Archive for the ‘Blog related’ Category

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Quick Tips for New Education Bloggers

July 23, 2014

My considered advice for education bloggers (complete with explanations of my opinions and discussion) can be found here.

However, below you read my quick tips. Some may be similar, but these were ones I posted on Twitter a few days ago, and as a result are based mainly on blind prejudice, no justification and little thought.

Hope they are helpful.

  1. “Musings” and “Ramblings” are massively overused in blog titles. Try “meanderings”. (Or maybe not)
  2. Use WordPress. Hosted on WordPress. Really.
  3. Pick an unambiguous title. I’m still justifying and explaining mine almost 8 years later.
  4. If you use the words “learning” or “teaching” in your blog title make the other words memorable. eg. Learning Hippo. Seriously, these two words are much overused. There are actually two different blogs called “Learning Science”.
  5. You don’t have to write only about education, but set out your stall early. Don’t start write about dieting 6 months in. (Or your children, pets or favourite songs).
  6. Tweet. (I organised a curry for bloggers a few months back. The one person that almost everybody asked “who’s he?” about was the one person who doesn’t tweet. It has to be done.)
  7. Don’t call yourself a “guru”, “expert” or “leader”. There are more fun ways to make everyone hate you. Hours of “fun” can be had on the internet arguing over who is actually an authority about teaching and who a) has too little classroom experience, b) has left the classroom too eagerly or c) is now a vested interest who can no longer be trusted.
  8. Try to keep blogposts usually under 1000 words, mostly under 1,500. Split into more than one post when necessary, even if you post them in rapid succession. I swear there are bloggers out there whose first paragraphs are read by thousands, but you can’t find anyone who ever got to the end.
  9. A picture is worth a 1000 words, but after the first picture it starts to feel like reading 1000 words too. Or, at the very least, it starts feeling like watching a Powerpoint presentation. Assume blog readers can get through several consecutive paragraphs of text without having a panic attack.
  10. Criticising people without naming them is not politer, it’s just cowardly.

 

 

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A Guide To Scenes From The Battleground

June 17, 2014

I have updated this guide, having neglected it for a few months (sorry).

This blog is about the state of secondary education. There is an introduction to it here:

And some reflections on it here:

Here is a summary of my main points:

Here are a few posts written purely for a laugh (although some of them perhaps make a point at the same time):

The following posts sum up what is typical in schools these days in various respects:

Behaviour:

Curriculum:

Teachers and Managers:

Special Needs:

School Life:

Miscellaneous:

As well as the advice for teachers included in many of the other posts, I have written advice specifically for new teachers:

These deal more directly with my own personal experiences, or the experiences of others:

I have also written a number of posts exploring and explaining how this situation came to be, discussing the arguments in education and suggesting what can be done.

Background:

Apologia:

Progressive Education:

Behaviour:

Initiatives:

Education Policy and Current Affairs:

OFSTED:

Teaching and Teachers:

Educational Ethics and Philosophy:

Education Research and Academics

Here are some videos I found on the internet which I thought were interesting, or relevant, enough to present in a blog post:

I wrote about some of the myths that are spread to teachers, often in INSET or during PGCEs:

I have also outlined what I would expect from schools willing to do put things right:

Here are my book recommendations:

This may be of interest if you are considering writing a blog:

You may also have found me…

Please let me know if any of the links don’t work.

Finally, I can be found on Facebook (please “friend” me) or Twitter (please “follow” me).

If you want to keep up with education blogging other than mine, or to see some of these same concerns discussed by others, then you should follow my sister blog, The Education Echo Chamber. The blog is here. The twitter feed is here.

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Top Posts of 2013

January 1, 2014

The following posts got the most views in 2013. Some of them weren’t actually written in 2013.

