Archive for January, 2010


Sports News

January 31, 2010

I’ve just received this from a friend in a more senior position than myself, so it must be true:

Andy Murray wins 2010  Australian Open

Following the intervention of Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Retardation and Ignorance, and in line with what is happening in British Schools, I am pleased to announce Andy Murray has won the 2010 Australian Open Tennis Tournament. It has now been made easier to win the tournament, just turning up and competing results in a trophy, a winner’s medal and a certificate of victory. This is so no one feels like a loser and so that Andy Murray does not suffer from low self esteem.

Furthermore, he has been diagnosed, by someone with no qualifications whatsoever, with a specific learning disability that means tournament organisers have to differentiate matches according to his IEP and not expect him to perform against the world number 1, as not only is this likely to result in failure and a lowering of self esteem. He is also likely to fail his target of not swearing more than once a game.

To ensure Andy always gains the success we are sure he deserves, or at least to ensure he’s successful enough that he won’t get stroppy and disruptive and swear at the umpire, we have come up with a personalised education plan where he will be examined on: being Scottish, shouting “come on” and playing on his X-Box.  Under no circumstances shall he be tested on “playing Swiss people called Roger in Grand Slam tournaments”.

Finally, in order to avoid a repeat of this morning,  Andy shall not be expected to play tennis to win matches. All Andy need do is to fill in a booklet about Tennis, with the help of Wikipedia which has all of the relevant answers. Completion of this booklet will be the equivalent of 4 Grand Slam victories.

An announcement about a new diploma in tennis playing is expected shortly.



January 19, 2010

Sometimes it seems as if a teacher is somebody who sets activities for children and acts as a substitute parent. However a lot of teachers are actually able to teach and interested in teaching. By this, I mean they are able to explain a subject so that those who listen and follow instructions will learn. If a school has recruited a substantial body of such people, there is a great danger that

a)      management will face pressure to help with the process of making students listen and follow instructions


b)      results will be far higher for those teachers than for the activity-setting nannies who make up so much of the school management structure.

Inevitably, the culture of mediocrity requires that these teachers who are interested in teaching be prevented from doing so.

Here are the standard forms of obstruction:

1)      Low expectations. If students aren’t used to listening, following instructions or working hard it takes a lot of time and effort to get them to do so. It can be done by teachers who have established themselves over several months, or even years, but if the expectations are left low enough then, at the very least, new teachers will struggle to teach their classes.

2)      Empowerment of students. If students believe that they have a right to an opinion about everything, including how they are taught, then every instruction will be faced with an argument or a need to be explained. Time is wasted on pointless questions.

Q: “Why do we have to know this?”

A: “Because literacy is important in our society”.

Q: “Why can’t I sit where I like?”

A: “Because you won’t be able to see the board from the stock cupboard”.

Q: “Why are you blaming me?”

A: “Because I saw you attacking Scott right in front of me. In fact you still have your hands around his throat.”

3)      Timetabling. Even the most effective teachers will have their power drained by being given a non-subject such as PSHE to teach. Similarly splitting classes between different teachers and different rooms can obstruct routines and the establishing of good behaviour. Classes can also be located in inconvenient places. Science and drama really do need a specialist type of classroom. Any lesson can be made more difficult to teach by being placed in the canteen (I’m not joking, some schools do this.) A classroom where all the tables have been grouped together into “islands” so that many students are facing each other not the teacher is another obvious obstacle.

4)      Curriculum. The National Curriculum has often been seen as a burden as it reduces the freedom for teachers to pursue the topics that are of most interest or importance. For most teachers this is, of course, complete arse. If there isn’t national guidance as to what to teach then instead of freedom a teacher is likely to be faced with impositions from another level: a far less accountable level. The National Curriculum will usually set objectives to be taught. Incompetent  managers are more likely to set “projects”:  lengthy, supposedly interesting, but apparently pointless activities that are meant to take weeks even though all the actual learning content could be delivered in ten minutes if anyone could be bothered to actually teach. It is far better to have your curriculum set by a bureaucrat than an incompetent teacher. The bureaucrat will at least focus on aims not activities and leave you a reasonable choice of method.

5)      Imposed teaching techniques. This is the big one. This is why many teachers who can teach feel they need to hide it. This is the requirement that you do something other than teach. Threats, inspections, formal observations and informal pressures are used to make teachers: do group-work, play games, set investigations, hold discussions, ask “open-ended” (i.e. vague) questions, organise role-playing, or produce display work regardless of the subject or topic at hand. Part of this is just a refusal to acknowledge that different disciplines require different techniques. Drama requires group work, mathematics doesn’t. English requires some discussion, science doesn’t. ICT requires computers, French doesn’t. Sometimes there are arbitrary rules about what you must or must not do:

“Don’t use these worksheets they have too many questions on them”.

“Don’t speak or, in any way, instruct the class for more than 12 minutes in every hour”

“Write a paragraph on the board every lesson to explain what the learning objectives are, how they correspond to levels and grades, and how students  will be able to judge their achievement against three different levels”.

My favourite example of a teacher who couldn’t teach obstructing those who could was the middle manager working in a maths department who told their department that you could learn anything from doing five questions, and so it was unnecessary to ever set more than that.

6)      Resources. You can make teaching difficult simply by refusal to supply appropriate resources. Some resources provided are simply at the wrong pitch and cannot be used without causing confusion or wasting time with repetition of primary school work. Some crap textbooks are full of suggestions for group-work but nothing that could actually be used to develop the appropriate skills. Sometimes there are simply too few books to go round, even in an era where spending on schools has massively increased.  Sometimes the books are stuck in a cupboard on the other side of the school. The worst examples of this, though, are usually ICT related. Despite very little evidence of any advantage provided by interactive whiteboards, many classrooms had their conventional whiteboards or blackboards ripped out and replaced with an interactive whiteboard which a lack of training, a technical glitch, or a shortage of software or laptops, or other required technology, then rendered unusable.

