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Showing posts from June, 2012

Behaviour Chat with Charlie Taylor at the DfE: Die Hard- in a ministry

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Mile End station, even by the standards of the staunchest Pollyanna, is an unlovely troglodyte's cave; get out at Mile End station and you expect to see still-smoking Sobanries on the floor, and wonder when the Soviets bailed. Get out at Westminster, the Jubilee flagship station, and you're in an alternate dimension of the future where the Empire never waned, all elegant mechanical spires and Olympic engineering. Such was my after school journey last Thursday, when I had the pleasure of attending the Ministry of Funny Teaching, sorry, the Department FOR Education. I emphasise this in case anyone mistakenly thought that prior to the name change in 2009, they were actually AGAINST education. Mind you, they paid for me to do Brain Gym, so who knows?

The raison d'etre was to take part in a Q&A with Charlie Taylor, the incumbent behaviour czar to the government, in a live recording taking part inside the DfE. The brief suggested arriving at five for a seven o'clock sta…

The Spectator One-Day Conference: 50 Shades of Gove

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Got a half day out of school today, to attend....a school's conference. I know. I KNOW.

Because I AM ACTUALLY A TEACHER AND NOT SOME INTERESTED LOOKY-LURKER (which seems to be, in the main, from where the Masters of the Education Universe normally emerge) I had to teach this morning, then catch the flue network to the Hogwarts of the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster for a whole day of edu-chatter. None of this Wellington Festival of Education multiplayer, non linear, design-your-own-menu: it was a linear, mono-roomed affair, much like the rows and columns of my preferred teaching style. I think it set the tone for the rest of the day.

This was not a day for fluffy progressives and bunny-hugging lessons in happiness. This was the Spectator, damn your eyes, and the agenda was 50 Shades of Gove: Free Schools, How can we have more Free Schools, How should the Curriculum be redesigned; How Free Schools saved my life, etc. Gove must have walked in and thought, 'Oh! Have you all …

Wellington College Festival of Education Day 2

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Well, the Festival made it to another year, and unlike my previous prediction, it didn’t end up being called the Sun on Sunday Festival of Education and Tits. Sauron of Wapping has been deterred, not defeated, it seems. I’m very glad it’s grown legs though. There are possible criticisms that could be laid at its door- the enormous disparity of state versus private sector representation; the preponderance of commercial interests who inevitably want to transform the learning experience of children by, er, selling them lots of equipment and packages they don’t really need; that it over promotes the interests of those merely interested in education rather than those actually involved in it. I mean, I love Jackie Stewart. But WTF?

But nothing in this world of matter is perfect (except perhaps the knowledge that an inspector has been stranded in a space/ time wormhole, and will not be observing your lesson). What I like is the emphasis this has on being a Festival, not, as Seldon says, a c…

The Festival of Education 2012: The Teacher's Olympics

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Last year, AA Gill christened it 'Glastonbury for swots'. This year, before anyone else cuts in, I'm dubbing it The Isle of Wight Festival for Edunerds . Or perhaps The Avalon for Teacher Tweeters, as I couldn't take a step without tripping over people I had only ever known as Funkalicious Pastry or Digital Classroom Integrator (Twitter bio: 'interested in innovation, new ways of learning,and 21st century classrooms!' Always the exclamation mark, always. My guide to exclamation marks: look back at whatever you've written, and if you see an exclamation  mark, take the damn thing out and stamp on it until it cracks.)

Or maybe it was the Ragnarok of David Starkey. He certainly seems to save up his best shit for the Festival every year It's his gift to the world, apparently. But I'll give you details as I get them, because, like some clueless anti-Cassandra, I neglected to witness the session where he and an Independent journalist had a jackets-and-jew…

Dogmatic debate in education only means everyone loses

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I sometimes despair of the way we debate. One of my bugbears is the tendency we have to polarise discussions into simple for/ against propositions. Watch any parley, however nuanced, between two people and see how long it gets before their position, however tentative initially, becomes entrenched; before a view that they might have only held as lightly as a a JCB holding an egg, becomes as fixed and firm as the Pillars of Hercules.

This is humanity; we define ourselves by the things we value; those things we value, we become. An attack on something we value becomes an act of simultaneous intimacy and violence. It is this transaction, this sublimation of opinion with identity, that ruins the measure of many discussions.

I think we also polarise debate into simple dichotomies because it is easier to do so, because our frail minds, engines of self-justified righteousness, need clear, clean lines along which to navigate. A cartoon or caricature of someone's views, that flat, two-dimens…

Shazam! Teacher training, Teach First, and Gove's balls of marble.

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'The wisdom of Solomon! The strength of Hercules! The stamina of Atlas! The power of Zeus! The courage of Achilles! The speed of Mercury!'

In the old Fawcett comic strip, Captain Marvel, the eponymous Olympian, magically embodied the six greatest qualities of crypto-history's six greatest heroes, which conveniently formed a mononymous acrostic in a way beloved of lazy english teachers setting homework everywhere. (Seriously: stop telling small children about this form of poetry. You condemn teachers to a stream of homeworks that look like this:

Brilliant
Intelligent
Lovely
Laughs
Yummy

You SEE what Billy did there? DO YOU SEE? Give me strength. I usually smile, and say, 'Hahaha how long did this take you on the way in?' And we all laugh about it years later when they're robbing me on a night bus. Acrostic make wonderful mnemonics, and for fans of obsessive-compulsive disorders, and pedantry, I'm sure it's a hoot. For twelve year olds: less instructive. I'…

Is it Christmas ALREADY? Have a few more pages of Teacher ON THE HOUSE. I'm cutting me own throat, guv.

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I MAY have mentioned I have a book out. You can have a look at the first few pages HERE, but I thought it would be a gift that kept on giving if I were to shuck and jive your shekels by revealing a bit of ankle. So here's the first part of what I hope is a portable INSET- and unlike INSET, you can say 'I call bullshit on this' with confidence and magnificence rather than hiding it under a cough. And you can marinate yourself in Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape at the same time. Marvellous.


Here, then, is wisdom.





Chapter One- What does it mean to be a teacher?

Most people enter the teaching profession with only an intuitive understanding about what being a teacher actually is. This is understandable, but prone to pitfalls, because those tiny assumptions take root and grow into giant beanstalks throughout your career. Or worse, someone will tell you which seeds are the right ones, and if you’re not careful, you garden is full of…I don’t know, banana trees or something.

If you’re a teache…

What makes a good teacher? Clue: the answer isn't in a questionnaire

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What makes a teacher? Such a small question, with so many arteries swooping away in fractal branches of infinite regress. Changes in the application process have predictably irked and irritated some. My favourite metaphor, well-worn but serviceable as a pair of lucky pants, is that of a Rubik's Cube; whenever something, anything, changes, something else changes to accommodate it, as if one were moving a white square from the centre to the corner of the fabled Hungarian toy for obsessed children of all ages.

As in popular solitary pursuits of manic friendlessness, so in policy. Given a closed system, every event has an equal and opposite response. Newton, you can HAVE that for nothing. If I spend an hour learning Sanskrit, my research into cold fusion suffers. I've learned to deal with it.

Some have not. Whenever anything changes, some people seem to be blind to this simple principle. Witness the Napoleonic shindigs that erupt whenever somebody moves a pixel on a social netwo…