Archive for January, 2018

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Revisiting the Trendiest Arguments for Progressive Education Again

January 27, 2018

Back in July 2015 I wrote this post and this post about arguments that were being used more and more by progressives, as their traditional arguments of “it’s what the government/OFSTED tell us to do” and “it’s what the research supports” had passed their sell-by-date. The arguments were the following:

  1. The argument from mental health;
  2. Debate denialism;
  3. The argument from political correctness;
  4. The free market conspiracy.

A year and a half later, in December 2016, I revisited the arguments again in this post.

The time has come to have another look.

1) The argument from mental health. The argument that traditional education is bad for children’s mental health, while never going away, seems to have peaked around the end of 2016. Progressives will still claim that tests, studying or strict discipline are bad for children’s mental health. There is still talk of a youth mental health crisis whenever new statistics on, say, self-harm, come out. Articles about exam stress are still common. However, I haven’t noticed the same rush for schools to accept the prophets warning that making kids work makes them ill. The only high profile appearance of this argument I recall from the last 12 months was when, in what I can only describe as an act of exploitation, the Labour Party let an irate 16 year old take the stage to claim that now GCSE grades are numbers instead of letters, half of children are mentally ill and unable to afford paper.

The one exception to the reduced prominence of mental health as a way of promoting progressive education, has been around exclusion, where the constant efforts to demonise schools that permanently exclude, has led to all manner of bizarre claims about excluded students and how they are the true victims. This has included claims that they are mentally ill.

2) Debate Denialism. Blogposts claiming that the debate between traditionalist and progressive philosophies of education are only about teaching methods and, therefore, most teachers take a middle position in which they use a mix of methods, are as common as ever. And people whose progressive views are never challenged in the workplace, will always claim that nobody argues about this in actual schools.

However, as progressives have got more aggressive and hostile on social media, attacking individual schools and trying to paint those who disagree with them as far-right, it has become more difficult than ever to claim there is not an actual disagreement and people claiming “there is no best way to teach” while arguing strongly that traditional teaching is evil are becoming a bit of a joke. On the other hand, we are as far away from ever from expecting new teachers to have learnt during their training that the views of their lecturers are not uncontested. The recent controversy over Bold Beginnings showed that the education establishment can still put together a united front when dogmas are challenged and declare that quite extreme progressive views are just a matter of “professional knowledge of how young children learn best”.

3) The Argument from Political Correctness. This is the one that has recently taken off. Perhaps inspired by “Social Justice Warriors” in universities and online, there has been a real revival of political correctness as a way to delegitimise traditional beliefs in teaching. This has happened in 3 ways.

  1. Directly. People have claimed that some traditional teaching practices are racist, sexist or homophobic. Memorable examples of this are this American blogpost claiming it’s racist to expect students to take off their hoodies or stay awake in lessons, or this blogpost implying it is sexist to criticise the hostile reaction to Bold Beginnings.
  2. Indirectly. There has been an ongoing attempt to use guilt by association to claim that traditionalist bloggers are connected to racism, misogyny, homophobia or eugenics. Some of this has been based on the idea discussed here that if you don’t think that educational outcomes are caused by socioeconomic status , then you must think they are caused by genes, therefore, you must believe in eugenics. Some of the guilt by association has been around free speech. After years of efforts to silence us when we talk about education, traditionalist bloggers have been generally unsympathetic to those who wish to censor opinions they don’t like or demonise people for having the “wrong” opinion, but this is often used as evidence that we are in league with internet folk devils.
  3. Through “diversity policing”. Whenever traditionalists are high profile at an education event, there will be an immediate social media discussion on whether the balance of genders and races speaking at the event is acceptable, with the usual frame of reference being the proportion of women in the teaching profession as a whole, and the proportion of ethnic minorities found in large English cities. Anyone questioning this will be branded a racist or sexist. I guess I’d be less bothered by this if the same rule applied to events run by and dominated by progressives. It conspicuously doesn’t.

