More on academic and non-academic subjects

November 19, 2017

Yesterday I wrote about what I think makes some subjects “academic” and other subjects, while still worthwhile, not academic. The discussion on Twitter immediately afterwards was particularly helpful in helping me reconsider some points and defend others (although by now it largely seems to have been replaced by various progressives arguing against things I never said).

My original argument was that the use of the word “academic” to describe a subject corresponds to those subjects where mastery of the subject was characterised by further study (e.g. history or maths) and not those subjects where mastery is characterised by some distinct activity or skill (e.g. woodwork, painting or football). I acknowledged grey areas (music and MFL can be taught in either academic or non-academic ways) and emphasised that the difference between academic and non-academic subjects does not lead to a value judgement. I also put forward the view that trying to make the non-academic subjects more academic (or vice versa) didn’t do them any favours. I’m still largely happy with what I said but there is something I got wrong, something that I didn’t think about and one new point that I would like to consider.

I will start with the point I got wrong. Because my definition referred to mastery, I think I ended up over-emphasising elite performance. While I still think that the best school plays might indicate the best drama teachers, and the best sports teams might indicate the best games teachers, I should have accepted that general improvement in performance, for everyone at a school, is at least as important as how good the school’s elite are. I should have accepted that participation in, say, sports or the arts might also be important. I will stick to my position that the best drama teaching results in better acting and the best football teaching results in better football playing, but I would not judge these things only by the elite actors and footballers in a school. I stand corrected.

The point I did not think about enough was how subjects are defined and did not make enough effort to be precise in the subjects I talked about. I was amazed that several people expanded subjects way beyond the content I considered them to have. People kept telling me of amazingly academic things that are part of drama that were not acting, from the history of the theatre to the theoretic basis of criticism. I have a GCSE in drama. I did not study one of those things. But, of course, the curriculum changes, particularly in subjects where there has been a deliberate effort to make them seem more academic. I was aware of this in design and technology, and that was why I referred to woodwork and metal work rather than to design and technology. Non-academic subjects are repackaged and have academic content added. Anyone who believes the subjects as they are currently formulated in the GCSE curriculum are definitive will, of course, see them as more academic than they need be. But that is begging the question. I was starting a debate about whether these things are being packaged the right way. We need to look at things from a perspective outside the current framework of assessment and subjects.

To apply my definition, we need to be able to distinguish between the essential and the accidental features of a subject. Acting is essential to learning drama; it is not clear to me that anything else, even if relevant in some ways to drama, is. If the essential elements of a subject are non-academic then it does not matter if the accidental ones are, particularly if they may have been added to the subject to give it more academic credibility. Similarly, learning biology is not essential to learning to play football, and learning how to design a menu is not essential to learning to cook. Perhaps, some subjects will be lacking in essentials and need to be completely rethought and we can perhaps reject any contemporary subjects that have been invented entirely to makes something practical sound more academic. Cookery is a skill in its own right, it shouldn’t have to be repackaged as “home economics” or “food technology”. As far as I can tell some design GCSEs are a way to make some really quite wonderful practical skills look more academic, with coursework folders and written work and without actually testing if somebody can,say, hammer a nail in. PE also raises some issues. I was wrong to think of it as sports. It also covers fitness and we should recognise mastery of it in those who attain a high degree of physical fitness even if they do so without playing sport. Perhaps we would be better off thinking of sport and fitness as two separate subjects. This might seem a contrivance to get round the shortcomings of my definition. However, accepting the current curriculum structures as guidance for subject boundaries and content is not an option, that would simply be accepting decisions that, in some cases, are very recent as telling us the nature of activities that may have been done for thousands of years. We might also get around those subjects that seem to be in grey areas by dividing them into more than one subject, so as to better reflect the nature of the content, rather than the conveniences of the curriculum. Is creative writing really part of the same subject as grammar and literature, or is it an art?

Finally, we have the question of what happens when we go beyond the typical school subjects. There was an assumption among many people that the non-academic subjects I was talking about vocational subjects. Actually, I avoided the word “vocational” as it is not applied consistently in schools. Just because something does not lead to further study, does not mean it is suited to the workplace. A lot of people asked questions that referred to the world outside of schools. Some claimed that if something was studied at university then it must be an academic subject. But of course, universities exist to study things academically. Just because a university might teach sports science, it does not make football an academic subject. You might as well argue that a university teaching criminology makes burglary an academic subject. Universities create new academic disciplines to study things that are not academic disciplines. Sports science, political science, business studies are so called precisely because sports, politics and business are not academic subjects in themselves and have to be made so. The really interesting cases are probably the professions. Are medicine and law academic subjects or not? Perhaps part of the answer here is in the concept of a profession itself. Professions are not just jobs, they are also defined by having a particularly extensive body of knowledge in a way that other jobs do not. Perhaps that is what makes them the hard case, because we struggle to see the dividing line between doing the job and studying that body of knowledge.

