Archive for February, 2009

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Selling Out

February 22, 2009

I have decided to get out of the Metropolitan School, but I’ve been burnt enough times to know better than to rush.

I looked for a school where I could get a promotion and where the results were good. I didn’t have to wait long. My “email alerts” informed me of a suitable vacancy in a Catholic school in a rather affluent suburban town. The journey was quite lengthy, but no worse than it is to get to the Metropolitan School. The school’s A*-C level was over ninety percent, the area was leafy and privileged and the number of students with SEN was very low.

I spent the next few weeks getting everything sorted. I sought out my headteacher (that took over a week), my priest, and an old friend from Stafford Grove School to agree to give me references. I got the application form and filled it out and was happy to be invited to interview. I was somewhat taken aback to be told by my current headteacher that he’d received a request for references only on the afternoon of the day before the interview, which didn’t indicate a great deal of planning in the interview process. Similarly, when I phoned for more details about the lesson they wanted me to teach as part of the interview I couldn’t get hold of anybody, and couldn’t find out if I’d have access to a projector or interactive whiteboard.

When I arrived I discovered that there were three of us being interviewed. We each had a half hour lesson to teach, a tour of the school and interviews scheduled for the rest of the morning, with mine being planned for just before lunch. Inevitably, I found myself comparing everything with my current school.

The first culture shock was having to teach a year 7 class. They seemed genuinely enthusiastic to have their regular lesson interrupted. None of them asked for a pen, all of them listened to what I said. The biggest shock was when I asked for a volunteer to hand out worksheets and every single hand in the room went up. It was like having a class where every single child was Rod or Todd Flanders. There was one late arrival, Owen, who seemed unwilling to work, and he was on report and clearly being closely monitored.

Afterwards, the assistant head who had observed my lesson gave me feedback. She raved about the lesson, which due to the lack of foreknowledge had mainly consisted of direct questioning and writing on an ordinary whiteboard, i.e. the sort of thing I could have done off the top of my head without preparation. She told me that the lesson was at the very least “good” by OFSTED standards. She praised my behaviour management (apparently I’d done well to spot Owen), use of formative assessment, and relationship with the kids. I was delighted, I am used to having lessons like that criticised at the Metropolitan School. It made it sink in just how much teachers are judged on the attitude of the children, not the quality of the teaching.

The tour of the school was, as you’d expect, a succession of buildings which didn’t really reveal anything, although the children did seem extraordinarily well-behaved. What was very odd about it was that no opportunity was taken to introduce us to the other members of the department.

Then I waited while the other candidates were interviewed, I had the misfortune to be last and had to wait over an hour. Then the assistant head came in and said the head had been held up and asked if I could wait until after lunch. I had no choice but to agree. After lunch the other candidates went for a walk round while I waited for another hour. Finally I was called in. The interview was long, and strange. They had no interest in asking about my use of technology, but were quite happy to ask completely random questions like “What is the definition of Education?” and “So, do you agree that extra-curricular activities are a waste of time?” They reacted to every answer with so much agreement and smiling that it became absolutely impossible to judge whether I’d given a good answer or not.

After the interview I sat with the other candidates and chatted. Apparently we’d all been asked completely different questions which seemed rather odd. We were all equally bemused by the choice of questions and the reactions. None of us had been asked the usual question of “Are you a firm candidate?”

After an hour’s waiting, a teacher from the department we’d applied to came in and chatted. He explained that almost everyone in the department was an NQT. It seemed more than a little odd that nobody had mentioned this.

After another hour’s waiting and we were getting a bit fed up. One of the candidates went to find out if she could go home but failed to get an answer. Finally, we were called to the heads office and told “we don’t want to appoint until we’ve checked some more references. We’ll call tomorrow.”

Two days later the Head phoned to say that all the references had been checked out and were fine but they had been unable to agree who to appoint so had decided not to appoint anybody. By this point it wasn’t even a disappointment. I asked for feedback on the interview and was told only positive things which told me nothing at all.

I don’t know much about posh schools. I’m forming a tentative theory that they are run by people who couldn’t run up the proverbial piss-up in a brewery.

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Why Sir Alan Steer Should Stick his Stupid Lying Report up his Arse

February 14, 2009

Next time you see the latest news from Australia about the tragic bushfires that have destroyed people, property and nature, I’d like you to try the following thought experiment.

Imagine that you were an Australian firefighter who had seen the fires first hand. Imagine that, while you may not have suffered terribly yourself, you had found it stressful and you were aware that the problem was huge and was wrecking lives. Now imagine that you switched on the television to watch the news and heard there was a new report from a committee headed by a senior firefighter, described as the government’s “bushfire tsar” claiming that there were no bushfires. Imagine that it was claimed that academics recognised the truth that there were no dangerous fires, just poor firefighting. Imagine that a representative from the firefighters’ union appeared to agree with this, carefully suggesting that if firefighters had been better trained then nothing bad would ever happen.

Now imagine that this was followed by an interview with the “bushfire tzar”. Imagine he explained that actually the bushfire problem was less severe than it had ever been and as evidence of this he observed that the Australian Tourist Board hadn’t been complaining about fires. Imagine that, having claimed there wasn’t a problem with bushfires, he conceded there might be a more general environmental problem, but that this problem had been around for hundreds and thousands of years. As proof of this he might suggest that many years ago as a child, perhaps in the Scouts, he saw a campfire, but in all his years as a firefighter he’d never seen a naked flame. Imagine if he then proceeded to pour scorn on the idea that anyone could ever have poured water on fires as there was no evidence that pouring water on fires had ever stopped combustion occurring in the first place. Imagine if he described pouring water on fires as something that showed a lack of intelligence, and complained that people were hypocritical and uncaring if they object to seeing woods burned to the ground. Imagine if he finished by claiming that he’d recognise that his suggestions had been successful if people stopped calling the fire brigade so often.

If you can imagine all this then you can probably imagine how many teachers in Battleground Schools feel about this news report and this interview that followed it early today.

I’m too lazy to reference every experience and every statistic I have ever put on this blog to explain why what Sir Alan is saying is an evil pack of lies. But I am still shocked that he could so blatantly refuse to acknowledge the violence, abuse and disobedience in our schools and the management culture that condones it. This is not just because Steer’s claims contradict my own personal experience in several schools. This is not just because they are countered by what I’ve been told by hundreds of teachers and ex-teachers I’ve met in real life or heard from online, and what’s been said by thousands of teachers in surveys and opinion polls. This is not just because his claims defy reason by suggesting that good relationships cause good behaviour, rather than the other way round, or by claiming that a problem can be both non-existent and a natural and unchanging part of childhood. The reason I am shocked by these claims is because they are such that even a slightly honest man could have found reason not to say such things.

It really wouldn’t take much to realise that this would lead to teachers up and down the country starting their half-term by spitting their coffee at the TV screen. All Sir Alan would have needed to do to test his ideas for plausibility is to put down his fiddle for a moment and sign up as a volunteer firefighter, sorry, secondary supply teacher for a few weeks. This way he’d be visiting, not  a few handpicked schools as an honoured guest, but a good number of disaster areas as part of the frontline. If he survived the inevitable abuse, intimidation, insubordination and blame that are a part of so many schools, he’d emerge with nothing more than a desire to put a match to his own report. This is, of course, assuming that none of his colleagues had discovered who he was. After all, how many teachers  would, in the interests of natural justice, want to make sure that this particular revisionist tract was firmly inserted somewhere he wouldn’t be able to reach easily?

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