Archive for May, 2013


Blogs for the Week Ending 31st May 2013

May 31, 2013

At least we can rely on Twitter for honest debate…

May 29, 2013

This is a revised version of a post I published a couple of days ago. I have modified it to take account of feedback.

Since I set up The Echo Chamber to promote high quality education blogging I’ve been struggling with a little problem. I keep forgetting to check whether I’m logged into Twitter as @oldandrewuk or as @theechochamber2. I keep replying as one to tweets aimed at the other, or getting into arguments as the latter, when I really should be saving that for the former. However, I see that it is not just @theechochamber2 and @oldandrewuk who swap places mid discussion. Earlier, two other Tweeters, @gorillaguru and @debrakidd swapped places with the latter apparently answering for the former:

gorilla - EditedFortunately, Debra quickly realised her mistake and changed the reply, to clarify that when she talked about “me” she actually meant “him”. gorilla2

Now in the original version of this post I assumed that the only way one person could replace another mid-discussion and refer to the other peson as “me” would be if they were, in fact, the same person posting under two names. Of course, if I’d thought it through then I would have to consider other possibilities, like two people who have shared access to their accounts, or two people using the same computer who haven’t checked who is logged in. What I didn’t actually expect, and what actually happened, was that Debra would construct a story to explain how she apparently typed as if she was somebody else. I’ll return to this a little later. But first, let’s look at why, at least for those of us who want credible debate in the world of Twitter, it would matter if Debra is also posting under a secret simian identity.

Firstly, we have the fact that Debra has made clear her views on those of us who use anonymous identities:

Screenshot 2013-05-29 at 21.07.08 - Edited

So if Debra is posting as the gorilla she is the kind of person who would condemn anonymity one moment and then use it herself the next. Also there would be the question of why she has conversations with herself:


But most importantly, while Debra tries to be polite and conciliatory, the gorilla is aggressive and accusatory, as in the example I started with, or in this:

Screenshot 2013-05-29 at 21.27.07 - Edited

Indeed, the gorilla fits most of the criteria I would use to identify somebody as a troll. By contrast Debra is the first to protest at any kind of challenge to somebody’s views:

Screenshot 2013-05-29 at 21.18.36 - Edited

Screenshot 2013-05-29 at 21.43.44 - Edited

If she were to be the gorilla, she would have accused me of being a bully and making personal attacks (presumably the Star Wars gag) while protecting myself and simultaneously used another identity to make far stronger attacks on other people. Fortunately, in case we were in any doubt, Debra did (after about 11 hours) come up with an explanation of why she accidentally tweeted as if she was somebody else. You can find the full text in the comments below, but here is the key excuse given.

Firstly, I can absolutely see why it was that this made sense to you. It might help if I explain that I wasn’t simply writing me instead of him. But that the initial tweet had been much longer – like ‘Ah well, that’ll be the alpha male monkey in him if you ask me!’ but I decided it sounded a bit rude and was editing down. The ‘accident’ was not the me instead of him, it was pressing ‘tweet’ mid edit. I completely accept, however, that it seems dodgy and that decision will, of course be entirely down to the reader.

Secondly, the tenor of my tweet was to defend Tessa from a series of comments which, although I did agree with their central point, did seem a little aggressive. I have always tried to maintain a level of professionalism in my tweets as you know. You may not know, that Tessa and I have been emailing over the past week as I’ve been helping her with some of her reading and frankly, I felt sorry for her.

Well I’m sure we have all accidentally deleted the middle of a tweet, then tweeted it, and then found that the accident implies that we are in fact the person who, by complete coincidence, we have just taken over from in an ongoing discussion. Perfectly, plausible. And who could doubt Debra’s motives? She has stepped in to protect Tessa from a malicious troll who was being quite rude. The tweet that offended Debra to the point where she had to step in to defend Tessa was this one (in which the gorilla accused Tessa of using a child she blogged about as a pawn):

Screenshot 2013-05-30 at 17.32.52 - Edited

If you read  the blogpost that sparked this debate you’ll see how unfair this attack is. Well done Debra for objecting to this attack, no matter how it turned out. I… hang on a second, did I miss something here? Let me have a closer look at that comment from the gorilla, what’s that at the bottom?