Before I finish, I should point out again that this has been an exploration of definitions and the nature of subjects. It has not, and has never been, about policy. Some people think that if you say drama is not an academic subject and it is not best served by being tested in exams, then you would abolish drama GCSE and replace it with nothing and thereby drama would cease to be a priority for schools. I do think drama is more important than drama exams and I really mean this. I would hope getting rid of drama the pseudo-academic subject would not kill drama the art but, if this is a risk, then I am asking here for ways to prevent that, not suggesting it should be allowed to happen. I have no interest in getting rid of non-academic subjects, just replacing pseudo-academic subjects with the actual arts, crafts and sports they currently distort.


Academic and non-academic subjects

November 18, 2017

One of the worst things that happened in education in the 2000s was a seeming reduction in the number of academic subjects. MFL ceased to be compulsory, and some perverse changes in the league tables gave schools an incentive to concentrate on vocational qualifications. In the last few years, particularly with the introduction of the Ebacc and other changes in league table measures, efforts have been made to reverse this. During some of the debates it became clear how divisive it can be to refer to some subjects as “academic” and yet this is something we do quite easily, often without thinking what we mean.

If I had to put into words what I mean when I describe a subject as “academic”, I’d say an academic subject was one where mastery of it was best characterised by further study. The people who are best at history, are historians and they study history; the people who are best at maths are mathematicians, and they study maths, and so on. This immediately creates a distinction between those subjects and some others, where mastery is shown in carrying out a particular activity or skill. We consider the people who are best at football to be footballers. We expect the people who are best at acting to be actors. We consider the people who are best at plumbing to be plumbers. We don’t expect to find these people, who are the best at their subject, to be employed at universities doing research into those subjects. That doesn’t mean you can’t study these things at a university, but the academic study of the subject would be seen as distinct from being the best at the subject, in a way that wouldn’t happen with history or maths.

Once you make this distinction, then you find a few difficult cases. Are the people with the greatest mastery in the field of music those who play music or those who study it? Similarly, who has the greatest mastery of a language? People who speak it, people who write it or people who study it? This leaves some doubt both about how academic MFL is, although probably not classical languages, and also some parts of what is studied in English lessons. In these cases it could be argued either way about whether the subject is academic, or whether parts of it are and parts of it aren’t. Perhaps the best option in those cases is to consider them as subjects that could be taught more or less academically while still being equally focused on some form of mastery of that subject. Whereas in other subjects, we could be more or less academic but there is no dispute as to whether mastery is shown by further study or not. Artists are the best at art; carpenters are the best at woodwork, and nobody would expect a university to be the first place to find them and this contrasts clearly with where we’d find the people who are best at biology and ancient Greek.

Even if you can understand the logic of the distinction I have made, some people are likely to still be furious. The problem is that the place of a subject within schools is often based on how academic it seems. Therefore, even if it seems obvious that football and drama are not the same sort of thing as Latin and physics people will not want to make that distinction. And that’s actually part of the problem here, people will want to make them as much like an academic discipline as possible. They will want budding footballers and actors to have written essays and compiled coursework that has been given a grade, because that’s what academic subjects look like; that’s the route to credibility and legitimacy in those subjects.

It’s also a mistake.

We need to create a culture in schools where the best drama teaching isn’t that which produces the best grades at GCSE or (God forbid) performing arts BTECs, but the one that results in the best actors. A great school production should be seen as a sign of great drama teaching. The school with the best PE teaching is probably not the one where the PE qualifications make the biggest contribution to the league tables, it’s going to be one where their sports teams win and their students have the best chance of becoming professionals in the sports they learnt at school. We need to let arts, sports and crafts be valued in schools as arts, sports and crafts not as pseudo-academic subjects. Being good at football, art or woodwork should not be about getting qualifications, they should be about playing a game, painting or producing a product. Conversely, we should try to stop people making serious academic disciplines into games or entertainment; stop trying to put creativity into maths while taking it out of pottery.

The distinction between academic subjects and non-academic subjects is not a distinction between what is important and what isn’t; it’s a distinction between the ways in which they are important. The arts in particular, are in many ways so much more important than the sciences, that it seems insane to treat them as sciences. I’d love it if the incentives were there so that schools could simultaneously reduce the number of qualifications taken in non-academic subjects, but increase the resources put into those subjects, because the cultural life of a school is as important as exam results. We need to make a distinction between academic subjects and non-academic subjects for the sake of both types of subject.


Why all the research on teacher qualifications is worthless

November 11, 2017

I have a first class degree in pure mathematics. (As I write this I realise that, as a part time teacher in a state school, I am probably one of the lowest paid people in the country with that qualification, worth bearing in mind next time you hear conspiracy theories suggesting the re-emergence of traditionalism in education has been prompted by people attempting to make money out of education.) I have always found my mathematical knowledge and skills an advantage to me in my teaching. Not just when teaching A-level classes, but even when teaching bottom sets it helps to be quick enough to invent my own examples, and to have a good understanding of the importance and structure of mathematics. Like anyone, I’ve seen teachers who had great qualifications but struggled to pass that knowledge on effectively, and those with very unimpressive qualifications who seemed nevertheless to have a gift for explaining, but I assumed these people were exceptions. My personal experience was that, everything else being equal, I was a better maths teacher for having the knowledge of maths which is reflected in my qualifications.

