November 15, 2008

Scene 1: PSHE training

“Okay, now we have finished our icebreakers let’s talk about the next unit in the program. If you look at page 7 of your booklets, you can see where you should be leading your form group. The definition of success that you want them to arrive at after discussion is ‘trying your best to achieve a goal’. Yes, what is it Andrew?”

That’s not a definition of success.


You could try your best at something and not achieve it, I could try all I liked but I’m not going to run a four minute mile, or give birth to twins.

“Well, yes, I see your point, but I think the really important thing to get across here is that if you do try your hardest you have succeeded.”

You’ve succeeded at trying, but you haven’t necessarily succeeded at whatever it is you were trying to do.

“I think you are being a bit too traditional here, Andrew.”

But what if one of my form group points out that this isn’t the definition of success?

“I’m sure they won’t, they are only year 8.”

Scene 2: PSHE Lesson

Okay everyone, that was interesting to hear what you thought about success. Now let me tell you what the book says about success. It says that success is ‘trying your best to achieve a goal’

“Sir, sir”

Yes, Jade?

“That’s not what success is. You could try your best at something and not achieve it.”

Er… yes. Well like I said that is what the book says, we don’t have to agree with the book.

“But it’s stupid. It just isn’t what the word means. You can’t go around just changing what words mean.”

Er … yes, I certainly see your point and have to say I do agree with it. I think perhaps we just need to consider what success means in our own lives.

“Sir, sir”

Yes, Jade?

“Why do we have to discuss our own lives? Isn’t that just interfering in our own personal stuff? Why is my private life any business of anyone else.”

Well, the school is responsible for your emotional well-being, Jade.

“What’s that?”

How you feel. Whether you’re happy.

“But that’s mad. How I feel is my own business and nothing to do with the school.”

Well I see your point. You might want to try getting elected to the school council next year and making that point there to the people who decide what we do in PSHE.

“I’m making this point to you, Sir”

I’m afraid it’s not up to me. I don’t choose to teach PSHE, to be honest I’d much rather be teaching my own subject”.

“You’re good at that, sir. You’re a good teacher. So why do you have to do this PSHE crap? It’s just interfering in our own private business for no reason.”

Jade, I… Oh is that the time? Everybody, pack up quietly and hand your posters in on the way out.


  1. Of course these educationalists have tried very hard to create a decent education system. Therefore they have succeeded.

    OK, the children can’t read and write, and arithmetic is a mystery to them, and self-control and decent behaviour might have been invented by Martians, but we have all SUCCEEDED and the boxes are all ticked and we have consumed a lot of taxpayer’s money and that’s all that is important.

  2. Is being traditional or ‘too traditional’ an accepted put down?

  3. For about 40 years now.

  4. I’m so jealous. You actually had PSHE TRAINING!!

    I’ve never taught it before, and I was just presented with a pile of booklets and a couple of DVDs.

  5. We only had training because the school was introducing the “SEAL” program and so we were meant to be turning students into happy, well-adjusted individuals rather than simply getting them to draw posters every week.

  6. Wow – your pupils seem well adjusted already!

    My 16- to 18-year-old tutor group just spent a happy half hour filling in and discussing their learning styles self assessment forms and they never did notice the pointlessness of it all.

    Our vice-prin introduced the material to us with a ‘I know there’s not much supporting evidence for this, but I think it’s worth doing.’

    Well, there you go.

  7. Those kids ain’t stupid. What would happen if you reported that little exchange back to your PSHE trainers or would they not understand it unless you presented it in poster form?

  8. Fortunately, the next silly idea (that old classic, producing a “record of achievement”) took over from the SEAL lessons before anybody could be held to account.

  9. I’d be interested to hear whether people think there is any point to teaching SEAL. I can see the value of helping the kids to understand their emotions – i’d have loved for some of the kids in my classes to understand that feeling angry doesn’t necessarily have to be followed by punching someone.

