Earlier today, I lost my temper on twitter with a few shirt-rending hair-tearers of the “Labour is Doomed. DOOOMED I TELL YOU!” variety. I was really quite cross, which I know will surprise my regular readers for whom I’m a veritable sage of calm and considered wisdom. I have no patience for the “I’m a Labour supporter but I hope we lose big so that I can shout “I told you so” at all the members who wanted the Party to change” types. None at all. However, I accept that one of the many lessons of Brexit is that shouting at people that they’re idiots hasn’t, historically, changed many minds. Continue reading
To read EduTwitter, one would think that there are very few issues in education policy at the moment which are of any consequence. The two issues which currently seem to suck in all discussions like twin black holes, are:
- discipline policy, which tends to centre around a group who support the adoption of draconian systems of control and sanctions; and
- what’s become known as “Direct Instruction”, or #justtellthem, in which a group proclaim the efficacy of what might loosely be termed a “traditionalist” pedagogical style of the teacher imparting information to students
There is a considerable overlap in the groups supporting these two approaches. Similarly, both stances have the explicit backing of the Conservative government. These positions have, of course, always existed. There have always been teachers who prefer and impose a strict regime, and there have always been teachers who prefer a didactic teaching style. There is very little under the education sun which is new. So why the increased virulence and hostility of the debate? Continue reading
Here’s two things I believe:
1) Schools should teach that Conservatism, particularly in its post-1970s New Right manifestation, is an appalling sociopathic con-trick designed to enrich a few at the expense of the many.
2) Every child in school should play Rugby League, because it builds character, is a lot of fun, and might eventually provide us with enough of a player base to beat the bloody Australians. Continue reading
Back in July I wrote a blog about how Gove’s destruction of the locally accountable state education system and its replacement with a market-based system of private firms contracted to the DFE, would lead directly to the return of selection. Perhaps unwittingly (although I am in no way as convinced of Gove’s principled opposition to grammars as his fans are), he had prepared the ground for selection to be reintroduced without having to change the law, via the private edubusinesses often referred to as ‘academy chains’. I was immediately howled down by furious Govians, who were genuinely outraged that I dared to ascribe responsibility for this to their hero, and who were in absolute denial about how the market Gove built would facilitate this. Indeed, I was told categorically by one ex-Gove advisor that MATs couldn’t do this, as it would require a change to the law. Right. So having been proved correct (rather faster than I expected), I thought I’d make a return to the prediction game, to see if I can help shine a light into the sewer which our education policy is fast disappearing down. Continue reading
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.
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.
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