Screenshot 2013-05-30 at 17.32.52 - Edited (1)

“Retweeted by Debra Kidd”? So, Debra was so concerned at this insulting tweet that she just had to jump in to protect Tessa, but only after she had retweeted it to her 1400 followers? Well, of course, I think we have all reacted to something objectionable and insulting by sharing it really widely; saying nothing to directly condemn it, and in the process accidentally implying that we are the author. I’m sure that’s a much more likely explanation than, say, that the author of the insulting tweet changed accounts in order to retweet what they had written, then when they returned to the discussion forgot to change accounts back. After all, while the first story makes no sense at all and relies on a ridiculous coincidence, it does at least make Debra out to be a good person. While the second version of events, while an everyday happening for inexperienced internet sockpuppets, suggests that Debra is not completely honest. It would only be charitable to assume that the former must be the case as I have been repeatedly assured that she is honest and trustworthy.  And who would doubt the complete integrity of the person who was responsible for this exchange?

I wouldn’t, perhaps, be so keen to chase this up if I hadn’t been getting a little irritated about some of the attacks on my fellow Echo Chamber bloggers. As well as being pursued by an angry gorilla troll, there have been various people talking in quite a snarky way about “gangs” and about which bloggers and tweeters do, or do not, like children. I have also seen it implied (in this blogpost) that this is my attitude to other bloggers:

Look. There’s no way you will be accepted into the inner circle anyway.

Why not?

You are over the age of thirty; I only like young bloggers really. I accept a few older ones so I don’t get done for discrimination.

Why young teachers?
They tend to look up to me.

Then (after I mentioned that the blogger above was difficult to reblog) there was this:

Screenshot 2013-05-29 at 22.07.11 - Edited

I’ve also had Sue Cowley ask that I remove a reblog of one of her posts from The Echo Chamber. In case you are not aware, a reblog is little different to sharing a link on facebook or Twitter, making this the one case I have ever encountered of a blogger wanting to avoid having their work advertised to a wider audience.

As much as I like to take the mickey, and be as partisan as possible, I am left wondering if things have gone a bit too far here. Can’t we all just be more like Barney the Dinosaur?

Or failing that, can’t we all just agree to pick on David Didau?

Updated 16/2/2018

Since I wrote this post almost 5 years ago, I have long since given up on the idea that an individual’s behaviour on Twitter is worth blogging about. I now only comment when there is a pattern of behaviour by many different progressives. Since then, Debra Kidd has openly done many things I considered to be reprehensible.

  • calling one of the most helpful and polite people on Twitter a “nasty piece of work”;
  • tweeting a photo of me when I was still anonymous;
  • attacking me for being privately educated despite the fact that I’m not and she is;
  • describing Michaela Community School’s approach to discipline as “entirely;without compassion” then complaining when they wouldn’t let her visit;
  • trying to start a witch hunt against me for a 9 year old post about SEN;
  • discussing whether people should complain about my opinions to my school governors.
  • claiming to be a victim of child abuse, and using that as a platform to claim that people who stand up to her bullying or disagree with her, are lacking in compassion for her and those like her.

However, there are a number of people who have told me that despite the evidence above, there is no way she’d ever have engaged in the sock puppetry, and she has never come clean about any of this. So it is probably worth noting that she has now admitted to being behind one sock account.

Kidd confesses to sock puppetry

Unfortunately she has now deleted that account, so I can’t demonstrate how offensive and dishonest it was (but I can say I blocked it without even knowing it was her). But at least with this confession we can finally say that we now have it in her own words that she sets up sock accounts and uses them to tell lies and confront people who would rather have nothing to do with her. I hope those who told me that, despite the evidence, she would never do such a thing get round to apologising.


Is this an education?

May 28, 2013

I thought this was excellent and worth reblogging here to reach as many people as possible..