It was a bit of a shock to find that in some schools it was assumed that if you had that sort of qualification then it was assumed that you probably weren’t a good teacher. You were probably only interested in A-level teaching and top sets for GCSE. Your ability to do well in your subject probably meant you’d struggle to understand the difficulties of those who find it challenging. You probably lacked any real skill in the classroom. I took this to be part of the anti-academic culture in many schools and assumed that it might even, in part, be motivated by jealousy of those of us who could have gone into other professions, who did not need to become teachers to earn a middle class income or the opportunity to have a management position. However, I was surprised to learn that the empirical evidence did not support those who believed that, on average, better qualifications made for better teachers. As one educational economist put it on their blog:

“The point is this: there is a general view threading through the teacher recruitment system that applicants with better degrees will make better teachers. I’ll illustrate that in a moment. But all the statistical evidence we have on teacher effectiveness says that that is not true: a teacher’s ability to raise the attainment of her pupils is unrelated to her own academic qualifications.”

I’d seen similar claims elsewhere that, with the possible exception of higher mathematics, teacher qualifications made little difference. This was hard to square with my own experience, but apparently it was what the statistics showed.

Then I heard (from this blogpost) about Berkson’s Paradox, a statistical anomaly that can explain a number of counter-intuitive results. This is a selection bias where we are looking at the connection between two events (like being an effective teacher and having a good qualification) and we look only at data where at least one of the events we are interested in happens*. The blogpost above uses this diagram to show what happens:

In the first picture, data for the whole population is shown. There is a positive correlation between two variables. In the second picture, those data points where both variables are low have been removed, and this selection reverses the direction of the correlation. This can happen in a number of situations. (The first 3 examples are from the blogpost mentioned above).

1) Studies of intellectual ability and academic motivation among college students. We might expect these two to be correlated, but if we only look at students who successfully made it into good colleges or universities, then those who are lacking in both ability and motivation will probably be excluded from the sample. Therefore, you may find a negative correlation between motivation and ability.

2) The correlation between research productivity and teaching effectiveness. We would not expect good researchers in universities to be bad teachers. But, a university would have no reason to employ a bad researcher who was a bad teacher, so again the sample will be altered. Therefore, you may find a negative correlation between research productivity and teaching effectiveness in academics.

3) The burger-fry tradeoff. We would not expect restaurants that are good at cooking burgers to be bad at cooking chips. If anything, we might expert culinary brilliance to transfer from cooking one item to another. But, if you like burgers and you like chips, you have no reason to go to a restaurant that is bad at both, so the restaurants you go to are a biased sample. Therefore you might find a negative correlation between quality of burgers and tastiness of chips.

4) “Why are handsome men such jerks?” – Ellenberg’s Paradox There’s no reason to assume good looking people have terrible personalities. But if you don’t date people who are ugly and have terrible personalities, then your sample of dating opportunities, will be biased. Therefore, you may find that in your experience, beautiful people are more likely to be tedious or unpleasant.

There’s every reason to think this might affect studies of whether better qualifications lead to better teaching. Imagine if my subjective impression is right, and better qualifications mean better subject knowledge, which means better teaching. If we looked at a sample of potential teachers, we might expect a correlation like this between teacher qualifications and a combined measure of the other attributes that make for good teaching.

Now, if we restrict ourselves only to people who are employed by schools, the sample changes. No school has good reason to employ people who are lacking in qualifications and in all other attributes that might aid good teaching. We could expect a sample looking at actual teachers to have fewer points in the bottom left corner. So removing those points from our original picture, it might now look like this.

And our correlation has gone. Better qualifications no longer predict other attributes. It could even be worse than this. If the elite schools are likely to get more and better qualified applicants, and employ the best of those who are well-qualified, then this might even remove teachers in the top right corner. Our average school could even end up with a correlation like this.

And suddenly we have a situation where good qualifications are negatively correlated with other attributes of being a good teacher. Yet, this is all from a situation where we started from assuming that good qualifications help teaching.

Now please don’t take this too seriously. Don’t start making teachers fail their performance management for being over qualified. All the above graphs are invented to illustrate a point, I am not seriously claiming that those of us with better qualifications are, if we are in average schools, worse teachers than the less qualified (although suddenly those exceptions I mentioned earlier look less likely to be exceptions). What I am pointing out is that if we look at teachers in schools and look for a correlation between qualifications and teaching effectiveness we are likely to find no correlation or even a negative correlation, even if better qualifications do make us better teachers. The research on teacher effectiveness which concludes qualifications don’t help, actually tells us nothing about the effects, system wide, of better qualified teachers. The same would probably go for other measures of teacher knowledge or assessment of any teacher attribute that might be important enough to affect one’s chances of getting a job as a teacher. All research comparing desirable teacher qualities (or at least those teacher qualities significantly affecting the chance of being employed) and teacher effectiveness which is based on looking at samples of actual teachers (rather than deliberate experiments) is likely to be worthless. My intuitions may well be mistaken, but the research doesn’t actually give me any reason to throw them out.