4) The Free Market Conspiracy. As the hard left has grown in recent years, the tendency to see all opposition to them as part of a neo-liberal conspiracy motivated either by ideology or self-interest has grown. This has always had its educational counterpart. Progressive edu-twitter has had no shortage of conspiracy theories. It has often been argued that free schools and academies (i.e. anything other than LA controlled schools) are privatisation. One of the most common attacks on experts on phonics has been to claim they have a financial interest in phonics. And, of course, anyone recommending textbooks, must be doing so for the sake of publishers. Again, the most noticeable thing is the inconsistency. When toy manufacturers back learning through play, it is not a corporate takeover of education. When progressive consultants charge a fortune, or set up a private company, it is not evidence that they are motivated by self-interest. When progressives are appointed to quangos or given a high profile position, there is no suspicion of cronyism. The tinfoil hat tendency seems to have become worse in the last 12 months, as progressive edu-twitter has embraced trolling. The vague assertions about shadowy interests have now been replaced with the naming and shaming of individuals, who are meant to be conspiring. New developments in conspiracy Twitter include:

  • the claim that there is a “war on youth” consisting of eugenicists and people who enforce rules in schools;
  • the evidence-free accusation or implication of corruption, cronyism or greed around named individuals;
  • some particularly bizarre theories about how traditionalists on Twitter coordinate their actions in order to embarrass trolls, often by provoking them into their trolling;
  • the suggestion that my other half tried to corrupt OFSTED by bribing them with biscuits.

It’s actually a bit of a shock to the system that people who used to make claims about MAT CEOs, Tory Party funders and Pearson are now coming up with conspiracies involving a part-time maths teacher in the West Midlands.

Hail Hydra.

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“Yes, But Why? Teaching for understanding in mathematics” by @solvemymaths

January 20, 2018

Yes, but why? Teaching for understanding in mathematics by Ed Southall

It’s pretty rare for me to use my status as a blogger to ask people for a copy of their book to review. This is because then I’d feel obliged to read it (though feel free to send me your books if you don’t mind the fact it may take me years to get round to reading them). But I made an exception for this book because Ed Southall is the one person I have ever heard talk about teaching for understanding in maths in a useful way, rather than as an excuse for a particular pedagogy.

Everyone wants to teach for understanding, but people assume that the way they conceive of mathematics or individual topics in mathematics is the correct understanding. My degree in Pure Mathematics convinces me that the only people who really understand mathematics are those who have studied Analysis or Algebra at undergraduate level. Those with a background in applied maths or physics might think the use of mathematical models shows true understanding. Engineers might think that application to real life technical problems is the best demonstration that maths is understood. There also seems to be a large cohort of people involved in teaching maths, especially at primary level, who seem to equate understanding with representing mathematical ideas in diagrams or with objects.

This book takes the approach that understanding can be approached by fleshing out the maths we are (probably) already familiar with. There are perhaps a few too many diagrams in there, but there is also a wealth of explanations about terminology, history and context alongside justifications for almost every procedure we might teach up to GCSE and what I can only describe as “fun facts” about familiar bits of mathematics. It also provides frequent warnings against the most common misconceptions that can be caused by teaching something you do not fully grasp. I qualified as a maths teacher in 2001, and as a pure mathematics graduate I am sure I had more “purely” mathematical knowledge than most, but I had not known where the word “surd” comes from or that the division symbol is called an “obelus”. Other elements of the book, like how many steps there are in “BIDMAS”, I recognised as things I had to learn the hard way when I started teaching.

Unlike almost everything I have heard about “teaching for understanding” previously, Southall implies that the best way to teach for understanding is to have as much understanding as possible yourself, and then helps the reader with that. For that reason, the book would be particularly useful for:

  • New or trainee maths teachers lacking confidence with their subject knowledge, looking to identify gaps in their knowledge.
  • New or trainee maths teachers with stronger subject knowledge, who want an understanding of how “school mathematics” differs from the mathematics they already know.

The one weakness of the book is probably the “Teacher Tip” sections, with suggestions for how to teach. None of them particularly appealed to me as good teaching approaches, and I would look elsewhere for advice on teaching methods. But the book remains the only one I could recommend as the first place to go for developing maths subject knowledge. I can’t be the only maths teacher who thinks it’s cool to know the equals sign was invented in Wales.

 

Yes, But Why? can be found on Amazon here and Ed Southall’s blog can be found here. 

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Finding or advertising a teaching job on Twitter with #teachingvacancyuk

January 13, 2018

I have got two of my last three positions by asking on Twitter if anyone wants a traditionalist maths teacher. This hasn’t always worked, but if you have enough followers it might. Generally, however, Twitter is not great for finding employment because while people do tweet adverts or tweet that they are available for work, the tweets are unlikely to be seen by those they want to see them.