I felt a great disturbance in the internet yesterday

May 28, 2013

There was an interesting response to my blogpost yesterday. It may have been a side effect of the bank holiday but it got the level of hits usually reserved for posts about OFSTED, most coming from Twitter where there was a certain amount of debate. A lot of people posted to support what I had said about anonymity, including plenty in the “I don’t often agree with Andrew, but he is right here” category. A few got very upset that I have been personally rude about Sue Cowley. An odd line of complaint because the only criticism I made that was personal, rather than a rehash of old arguments about the merits of her behaviour advice, was where I implied she was a Dark Lord of the Sith dedicated to the conquest of the universe and the ultimate victory of the Dark Side. While this was, indeed, a grave charge to make against someone I had assumed that it would not be taken seriously, like the time I claimed Teach First were actually a satanic death cult and when I suggested that Stephen Twigg would do a good job as shadow education secretary.  But just to clarify: I do not think that Sue Cowley is actually building a Death Star (or corrupting Anakin Skywalker) and I think there is only a vague possibility that she is personally responsible for the destruction of Alderaan. I will let you know if any Bothans bring me information to contradict this at a later date.

Fortunately, Sue did not take the remarks as seriously as some of her bounty hunters and stopped firing lightning bolts from her fingers long enough to write a couple of interesting responses which I will present (in full) here:

Thank you for this, it’s very interesting to hear some of your context and the backdrop to why you do what you do in the way that you do it.

I don’t claim to have read all your blog posts, but much of what I have read of yours is either very interesting or very sensible – your post on PRP is a case in point, that to my mind summed up the situation brilliantly. In many ways it’s a great shame that you won’t let us know your subject, because if you did then you could share your pedagogical ideas about how best to teach it.

I’m really sorry but I can’t help the fact that some anonymous bloggers leave a bad taste in my mouth. It’s my mouth, I get to say what the taste left behind is. I don’t like hearing teachers bad mouth their colleagues and making sweeping generalisations in order to push a particular viewpoint. I edited and edited my post until it was only about how some bloggers made me feel, rather than about saying anonymous blogging is inherently wrong. I’m not saying that anonymous bloggers are lying, just that they need to assess what they say for precision, just as you do when you write under your real name. I totally get why you might want or need to blog anonymously.

I do also struggle where teachers use their relationships with children to make a point, unless the point they make is a sensitive one that moves the profession or the individual teacher forwards (as in redorgreen’s blog the other day, note to self: they’re only children, which was beautifully done). I do honestly think that a good acid test is to ask yourself: if this was my child, would I want someone using this story in this way in a public forum? Kids make good copy, but that doesn’t automatically make it right to write about our interactions with them.

Yes it’s a good idea for you to highlight the bad behaviour that happens in some schools (and yes, it’s often due to bad management or wider reasons such as inclusion or bad parenting). I wonder why Gove is so silent on this topic – do you have any thoughts on that?

I read something the other day on headguruteacher’s blog, which struck me as a great point: ‘if you don’t like my idea, then give me a better one’. No one has to buy my books, and you are of course entitled to vehemently dislike what I write in them, but many teachers obviously find them helpful. That’s all really. Thanks.

This was followed by:

Sorry Andrew, me again. (I’m meant to be finishing a book – fiction, don’t panic – so obviously I’m doing everything but!)

The irony of you writing this, is that I honestly didn’t have you in the forefront of my mind when I wrote that post. I haven’t read enough of your posts to feel entitled to form a complete view about what you write, although I do sometimes find what you say about children to be a bit distasteful. I would love to know if you’re a parent. Not to say that you cannot comment if you’re not a parent, but just to help me understand why you hold some of the views you hold.

I don’t feel it is necessary to conduct a character assassination (even on anonymous individuals) in a blog post, and where I felt a specific situation warranted it, I have commented to bloggers separately on their comments threads about how their writing might be perceived as being wounding to colleagues or to children. I guess they might not listen, or publish my comments, but that to me seems the most appropriate course of action.