*I think technically Berkson’s Paradox might only apply to the case where selection turns a situation where there is no correlation to one where there is, but in this post I will treat it as essentially the same as where selection removes or reverses a correlation.


Let’s not argue over why we can’t make a difference

November 4, 2017

Despite all the talk among progressives of needing new types of education, one of the dividing lines in contemporary debate tends to be about the potential for massive improvements in education. And I do mean “tends” here. This dividing line is a blurry one and there are many exceptions. However, traditionalists often see our education system as failing, and even if we don’t use the language of failure, we do usually argue that massive improvements can be made. We are usually confident that evidence based teaching of early reading can cause a large change in literacy. We do tend to argue that if more knowledge was taught, taught better and taught in a way that would be retained, academic standards could be transformed. We have often explained how better discipline in schools can be the difference between kids getting an education, and many kids being in school, but not actually learning. Meanwhile, progressives are more likely to argue that this line, even when it comes from teachers, is “teacher bashing” and if politicians would just leave the education system alone, provide lots of money, make society fair and equal, and let educationalists and managers get on with their job unhindered by accountability or change, everything would be just fine, or at the very least, the problems will not be those caused by schools.

This has been the background to interpretation of research that shows that, on average, schools don’t make that much difference to outcomes. There are two lines of research that show this. One type shows huge correlations between social class and educational outcomes. Another type of research shows, on average, outcomes can be predicted based on one’s genetic inheritance, either by showing that who you share genes with matters more than who raises you, or by attempting to measure “innate” rather than learned abilities. Both types of research has been used to show schools make little difference on average. Both types of research have been used to justify similar ideas. If differences between students matter more than differences between schools, people argue:

  1. there can be no type of education or knowledge suitable for all;
  2. that the levels of educational failure we see, are, from a school’s point of view inevitable and schools cannot be held responsible for them;
  3. that there is no way to improve our schools other than making them better at catering to student difference.

Roughly speaking, these positions can be described as “determinist”. In my experience, modern progressives are more likely to be social determinists. They are often on the political left and believe that as social class determines outcomes, the important thing for schools to do is to lead the oppressed to political maturity. However, historically, many progressives were genetic determinists. Before the second world war, eugenics was seen as a progressive cause,  accepted by enlightened leftists like the Fabian Society, and opposed by regressive conservatives (like the Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton). There is an excellent chapter in Left Back: A Century of Battles over School Reform about the influence ideas of measuring innate ability had on some progressive educationalists.

As you can imagine, the history here is pretty ugly and there are few advocates of progressive education now who justify their position in terms of genetics, although talk of naturally “academic” and “non-academic” kids is still part of progressive discourse. The nearest you can find now to somebody using genetics to justify progressive education would probably be behaviourial geneticist Robert Plomin, who is quoted in the Guardian as concluding the following from his work on how genes determine outcomes:

“Education is still focused on a one-size-fits-all approach and if genetics tells us anything it’s that children are different in how easily they learn and what they like to learn. Forcing them into this one academic approach is going to make some children confront failure a lot and it doesn’t seem a wise approach. It ought to be more personalised,”

The arguments over which is the right sort of determinism have become vicious. Some now consider the idea that genes influence outcomes, or that we might measure or study innate ability, to be utterly abhorrent and only to be mentioned by racists and eugenicists. Sometimes, even those of us who merely challenge social determinism, without advocating genetic determinism, are tarred with the same brush. The situation is not helped by the fact that the empirical evidence seems to favour the genetic determinists, but there are many problems with those empirical methods (not the least of which is that correlation is not causation) and even more problems with drawing out practical lessons from that evidence. This means that, a lot of the time, people are arguing over what the empirical evidence actually means, whether it is ethical to consider empirical results in the first place and, inevitably, whether the views they don’t like should ever be expressed.

For those educational traditionalists who believe that much can be done to improve schools, the issue is educationally irrelevant. It does not matter what, on average, causes educational outcomes if, on average, outcomes aren’t good enough. If we believe schools can make a huge difference to education, then arguing over what determines outcomes when schools aren’t making a huge difference, is a waste of time. Imagine if people had decided there was no point inventing a polio vaccine until we knew whether the effects of polio were best predicted by social class or genetic make up. To us, it’s like Liliputians and Belifuscudians arguing over which end of a boiled egg to crack. The important thing is not whether we are writing kids off because of their genes or because of their social class, but whether we are writing off kids at all. I’ll weigh into the debate if I see people arguing for censorship or doing their maths incorrectly, but I don’t really care about the core issue except in how it affects how we end up treating people. I’ll happily oppose both eugenics and totalitarian social engineering. I have no interest in choosing between Brave New World and 1984.


Teachers describe their worst injury at work

October 28, 2017

For some reason, when I ask a question about people’s worst experiences I get far more clear answers to the question, alongside complaints about that I have a sinister agenda and demands that teachers be silent.

My latest question was:

What’s the worst injury you’ve suffered while working as a teacher?