    However, my experience of it is talking earnestly about feelings and building friendship pyramids is that its embarrasing for the teacher and for the kids. And I used to work in primary where I’d imagine it’s a lot more happy-clappy than secondary.

  10. Inevitably, we run into the obvious obstacle that we are not their parents, and whatever relationship they build with us is entirely at their discretion and not something that can be designed by curriculum planners.

  11. I worked supply today and by coincidence had to do a bumper 90 minute pshe/drama lesson on bullying this afternoon. Given that the class had been loud and argumentative all day, I had some difficulty containing my excitement at the prospect of that.

    I was left some scenarios and roles for the kids to do. The first group’s play was incomprehensible (pretending to text silently in a role play doth not good drama maketh). The next two groups turned into an open brawl much to the amusement of the class – even the character of the “teacher” was happily punching and shoving children (although the thought did cheer me up a bit). I think the worst thing was that this wasn’t even a bad class (in the special teaching sense of the word in that there were no real openly defiant nutters) but they had no interest in thinking long and hard about bullying.

    I abandoned it after that and did something useful.

  12. I liked your “pupil response” because it reminded me of my own children, whose emotional privacy is important to them, and their experience with the same form tutor. At Y11 Parents’ Evening she said to us “I’ve been Son1’s Form Tutor for five years now and I don’t feel I know him any better now than I did in September of year 7.” I was quite surprised because he was a loving, open person at home.

    I told him what she said and he was astounded that a person arbitrarily assigned to him for twenty minutes four days a week (Friday being Assembly) should presume access to his innermost soul. He thought he’d been friendly, cooperative and polite (he always is) and that was as much as she had any right to expect.

    She said the same thing about Son2 later but she was right there. He is an emotional clam and would actively rebuff any attempt at psychological probing, however well-meaning.

    I was accused myself of “lacking intimacy” with my form set (the very thought makes me shudder) and was told by the DHT that I should try to be more chummy with them, chat with them about their interests (give me strength), ask them how they felt about err.. everything. I bought the buggers a card and a fat’n’sugar treat on their birthdays, brought cakes and fruit in at Christmas, praised their successes and tried to offer realistic and helpful advice where it was sought. But apparently what I should have been was their mate,”down with the kids”. At their age I would have hated with all my heart some middle-aged, uncool git, faking it out of professional right-onness. None of the kids had complained, btw.

    Professional distance can be relaxed in the Form Tutor role, especially if you have to do bloody PHSE with them, but why should anyone have to fake a personality just to fit in with the latest orthodoxy? There should be room for us all, shy, restrained, private people as well as emotional slop-buckets. It’s a school, not the Jeremy Kyle Show.

  13. Yea Lily,

    I always wonder what particular children the “child-centred” proponents have in mind.
    Real children like knowing stuff. Any parent, relative or visitor who faces the withering scorn of a 5 year old when they incorrectly name some obscure cousin of the dinosaur recognises this.
    Real adolescents walk behind, ahead, on the other footpath rather than be seen in public with their dorky parents. They will sneer at any adult who tries to dance, use slang words, or in any way try to be cool or in tune with their age group. The idea that teachers, teachers!!, could possibly begin to understand any of the depth of an adolescent’s thoughts or feelings (let alone know them intimately) is ludicrous to many of them.

    As far as “Success” goes, surely the best model the kids know and can relate to would be the sporting PB. To achieve a personal best means that a student’s focus is not on others’ performance but their own. So there is no envy nor is there any gloating over others results. (Tho’ I hope my kind of child-centred adult is fully aware of the smart alec factor. My preference is that smart alecs should have something worth bragging about rather than mere, empty braggadocio.)

    The PB approach allows the slow but sure student to be proud of gradual improvement, and ensures that the quick and the clever have a reason to keep trying – so as not to fall behind their previous PB. Oh well, we couldn’t possibly use an idea that’s proven to work with young people, could we?