I think this is all worth a quick response. I can’t really comment on Gove’s “silence” on discipline. I don’t think he has been silent, I just don’t think he has done anything effective to improve discipline. There are two points really, the first is that I think it understates the nature of her original anti-anonymous bloggers post. That post did have a more serious implication that anonymous bloggers were likely to be dishonest, something which, if you understand why we blog anonymously, seems to be the exact opposite of the reality. It is because I am anonymous that I can be honest. As for the point about what can be said about children’s behaviour, I think that it is impossible to conduct the debate about discipline in schools without acknowledging the kind of thing we often see happening. While I agree absolutely that we should make it impossible to identify individual children, too much debate on behaviour is conducted by people with no appreciation of what is actually going on. Phrases like “low level disruption” often mask the reality of classes which routinely ignore their teachers. Talk of “establishing relationships” is often used to hide a reality where teachers are hated if they actually want children to work and think rather than chat and play. To suggest that nothing be mentioned that a parent wouldn’t want known about their child, even when the child is not identified, is simply to perpetuate an education debate that is based on a world unrecognisable to so many teachers.

There were some lines of criticism of my blogpost that, with hindsight I am surprised I didn’t see. I have now reflected a bit on my own arguments for anonymity. Other than the point about protecting the identities of children, I actually now think that many of my points overlapped because they were so vague. They can probably be summed up as “if I wasn’t anonymous I would be gotten” and while I gave repeated reasons why I think this, I was not terribly precise. The honest explanation is that I don’t know exactly what would happen if my identity was blown. I do, however, have plenty of reason to think it wouldn’t be good and that it would stop me from blogging in the future. And that, to me, is plenty of reason to keep my identity to myself and if people are made uncomfortable by that, I think they should give serious thought to the possibility that they are intent on making debate personal rather than about the content of arguments.

As for those who accused me of bullying Sue, or for that matter those who accused me of bullying Debra Kidd when I criticised her internet campaign a few weeks back, I can only say that I love being accused of bullying by people with real power and influence in the education establishment. Any prominence I have is what they have given to me by silencing those who would speak out under their own names and in forums other than the internet. I am not victimising the upholders of educational orthodoxy, I am simply standing up to them in the one place where declaring those you agree with to be the “experts” counts for nothing. For too long those who disagree with the establishment are condemned for not being teachers, while those who disagree who are teachers are forced to keep silent. The internet and the rise of anonymous outlets for teachers have changed that. It would be great to see the freedoms we have here extended to the staffroom or to public debate, but those freedoms cannot be taken away from us here and some people need to learn to come to terms with that.


Why I Blog Anonymously

May 27, 2013

If the TES’s Behaviour Guru Tom Bennett is Yoda, then the Emperor must be Sue Cowley. Whereas Tom brings only enlightenment and mastery of the ways of the Jedi knight, Sue will advise young padawans to pretend to eat dogfood, or bribe their enemies with free time on the computer, and otherwise lead them to the dark side of the force.


Please buy my new book: “Getting The Buggers to Build A Death Star”

For some reason, saying this sort of thing hasn’t made her my biggest fan so I found myself wondering whether her recent blogpost (quoted below) on why anonymous bloggers are little better than Goebbels, might have, to some degree, been inspired by me.

Then there are the blogs that I read that are written by anonymous bloggers, quite a few of which use anecdotal examples to make a political point. And herein, for me, lies a problem. As a writer, I know that hyperbole and exaggeration are very tempting. To paraphrase Michael Gove, these writing styles are the ‘enemies of honesty’. In teaching it’s awfully easy to take your own experiences, to describe what happened in, shall we say, an over dramatic way, and then to extrapolate from that to state that this is how it looks in every school.

She only identifies one target clearly,  and that’s Red or Green Pen (for pity’s sake) who she alludes to in the comments. For this reason, one tends to assume that we are all equally under suspicion of extrapolating from a few hundred incidents of poor behaviour from our own unreliable direct experience into the sort of general behaviour problem you hear about when you do large scale surveys of teachers. This objection to anonymity and attempts to share real-life experiences is not an uncommon complaint. I have repeatedly heard it from Behaviour Crisis denialists; people who make living from blaming teachers for behaviour problems caused by poor SMT, and from those who find it inconvenient to admit that lots of teachers disagree with their political views. In fact. it’s not even the worst recent example. This comment recently appeared on the website of the Local Schools Network, who are known for their sane and rational contributions to educational discourse:

I suspect you are aware of whom Mr Gove refers to when he says ‘a very informative voice in the education debate’. As the creator of the blog, that exposed the Mr Men history lesson, writes under a pseudonym we will never know whether he is actually a real educationalist or someone in the Gove camp. The Chinese call them the ‘fifty cent-ers’ – bloggers paid 50 cents to post Communist party propaganda on the internet.