I’ve had fewer complaints about this one, although somebody did sarcastically ask why I didn’t ask for people’s best injury. I’ve ignored the many responses where people discussed damage that was only to their pride, credibility or dreams. I haven’t included discussion of mental health as that’s been covered in previous posts. Also most (but not all) of the people telling me about their paper cuts have been left out. As ever, I followed up the more suspicious ones, but may still have been fooled. The thread can be found here.

I shot myself in the arm… though it wasn’t with a firearm. With the top of an exploding 2 L[itre] bottle. Lab coat had the bloodstains to prove it. I was utterly, utterly mind-bendingly stupid and learned a very great deal in about a third of a second

30 mini whiteboards fell out of cupboard onto my head – 1 at a time – 4 hrs in A&E and head glued back together – very painful … my fault for not putting them away properly

Caught a ring on a door handle and it cut into my finger so deeply it needed to be cut off by a mechanic at the garage across the road.

Paper cut… on my eyeball. Child did it by accident. It was horrific! Needed anaesthetic drops for a few days.

Basketball hit me full in the mouth…whilst I had a whistle in it…lost two teeth. The cost of getting them replaced was the real shock of the whole ordeal. My savings took as much damage as my mouth did.

Last Friday of this half-term – college laptop trolly rolled into my 2 biggest toes on left foot. Same foot as plantar fasciitis & Achilles tendinitis issues. I didn’t use the ‘f’ word as student was with me.

Hypermobility + a few months of sitting on tiny children’s chairs caused lower-back go into semi-permanent spasm. Had to ask for adult chair Policy was for child-centred classrooms with no adult desk or chairs- teachers to be ‘working with group or individuals at all times’ Was told ‘If we give a teacher a chair, the problem with that is that they will sit down and not get up from it’ So, the ideal was for T[eacher] to stand or kneel near a table, or sit on a child’s chair, or sit on the floor.

As new H[ead]T[eacher], went to U[pper]K[ey]S[tage]2 Xmas party, vaulted over bench to leave hall and removed 4 square inches of skin from bald head on door frame. Was away at a meeting with the L.A. the next day, by the evening local rumours were that I was in hospital with head injuries

1) Staple in my finger. 2) Banged my knee a few times.3) Catching my arm on door handles.4) Heart attack.5) Trapping my finger in a drawer.

1) got tangled in cables like a giant fly in a spider web 2) slipped down a muddy slope in front of the entire school while on bus duty. Massive bruising and huge embarrassment both times. Although a kind Year 11 helped me up out of the mud & didn’t laugh while the other 1499 students pissed themselves.

nearly lost my left hand in a horrendous accident on school trip! 10 ops later it’s as good as it will be. there’s the proof. …had hold of the seat in front as the coach rolled and then slid down m6… window broke…. Had to have it stitched into my stomach for 4 weeks for a flap to cover I know even I gulped when the doc suggested it! I was a ‘little teapot for a month.  it was a nightmare!! They needed the blood vessels to join… 9 hour op too! I should add the NUT were fab … Their solicitor was superb

Slipped a disc lifting student into water ambulance during school trip to Venice. Contracted TB (possibly not at school, but sounds good).

I was hit by falling scaffolding once.

Grade 3 tear of gastrocnemius. Happened on sports day. Exactly coincided with pistol to start 100 m[e]t[re]s. I thought I had been shot. True story.

Broke a burette off in my thumb last year and severed a nerve. Still no feeling in it.

Definitely a student moving chair onto foot whilst sat on it

Concussion- could see children messing around for TA & glared at them-ch[ildre]n stopped- missed footing on last 5 steps…cue pratfall/f[ore]w[ar]d roll

Exhausted by overworking and unreasonable demands, I completely missed a step and fell down stairs. Thought “Didn’t get a degree for this”.

Pulled my back celebrating a spectacular comeback by the Y[ear] 8 football team was coaching back in the day. Took 3 month’s chiropractic to sort.

Missed a step covered in a drift of leaves & fell full length.Usual hilarity from students tempered by fact that I was 8 months pregnant.

Broke a finger attempting to stop a rugby ball from hitting a spectator. Still hit her, but on the back rather than on the head.

Crashed my motorcycle on the way to school. Still got in. My form saw the blood on my leg. Got ambulance. Came back from hospital to teach.

Ruptured my thigh muscle taking a penalty against a year 7 on lunch duty. Went top corner though so not all bad  [this was from my former form tutor, but I’m assuming I’m not implicated as it was “1st year” not “year 7” back then]

Prolapsed disk when the caretaker used the wrong polish on the floor turning it into a skating rink!

Husband snapped achilles tendon, teaching football on astros…

Temporarily blinded as lid came off the copydex mid shake. Shouted “Shit!” loudly which shocked kids more than my eyes covered in glue.

Spine surgery from writing too many schemes of work without good back support. I took on a dept[artment] in 2nd y[ea]r of career, managed all of SLT and there was nothing. Had an op in 2009 and learned a lot about life in that year!

Accidental broken toe. Me vs. heavy box of music stands. Helpful child said ‘you can swear if you like miss – looked like it hurt’. It did.

I scraped my shin and badly injured my pride falling-off a chair balanced on a table, as I put up a display… as a class quietly worked…  and I dislocated my knee in a Staff Vs Parents hockey match.

