
Tribal, one of the major firms that carries out inspections on behalf of the watchdog, employs at least five lead inspectors who do not have qualified teacher status (QTS), it has emerged.
Let me put a frame around this: the custodians of our profession, the ones who make the judgements on us as we sweat and fret and plan and mug for their pleasure, desperate to catch their eye with a flash of learning ankle…some of these aren’t trained as teachers. So what use are they to anyone?
It is not infrequently observed (at least by me; my sources are impeccable) that many people who occupy public office are unemployable in any other sector, at least until they have frotted their careers in a shameless, foaming dash towards the feathered cushion of an advisory role in munitions or finance. Career politicians give me a spastic duodenum. This state of over-promoted incompetence could only exist in a bureaucracy; now we see its tentacles in the inspection system.
|Your inspection team are ready for you.|
Of course, it’s easy and unfair to demonise; there are many fine inspectors who bring a Rolodex of experience and wisdom to their role. But in the new order of inspection, such wisdom isn’t required in order to meet recruitment standards. Here’s an odd thing: who judges teachers? Inspectors, at least externally. So who hires and trains them? At some height, it would seem, that the answer is non-inspectors and non teachers. This has to happen eventually, of course. We cannot expect every minister to be all things. But the shame of it is that the profession is represented so badly, so close to the sharp end.
Lay inspectors are history (non-teaching inspection team members who were brought along to give a non-teaching perspective), and I’ll raise a glass to that. But now it seems the institution remains in a ghostly, ghastly form. What’s worse, if Ofsted don’t even have data on how many of its inspectors have reached QTS, then this isn’t evidence of a few slip-ups; this is structural; this is intrinsic to the recruitment process.
What other profession would suffer to be assessed by people who couldn’t even do the thing upon which they sit in judgement? Can you imagine a surgeon being critiqued by the janitor? The average spectator at the Farnborough air show is about as qualified to assess the pitch, roll and yaw of the Red Arrows, as most people are to assess the minutia of education. Sure, you might be able to say, ‘Bum move’ if they hammer into a hillside, but even then they couldn’t determine if the failure was inevitable or clownish. Good teaching is an art that in the end, it takes a good teacher to assess. Looking at data is only one piece of puzzle, and information without context is just that: information. In order to be understanding, it has to be triangulated with other variables, the most important of which is your appreciation of what’s going on in the classroom.
I believe Dame Wilshaw when he says that he wants to root this out; that he wants to raise the game of his teams. But by God, he’s got a rotten stable to clear out. If you want teachers to comply with Ofsted inspections, don’t worry, we will, because we value our jobs, and schools will ensure that teachers know exactly what witless toy-town teaching liturgy we have to wave in the inspector’s faces as they pass.
But if you want us to respect them, listen to them, and value them, then we need more than have-a-go hard-ons with clipboards and check boxes. As others have commented, many teachers have often noted that upon asking what they could do to improve their lessons, many inspectors are reluctant to reply. Well now we know why: it’s because some of them don’t know.
So here’s my Teacher Voice Manifesto: ignore Ofsted inspections. I don’t mean fly your career down the toilet, because I care if you can feed yourself. What I mean is that you should free yourself from the shackles of inspection fever, the anxiety that pervades and perverts schools and classrooms, and ruins learning. Stop caring about them. And turn inwards and outwards: inwards as you ask yourself, what should I be doing to be a great teacher?, and outwards as you watch other people to find out some answers. That’s the key to being a great teacher. By reducing the standards of learning to formulae and quantitative outcomes, we have strip-mined the soul of one the most important jobs in the world. Well, to Hell with it, and to Hell with them.
|Out of picture: ‘F-*-C-K-O-F-F’|
Until Ofsted can convince the profession that they’re more than just a branch of the Ministry for Silly Teaching, that they represent a meaningful cadre of professional experience and ability, then go to Hell. When you come into school, we’ll caper and conga through our compartmentalised lessons with clear evidence of progress in fifty minutes, with learning objectives stencilled into everyone’s books. And as soon as you leave we’ll get back to the real thing, and wash ourselves thoroughly and try to forget how we sold ourselves and the kids.