This was followed by a reference to a blogpost written by

Andrew Old (a pseudonyn) [sic] whom Mr Gove has paid homage to several times over the past month – despite Mr Old being a labour supporter (before anyone takes umbrage I ‘say’ that with my tongue firmly in my cheek).

The accusation that I am pretending to be a teacher or a Labour supporter (presumably for the glamour and glory associated with those positions) is so absurd that it is probably best met with satire, and I have done my best here to parody those who are most desperate to doubt what I say. However, I think it is probably best to make it 100% clear why I chose to be anonymous.

1) So I could talk about behaviour without kids being identifiable. Some of the non-anonymous bloggers end up making the things they write less accurate in order to preserve the anonymity of the children involved. I have never blogged about my current school, in fact the most recent work-based anecdote on my blog was from a supply position almost 3 years ago, but originally I was blogging in part to try to relate what happened in schools about behaviour and anonymity (along with other precautions) helped me talk about kids without any risk that they could be identified.

2) So I didn’t get sacked or struck off. Usually using point 1 as a justification, teachers who have revealed what goes on in schools have tended to end up in trouble. See Katharine Birbalsingh , Angela Mason and  Alex Dolan.

3) So I didn’t get it in the neck at work. Before I got the hang of this anonymous blogging thing, I once spoke to an educational reporter for a national periodical suggesting behaviour was an issue in schools (but with no specific examples given). The report gave enough of my real name to identify me if you knew me personally (but not enough for parents of kids I teach to pick up on). It didn’t mention the school; it only gave enough information to narrow it down to about 5 dozen possible secondary schools. The very next day the head came to see me. He’d spent the morning on the phone with headteachers from those other schools who had been concerned to identify the culprit.

4) So I didn’t get stalked. For some reason some people get obsessed with bloggers. If you blog under your real name you can get some really weird attention, often for no discernible reason. One contributor to a teaching forum told me that they’d had an unstable person they’d encountered online phone up their school and make bizarre accusations to their headteacher. Some real horror stories exist out there and, if you are going to say anything controversial, anonymity may be safer.

5) Because some opinions are bad for your career and job security. In the current teaching climate, teachers are likely to be observed by OFSTED inspectors or SMT who believe that teacher talk is bad, that lessons should be fun and that encouraging kids to talk is better than getting them to work quietly. While they can’t be watching you all the time, publicly attaching your name to something disagreeing with this orthodoxy could make you a target of extra scrutiny. Not surprisingly, many of those who complain about anonymous bloggers are those who would be first to promote that orthodoxy.

6) There is a culture of denialism in education, which, in the first instance is enforced by persecuting those who speak out. I have seen teachers who spoke out in the media attacked at quite a personal level, including being denounced in the press by former colleagues and having details of their past dug up. There’s been no shortage of hatred aimed at me over the years, and I’m not sure I am the sort of person who would easily cope with such treatment if it was aimed at me in real-life rather than my online persona.

7) If you speak up you will be personally blamed for the problems you report or attacked as an idiot or madman for mentioning them. Back when I was blogging regularly about behaviour, I would frequently be told that the problems I described must be my own fault (amusingly in some cases where I was actually describing somebody else’s experiences). When I was discussing controlled assessment in schools during the GCSE English farrago, I would often be told that if I knew cheating was going on then I was to blame if I hadn’t immediately reported it to the authorities. Whenever I dare suggest that a particular teaching method doesn’t work I am told that I must be too incompetent to have used it correctly. Anonymity takes the sting out of a lot of the accusations and insults hurled around. Before I came out as a Labour supporter, the people who told me I should be ignored for being a Tory were always amusing. When people tell me I can’t possibly comment on the teaching of their subject and it’s actually my subject too, or they tell me I don’t understand a particular issue in education and it’s actually something I studied at postgraduate level, I know they are bluffing. Anonymity also provides a deterrent to those who would attempt to bluff, frequently people try to find out what I teach before they try to convince me of some outrageous claim about their own subject. In this respect anonymity keeps debate a bit honest and gives less scope to base it on personal authority or personal attacks (like comparing people to villains from Star Wars).