  1. What OFSTED Actually Want
  2. A Christmas Miracle – OFSTED Get It Right For Once
  3. What OFSTED Say They Want
  4. How to be bad SMT
  5. How to Destroy NQTs
  6. A Guide To Scenes From The Battleground
  7. The Darkest Term: Teacher Stress and Depression
  8. Does Sir Michael Wilshaw Know What OFSTED Good Practice Looks Like?
  9. Why That OFSTED News Is So Important
  10. What I’d do about OFSTED
  11. Progressive Teaching Methods In the Primary School
  12. Why I’m against Performance-Related Pay
  13. Lies, Damned Lies and Things You are Told During Teacher Training
  14. OFSTED Under Fire
  15. A Very Short Summary of the Phonics Debate
  16. Good Year Heads
  17. Why those of us on the left should support Michael Gove’s efforts to “clever-up” the curriculum
  18. Some Quick Tips for NQTs and Trainees
  19. Marking and Workload
  20. More OFSTED Nonsense

I’ve resisted doing a full review of the year post, mainly because as somebody who tries to read all the education blogs, they have been driving me mad and partly because it’s not long since my 7th birthday post. However, I will allow myself 5 highlights my blogging year, in no particular order and with no more of a sentence on each.

  • Quite significant growth in the number of hits to this blog, from averaging less than 350 hits per day in each year from 2010-2012 with no upward trend, to 970 per day in 2013 as a whole and 1450 per day in the last quarter of the year, as well as a large increase in the number of Twitter followers.
  • The OFSTED campaign which started in February, and was described in detail here, which, at the very least, seems to have blown the whistle on any number of attempts to promote a particular, ideologically driven, style of teaching.
  • The High Court agreeing with my supposedly controversial position on the English GCSE farrago.
  • The creation of the Echo Chamber and more generally the growth of a community of education bloggers, particularly those expressing views which the media never seem to acknowledge as being held by teachers.
  • Political and media recognition for this blog, most notably being mentioned by Michael Gove (starting here; resulting in this, which I don’t regret, and continuing with these) and getting to meet Liz Truss.

As for the year ahead, I have a few things I’d like to see or do. I’d like to see the education people on the opposition benches engage with bloggers, and with the difficult arguments, as much as government ministers have. I’d like to continue looking at some of those issues raised in my blogposts above, like teacher stress and depression, bad management and workload. I’d also like to come out of the shadows a bit, but this will require finding a job (or combination of part-time jobs) where my opinions won’t threaten my employers and where I have more time to spend on research or on blog-related activities (and where I am still teaching in a school for at least part of the week; I haven’t actually given up on teaching).

So, happy new year to all my readers.

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Now We Are Seven

October 30, 2013

Well……. apparently my blog has been going for 7 years.

It originally appeared on a couple of other websites, before finding its long-term home here in January 2009. Between the sites it has probably had in excess of 900 000 hits. That said it really only took off in the last year or so, as more teachers joined Twitter and certain posts became particularly highly visited. Prior to that I used to pride myself on being read only by a small elite of deep thinkers. The style has changed a fair bit, going from a frequent mix of anecdotal material and tedious essays to a less frequent, but less tedious, style of essay which verged on a cry for help, to its current emphasis on immediate & frequent reactions to whatever is annoying me, particularly topical issues.

My original inclination, after leaving a school I hated, was to catalogue some of the outrageous things I had seen in a couple of schools that would be considered fairly average and to share my own thoughts about the ideas that informed our education system, mainly focusing on behaviour. As time has gone on, I’ve become less interested (and more restricted) in how much I can write about personal experience, and more focused on policy, teaching methods and the broader teacher experience.

After being ignored, even in lists of teacher blogs, for most of those years this blog now gets a fair bit of publicity (see here) and has been name-checked by Michael Gove a few times. After years of being told that I was expressing the views of an insignificant and unrepresentative individual, I’m more often criticised nowadays for being the leader of a mob.

Through my blog, I’ve met a host of new people, including some such as Katharine Birbalsingh, Tom Bennett, Toby Young, Daisy Christodoulou and Daniel Willingham (yes really, how cool is that?) who I guess you would have to say count as celebrities in the strange parallel universe of the education debate.