I am ashamed to be in a profession that is so poorly tended by the panjandrums of bureaucratopia. For the sake of the good inspectors that do exist (and who must be aware of this Hellish pact between the incompetent and the affordable), for teachers, for the profession and for the children who are always at the end of this beggary, Ofsted needs to get itself out of Special Measures. In Alan Moore’s Watchmen graphic novel, the enduring motif of the narrative was a Smiley badge with a streak of blood: a tragic joke.
Ofsted, we need you to be better than that.
NEWS: Recent comments by Ofsted that the maths exam is ‘too easy’ has been greeted with cries of ‘but that’s what you f*cking asked us to do’ by most major stakeholders in England and Wales. Additionally, the DfE rottweiler has accused schools of teaching to the exam and gaming the A*-C figures by entering candidates too early. Tired, confused teachers have responded with various degrees of, ‘But….we only get paid if the results constantly increase like an enormous soufflé predicated on infinite expansion. Help, we don’t understand what you want.’
‘Yes, said one maths teacher. Tell us what you want. We’ll do it. Please don’t hurt us. Take my last testicle. I don’t need it any more.’
The Daily Guru has received an advance copy of this year’s GCSE exam, criticised by many as being too obsessed with relevance and engagement with the children’s context than assessing functional maths skills. See for yourself:
Aspirational social class:
1. If Kelis’s milkshake brings all the boys to the yard, and assuming the combined mass of all the boys is equivalent to 1.13 X 10^5 kg and the length of the yard is exactly three times the width of the yard in a right angled rectangle, then calculate:
a) How much would you have to charge?
b) Is it > yours?
2. If the value of Billy Jean ≠ my lover, then does n tend to 1 where n is equivalent to just a girl?
3. In the shape to the left, is the area of the red triangle closest in value to:
a) It takes a nation of millions
b) Nuthin’ but a G thang
c) 50 cent
d) FUCK THA POLIS
4. Baby got back. Is Sir Mix-a-Lot:
c) Down to get some friction on?
5. ‘My anaconda don’t want ________ unless you got buns, hun.’ Is the missing value:
c) Sir Michael Wilshaw
6. Lady Gaga has lost her telephone. How bad IS her romance, to the nearest three places?
a) Ra ra, ah ah ah
b) Roma, ro ro ma
c) Ga ga ooh lala
7. What’s six inches and goes in One Direction?
8. Simon Cowell, the legendary lady-killer and playboy is having a party where Sinitta, Cheryl Cole, and Amanda Holden will be strangling kittens for his amusement in order to gain the Dark Lord’s favour. You have been invited. Calculate
a) how far you would have to jump in order to be assured of a quick death.
b) the diameter of Sinitta’s Adam’s Apple.
9. Calculate the X-Factor.
10. Will-I-am is twice as dope as Jessie J, who is a sixteenth as dope as Tom Jones. Danny = a dope. What is the smallest number of duets Tom Jones must have performed with Elvis before Danny gets a kick in the tits?
11. Extension: Sean Paul wants to get busy. Using the following terms, does he want to get busy with Miss Jodi or Miss Rebecca, or all of them at once in an unhygienic daisy chain of wicked, libidinous foam?
Girl get busy, just shake that booty non-stop
When the beat drops
Just keep swinging it
Get crunked up
Percolate anything you want to call it
Oscillate you hip and don’t take pity
Me want fi see you get live upon the riddim when me ride
Show your workings. No credit will be given for unjustified answers.
Please indicate your preferred grade here (note: candidates who leave this blank will only receive a C):
|‘Careful, lads; they’ve got BTECs!’|
Proof, if any was needed, that apes will soon overtake us in the race towards world dominance, comes today in the form of two headlines, each of which are so odd as to suggest that the people who write for the MiniTrue are daring each other to come up with the most spectacularly bizarre assertions. That, or the Gods of Olympus now actively play with us, for sport.
1. Schools should build character, says the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel.
Where do I start with this? It’s like mugging a Womble, I almost feel bad. (No I don’t.) I read this twice in case the first time I was having a fit or coming down from a mescalin enema. Yet another report on last year’s riot; cometh the report, cometh the righteous finger pointing. Every time I read these things I just think, ‘Nah mate, bollocks; get a job’ (I’m printing T-shirts that say just that, and selling them outside TED conferences). Seriously, what on earth would these people do if they weren’t churning out rainforests of rot? Get. A Job. And f*ck off and stop telling me how to do mine.