What we need is a shared format that can be used by those advertising positions, that can then be easily searched by those looking for positions. I’ve been experimenting with this for a bit and I thought it was time to get this going properly. Some words of warning first.

  1. This idea will only work if a large number of people use it. This means that if it doesn’t work the first time people try it, then people give up, it will fail. If it’s going to work then a good number of people will have to stick with it for a few months, maybe try it for a year. If you are an early adopter, whether that’s an employer or a teacher, you have my warning now, it probably won’t work the first time. Also, we will need to publicise this. Please share this post frequently.
  2. You will need to read the instructions and explanation, rather than copy what you see other people doing. The whole point is to make your job tweets easily found on a search. If you do not get the right search terms, it will not work. “mathematics” and “maths” are the same thing when you read them in a tweet, but employers need to know which one people will be searching for; teachers need to know which one to search for. (It’s “Maths”, by the way).

So here’s how it will work.

Instructions for those advertising vacancies in teaching.

To advertise a teaching job on twitter, use the following format:

#teachingvacancyuk
One word description (see below)
Region (see below)
Link to your vacancy
By: Closing date for applications
For: Starting date
Other details

Here are what all these mean:

#teachingvacancyuk: This is the hashtag people will search for in order to find positions advertised in this format.

One word description: This should be the main feature of the job and is likely to be either the sector (for non subject specialist), the subject (for secondary or FE), or the position (for promoted posts). For consistency pick from this list if possible.

  • EYFS
  • Primary
  • Special
  • AP/PRU
  • Art
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Drama
  • Economics
  • Engineering
  • English
  • FoodTechnology
  • Geography
  • History
  • ICT/Computing
  • MFL
  • Maths
  • Music
  • PhysicalEducation
  • PSHE/Citizenship
  • ReligiousEducation
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • ProductDesign
  • ResistantMaterials
  • Science
  • SEN
  • EAL
  • MediaStudies
  • Business
  • HeadOFYear
  • SMT
  • Headteacher

If your position covers more than one of these search terms, don’t worry, use both. If it’s definitely not on the list, tell me. The key thing here is that people will be searching for these terms.

Region: The region should be from this list:

  • EastMidlands
  • EastofEngland
  • London
  • NorthEast
  • NorthWest
  • NorthernIreland
  • Scotland
  • SouthEast
  • SouthWest
  • WalesNorth
  • WalesSouth
  • WestMidlands
  • YorkshireAndTheHumber
  • Overseas

Again, these are to help searching, so just pick whichever region sounds most like where you are. You can pick more than one, it doesn’t have to be precise. Whatever is most likely to be searched for by somebody who could work at your school.

NEVER split these search terms into separate words. eg. “West Midlands” rather than “WestMidlands”!

Link to your vacancy: This should be the URL for an advert for your position. It may be to a website linked to publication like the TES or Schools Week, or another jobs website, or it may be on your school website.

By: Closing date for applications: This is not going to be searched for, so put it in whatever format gives the key information. “Get in touch by DM for details” would be fine.

For: Starting date: This is not going to be searched for, so put it in whatever format gives the key information. “As soon as possible” would be fine.

Other Details:  This should be anything you think is essential (key stage, type of school, town/city, county/LA, full or part time) but should be as brief as possible and carefully chosen to avoid using words that have any overlap with the words already listed as that will make searching difficult. You are doing two things with the “other” section: encouraging appropriate people to follow the link, and filtering out those who will not be interested. This is what you want people to know before they click the link to your advert. So if you want somebody who can teach A-level, or somebody who can get to Oldham, or China, here’s where it goes.

So here’s (roughly) what it should look like. (Please ignore the way WordPress seems to be joining up the job description and the URL, click on the tweets to see what they look like).

Or:

Just remember, it is all about being searchable. Use the right format for the one word description and the region and try not to add anything that might be searched for by mistake. And, again, please don’t give up if it doesn’t work the first time. It should work eventually, so please keep trying whenever you have a position to advertise.

Instructions for those seeking vacancies in teaching.

Use the Twitter search function. In one search, search for #teachingvacancyuk, a one word description of the position (see below) and the region (see below).