Almost broke fingers and arm, grassboarding down a slope on y[ea]r 7 activity holiday session!

being bitten. Also having a chair leg land on my foot (sandals

Molten jelly baby flew out of boiling tube onto my hand during open evening demo. I kept smiling

Sort of injury, kidney stones from not drinking enough water during school day. Agony for 2 days. Now I know opioids REALLY work.

slipped on a wet corridor and broke a finger pride also suffered considerable injury. After year 11 stopped convulsing with laughter following my very slapstick slip they did show great concern and sympathy

Sewed through my finger on a sewing machine whilst helping Year 11. Just about managed not to bleed on her coursework!

Ice skating lesson with a school group in 1988 & stuck the rear right boot spike through my left boot. Stab wound & 2 broken bones in foot!

Fractured my arm after falling off a ladder putting Christmas dec[oration]s up or scalded my foot after dropping an urn of hot water.

Electric shocks from various electricity experiments, and falling over and hurting my thumb.

Ran a ski trip to Italy and chair lift bar fell on my head, lots of blood and was taken down the slope in the blood-wagon. Tried to walk through a swing door which was normally well oiled, unfortunately this time it wasn’t and I went head first into the glass!

Stitches in a finger due to a stubborn classroom locker. Expletives were used. Entire Year 4 class were shocked. Hospital swiftly attended.

cracked patella jumping rope with 3rd graders

Mild concussion. Projector screen fell from roof hit me on head.

A bruised backside when I slipped on ice taking Tutor group to Xmas carol service. They kindly picked me up.

Slipped a disc standing up from my chair whilst teaching a PSHE lesson. Needed [other teachers] to carry me away from class!!

Fell off a table whilst putting up a display. Did my knee good and proper

I stapled my finger when putting up a display. Ive also caught thousands of colds (but that’s illness not injury).

My funniest injury at sch[ool]: stapled my fingers together whilst holding a stapler & teaching.

Electric shock off a whiteboard…it certainly made me jump!!

Torn my knee ligaments jumping on a trampoline

During my PGCE I dislocated my shoulder from stopping a pass in a lunchtime basketball game.

Fractured my humerus, two ribs and cut my eyebrow… I fell

Trapped arm in a door while restraining a student (Special needs School) [went to] A&E

Regularly I have bruises mid thigh from walking into tables

I slipped in the dining hall on a sausage and did a strange somersault, a plate crashed to the floor bounced up & and sliced open my cheek

Tripped up stairs on the way to a lesson, laptop went flying, smashed my head on the handrail, knocked myself out, in front of students

Punched in the temple by a y[ear] 8 boy. Headbutted (didn’t connect) by an angry y[ear] 11. Wallet nicked by a y[ear] 11 that I had spent hours supporting.

Lice, scabies and flea bites. All in a days work. Oh yes. And a tub of black powder paint with no lid, fell off a shelf on my head. Scary sight.

Torn [anterior cruciate ligament] in right knee whilst separating two Year 9 boys fighting!

Once thought it good idea to remove OHP bulb immediately after it blew. Fingerprints returned after a few months

I ripped a muscle in my lower back moving a filing cabinet. Had waited for the site agent for 5 days and got tired of waiting.  won’t make the mistake again, will just wait nicely!

Bumped into a table (fixed to the floor). Bruise on my thigh is about 10 cm long, 5 cm high. Done this almost every month, for 20 y[ears].

Broke a tooth on school pitta bread…

Dropped a recycling bin on my foot and lost a toenail.

Got slapped around the face and then kicked twice one morning.

Burnt most of my hand when I didn’t use a long enough fuse for a flash powder demonstration

I fell off my bike in front of the main entrance, causing moderate but prolonged reputational damage.

Put a staple through my finger while putting up a display.

Badly cut knee and ripped suit after attempting to show Y[ear] 6 boys,playing football on the playground, ‘how it’s done’.

Took an “accidentally released” rounders bat to the gentleman’s area. If I wasn’t the recipient it would have been funny.

Partially tore ligaments while mucking about being a wolf in the playground

Tripped on cracked car park tarmac, burst knee wide open. Lots of stitches

I broke my foot at 7am at school on a dodgy paving slab and then walked around on it for the rest of the day before getting an X-ray. I also once dropped molten hot sulfur on my hand while doing a demo,had to teach the rest of my lesson with my hand in a bowl of cold water

Fell 2 steps walking down unlit stairs and twisted ankle. Had an xray and 2 days off work.

Cut my finger open whilst shutting a toilet door I spotted was ajar. Kid in my class provided me with loo roll from his bag that he kept there with a torch in case he needed to go for a poo in the dark! Not sure which event was the weirdest.

Fell off a chair doing a display- Huge bruise black on arm…despite just saying to students always use a chair for its intended purpose!

I broke my ankle in the middle of one of my [physical education] classes.

Broke bone in coccyx. Also got pneumonia from sewage has when basement flooded. Illness rather than injury really.

My eye got cut from a student’s nail when playing basketball with them. Lost a high % of peripheral vision in my right eye.