Apparently schools have a key role to play in preventing further riots. You heard me. Yes, I’ll just revise my curriculum to include a unit on ‘How Not To Riot’. Which means I’ll have to TAKE OUT the unit I already teach on ‘How to Riot’. Honestly, make your minds up, lads. Do they seriously think that we don’t do enough of this stuff already? That in schools the message is in any way ambiguous about whether it is socially acceptable to spanner old ladies and torch furniture warehouses? Boy, I’d love to see those assemblies.
Apart from the infantile, reductionist approach to human behaviour that the report endorses and assumes, it also commits the ultimate sin of neuroscientism or behavioural voodoo- it assumes that a person is nothing more than the product of their biochemistry, neurochemistry, genetics and background; seed and soil, it would seem, are Kismet. Which is odd, because I teach a whole heap of children who are poor, a bit bored, and would quite like to be rich who DON’T pan in Comet windows or boost tourists’ MP3s. What on earth could explain such aberrant, altruistic behaviour?
|‘Please stop me before I riot again!’|
Could it be that people have a choice? That ‘not having a youth club to go to’ isn’t a sufficient excuse to riot? That ‘not having enough support’ is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition of being a thug? I am dazzled by these people who claim that criminality is too simple an explanation for large scale disorder, and then provide such moronic explanations. Have they forgotten that human nature is often competitive, materialistic, opportunistic and selfish? That societies were invented as a mechanism through which cooperation could be encouraged, but that beneath that veneer man’s animal nature still beat a hungry tattoo?
Their school solution is true comic genius: we need to build student’s character. Now this is like shooting fish in a barrel, but here goes: what character would you like them to have? By whose standards? How would we assess such a thing? What rate of progress would you like? How would we personalise such programmes? Would they learn best in groups or independent enquiry projects? How would they be assessed? No? No idea at all? Then DO f*ck off. You have no idea what you’re talking about. Fortunately I do, and so do millions of teachers.
We put up with this kind of well-meant but tiresome chatter all the time; worse, it often comes from people who actually possess some kind of influence over us. I wonder if any of the authors were affected directly by the riots? I wonder if they have ever been mugged? Burgled? Actually personally involved with working with people who are capable of such things? I have, and I am. You have no idea of the bottomless capacity of the human spirit to plumb depths of selfishness, as well as heights of transcendence, unless you do. And you have no business speaking about something of which you have no idea.
Building character is a fine aim for a school; but our primary job is to teach. Perhaps you noticed? It’s in my contract. Building character is incidental to my role; I aim for it indirectly by providing a good example of behaviour and conduct. But it cannot be taught directly. I presume you don’t like brain washing? How many more or less rioters would be produced by a few assemblies or units on ‘not rioting’? The more that such moronisms are loaded upon us, the more we look up to the Mountain Top and think, ‘Let My People Go.’ As I’ve said before, the people with the easy answers to the problems of society see themselves as Moses; but really, they’re Pharaoh.
Or, if all they want is for schools to produce yet another document that describes how this is taught, we see just another tier of tiresome paperwork, and a job for someone to do three weeks before Ofsted.
My favourite bit is the idea that schools that failed to produce a satisfactory level of character building would be penalised financially. See, now you’ve just crossed a line, bub. You want to penalise schools for not doing what they could never be assessed for? You uncivil, officious little turds. Get. A. Job.
2. Schools that fail Ofsteds ‘do better’
Isn’t that marvellous? It seems that all the pain, the stress and middle-management pill popping has a purpose after all, as a spur to greater heights. Er, well, 10% higher grades next year round. How many of them from BTEC magic bean equivalents? Soft subjects? Selective entry? Answers, there are none. And 10%, I mean….it’s not exactly Rocky II, is it?
So now we see the true purpose of Ofsted; not as a barometer, or even a dipstick of pedagogic standards, but a huge, bureaucratic clusterfuck game of Buckaroo!, using teachers instead of curious plastic bridles and buckets. ‘All Buckaroo! horses that shed their burdens, gained pieces 10% faster than those that did not,’ the report said.
Sometimes if it wasn’t the absolute certainty I possessed that one day our nearest star will consume us in the brilliant riot of a Supernova, I would despair.
Anyone got any more bright ideas? I can do this ALL DAY.
|‘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.