Pick the one word description of the position from this list:

  • EYFS
  • Primary
  • Special
  • AP/PRU
  • Art
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Economics
  • Engineering
  • English
  • FoodTechnology
  • Geography
  • History
  • ICT/Computing
  • MFL
  • Maths
  • Music
  • PhysicalEducation
  • PSHE/Citizenship
  • ReligiousEducation
  • Drama
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • ProductDesign
  • ResistantMaterials
  • SEN
  • EAL
  • MediaStudies
  • Business
  • SMT
  • Headteacher

Pick the region from this list:

  • EastMidlands
  • EastofEngland
  • London
  • NorthEast
  • NorthWest
  • NorthernIreland
  • Scotland
  • SouthEast
  • SouthWest
  • WalesNorth
  • WalesSouth
  • WestMidlands
  • YorkshireAndTheHumber
  • Overseas

So for instance, if you are looking for a primary position and you live in Birmingham, type

#teachingvacancyuk Primary WestMidlands

Then choose “latest” rather than “top”.

And you should get this, which is hopefully what you are looking for.

The odds are that you will not find any appropriate positions the first time you try this. Please don’t give up, keep trying.

Instructions for those who want to help.

Please share this blogpost. Not just once, but loads of times. Reblog it, tweet it, rewrite it in your own words if you like and put it on your blog. just get it out there. You have my permission to quote some or all of the text in this blog as long as you are using it to promote the correct use of the hashtag. It will only work if enough people use it.

Another way to promote it would be to search for “#teachingvacancyuk” and share any adverts you think your followers might be interested in. If this helps increase the responses, it will encourage employers to keep using it.

Also feedback is welcome. If you do make suggestions, remember that it is all about being able to search, not being as accurate as possible, but being accurate enough to search and get a result. And, if you see people using the hashtag but not getting the format correct, tell them.

Finally, if you wish to design a website or form for searching or writing adverts in the right format, go ahead, and I will share it. Anything that makes the process easier will be great. Thanks.

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On Edu-Twitter Witch Hunts

January 5, 2018

Three weeks ago a couple of people (who I would call “trolls”, but who would no doubt see themselves as perfectly justified in all the abuse they’ve posted over the years) started sharing my blogposts from 8 or 9 years ago, alongside their interpretations of what I meant. It started with the idea that to criticise opposition to exclusions or SEN policy, even SEN policies that have now been abandoned, was to “attack” children with SEND. Details of that issue can be found in this post children are human beings, not labels, but the fuss moved on to other thought-crimes, such as being insufficiently dogmatic in my opposition to corporal punishment. I got loads of abuse from people who accepted those interpretations, particularly parents of children with SEND, who believed that I was attacking their child. Plus there were huge threads where people just agreed I was a terrible human being, and expressed their shock at anybody who wouldn’t take their word for it.

I am very grateful for what then happened. Lots of people on edu-twitter stepped in and said “Andrew’s okay” or “that post doesn’t mean that” or just “I remember what was happening back then, this post got it right”. I am very grateful to everybody who did that. I suppose I could be smug that, even with all those years of blogging, even when I was writing anonymously about some of the darkest times in my life, I don’t recall writing anything I was ashamed of, and for all the fury of the trolls, I’m not actually enough of a hate figure for stuff like that to really take off. But I know these kind of campaigns have in the past grown into full-blown witch hunts (and done people significant harm) and I want to reflect on this.

I’ve written a couple of posts about witch hunts on social media:

I use “witch hunt” to describe any series of accusations against an individual or group of individuals in which they are given no fair opportunity to defend themselves. These occur when the quantity of social media activity, the speed at which new arguments are introduced or the level of personal abuse against the target (or those defending them) are great enough to deny anyone a fair opportunity to respond. The situation can usually be identified by the amount of abuse, the effort people put into finding new things to accuse the target of, the willingness of people to repeat accusations regardless of accuracy or fairness (often making really tenuous arguments to explain why, apparently discredited accusations can still be repeated) and “accusation shift”, i.e. responding to criticism of one accusation by making a new accusation. Often the intention of those making or sharing accusations is not to get at the truth but to publicly shame, something you can read about in Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.