7)      Confusion. Even if somebody knows how to teach, if they are inexperienced or lack confidence it is easy to convince then that they don’t. This is done mainly through the use of Three Letter Acronyms: “Yes, your students learnt and enjoyed that lesson, but it was a terribly lesson, there simply wasn’t enough AFL, APP, BLP, P4C or CSI. Next time do more groupwork.”

8)      Mixed ability classes.


Snow Days

January 6, 2010

I’ve had very few “snow days”, i.e. days where my school was shut because it was snowing, in my career. Mainly this has been due to bad luck or working for the kind of headteacher who, in the absence of any other kind of notable achievement, hoped to become respected for their ability to keep a school open.

Two experiences spring to mind though:

The Snow Day at Stafford Grove School

As usual I came into school early, the roads had been gritted and public transport was working in the immediate vicinity of the school but the school was covered in heavy snow and staff who lived further away, where the roads hadn’t been gritted, were likely to have trouble coming in. I got some work done in the department office, but started getting phone calls from other members of the department trying to find out if the school would be open so I went over to reception.

When I got there Maureen, the Deputy Head was sat there in the receptionist’s seat. She asked me to help take phone calls from staff and parents. She explained that if parents called we had to tell them that the decision had not been made yet whether the school would be closed or not.

So for half an hour I sat there, telling parents that until they heard differently the school would be opening and recommending they listen to local radio, just in case “anything changes”. I didn’t mention that the thing that might change would be the arrival of a member of staff able to make a decision. According to Maureen, the head couldn’t be contacted, nor could Claire the other, more competent, deputy head. Maureen didn’t feel she could make the decision herself (she had only worked at the school since the year I was born and, therefore, wasn’t experienced enough to make that sort of judgement) and until she was absolutely certain that hardly any staff could make it in, the school should remain open. As we sat there it became abundantly clear that every other school in the city was closing, even some of the schools with a reputation for staying open. The ice on the roads was dangerous and also the sheer depth of snow was so high that it was actually quite inconvenient to move around the site.

I eventually got away from the phones as other teaching staff arrived and somebody else got roped in; if the school was going to be open then I did have lessons to prepare. Another twenty minutes passed. Almost all the teachers were in, but a lot had struggled to make it due to icy roads. Students began to appear in the corridors, athough only in small numbers. Then the announcement went out: “the school would be closing to students”.

Members of staff who had struggled to get in went through the relief at having a day off, followed by the annoyance of realising that they had gone to a lot of effort for no reason other than the inability of the school to make a decision. Rumours went round as to what had happened. Maureen was believed to have been so bad at making decisions that she’d even been phoning retired members of SMT for advice. It was also believed that eventually Claire, the other Deputy Head had turned up, looked around at the state of the school, and said “Of course, we’re closing it”.

Still, now we were all in we could catch up on some work then leave, hopefully after the roads had been gritted. Then the message went round. The school building would be closing in twenty minutes everybody out. Staff who had already regretted coming in because the roads had been so hazardous were forced back out onto the same roads.

The following day the school opened, still under a blanket of snow, and despite lots of other schools being closed. Attendance was about 50% and some statistical jiggery-pokery had to be done to the registers to avoid admitting this to the powers that be.

The Snow Day At Mallon Park School (the most successful school I have ever worked in)

It started to snow during the previous day. Some other schools had sent students home, but as most of ours lived locally, and they had all made it in there seemed little to be gained by this. However, meetings were cut short and staff made it off site early. About an hour after the students had left the headteacher started asking people how they were going to make it home. When she discovered that I was taking public transport she offered me a lift, although she did warn me that she might have to stop along the way if she saw any students from the school misbehaving on the way.

In the car she quizzed me on how I would get into work the following day. When she realised that I left home long before any closure would be announced, she tried to make me promise not to leave my house until it was known for certain the school would be open, telling me that she did not mind if I was late. (To be fair, I evaded making this commitment as I hadn’t prepared properly for the following day, and would much rather risk having a pointless journey than risk teaching lessons without my resources to hand.)

The following day the decision was made early, and I was informed by text message in plenty of time.


Top Posts of 2009

January 2, 2010

In case you are interested these have been the twenty most viewed posts in the last year (although some of them were actually written earlier). This doesn’t actually mean they were the best, some of them just come up a lot on popular searches like

“should I quit teaching?” (which tells you a lot about teaching)


“scenes of corporal punishment” (which tells you a lot about the internet).

  1. A Guide To Scenes From The Battleground.
  2. You Know it’s Time to Quit Teaching When …
  3. Corporal Punishment
  4. A.P.P.
  5. Lessons Not Learned (Or Why Sir Alan Steer should still Stick his Stupid Report up his Arse)
  6. RELOADED: A Brief History of Education Part 2, the 1944 Education Act
  7. Eight Out Of Forty-Three Ain’t Bad
  8. Charlie and the Inclusive Chocolate Factory
  9. Wilful Stupidity
  10. Self-Esteem: Part 1
  11. Snake Oil
  12. Obedience
  13. OFSTED Must Die
  14. Education as a Religion
  15. Why Sir Alan Steer Should Stick his Stupid Report up his Arse
  16. We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For
  17. Hard Work
  18. RELOADED: FAQs for NQTs
  19. The Battleground Bookshelf
  20. Performance Related Pay?
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