During this time I have maintained my anonymity through carefully cultivating a career of such deep insignificance that if you arrived at my school’s reception and asked for me by my real name they wouldn’t be able to help. (I’m not joking, David Didau tried this.) At some point I will need to go public, but first I need to work somewhere that the opinions I express, and that thousands of teachers follow, aren’t going to be considered controversial or a liability when OFSTED visit. However, working in a school and seeing every day the things I’ve been describing for 7 years, continues to be my main source of inspiration.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with links to a few of the highlights of the last 7 years.

  • This, from my first month of blogging, is probably the one where I most often get people telling me that I nailed it (although this gets a pretty similar reaction)
  • This from 2007 is probably still my funniest post.
  • This, or at least the final part of it, had the most impact on political debate after prompting a controversial part of a speech by Michael Gove.
  • This from 2009 covers some ground that still comes up a lot.
  • People still ask about this on A.P.P., an initiative that apparently still hasn’t died in some schools:
  • This sums up my attitude to OFSTED, an organisation also mention in my two most read blogposts: here and here.
  • This sums up one of the debates that helped bring attention to this blog.
  • This still makes me angry.
  • The post that prompted the greatest number of hits in one day was this, from a few days ago.
  • And this has changed the lives of all who saw it.
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Scabs

September 30, 2013

teachingbattleground:

I’m not sure I’d be quite as vitriolic as I was when I wrote this for a strike 5 years ago, but I think it’s worth reblogging ready for tomorrow. My more considered views from earlier this year are here.

Originally posted on Scenes From The Battleground:

I wrote before about how I support the strike because, although pay isn’t that bad (well not unless you are in a shortage subject) teachers are discontented and should start kicking up a fuss.

However, my school will be remaining open with only a minimal number of us on strike. Overwhelmingly, my fellow NUT members would rather be scabs than rock the boat, even though some of are a lot unhappier at work than I am. It was not an option I considered, even as I began to feel more and more exposed on the issue. I suppose I have personal reasons for this. My grandfather worked on the railways before the war and used to tell me stories about how workers would be maimed at work, then sacked for being disabled (even though they could still work), and the only way to stop that was for the rest of…

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Advice For Education Bloggers

June 25, 2013

Since I first started blogging 57 years ago I’ve picked up a few ideas about how best to go about it. Also, scouring the interweb for reblogging fodder for the Echo Chamber, I have learnt a fair bit about where some bloggers go wrong. What follows is my advice. However, be aware that I am not claiming I have been, or will be, great at following it myself.

1) Think carefully about anonymity. If you are not going to be anonymous be very, very careful about what you write. Don’t mention your current school, current pupils or anything that might have a bearing on your professional life at the moment – even discussion of theoretical matters that have consequences for anything you are currently doing. If in doubt make sure you are anonymous. If you aren’t you will have to accept that what you can say is highly limited in terms of information you can give out and who you can risk annoying.

2) If you are anonymous, be careful. Anonymous bloggers are always being found out and often quitting as a result. There are definitely people who know who I am who I wish didn’t (nobody from last weekend, don’t worry). Often it is simply because when people start blogging they don’t particularly think it matters who knows and this comes back to haunt them later. Think through a contingency plan for what to do if you were found out. Limit the number of people who know who you are even if it’s tempting to do otherwise. That said, people who meet you in real-life are probably not going to be the biggest problem, it’s people who only know you online and don’t like what you say. So the key thing is to make sure there is no connection between what is written about you on the internet under your real name and under your blogger identity. Don’t do anything to express your views in public under your real name at the same time as you express them under an assumed name. If you can be uncovered using Google then there is a problem. If a work colleague would recognise you if they read your blog then there is a problem. When writing about real-life incidents then a delay is often advised.

3) Expect to get better with time. I won’t spend a lot of time on this point as I don’t really want to go on about how bad I was when I started, but blogging is something people tend to grow into and while the best often had something great about them from the start, they do still tend to improve with time.

