Posts

Showing posts from 2012

I think, therefore I learn: Why Thinking Skills are a pointless waste of time

Image

The Importance of Being Santa: A Christmas Carol

Image
Yesterday, because I am both Grinch and Gandalf, I taught a year 7 class about Santa Claus instead of the traditional first 45 minutes of Big Momma's House and Quality Street clusterbomb. As the rest were answering questions on Father Frost and Sinterklaas, one little girl put up a hand asked me in her secret voice, 'Do you think Santa Claus is real?' Her brow spoke of the cares of youth; her question suggested she was on the trembling verge of adulthood. Nothing was more important than this.

The Search for Santa

Who is Santa Claus? Most people know the jolly late 20th Century incarnation, broad of belt and prodigious of present, blitzing around the world in a single night of magic. But like Madonna or Doctor Who, this is only the latest in a series of regenerations. The 4th century St Nicholas of Myra, in Turkey, is the primary source. His parents died young, and the inherited fortune allowed him to embark on a life of philanthropy, like a Turkish Bruce Wayne: his first …

It's a Wonderful Job: A Christmas Story of Teaching

Image
 Note: this is an edited version of a blog I wrote for a previous Christmas. I thought it was still appropriate, though. Finally watched Frank Capra's 'It's a wonderful life' last night, and if you are one of the two or three dozen that haven't yet met this charming American filmic myth, then let me be the latest in a long line of people to say, somewhat redundantly, that it's a masterpiece. (In other news: fire is hot). It's a tale of the little guy who makes a difference in his community, being rescued from the brink of despair by a poignant, Christmas Carol meme of 'what if?' Lionel Barrymore, I'm afraid to say, is as wooden as Patsy Kensit as the Guardian Angel. But Jimmy Stewart can play likeable everyman characters in a way that makes Tom Hanks appear edgy and controversial.

(I must add that, for the majority of my adult life, I was under the illusion that It's a Wonderful Life wa…

This engine runs on hope: why schools need to defy the destiny of data

Image
Chris Cook has written an excellent sidebar to Fraser Nelson's enthusiastic love letter to the Swedish model (and if that doesn't make you wave a pretend cigar and wag your eyebrows like Groucho, then there is no hope for you). It's a cautionary note to the symphony of success that the Swedish Free School system, running parallel to the state sector, seems to exemplify. In summary, he advises that its benefits, while statistically significant, aren't exactly enormous. At the heart of this, and in other good pieces he's written, he describes how a huge part of a child's success is down to where they're from, not where they're at.   Its a topic I often think about: what does it matter what we do? As Christopher rightly says, aren't the historical and economic narratives of the children's background the real levers of destiny? And in many senses they are, of course. But to be a teacher, it's vital that we....almost ignore this. I wrote about i…

London Festival Of Education Part 2: Teacher Training, Flirtgate, and The Pale Rider

Image
From the rural womb of Wellington, a post-modernist cement baby is born. If the Summer Edfest is James Blunt, the London Festival is Tuliza. Even the banners and livery of the event were spraypainted, Banksy style, on tarpaulins reminiscent of a CND march. If it had been any more metropolitan it would have had a roundabout.

After Gove, I bolted to see Charlie Taylor take part in a panel discussion about the future of teacher training. The former behaviour czar has been reincarnated, like the Doctor, as the head of the Teacher Agency in charge of the stuff, so I imagine this panel wasn't too taxing. 'Yeah,' he could say. 'It's like that. Touch me.' Taylor's a rare thing: a man up to his armpits in the education business who actually knows which way up a child goes. Everything he did and said as behaviour advisor was intuitively and demonstrably sensible, and I expect he'll be no slouch in training reform either.

He talked about School Direc…

The London Festival of Education: Good, with Outstanding Features. Part 1

Image
London's first Festival of Education roared into Russell Square this weekend, hosting the capital's yoorban answer to Wellington College's fragrant mother ship. The Institute of Education, which hosted the event, is a great college inside a building that makes the elephant house at London Zoo look like the tea rooms at Kew Gardens. Stalin would have taken one look at it and said, 'Blimey, that's a bit brutal.'