Over the life cycle of a witch hunt, arguments will tend towards:

  1. Guilt by association. People are condemned for defending the witch hunt’s target, even against false accusations. Yesterday I was accused of “complicity in misogyny” for defending somebody who was subsequently accused of sending sexist tweets. Also yesterday, a school was attacked for having been praised by the target of that witch hunt.
  2. Revision of the narrative of the witch hunt. There is often complete amnesia about what prompted the witch hunt, and the order in which accusations emerge. People will justify the witch hunt on the basis of whatever accusations have stuck, or been proved correct, and forget that it started with other, often discredited, accusations, or perhaps just a campaign of abuse, which may now have been forgotten.
  3. Revenge. If the target is not destroyed, the witch hunters lash out at anyone who challenged the witch hunt or even those who just refused to join in.

“I’d just like you to answer some valid criticisms”

I’ve written the greatest quantity of posts about school shamings: witch hunts that focus on a school rather than a person. Generally my opposition to school shamings has been well received with little criticism except from those trolls who conduct long-term campaigns against named schools, and people who will compulsively disagree with me. I’ve had a certain amount of support for condemning witch hunts against individuals in education, particularly teachers or people who have made a positive contribution to education social media. I’ve had absolutely no effect when people go for politicians or political commentators. Twitter politics is largely a pantomime, inhabited by people who divide the world into goodies and baddies, and genuinely seem to believe that booing the baddies will change the world. In that environment, witch hunting behaviour is just seen as what you do.

On edu-twitter, I don’t think the battle has yet been lost. I think most people are decent and professional, but I do think a lot of people find it hard to understand why some of us object to all witch hunts, rather than just those against more sympathetic targets. I will challenge false accusations on principle. I will ask people joining in a Twitter witch hunt: “do you really know what you are doing?”. I will try to challenge those inciting abuse against people, even if those people may seem like the villains of the piece.

It is very difficult to argue against a witch hunt, as Jon Ronson describes in his book, the fact that “the snowflake never needs to feel responsible for the avalanche”. No matter how odious a hate campaign is, individuals feel their own contribution was simply “asking questions” or “making valid criticisms” and anyone pointing out the witch hunt is trying to obstruct that. Even when they don’t disassociate themselves from the other people attacking the same target, people will endlessly argue over what the correct definition of a “witch hunt” is or they will argue that, however bad the campaign against somebody is, ultimately the target deserved it.

My position on any ongoing witch hunt will be this:

If you make an accusation, I will expect you to have evidence for it, for there to be no distortion, and I will condemn you if you spread lies or gossip or abuse. And even if the accusation is true, I will still feel no obligation to join in. I will not make that conditional on any wider narrative of whether the target is a goody or baddie; Labour or Tory; traditionalist or progressive; writing in the Guardian or the Daily Mail (or Spiked) or anything else, because I don’t care whether the target “has it coming” or not. Nobody can make a fair judgement about that when joining an enraged mob. It is not necessary to join in a witch hunt in order to challenge actions, arguments or opinions. Save your valid criticisms, or important questions, until after the fuss has died down. If you would not make an argument or express disapproval without an enraged mob to back you up, then it’s probably not worth doing so. Trying to destroy people on social media is bad for debate, bad for free speech and sets a really bad example of how to use social media. Let’s see if edu-twitter can rise above that.

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Top rated posts in 2017

January 1, 2018

The following posts got the most views in 2017. Most of them weren’t actually written in 2017, so do check the date before reading.

  1. The Darkest Term: Teacher Stress and Depression
  2. A Myth for Teachers: Jobs That Don’t Exist Yet
  3. Good Year Heads
  4. How to Destroy NQTs
  5. Charlie and the Inclusive Chocolate Factory
  6. The Rise Of The Progressive Trolls
  7. How Educational Progressives are still trying to silence those who disagree
  8. Seven Habits of Highly Defective Headteachers
  9. The Chartered Teacher Programme: Another stick to beat teachers with
  10. Academic and non-academic subjects
  11. Don’t let phonics denialists move the goal posts after PIRLS 2016
  12. Teachers are divided by values, not just methods
  13. How To Find Out If Your Teacher Is Gay
  14. A blogger all teachers should be following: @greg_ashman
  15. Why all the research on teacher qualifications is worthless
  16. Children are human beings, not labels
  17. Is Growth Mindset the new Brain Gym?
  18. The Obligatory Michaela Post
  19. 3 ways phonics denialists will try to fool you
  20. What happens when schools don’t permanently exclude?

Happy new year.

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