4) Avoid cliches (like the plague). The three worst phrases I see in education writing are:

  • “regurgitation of facts”
  • “[education is] used as a political football”
  • “the factory model of schooling”

Metaphors and similes should, as far as possible, be original and at the very least they should not be familiar. This is not just about style, but also about the amount of thought put into an argument. As Orwell pointed out “the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts” and the worst arguments are invariably those expressed in stock phrases. It’s almost guaranteed that if you use one of the above then you haven’t thought through what you are saying.

5) Use Twitter (and other social media) to support your blogging.

Twitter is where you can expect to get most hits. Tweet 3 or 4 links to every blogpost, varying the time of day if possible. Encourage the readers of your blog to follow you on Twitter. It really works. Other ways to get people to see your work are:

  • Link to it in the comments of other blogs (where it’s justified);
  • Share it on facebook;
  • Let me know about your blog so I can put it on the Echo Chamber blogroll.

Be careful to ensure that you don’t overdo it and become seen as a spammer. Also, blog titles which give a clear indication of the content of a blogpost will also encourage people to follow links on social media.

6) Don’t use your blog to support your Twitter account.

Twitter is great as a source of inspiration, and a discussion on Twitter will often provide the basis for a good blogpost exploring an issue or an idea in more depth. However, you should not be assuming that your blog readers will have read your Twitter feed. Try to avoid in-jokes from Twitter, or assuming prior knowledge of a Twitter discussion. If you do continue a debate from Twitter then try to represent the Twitter argument first. Some of the worst blogs I have read recently have been written apparently as direct responses to something on Twitter that was not clearly identified.

7) Give credit where it’s due.

If you are answering or criticising something, please provide a link. Only in the most extreme cases should you respond at length to anything you haven’t clearly identified. Firstly, it’s very rude to talk about people behind their back. Secondly, it suggests that you have a problem with people hearing the other side of the argument. Thirdly, it may cause people to wonder if you are getting at them when you are not. Even if you are being critical of an idea, at least giving credit (particularly with a link) gives somebody a chance to respond and demonstrates that you are not responding to straw man.

Any time you are referring to someone else’s ideas, whether positively or negatively, identify them. We tend to remember ideas better than people (or at least I do) so we are always likely to repeat without credit the ideas of others accidentally, so it is important not to do it deliberately as well. People like to be credited with good ideas.

8) Use a popular platform and make your work easy to share.

This is something that might not have occurred to me before I started the Echo Chamber, but your work is more likely to be shared if there are other bloggers using the same platform. I would recommend WordPress (the actual site rather than using WordPress software on another site) as it is particularly easy to reblog. Blogger/blogspot is probably the next best option but pick a theme with the button for posting links. The “orange cogs of death” on blogspot are difficult to share even on blogspot (and difficult to read on some devices). Also, an established blogging site is less likely to be suddenly shut down. Early on I lost almost my entire blog when the hosting site was shut down without warning.

9) Be careful when repeating what you have heard elsewhere. Don’t blog what you read in the Guardian this morning. It’s good to share ideas but if the ideas were originally written in a national newspaper (especially one with an easily accessible website) they probably don’t need sharing in much detail. It is also worth checking facts before repeating them. False information seems to spread at incredible speed. Never use a quotation if it is not from a reliable or familiar source. “Inspirational” or “wise” quotations are routinely misattributed (See the Quote Investigator website for multiple examples). Also sometimes a quotation may turn out to mean something other than what you thought. As well as there being far too many education writers who quote the wisdom of Jean Brodie approvingly, I recently heard of a technology company using the slogan “A Brave New World”. Don’t make a literary reference if you don’t know the book; those who have may be shocked and appalled.