I'd been invited to do my monkey dance in a Q&A on behaviour which gave me the double pleasure of participating and observing. Apart from comedy support acts like me, the organisers had pulled their fingers out and hustled up the biggest names in education- Sir Michael Wilshaw, Adonis, Charlie Taylor, Hattie- and even the Lord of Sanctuary House himself, Gaffer Gove. The headline act opened the show, in an inversion of normal rock gig chronological taxonomy. Logan Hall was packed to the rafters in a manner that normally only happens when PGCE stu…

The Empire Strikes Back: Ofqual, and the omnishambles of assessment

Image
The edu-interwebs were crackling with fury this morning. Glenys Stacey, Head of Ofqual, has published her report into this season's controversial GCSE results, where accusations of dumbing down and political expediency have been volleyed back and forth across the net. Ofqual's response has been the equivalent of two neighbours arguing about each others' dogs, and one of them goes, 'Ah, but you've been burying postmen under your patio!' Ladies and gentlemen, this hoe-down just got interesting again. The claim, in summary, is this: some teachers in some schools have been routinely over-marking coursework in an effort to obtain higher grades. My poor iPhone nearly melted through Earth's crust when I turned it on; the most common response was that of 'teacher bashing.'

Let's take a closer look at that. What did she actually say?

"Children have been let down. That won't do. It's clear that children are increasingly spending too much ti…

What do we want? More rigour! How do we want it? We don't know! Leaky cauldrons, draughty doors and the English Curriculum

Image
There's a draft English curriculum floating around, in advance of actual proposals in the next few months. How do these things escape from the laboratory? They should frisk everyone leaving Sanctuary House. Or just stop telling people, which ever's easier. If there's a draft, shut the door.

As usual with such things, a bunfight has emerged. Dame Gove has been castigated by Stephen 'Equaliser' Twigg for, among other things, an apparent lack of rigour. It is, La Twigg claims:
'..preparing to introduce a narrow and out of date curriculum that will take us backwards.' What definition of narrow he's using, I'm not sure; the curriculum is, if anything, becoming more fluid and open to interpretation and personalisation. It's becoming less prescribed. If that's narrow, then I wouldn't like to see him reverse a Transit Van backwards into a parking space. And 'out of date'? Please, God, don't let this be another allusion to the apparen…

Skyfall- rebirth, resurrection, and reboots. My review.

Image
*****Warning: Spoilers throughout. This article is MADE of Spoilers******


Bond: Everybody needs a hobby.
Silva: So what's yours?
Bond: Resurrection. Skyfall
James Bond, famously antipathetic towards bureaucrats, nearly succumbed to the entropy of MGM's financial troubles, and Skyfall was in the freezer for two years until it emerged from the shadow of bankruptcy. Quite how the studio behind cinema's second biggest golden goose could find itself collecting coupons from magazines is entirely beyond me. What I do know is that the Commander's latest expedition of self-loathing and violence is a spectacular success. It is that rare thing- a reinvention that is actually inventive; and a homage to its serial identity, that doesn't wallow in its own history like Miss Havisham sadly thumbing through her scrapbooks.

When Fleming wrote the Bond books, international travel was still impossibly glamorous and expensive. They were outlandish windows into overseas Narnias, when plan…

Step back in time: The Chamber of Secrets, Dungeons and Dragons, and saving children from Satan

Image
I uncovered some weapons-grade gold this week: under a stack of boxes, unmoved for decades was a dusty, discreet red book, innocently titled 'RS Department Minutes 1980 ff'. It might sound unremarkable, but to the steam punk edu-enthusiast that I am, it was crack. To me it was a time capsule, a message across the decades from one teacher to another. I've even been reading it in bed, that's how good it is. Like a prospector hand-sieving lakes of dirty water, much of it is as gripping as a Ukrainian phone book. But every so often, a flake of purest magic gleams in the silt. Now I can see why Tony Robinson spoils his knickers whenever someone pulls out a grimy sliver of pottery from an dismal ditch.

1980. Imagine the world then: Jimmy Carter signs a $1.5 billion bail out for Chrysler, and the USA boycotts the Moscow Olympics; the Iranian embassy in London got its clock cleaned; and Jimmy Saville's chair was the relic of a saint as opposed to an emblem of disgrace. T…