A Maths Teacher writes…

June 15, 2013

This comment appeared below the line on my reblog of Joe Kirby’s review of Daisy Christodoulou’s book “Seven Myths about Education”. It refers to that book and the analogy of educational methods as a “cargo cult”. I liked it so much I thought it worth giving you a chance to see it above the line.

This looks like a very interesting book and one which I’m sure will confirm all my prejudices concerning the pedagogical model now being pushed by OFSTED. I’ve been teaching for over twenty years, and have encountered some fairly incoherent and damaging ideas from ‘experts’, yet it’s only over the last couple of years that I find myself literally stunned by some of the words coming from the mouths of inspectors and ‘consultants’; to the point where in the last week alone I’ve had to ask them three times to repeat what they’ve said just to make sure I heard them properly. I simply can’t accept that rational human beings can believe in a non-conflicted manner that good teacher explanation hinders learning and progress if it strays past ‘the 5 minute limit’, which was a phrase that was thrown at me six times while being given feedback.

I’d been observed introducing vectors to a year 10 class of relatively able students. It’s not an easy school by any objective measure. I was given a 3. Apparently it would have been a 2 with outstanding elements except that my introduction, all told, with modelling, questioning and mopping up a couple of misconceptions lasted 8 minutes and 34 seconds! (Seriously) This means I require improvement. Short of recording my introduction and playing it back at double speed, I fail to see what I do. The consultant, who was Maths specialist, told me how he’d have done it. His explanation lasted 25 minutes. In fact, he eventually conceded that he couldn’t actually have done it himself any faster, so suggested maybe I should have broken it up over two lessons, despite having commented that all the class had grasped the concepts and made good progress. When I pointed out that his idea would halve the rate of progress he sort of smiled apologetically and gave a little shrug.

This man was not unintelligent. I think the shrug was a tacit acknowledgement that he was giving me inconsistent and contradictory advice. It was by way of an apology, but, in the name of consistency, he had to come out with this bullshit. He’s helping implement our new teaching and learning strategy.

Now, other than the fact that all this stands in direct opposition to everything Wilshaw has said about no fixed teaching models and the acceptability of a didactic approach, it is the sheer lunacy that sticks in my craw. I could not believe what I was hearing. I nearly grabbed him and shook him just to see if he was actually real and that I was not temporarily delusional. It’s just not acceptable that I should be forced to suffer such blatant assaults to my intelligence. Wilshaw makes all the right noises, but he seems to be spending too much time composing sound bites and none at all in ensuring his message is reaching the ‘frontline’.

The book looks great, but I can’t see its message ever getting through. OFSTED is now precisely the problem in education. I’m not entirely sure the cargo cult analogy is apt. Certainly, it’s a cult now; a cult whose dogma and ideology is far from fixed. It shifts according to whims of fashion and the subjective interpretation of the local priesthood. But it seems that even when its catechisms demand the impossible, the self-defeating or the contradictory, it’s very much a case of extra Ecclesiam nulla sulus.


  1. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. Thanks for this. It’s gratifying to know it’s not just me. I’ve actually been finding it hard to sleep since; tied up in impotent rage…and with the pain from my hand, sustained in punching my classroom wall.

    Also, for any Latin pedants…it wasn’t me it was the autocorrect

    Extra Ecclesiam nullA sulus.

    • Now corrected.

      Should have caught that when I was googling to see if “Ecclesiam” should be capitalised.

  3. ‘Apparently it would have been a 2 with outstanding elements except that my introduction, all told, with modelling, questioning and mopping up a couple of misconceptions lasted 8 minutes and 34 seconds!’

    Are OFSTED now told to take a stopwatch to inspections?

    • I’m not sure. But this one was OFSTED trained; acting as a consultant on £500+ per day; which is common practice I believe and in and of itself a scandalous affront. Whatever the £500 purchases, it certainly can’t be accounted for by his perceptiveness or objectivity. He’s there because he’s regularly inspecting schools and no doubt at the cutting edge when it comes to how to avoid special measures. How this might relate to the promotion of effective teaching is open to speculation, but he certainly seems to know the ‘hot’ boxes to tick this season; one of which is ‘don’t talk too much’. This has translated, in our case, as 5 minutes max regardless of the subject, topic or efficacy. Like many management teams, you could never accuse ours of possessing an imagination…but they’re very hot on consistency…they can’t ever satisfactorily explain why but they seem to chase consistency…consistently.

      One thing that does strike me is the conflict of interest. These inspectors have a vested interest in failing schools. The more they fail, the more panic and fear they spread, the more schools will be willing to fork out £500 per day to bring them in and tell them how not to fail. I’ve even heard £500 is a bargain. Furthermore, the more they fail, the happier Gove seems to be. After all, it justifies his claims about just how bad education is and strengthens his hand re. greater stringency and pressure on teachers. Win win win.

      What with this and the revenue streams on offer from academisation, education is beginning to look like a case of “socialism for the inspectors and sponsors, capitalism for the rest”. Everybody seems to benefit except those that actually provide the value. Teaching has become prescriptive and reductive…and that’s just not what teaching is. Look at what good teaching throughout popular culture: Mr Chips, the Dead Poets Society, Miss Jean Brodie (giving the fascism a diplomatic body swerve)…what do they have in common?…4’s every one of them…too much talk…no demonstrable progress, at leadt not within 20 minutes.

      Sorry if this is a rant…just had a few pints and I’m still brooding on the stupidity of it all.

  4. This is the kind of stuff that made me so glad I could afford to accept a voluntary severance deal last year after over a quarter of a century in secondary schools.
    No-one suggests that learners are very adaptable and can cope with different teaching styles quite easily. Considering the huge variety of what is taught over teh whole curriculum it’s amazing anyone even thinks there could be one way to teach.

  5. Im sure she’ll get bored but just had my daughter on ‘duolingo’ as it was suggested above. Brilliant! She begged to be allowed to carry on with it in bed instead of her book. I think understanding what you are doing and knowing where you stand is very empowering.

  6. It’s actually pretty unbelievable! How ridiculous.

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