The Return of Selection: Gove Bites Us All On The Arse

I once had a conversation with a senior figure from what Gove would have called “the Blob”. We were discussing the Academies Act which was about to eviscerate the remains of locally accountable schools. He sighed, and said “This, not for the first time, is where Blairism comes back to bite us on the arse“.

I have no doubt (I was there in the DFE, after all), that the very first academies were not created with the intention of destroying a system of local state schooling which had stood for a century, and replacing it with unaccountable private companies being gifted all our schools so that they might take control of the state education budget in an educational “marketplace”. Yet that’s where academization led.

Some might say it’s the Law of Unintended Consequences. Well-meaning people creating circumstances in which Bad Things(tm) they never intended can happen. Every one of the examples of petty greed, related-party corruption, and inflated salaries now emerging from the academized system is a direct consequence of decisions taken when the Academy policy was actually simply an attempt to hit Restart on a handful of local sink schools.

But I’ve covered all that before, and that’s not what this short blog is about. This is about how similarly well-meaning people have created the circumstances for the return of a policy most of them are genuinely appalled by: grammar schools and selective education.

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Eleven Years A Teacher

Yesterday was my last day.

When I switched career, aged 34, to leave my comfortable civil service policy career to became a teacher in a state secondary school, my oldest friend (a teacher) made two observations. He said that he was worried that I’d worked in highly academic organisations with highly professional, very clever people, and he was concerned that I may not enjoy my collision with some of the people in positions of authority throughout the education system. He also said that given my incredibly low boredom threshold, he thought I’d probably mostly enjoy being with the students. A clever bloke, my friend.

I’m feeling rather reflective. I’ve spent eleven years at the same school. It feels like a whole generation of girls (and a few boys) from a few wards of my local borough have passed before my desk. I’ve taught, at a fairly reasonable estimate, about two thousand students, and interacted in one way or another with far more. I’ve marked between thirty and forty thousand individual pieces of work, generated from about ten thousand individual lessons. I’ve had three form groups: one for two years, one for one year, and one for seven years. I’ve worked alongside eight permanent colleagues in the Department, all of whom arrived as NQTs, and three temporary ones. I managed and coached the girls’ Rugby League team for five years and ran the sixth form debate club for three years. I organised four trips to Washington DC and New York, nine trips to France and Belgium, and numerous trips to more local historic sites. I’ve delivered about a dozen assemblies, and made a fool of myself in half a dozen christmas pantos. I have sung and played bad guitar to two particularly unfortunate classes. I was union representative for three years, staff governor for two years, and a pain in management’s collective arse for ten years.

I have laughed at least once every day. I’ve found pleasure in the company of these wonderful young people throughout the entire period. I have experienced incredible emotional highs more often than I can remember, and I have been driven to tears of frustration and rage on more occasions than I’d like to remember.

Eleven years is a long time. I began as a childless thirty-four year-old rugby league player, complete with enthusiasm, idealism and hair. I ended as a father of three, a forty-six year-old rugby league referee, complete with disappointed idealism, depression and, err, facial hair. A lot happened; the good, the bad and the ugly. As I wandered the corridors last week, already feeling a little like the ghost at the feast, memories seemed to come crashing out of cupboards as I opened them, charging down corridors towards me, and peering through classroom windows when they should be in lessons. I thought I’d jot down the memories as they returned to me. I don’t want to lose them.

Don’t try to read this in one sitting. Or don’t read it at all. It’s ridiculously personal and massively over-sentimental. It doesn’t make comments on education policy. Nor is it the sort of hard-hitting tale of misery and woe on the wrong side of the tracks which might get published in a newspaper. I was just an ordinary teacher, in an ordinary school, teaching extraordinary students. So far, there are 17 memories. If any more occur to me, I’ll add them as they do.

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Public Ranking of Children: The Return of the Dunce’s Hat

Those who have read my blog will know that I’m not what you might call a fan of either Wilshaw’s mindless authoritarianism or Govian education reforms.  There is, however, one particular issue which seems to take the most unpleasant and nonsensical underpinning philosophies of  Gove and Wilshaw, compacts them in a fetid bowel of poison, and expels a turd of pure, psychopathic evil which is then hammered to a corridor wall: the public ranking of children. Continue reading

Lessons from History: Peronne Road Cemetery

Lessons from history

This week, our history department took our annual trip of Year 9s to the battlefields of Belgium and France. Many history teachers will know the drill: Tyne Cot Cemetery’s awesome scale; the tragic majesty of the Menin Gate; forcing your students to spend more time reading the information displays in the excellent Cloth Hall museum in Ypres, or the Musee Somme in Albert; gasping at the incredible size of the Lochnagar crater; reflecting sombrely on the sacrifice of the Newfoundlanders at Beaumont-Hamel; and blowing off a little steam in the reconstructed trenches and tunnels of Sanctuary Wood. The fact that it’s so standard doesn’t stop it from being a valuable experience for the students, and long may it continue. However, for me, on what I think was my twelfth or thirteenth visit to the battlefields, this year was different. Continue reading

Being a Head of Department

I saw a blog earlier today by a Head of Department offering advice to her younger self on how to be a good HoD. It’s generally full of good advice and important points. For me, however, the value of those good points was slightly undercut by the fact that it appeared written very much from the “leadership” perspective of being a HoD. I felt that, if I squinted a bit in places, I’d be able to see lessons on “leadership” from courses like “Leading from the Middle”, and the woeful National Professional Qualification for Middle/Senior/Junior/Bottom/Top Leaders as inflicted on so many blameless teachers. I’ve since had a PM chat with the author, and she’s a wonderful person. We do, however, disagree a bit on where the focus of the HoD role might be, and the extent to which “leadership” as it is currently perceived in the education system, is important.

Then I thought, “Hang on, I’m leaving my own HoD role after 10 years. I should offer my own collected wisdom to my successor, and to any other poor saps who think the TLR justifies all the extra contact with SLT they’ll need to have.” Not a blog on general “leadership”, because I’ve done that already, and a lovely catharsis it was too. But a blog on being a Head of Department, for those who might be taking on that role for the first time in September. Then I realised that this will be an even easier blog than normal, because I’ve already done it !

Two years ago, the wonderful Jill Berry wrote a piece on the Guardian website about what it means to be a good HoD. I didn’t know Jill then (I’d never been on Twitter at the time), and my response was somewhat sceptical of Jill’s perspective. I thought that she was describing what a headteacher thought made a good HoD, rather than what a teacher or HoD might think was a good HoD. And I launched what, on reflection, might well have been my first mini-blog.

You can find the Guardian article here. For ease of reference, I’m repeating my BTL comment here. I’ve read it again, and I still subscribe to every word I said back then! Sorry, Jill!

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