I am very impressed by those bloggers who do manage to blog under their own name, but it is no exaggeration to say that it is a frequent occurrence for me to be told things, in person or over the internet, by these bloggers which they are unable to say in public. One in particular sends me the most wonderful articles every few months with an accompanying note saying “please don’t show this to anybody”. There is no denying that there are consequences for speaking in public about what goes on in our schools and for taking sides against those unelected people with power and influence in the system. I know some of the people mentioned alongside me in Gove’s speeches became concerned that being praised by the Secretary of State could harm them professionally and I know people who are incredibly outspoken who have refused to say anything on the record about some topics in teaching.

If people don’t want teachers to blog anonymously there has to be a change of culture in education not a change on the part of the bloggers. Proper professional debate needs to be permitted and we are far from that position now. It amused me that some of the very people who described Gove’s Mr Men speech as a personal attack on the designer of the Mr Man resource (whom he has not named in anything I have seen or read) are also the same people who have criticised anonymous bloggers. If they considered the debate in the Mr Men case to be too “personal”, why do they want debate over what we say in blogs to be equally personal? Ultimately, I think there are those who simply do not want to debate the issues and merely wish to divide the world into goodies and baddies and anonymous bloggers make them uncomfortable because they cannot always find precise grounds to declare them to be bad.

Run a club in Soho, I did. Mention it, I will.

Run a club in Soho, I did. Mention it, I will.


About The Echo Chamber

May 25, 2013

The Echo Chamber

The Echo Chamber grew out of a realisation that there were a good number of teacher bloggers who were blogging to express opinions that simply didn’t fit in with the opinions  the media attributed to teachers but did seem to fit in with those views I heard regularly in the staffroom from classroom teachers. I, personally, was expressing the opinion that discipline is too often weak in our schools, that exams were too easy and fashionable teaching methods were actually ineffective, but when I looked to see who was expressing those views in the media, it was usually those outside of the teaching professions such as journalists and politicians. These people would raise them and somebody claiming to speak for teachers would deny they existed. Other issues such as school management, school ethos, cheating in exams were very difficult for teachers to talk about publicly. Often issues that teachers cared…

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The Government Should Listen to Teachers. And By “Teachers”, I Mean “Me”

May 22, 2013

Gove mentioned me again. Last week, in this debate with one of my political heroes, Lord Glasman, he said:

It is also the case as well, that even though there are people within the teaching unions who have a range of views about the reforms we are making, it is also the case that increasingly teachers are making themselves heard in the debate about our reforms – pro and anti – and individual teachers and groups of teachers are shaping the debate. Those who follow the education debate will know that on the blogosphere it is often the case that there are teachers like Andrew Old, or Tom Bennett, who are actually the most articulate and effective supporters of some of the things we are doing, far more effective and articulate than I am.

I’m not sure I particularly appreciate this description. I hardly agree with Gove on everything.

Anyway, the novelty of being mentioned by the secretary of state has worn off. I will add any future mentions below rather than keep blogging every time it happens. However, I will continue to be amused every time it is claimed that Gove doesn’t listen to teachers. He certainly appears to listen to me a lot more than my SMT do. But, of course, when people complain that Gove doesn’t listen to teachers they don’t mean teachers in general, they mean the education establishment (often managers or non-teachers) rather than actual classroom teachers.

This brings me on to my latest endeavour. After talking to a few of my fellow education bloggers, I have set up another blog to promote the views of those education bloggers who do not simply follow the views that are attributed to “teachers” by the media. In protest at so much of the education debate simply being about people who agree with each other simply confirming each other’s opinions, I have set up my own Echo Chamber for reblogging the views of my favourite bloggers and, indeed, any blogger who takes the time to about education from a perspective that doesn’t normally appear in the media as what “teachers” think. I hope you can take the time to look at it, and follow the Twitter account. Personally, I feel we are entering something of a golden age of education blogging and this will be a good way to keep up.