10) Don’t quit. As far as I know the only UK based education blogger who regularly gets more hits than me is Tom Bennett and a lot of his hits might be people desperately trying to find a way to navigate past the orange cogs of death. However, I haven’t become (possibly, I admit I don’t really know) the second most read education blogger in the UK by doing anything as difficult as being the (second) best. I have got here because all the people who were better than me when I started have quit and all the people who are better than me now haven’t had as long to find readers. Longevity seems to be the key to success as an education blogger. That and writing posts with “OFSTED” in the title.

As an additional point about not giving up, don’t get disheartened because of criticism. Expect it. The best of it will help you improve. The worst of it will only bring attention to your blog. Some of the worst blogs are written by SMT members who delete every comment disagreeing with them and block anyone who disagrees with them on Twitter. Blogging is essentially a public performance, so you should expect critics, and it’s better than being ignored.

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Yes, Those Were Definitely Examples of Dumbing Down

January 5, 2013

I had a feeling my last post, the one consisting of five examples of low expectations, would be controversial. The culture of lowered expectations is so pervasive that plenty of people feel they are aware of it, and against it, without actually being sensitive to particular examples. We could probably all,  myself included, do with contemplating whether what we do involves any dumbing down. It helps to ask yourself the question “what would a pushy middle class parent make of this?” before engaging in some activities. That way, there is a fighting chance that we can deliver to kids who don’t have pushy middle class parents the quality of education given to those who do. I think all my examples fail this test rather clearly and I am confident that most educated people who do not teach would agree that those were examples of dumbing down. It’s only those within the system who have been acclimatised to dumbing-down who might feel otherwise.

I will respond here to some the points made in the comments (and what I remember of the comments made on Twitter). I will start by observing that I made a particular point of telling people to read the original sources, rather than just my selections. None of my quotations were selected for any reason other than to illustrate a key point, and there was no attempt to take anything out of context. In some cases I butchered the quotation in order to include more of the context. If you want to accuse me of taking anything out of context you’d better put together a proper argument rather than just declare it to be “out of context” like a Christian fundamentalist confronted with a Bible verse which doesn’t seem to fit.

With regard to the second example, the teacher who would tell his twelve year old self not to worry about going to university at 17 (the usual age in Scotland). It is possible that it is entirely down to his own circumstances. However, it was in the context of meeting his new class and imagining his twelve year old self to be one of them. Certainly, when it was retweeted there was no attempt by any retweeters to qualify the advice as only applicable to the teacher himself. There is no clear statement that normally aspiring to university is to be required.

Of course, we (particularly teachers) do have a habit in this country of complaining that too many people go to university. I’m the first to complain about universities providing dumbed-down degrees and anything I say about the importance of going to university to do a degree should always be with the qualification “if the university and the degree are any good and if the students are adequately prepared”. However, I do not accept that a high proportion of people going to university is, in itself, a bad thing. I do not accept that the way to deal with universities offering worthless courses is to strangle the demand for higher education, rather than to deal with those universities. I do not accept the argument that the majority of other people’s children (and this is always an argument about other people’s children) are inherently “non-academic”. Partly, this is because some countries have much higher rates of university participation than we do, but mainly it comes down to class. Social class remains the key factor in going to university. We are are a society where the middle classes assume they are going to university and those from deprived backgrounds don’t. The belief that university is unsuitable for “kids like us” (or worse, “kids like you”) is pervasive in so many schools in deprived areas. Teachers cannot afford to be emphasising to kids that university is one goal among others, because the effect won’t be to deter the posh-but-thick; it will be to deter the working class. It is better to make everyone try to get into a good university, and have a lot fail, than to write off so many of the able-but-poor like we do now. University should be a goal for all because a good education should be a goal for all and even in failing to achieve that goal, one may be given the means to achieve many other goals instead.

