Lies, Damned Lies, and Educational Statistics

One week till the well-deserved summer break, and I hope all fellow teachers get the opportunity to recharge. Summer does, of course, contain the two results days, which secondary teachers now look forward to with as much anxiety and trepidation as the students. Not least because their pay and career prospects now depend at least in part on the performance on one particular day of a group of largely unpredictable teenagers!

However, I’d go further : their pay and career also depends not just on the actual results of those teenagers, but on the ability of school “leaders” to understand and use data. I don’t know which is more terrifying.

This blog has two parts. The first part recounts a couple of stories of how, in our targets-and-results-obsessive education culture, statistics based on small sample sizes (like your class) can be desperately misleading, and offers a way in which you can defend yourself against overly simplistic statistical judgments about whether you’ve been a “good” or “bad” teacher. The second part goes a bit further and poses the question of whether “good” and “bad” teachers actually exist in anything like the way they are portrayed by media and Ministers, and invites readers to do their own simple statistical search for the “Good” teacher(s) in their school.

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Teacher Retention : More Than Just An Image Problem

This is long. If you don’t like long, don’t read it. If anyone posts a comment saying “It’s too long”, after reading this warning, they’re a bit silly. It’s also personal: you’re reading essentially my internal argument about whether – and when – to give up teaching. As such, it’s a rambling muse more than an impassioned rant. It may prompt some thoughts about what we can, or should, do to retain experienced teachers. Or it may not. Sorry if anyone is disappointed by the absence of shouting. However, I make up for that by linking all my sub-headings to appropriate cheesy pop songs. Can’t say fairer than that.

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Should schools count the opportunity cost? (Spoiler: no)

Interesting Blog which tackles a tendency in education towards a view that there is a “right” way to teach which should result in the abandonment of all the “wrong” ways of teaching.

I’ve written before of my First law of Education : “Anyone who claims there is a universal “right” way of teaching is automatically wrong.” I’ll stand by that.

Mediocre Failures

My children are adopted. They were adopted at the ages of three, four and six. As with nearly all children adopted in this country over the last couple of decades, this means that their early life experiences were pretty terrible. As each was born, their collective experience of life became more damaging, as their circumstances worsened. So the eldest is least affected as her first years were perhaps less difficult experiences, while the youngest is most affected, as her entire first two years of life were appalling. I’m not going to go into detail here about their specific early life experiences, but if you want to read up on the sort of effects which can result from serious neglect or abuse, then you could read this .

Why am I writing this ? Especially now after midnight in the middle of the Easter holidays ? It’s because I’m so angry I can’t sleep. I can barely see the screen through the red mist.

Hyperbole ? No.

The cause ? This :

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Pravda’s front page

I want to find the people who produced this policy, and tear their cold, dessicated, hearts out. I want to shove a burning copy of this mindless sociopathic rag up their shrivelled, self-righteous sphincters.

They just called my daughters “mediocre failures”. Continue reading

Back on the Chain Gang

I’m deliberately digging this out, dusting it off, and putting it back out there. They say those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It’s also true that those who DO learn from history are doomed to sit by impotently while others repeat it. Today’s announcement that the Government is finally giving up any pretence at local autonomy, and is imposing a structure on schools which is essentially competing firms running school franchises in what is essentially a private marketplace is shocking. Not just because of the clear attempt to privatise a key public service (and the determined attempts to pretend this isn’t what is happening), but because it has been tried before. On a smaller scale, to be sure. But it was tried, and it was a disaster. And guess which DFE civil servant was clearing up the mess last time ?

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Academic versus Vocational : Why Does It Need To Be A Choice ?

I want to link Debra Kidd’s passionate blog about academic snobbery here, as I was involved in the conversation on Twitter which I think part-prompted this. I agree with much of what Debra says, although not all, as I’m the Head of of a very successful and very large history department in a state comprehensive and I’m rather less convinced than Debra is that, given the choice between Cromwell and Shakespeare, most students will run towards the bard.

The essence of the argument on Twitter was between some tweeters who argued that schools should impose a very limited range of traditional academic subject choices on students, and other tweeters (including myself), who argued that all students should have as wide a selection as possible of vocational and academic choices. I found myself accused of being in favour of “narrowing” education by suggesting it should be broader, because only traditional academic subjects were worthwhile, and I was thus allegedly guilty of that cardinal sin of having low expectations of less able students by believing they should do vocational qualifications instead. Continue reading