Update 23/6/2013: On Friday, while being interviewed by David Aaronovitch on stage at the Wellington Festival of Education, Gove mentioned me again:

… over the course of, I think, the last two or three years it’s been the case that there has been an emerging part of the education debate which I think has been suppressed for a long time and that’s the part of the debate where you have teachers – serving teachers – who feel that the sort of Rousseau-Dewey model has let children down. And there are people who will be speaking at this conference like Daisy Christodoulou; there are people who blog regularly,  like the teacher who blogs under the name Andrew Old; like John Blake the leader of Labour teachers, all of whom take the view that there was a wrong turning in education and that wrong turning was the dethroning of knowledge; the undermining of schools as an academic institution and that has actually impeded social mobility. So those people, even though they tended to have been eclipsed from the education debate, they weren’t the sort of people who in the past were  invited to  speak at festivals like this or to write for the TES, but they are now, as it were, an emerging and more powerful and, to my mind, more persuasive voice in the education debate. Of course, all the people I have mentioned are impeccably polite but they do have strong feelings about the mistakes that have been made by the other side in the debate.

It can be downloaded here (thanks). He may have mentioned another blogger in passing later on.

Update 5/9/2013: More evidence today in a speech to Policy Exchange.

This section may well be based on material brought to light by the last part of this blogpost (which was also the source of the Mr Men story):

Another teacher records a lesson for A level English students in which they were asked to depict literary characters on a paper plate – drawing a face on the plate – and then asked to use stickers to define the character’s principal traits – pinning the stickers on their clothes and mingling with other students, while they introduce themselves ‘in character’.

Even if that wasn’t the case, I am also mentioned explicitly a couple of times. There is this in a section on teaching:

Which is why it is so encouraging that a growing number of teachers – indeed the most popular teachers on the web, like Andrew Old, whose blog has received more than 600,000 hits; Tom Bennett, with almost eight and a half thousand followers on Twitter, and Joe Kirby, with almost 2,000 – are arguing for a restoration of knowledge and direct instruction; in short, standing up for the importance of teaching.

However, the following is the best bit. This is what makes blogging worthwhile:

…Ofsted’s guidance provided too little clarity about what constituted good teaching; or allowed inspectors’ personal prejudices and preferences to be interpreted as ‘the Ofsted way’.

As a result, and as teacher bloggers like Andrew Old have chronicled, time and again too much emphasis was given to particular practices like group work and discovery learning; while Ofsted inspectors marked teachers down for such heinous crimes as ‘talking too much’, ‘telling pupils things’ or ‘dominating the discussion’.

The good news is that Ofsted – under its inspirational new leadership – is moving to address all these weaknesses and give us a system of inspection of which we can be proud.

Update 6/2/2014: I was mentioned again by Mr Gove in this podcast on the Telegraph website. He said:

And surprisingly, many of the people who are most enthusiastic about what we are doing are not traditional Tory voters. If you look on the blogosphere and look at someone like Andrew Old, or if you consider the work of someone like John Blake, they are out and proud Labour Party activists who still believe that the emphasis that we are placing on better behaviour, strong discipline, a knowledge-based curriculum, rigour in traditional subjects, these are things that they believe in. And I think it is striking, actually, that it will often be people on what you might call the traditional wing of the Labour Party who are supportive of what we are doing because they recognise how, in the past, the ambitions of working class parents for their children have often suffered from middle class liberal condescension.

Which is basically true, but makes me feel taken for granted. After all, I may believe in those things, but it doesn’t mean I have limitless confidence in Mr Gove’s ability to deliver them.

Update 10/7/2014: I was mentioned again by Mr Gove in a speech he gave at some conference thing for influential education types that I wasn’t invited to.

One of the most encouraging trends in English education – which helps the cause of reform worldwide – is the way in which those leading the debate and driving evidence-based change in our schools are teachers. We commissioned Dr Ben Goldacre – the author of ‘Bad Science’, a brilliant debunking of pseudo-scientific myths and fallacies – to help improve the use of evidence in English education. And the biggest enthusiasts for his work have been teachers. Teachers such as Andrew Old, Daisy Christodoulou, Robert Peal, Joe Kirby, Kris Boulton and Tom Bennett have used social media and professional networks to drive this move towards a more rigorous and evidence-based approach to helping children learn.