The third example is controversial mainly because it referred to the GCSE English farrago. I would recommend anyone who has managed to convince themselves that this is not to do with dumbing down, but it is down to some kind of specific unfairness, to read the many blogs I wrote on the subject at the time. The agenda of the regraders is to give 75% of the cohort a grade C or above and among those who took the formal exam first and then had months of easily manipulated controlled assessment to bring them up to the required grade that pass rate rises to 85% (i.e. so high as to be likely to include many children who could be described as functionally illiterate). To raise the pass rate by so much (I believe it had never been higher than the mid 60s previously, even after twenty years of grade inflation) would appear to be drastic dumbing-down, but the defence has always been that we should do it because those numbers don’t matter as long as we are abiding by “the criteria”. To be told the criteria is “write using paragraphs; write using mostly accurate sentences and spelling; and be boring” makes a mockery of this. Grade C in English was meant to be equivalent to O-level. It was meant to be the level required for becoming a teacher. It was meant to be, at worst, average and originally for those far above average. It was not meant to be something the average middle class 11 year old could do. If you want those criteria and those percentages then this is dumbing down even if there was some unfairness about the exam and even if you feel that you should have been warned in advance that standards were going to be maintained.

There was one longer comment suggesting there may have been a genuine injustice if you compare the results of those who took the written exam in January, and the controlled assessment(s) later, with those who took/submitted all modules at the end. I have acknowledged this before, and all I can do is point out that the regrading lobbying have completely failed to focus on this. In fact, most of the fuss has been about those kids which this argument says were advantaged. They are, after all, the ones where teachers could do most to manipulate the grades. I do take the point but it is does not reflect the argument of the regrading lobby who, instead of saying these kids were unfairly advantaged as things stand, actually want the controlled assessments for these kids raised so that 85% of them get C and above. The regrading lobby want to maintain that unfair advantage, but against a background of a lot more Cs overall, rather than to redress the balance for those who took the written exam later.

The fifth example, the one where year 11s were encouraged to turn the rise of Nazism into a Mr Men book, was the one where I was expecting least comeback. Even if people didn’t accept that 16 year olds should be engaged in more sophisticated ways of presenting their thoughts, I assumed the sheer tastelessness would deter anyone from defending it. I was wrong. So, ignoring how tasteless it is, let me address why this is also dumbed-down. I think much of what people have missed is answered by this excellent blogpost from Daisy at the Curriculum Centre. The argument  is that, when designing activities, students will learn what they think about. So if students do a lesson where the Mr Men are explained to them, and they are meant to use the Mr Men in their analysis, then, for at least some of that time, they will end up learning about the Mr Men when they could be learning about history. It stands out as dumbing-down, in a way that, say, writing a play about Hitler’s rise to power (an equally ineffective way of learning history) doesn’t, because we do not want to spend time and money teaching KS4 students about the Mr Men. (Although according to OFSTED that’s fine for Key Stage 3). If you missed that this is what was going to happen in the Mr Men lesson then, please, read that blogpost I mentioned earlier and the sources it links to, and replan your schemes of work, bearing in mind the golden rule that what they think about is what they will learn.

The final point raised in some of the comments was that it is, in some way, bad to have searched for and publicised examples of dumbing-down. Partly, I wish I had searched. These were all things that I happened to find without really looking, usually because other people were enthusiastically promoting them, and I made a note at the time. I suppose it might be tough on those criticised, but all of these sources have been deliberately placed in the public sphere, often by individuals either presenting themselves, or presented by others, as experts in their field. I said at the time my main motive was to provide evidence of the sort of thing that is actually often denied. I know that if I said in a blogpost “there are headteachers who would happily give grade Cs to kids who can write just a few readable passages” or “there are consultants who attack the very idea of an academic education” I would be met by denials and claims of setting up a straw man to attack. I still remember the Twitter response to the story that David Laws had said some  teachers lack ambition for their students. At that time, I saw blanket denial of the very things some of my examples illustrated. It’s good to get this evidence to hand if anyone wants to claim that all teachers want their students to aim for the best.

I guess that still leaves the complaint that what I wrote was negative and sniping and, therefore, claiming my own superiority. My only defence against this accusation is that, whatever you want to read into it about me personally, I was right and that should count for something.

As well as writing this blogpost I will also go back and address some of the individual comments when I get a chance.

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