Archive for December, 2012


Top Posts of 2012

December 31, 2012

The following posts got the most views in 2012. Some of them weren’t actually written in 2012.


What OFSTED Say They Want


A Guide To Scenes From The Battleground


The Insanity of Allowing Phones in Class


How to Destroy NQTs


The Two Types of Guardian Journalism About Where to Send your Kids to School


Actually, It Was About Cheating


Progressive Teaching Methods In the Primary School


Why Students Aren’t Given More of a Say in Education


Good Year Heads


RELOADED: How To Find Out If Your Teacher Is Gay


A Reply To Fiona Millar’s Latest Exercise in Denialism


The Exam Hysteria Continues…


The Attitudes Which Cause the Behaviour Crisis


Dumbing Down: The Tory Way


A New Summing Up


The Job that Never Ends


How Not to Criticise an Education Secretary


A Member of the Patriarchy Writes…


You Know it’s Time to Quit Teaching When…


Technology and Another Myth for Teachers

Roughly speaking, I started the year working quite hard on heavily researched posts about progressive education and the future. As the year went on I just got busier and busier with work and blogged mainly about things I’d just seen online or in the news, making the blog a lot more topical and controversial. There’s been more media coverage and a big explosion in Twitter followers. My new year’s  resolution as a blogger will be to find some time to write some more in depth and researched posts, although it looks like I’m already out of spare time for that during this holiday.

Maybe half-term…


Win a Holiday of a Lifetime – Apply by preventing your classmates from learning

December 23, 2012

Every so often people doubt me. It cannot possibly be true that children are told that their behaviour is a result of emotional problems beyond their control. It cannot possibly be true that children who bully their peers, antagonise their teachers and steal education from their classmates could ever be rewarded. Nobody would actually want to publicly reward bad behaviour of the kind that prevents so many kids from deprived backgrounds from having a decent education.

I really wish I was making it up.

While watching the clip, try imagining what it must be like to see this if you are a well-behaved student trying to learn, and these are the kids who have been deliberately stealing your education from you.



December 15, 2012

For those of you not on Twitter, I’m sure you’ve all been waiting to hear what happened on #ukedchat this week. Did the biscuit option win despite the attempt to fix the vote?

The answer is “yes”.
Edited - Screenshot 2012-12-13 at 19.57.01

Unfortunately, as we approached the time for the discussion, this was tweeted:

Edited - Screenshot 2012-12-13 at 19.53.11

That’s right, the poll was ignored and a related, but blatantly different, topic was put up instead. Ironically, some of the tweeters discussing the carpet-bagging topic were actually arguing that children should have a say over lesson content.

Full archive of the resulting chat can be found here:

Robert Mugabe’s explanation of how he won the election after all can be found here:

I think the gap between progressive educators rhetoric’ about debate, democracy and choice, and their actual behaviour, is a topic worth returning to in the future.


Taking the Biscuit

December 9, 2012

Just a couple of things to comment on this week from my online life.

Vote Biscuit

I don’t know if you are aware of #ukedchat. It’s a Twitter hashtag which now seems to be overused all week round, but its main purpose is for education discussion between 8 and 9 on a Thursday night. Unfortunately, because of who has time to spare on a week night, and the general inclination of the online educator, it tends to be dominated by techno-zealots arguing strongly over whether it is better to use technology to engage students in creativity and critical thinking, or alternatively, to use technology to differentiate between students to facilitate critical thinking and creativity. Every so often I like to pop up and spend time expressing the sorts of opinions you hear from ordinary teachers in ordinary staffrooms only to be accused of trolling, luddism and hating kids.

The discussion topic is chosen by a poll which takes place in the previous week and here are the latest options:

Edited - Screenshot 2012-12-09 at 07.25.46
I don’t know how the biscuit option got there. Perhaps it is meant to demonstrate the type of critical thinking question that a progressive educator might ask. Perhaps it is a mistake. Perhaps it is a joke. Regardless, I’d quite like to see it win as it might encourage more original topics on #ukedchat By comparison, last week’s discussion topic was “What is your most useful website used in teaching?”. The biscuit option should have no difficulty winning the poll; last time I looked it had 74% of the UK vote. However, when it first shot into the lead on Thursday night there was a somewhat anomalous surge of votes for another option, all from the US and all in a single night.