I’ve suffered a cut lip when a child I was sitting next to shot his hand up a little enthusiastically. Still think he did it on purpose

There have been a couple of reasonably serious injuries in the staff-sixth form football. Not to me though.

Banging my head – It’s not easy being a giant.

[From a school business manager] There was the time I was walking along a corridor & a teacher opened an outward opening door & pole-axed me. They were mortified..

Got punched by a parent, but wasn’t injured, and in retrospect she was probably in the right. Who was I to tell her son to tuck in his shirt?

Shut the filing cabinet in my classroom and trapped my nipple in it. No idea how I managed that..


11 Years Of Blogging

October 25, 2017

Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of my first blogpost.

I haven’t done very much blogging this year, although I’ve started again recently. I’ve tended to spend more time on Twitter as that reaches a wider audience and there has been good reason to keep active there, as it has become more hostile to anyone opposed to progressive education.

In fact most of my news for the year would have to be about the social media fightback by progressives. After years of losing ground, there seems to have been a major change of tactics among progressives. Instead of claiming to be the authorities who are being ignored by upstarts, they have rebranded themselves as victims of oppression by evil right-wing traditionalists who must be opposed by public shaming and abuse.

When in December, an Australian educationalist argued that criticism of learning styles was a racist attack on the poor, I dismissed it as an irrelevance. 

But actually this became pretty indicative of the rest of the year. Progressives stopped appealing to their own authority, and started trolling. Anyone who had a different perspective was a racist and a bully. Every school that tried to tighten up on discipline was engaging in child abuse. Every school that departed from progressive education was denying SEND students of their human rights. That, alongside personal abuse, and claims that those who opposed them were the true bullies, became the dominant progressive narrative of the year. Initially, I documented this (also here) calling on the “mainstream” progressives to disown the trolls. By the end of the year a lot of the previously “mainstream” progressives had adopted the same tactics. I’ve had to block more people in the last year than the rest of my time in Twitter put together. Progressives who work as consultants or lecture on university courses appear to have concluded that, as long as their hatred is focused on educational traditionalists and individual schools, it won’t harm their careers to call people names on social media.

There has also been a rise in the number of people trying to get tweeters into trouble by tagging in their employers or pretty much any authority figure into tweets. People tagged into hysterical condemnations of traditionalist edu-tweeters this year include the NSPCC, the Norfolk police and, my own favourite, one tweeter even reported me to Marvel Comics and the actor Benedict Wong (from Doctor Strange). My advice to any non-progressive edu-tweeter, be very careful about entering any kind of debate if your employer is mentioned in your Twitter bio or you are using your real name.

It would be easy to dismiss this stuff if people who behave like this weren’t influential in education, but as I said, but a lot of hostility and even some abuse, has been from people who work in teacher training. I’ve written a couple of posts this year about educationalists who try to silence debate

This has focused my attention on what people actually encounter when training to teach.

Other topics I’ve covered this year have included:

Behaviour Consultants


Michaela School

The Great Debate

Some good things from this year:

Anyway, thanks to everybody who has been supportive, particularly my other half, Gwen, who completely supports my avenging, and my colleagues at work who have shown a real interest in social media.

Here’s looking forward to another year of blogging.



The most pointless activities from teacher training

October 23, 2017

I was somewhat inspired by seeing people who are apparently involved in teacher training finding various reasons to ignore what teachers actually experience in schools (details here). It made me wonder whether there are other questions they don’t want teachers to answer. So I asked this one:

What was the most pointless (or harmful) task you had to undertake as part of teacher training?

The answers don’t necessarily distinguish between training in universities and training in schools. For the most unlikely ones I did ask a few follow up questions to convince myself they were genuine, but obviously I could have been fooled. As ever, these are intended to be answers only to the question I asked, not an account of what is normal in teacher training. You can find the thread here on Twitter. I’ve also included answers from Facebook. I’ve tried to avoid answers that are obviously from outside the UK, although many of these are still well worth reading on the thread.

Taking part in a carnival where I had to dress up as a box of McDonald’s fries. Do I win?

Photographic evidence provided by @OhLottie

Being made to do learning styles & left brain/right brain questionnaires to find out what kind of [learner] I am.

First week of PGCE at York we were required to carry an orange and a blindfold to all sessions. Eventually had … to identify our oranges blindfold. Still no idea why!

Being made to have a reconciliation meeting with a student, to apologise for telling her there’s no such thing as a kinaesthetic learner… This was last year!

Triple mounting… Mounting work on card then remounting on 2nd contrasting colour then a 3rd mounting with 1 cm border. I cried when told I would have to redo… Did I mention how long it took? I was a student and last out of the building. Caretaker tapping foot outside door. General effect of display was hallucinogenic.

‘Kinaesthetic’ learning in maths. One trainee: ‘I got outstanding for my lesson – we did the starter outside with the hula hoops’

Compiling a massive folder of ‘evidence’ and then organising and signposting key bits for the assessor so most of it was ignored.

[A massive folder of evidence] and a reflective sketchbook (think full-on creative & decorated) which was the last thing I had time for and didn’t benefit my learning… The idea was nice but it added to the stress of things to do & has just been shoved in a cupboard since.