  14. I agree with your sentiments oldandrew. it is very worrying that we are being forced to re-define meanings of words in this way. Conversely, you can’t even use the word ‘fail’ any more. Is this the government’s way of compensating for the lowering of standards over the years – in the hope that the children won’t notice?
    I was hoping you might have scrapped the ‘planned’ lesson and just taught them the real meaning of success though. Or would you have been severely reprimanded?

  15. I scrapped a lot of the lessons, but a token effort was required.

    Sometimes I do imagine writing and teaching my own PSHE curriculum, but in practice I’d never have the time.

  16. “Deferred success”, seriousteacher.
    [Lily reaches for her gun]

  17. Seriousteacher, fail?

    I recently heard a senior, apparently respected person in an educational discussion say, “Oh, I don’t like to use the word ‘improvement’. Perhaps we should say ……. “.

    I didn’t bother further.

  18. Their failure is our failure.


    If they fail to reach the required standard that proclaims proficiency at this skill/subject/body of knowledge, or FAIL for short, it is almost always more likely to be a result of having arsed about in lessons for two years and refusal to practise or revise.

    I mean, it’s not like saying they’re thick, is it.

    I’ve had a steady stream of pupils at my office door for a week now, wanting to panic-purchase a revision guide for the Science GCSE Modular exams. I have spoken to a number of them as to how they intend to use this guide, and without a trace of irony, bravado or awareness, the way they tell me they are going to use this revision guide is to look at it. Stare at it. Gaze at the words as if they will be magically imprinted on their minds and effortlessly sorted into their relevant links. When I suggested that reading one or two pages carefully, aloud if it helps, and then answering the test-yourself questions, or maybe reading a page and making written notes as they go along, they gave me the kind of look that said “Steady on……”

  19. My question ‘Are you without sin?’ remains unanswered. A childlike persistence demanding answers to an off topic question was evident in your own posting of the same on a police blog.

    Perhaps you reserve a better image for yourself on a site where the expected manners of a genuine teacher are not normally confused with the behaviour of a lout sitting at the back of the class.

  20. My question ‘Are you without sin?’ remains unanswered.

    Yeah, I ignored it and removed your posts because it seemed unrelated to the post and, frankly, mad.

    If you are actually making some kind of point about the concept of sin then may I suggest you make it on a post where the concept is being discussed?

    Like here:


  21. Thank you, but no. What facts and concepts as may be in your head are best left unshared and in the good company of your ‘English Grammar’.

  22. Lily – ……reading……..aloud……..written……..??

    Surely these students know their own learning styles and preferences by now? You’ve given them three classic options. So why don’t they leap at the chance to make the best personal choice.

    Because all learning requires some work, and ‘learning’ styles and other pseudo helpful notions are dog-whistle ways of saying it needn’t be hard work. My main objection is that these approaches are passive. You don’t need to work, you just need to find the ‘right’ mode and all will become clear by flowing along a path uncluttered by irrelevant or unsuitable presentation. Success is assured.

    Long scientific words, reading complicated novels, knitting a jumper, five step Pythagorean problems, all require efforts of memory, skill, thinking, analysis and, horror of horrors, doing it again when it doesn’t work out in one shot. Clutter, muddle and difficulty are part of life, education, the universe and everything.

    Success is elusive, even when you work hard. If only the answer were 42.

  23. This is sadly a funny but familiar story, I am so glad its not just me and my tutor group who looks at the majority of the PSHE curriculum and think what the bloody hell is this rubbish. I have come to a rather jovial agreement with my form that I don’t actually expect them to try very hard on the PSHE ‘work’ and they don’t give me a hard time by acting relatively calm. I am amazed you got PSHE training, in my school the form tutors get together for about 15 minutes in a year meeting every week look at that week’s lesson and simply agree what crap it is. I am not surprised that year 8 were able to be perceptive – why do the powers that be under estimate the kids so much? Why do we all have to suffer the a lesson of this madness every week? Answers on a post card.

  24. […] to be good is a fools errand, as I tried to describe in this blog post, and Old Andrew described here. Many teachers will know this through the miserable experience of conducting PSHE, Citizenship or […]

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