Edited - Screenshot 2012-12-07 at 06.06.57

I’d hate to think that biscuit might lose because of somebody using proxy servers to fix the poll. So if you get a chance, go to here  and vote biscuit.

Go Block Yourself

There was a bit of a discussion – okay a handful of self-righteous tweets and one blogpost (see December 7th here) – about my decision to block someone on Twitter. Blocking is when you no longer see a tweeters’ tweets, and they can no longer follow you from that account (although they can still read your tweets by logging out). I’m not a big fan of people who use blocking to avoid having to see opposing arguments. In fact, it’s often an indicator that you have won an argument if you find someone is blocking you (I’m very proud to have been blocked by eminent progressive educator Jo Boaler for daring to suggest I wouldn’t be ignoring criticisms of her research just because she is more eminent than her critics). However, I think it is worth making it clear who I will block.

1) Bullies. Katharine Birbalsingh got harassed off of Twitter by people sending her abuse and behaving in a generally disconcerting and obsessive way. I will not go the same way. Send me insults once and I’ll probably retweet them so we can laugh at how pathetic you are. Send me several insults, or one extreme one, and I’ll block.

2) The Unwell. There are a couple of people (both of whom I have tended to encounter on the Local Schools Network- make of that what you will) who seem to be exhibiting genuine mental health problems in their online behaviour. Even if they do provide arguments I will not engage with them as I’m not sure a row with me is what they need in their present state of mind. I will attempt to ignore such people and block if they interact with me on Twitter.

And the latest category, and the one which has started the latest controversy, is:

3) Cheerleaders. I began to notice that sometimes some people would wade in whenever I was having an argument to make snarky comments about me, and to tell whoever I was arguing with how great their arguments and opinions were, even if they were obviously out on a limb and falling apart. If people are losing an argument then they probably deserve to know they are losing it, so I never found this stuff helpful. However, with a couple of my followers it became such a frequent occurrence, and they never offered an argument themselves, that I began to feel they were following me only to bolster the confidence of anyone I disagreed with. After a bit of discussion about it, I decided I would block those individuals if they continued. One did, one didn’t. I don’t expect everyone who follows me to agree with me or even like me, but sometimes I do need to be able tell somebody “that’s not okay” without somebody who has applied no thought to the issue popping in to say “yes, it is”. There really is no point following me if your only agenda is to make debate more personal and unpleasant and to disrupt the actual flow of the discussion.


What good should follow this, if this were done?

December 5, 2012

A few weeks back there was a lot of noise on Twitter about “the Heads’ Roundtable”, a group of headteachers who, in collaboration with the Guardian and Fiona Millar, were attempting to influence education policy.

Their 6 mains suggestions are here  and, I think, need a little consideration and scrutiny.

1) Schools should be assessed in a range of ways, not just judged by the numbers achieving specific grades and levels in examinations and tests respectively;

This is not an outrageous suggestion, beyond the fact that, thanks to OFSTED, there is a system of assessing schools that already does this. Either they are asking for something which already exists, or they are actually requesting a change of some description. There are numerous problems with both the exams and how the data produced from them is used to hold schools to account. However, there is little to be said for allowing schools to get away with appalling exam results. Without more detail as to what is to change this point on the list means little. However, it is noticeable that this is a message which may be most appealing to the leaders of under-performing schools and those who want schools to be completely unaccountable for poor exam results..