I had four huge boxes of “evidence”. I have no idea what was filling most of it and I don’t believe for one second anyone looked.

Working out how to teach numeracy in English to tick off that bit of my evidence folder.

Building a bottle rocket. I have no idea why we had to do it. Maybe to do with teamwork? Near the end of our training. Seemed weird.

Teaching an entire lesson without speaking. First placement too! … It was to encourage them to learn independently.

Having to reorder my folders for the tutor’s ease of marking having arranged them for my ease of teaching.

Building a tower from rolled-up newspapers to learn about teamwork.

The “assessment and ICT” essay? portfolio? where we had to photocopy and collate paperwork.

My tutor … said he would pass us all if we survived his organised pub crawl.

Going outside to collect sticks and leaves then using them as ‘inspiration’ to write a Halloween story. We were encouraged to dress up too.

I remember our ICT lectures were truly awful. Basic stuff like how to save a Word document.

To play ‘pass the teddy and speak’ during a staff meeting. Some took role seriously and revealed ‘inner child’ *cringe*

Spending hours devising & printing OHTs (remember?)with pictures of Simpsons characters in order to have ‘eye catching starter’ I recall many sessions concerned with devising games of bingo and other ‘lively activities’ apparently for MFL vocab learning. I recall a fellow trainee telling me of advice she’d been given by course tutor regarding difficult class: “Wear a silly hat”.

Watched a tutor get up on a table to demonstrate a swimming stroke as he insisted you didn’t need to go swimming to teach [children] to swim.

Having to write a 6000 word essay on the decimal system and how it had positively impacted on my life.

Being made to teach from the middle of the classroom for the whole lesson, far far away from the PC or my resources to see how I’d cope.

Giving me a class with a child who (in hindsight) was clearly autistic, with no warning & no back up. The actual teacher had walkie talkie … as child was a runner: I prepared a history lesson & blacked out the room & played sirens. The kid threw a chair at me, swore & ran. I had NO way of contacting other staff other than to leave my class & run to reception. I had no SEN training at all. Was year 2 teaching degree.

Going to a primary school for the day when I teach KS5

Three weeks at a primary school at the start of my 11-18 PGCE. Totally wasted time. … Three weeks with year 2. I didn’t see a secondary kid for six weeks. I learnt v[ery] little.

Organise a trip for PGCE students, taught me nothing, but on hottest day of the year, 6 month[s] pregnant, I had to walk miles up a hill

Make a poster.

Brain gym

Weekly logs of around 750 words, not entirely pointless as it was all about reflective practice but coming up with 3 SMART targets a week was a struggle.

Morning spent on cross-curricular links possible between English and geography is the first thing that springs to mind.

Draw a teacher. Mime a poem. L[earning] S[tyles] survey. Kinaesthetic paper-cutting. Write answer, throw scrunched paper at teacher. So many! … Actual most harmful was probably advice to choose English texts based on what kids are interested in and what they know already.

Most pointless was creating 3 different worksheets (H[igher] A[bility], L[ower] A[bility], and average) to demonstrate differentiation. I would never do this in class or even have time to do it for all classes

Spent h[ou]rs thinking up French activities to suit each of the multiple intelligences (naturalistic was my fave. Erm, learn vocab about trees?) Think we settled on a French trip to a farm in the end (just to make it all stop).

The ICT skills test!

Listening a diatribe from a member of faculty telling us it was awful that heads & governors were held responsible for school performance

Pointless: the display stuff. Suggesting that jaunty angles was disrespectful of pupils’ work. The effort/gain didn’t justify the time spent.

As part of my drama elective, being told to become a piece of spaghetti, coming to the boil in front of an audience of 60 fellow students!

[My] D[ear] H[usband] was training to teach history. Lecturer wanted students to crawl under desks, to experience what it was like to be a coal miner.

Make up a dance with The Jabberwocky’ as the inspiration. Mortifyingly embarrassing

We spent a whole day being shown how to double mount work for display purposes. We were shown how to put up a roll of backing paper and they had to ‘have a go’ putting up backing paper. This included tips on how far to allow the staple to go into the board. We had to have mitred corners. We then had to create a display in teams, mount it and assemble it. The lecturer took ages to mount one piece of work. She used a rule and set square to make sure the border around the work was exact on all sides. We were told not to just use eye judgement. I happen to have a very good eye for doing this.

We spent an hour on how to choose the right colours to match the work and given examples of which colours went together well.

I’ve never felt so patronised.

We were taught how to write the labels for displays. We had to rule 3 horizontal lines and some vertical lines and then write the words in pencil before going over with felt tip. When I moaned to my mother, she pointed out that she had to do it with a wide-nibbed pen and ink!

Sing in a musical of 7 brides for 7 brothers! Worked on it for a whole term. Because I told the tutor I was tone deaf,was given a main role. …It was mortifying. What it had to do with teaching, none of us understand! It was a long time ago in Swansea, the 4 year b Ed course. It was a performance only the other class got to see thank God. I qualified 95.

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