The OFSTED Teaching Style

May 20, 2013

I’ve been writing quite a bit recently about the teaching style which Ofsted appear to require (despite their handbook and their chief inspector saying that there is no such thing as a required style of teaching). In particular, inspectors condemn teacher talk; favour group work; complain if anything is boring, and look for “independence” on the part of students. This “independence” is apparently not a quality to be gained as an eventual aim of education, but a property of the activities seen in lesson observations. This post provides a small number of additional examples of the OFSTED teaching style I have recently encountered.

Firstly, I was contacted by Wendy Varley, a parent looking for a secondary school in the Isle of Wight. This is what she found in the OFSTED reports for three of the schools.

1. From a school inspected in March 2013 which has failed its Ofsted inspection:

There are too many lessons in which teachers talk for too long, and in which there is little variety in the type of activity or opportunities for students to work in groups and by themselves. As a consequence, students quickly become bored and, as their behaviour deteriorates, these lessons are disrupted and students fail to make any progress.

2. From another school, inspected in November, which also failed its inspection:

Too many lessons are uninteresting. In many cases teachers talk for too long, with little variety in the lesson activities. They ask simple questions that require only one- or two-word answers. In these lessons students become bored and unmotivated, and so they do not produce their best work.

3. In order for this “good” school (inspected July 2012), to become outstanding it needs to:

Eliminate the remaining satisfactory teaching and increase the amount of outstanding teaching, in particular by ensuring that in all lessons:

learning moves at a sufficiently rapid pace so that students of all abilities achieve as much as they can in the time available

teachers do not spend too long talking to the whole class and give students good opportunities to work independently, with each other and in groups….

….The other common weakness in satisfactory lessons is that the teacher spends too much time talking to the whole class, with too little time for students to work more actively, on their own or with each other. This can result in students responding passively to the lesson.

Of course, we’ve all seen this kind of rhetoric before and supposedly Michael Wilshaw is against imposing a teaching style and has warned inspectors about reports that “contain phrases that create the false impression that Ofsted expect teaching to occur in a particular way”. Obviously, these inspectors have got the wrong idea about what they should be looking for. But where could they have got it from?

Well, I have provided many places where OFSTED have given this impression, but one that I have recently discovered, when it was released under a Freedom of Information request, is the style guidance for writing reports  sent to inspectors by “Sue Gregory, their “National Director of Education”. In a section on avoiding inspector speak and jargon in reports she gives the following example of good and bad phrasing.

Apparently, this is phrased badly:

Many pupils are overly reliant on adult support and are unable to sustain their learning without direct intervention from. Pupils rely too much on adults for help. They are not taught how to work by themselves. This is because they are not given enough help to acquire the strategies they need to become independent learners

It should be expressed as:

Pupils rely too much on adults for help. They are not taught how to work by themselves.

So apparently OFSTED were so comfortable with declaring that teachers should not be helping students more than the approved (presumably minimal) amount in lessons, they actually had guidance on how best to say it. Is there really any point Wilshaw claiming inspectors are to judge learning not teaching style, if one of his underlings is telling inspectors how best to phrase their (apparently assumed) dislike of a particular way of teaching?


In defence of Mr Brainy

May 17, 2013

And this response to the issue, also by a history teacher, clarifies exactly why the lesson (while extreme and memorable) illustrates a broader concern.


Last week, Michael Gove made a wide-ranging and passionate speech at Brighton College addressing what it means to be an educated person.

Mr HappyUnfortunately, the media reaction focused upon a single reference to a GCSE history lesson teaching the Third Reich through Mr Men characters. The education community are up in arms, but their response is paradoxical. Some have defended the merits of such teaching methods, others have argued such teaching methods are not widespread.

The latter argument is the easiest to dismiss. The Mr Men example was taken from the website It promotes ‘active’ teaching methods for learning about the past, and is arguably the most popular online resource amongst British history teachers. It contains many other examples of infantilising, anachronistic approaches to history teaching. To dispel the illusion that the Mr Men example was some unfair aberration from the otherwise quite sensible teaching of history in British schools…

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“Daddy, what did YOU do in the Mr Men War?”

May 17, 2013

I am now seeing that people arguing that any criticism of a teaching resource by a politician is “bullying”. I think this is a good answer to that.

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