2) Ofsted should be replaced by local partnerships that would hold schools to account and help them to improve;

There’s a lot wrong with OFSTED. Even now, with Si Michael Wilshaw signalling that he no longer requires every classroom to be organised along the lines of a progressive primary school from the 1970s, schools are still tying themselves up in knots working out what nonsense to impose on teachers in the hope that it would appease the dark gods of OFSTED. However, of all the things wrong with OFSTED, the least plausible is that it isn’t “local”. Too much regulation from an unaccountable regulator is certainly a problem, but it is unfathomable why anyone would think the situation would be improved if there were 100s of regulators all doing their own thing, without even the need to be consistent with a national framework in their interference. There seems little possible argument for this, other than the possibility that headteachers, particularly those who don’t stand out from the crowd, may have more clout to influence the decisions of a local partnership. Again this is a policy where the most obvious appeal would be to those wanting to reduce the pressure on the most mediocre of schools, so that they merely had to keep a local “partner” sweet rather than expect to be held accountable for manifest failures. It also seems a little vague about what a “local partnership” is. The danger here is that by making accountability more “local” it is actually just being reduced.

3) The curriculum and assessment should be taken out of political control and given to an independent agency (under licence for 20 years);

Of all the suggestions this one, based as it is on the idea of abolishing democracy, is most indefensible. As long as taxpayers money is spent on education then the principle of “no taxation without representation” demands that this spending is under democratic control. People are often cynical about politicians, but let’s be clear, the alternative to control by the elected is not independence, it is control by the unelected. It is not the removal of politics (these issues will always be political) it is the removal of democracy. The content of the curriculum and the method of assessment, is not a technical matter. It covers issues where people have views based on their values and while no system exists whereby policy can simply reflect public opinion, we should expect that those exercising power in this area can, if necessary, be directly or indirectly removed by voters. The idea of dictators spending our money, declaring which values are correct, is transparently wrong. It is of appeal only to those who are so twisted by ideology that they cannot accept that dissent is legitimate, let alone a human right. When I’ve argued with people about this they tend to follow two strategies. Sometimes they attack existing arrangements as not sufficiently democratic, a classic tactic of those advocating a removal of democracy, but obviously no justification fro having even less democracy. At other times they have a habit of saying “well it’s just the same as X” where X is some policy, e.g. independence of the bank of England, that doesn’t actually seem the same at all. What makes the argument pointless is that if you did convince me that abolishing democratic accountability in education was the same as policy X, then it would make me oppose policy X, not accept dictatorship in education. And, once again, what we see proposed here is the idea of reduced accountability.

4) The government should encourage small families of local schools in preference to large national chains;

We have a policy which seems a bit of a mystery. What’s the advantage of local chains over national chains? Why can’t we have both? Again, it seems to be a policy where the immediate appeal is to limit the extent to which power over education is exercised by anybody beyond some unidentified local arrangement (presumably the “local partnership” mentioned previously). Again, the agenda seems to be to reduce, or at least “localise” accountability.

5) “Norm referencing” in exam grading is not fair, ie capping the number of students who can achieve a certain grade. There shouldn’t be a cap on what individual pupils can achieve;

I’ve discussed this previously. There is a problem with norm referencing if achievement is genuinely improving. There is no good reason to think this is the situation at the moment, so it is hard to see what the problem is. The suspicion must be that what they are actually arguing for is grade inflation, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

6) School accountability measures should encourage collaboration betweens [sic] schools and explicitly develop systems leadership.

This suggestion is one of the oddest. Collaboration may well be desirable, but it is hard to see what it has to do with accountability. Again this seems to be little more a call for greater influence for some local power structure. But it is still not being spelt out.

If I had to interpret the 6 points, they all seem to be about reducing accountability of schools. This is not without appeal at times, when accountability is done in harmful ways. However, where democracy is to be removed entirely it is reprehensible. Where all remaining accountability is to be made “local” then, while that’s not necessarily wrong in principle, they do need to put forward something considerably less vague, otherwise the most obvious interpretation is that they are simply pushing for a situation where all heads need to do is satisfy some local education bureaucracy, rather than provide an acceptable level of education for their students.


Thanks to @daisychristo for suggesting the title of this blogpost. I was planning to go with “Why the heads of the roundtable can stick their 6 point plan up their arses”.

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