Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Full Frontal Lobotomy

Two years ago I went on a five day Key Stage 2 Maths course. If you ever get the chance to go on one – DO NOT ATTEND – feign illness, find an excuse, pretend you forgot the dates. It was five days of excruciating mind-numbing tedium. The default mode was – ‘we know you’re useless, we’ll talk v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. Here’s how to do it, no discussion.’ Everything was from a DfES manual, the trainers had done it twenty times before so they were bored out of their skulls as well.

One of the new schemes piloted was the detailed daily maths plan, the lessons all done for you – mental oral starters, worksheets and plenaries. When I say detailed I mean detailed, the problem was that to actually use them as a working document you’d either need a photographic memory or read the entire lesson out direct from the plan.

The LEA Numeracy Consultants toured the schools enforcing the implementation of the daily maths plans. I was the only one out of the staff to oppose it – too prescriptive, didn’t allow for the needs of the particular class, lack of differentiation, and didn’t give time for consolidation of knowledge. But ‘for Ofsted’ and to grind out better SATs results we had to carry out ‘the daily maths plan’.

Students of the history of Stalinism will be aware of the various twists and turns performed by the Communist International. In 1929 the collapse of capitalism (the so-called ‘Third Period’) was declared, breakaway trade unions were formed, in Germany they branded the Social Democrats as ‘social fascists’ and refused to work with them against the Nazis. In 1935 there was a new turn – ‘Popular Frontism’ –every group was urged to ‘unite’ against fascism. However this came to a grinding halt with the Stalin-Hitler Pact, the war was described as ‘imperialist’ and Communists in Britain took a neutralist stance. After the invasion of Russia in 1941 another turn - the ‘People’s Front’ against the Nazis.

Every u-turn was transmitted through the Central Committee, District Committees and branches, with the party apparatchiks and paid full timers faithfully spouting the ‘new line’ as soon as it was formulated.

At last week’s staff meeting there was a report on the maths co-ordinators meeting, the regional maths consultant had slated the daily maths plans for, ahem, being ‘too prescriptive, not allowing for the needs of the particular class, lacking differentiation and not giving time for consolidation of knowledge.’ The LEA consultants all instantly and obediently fell into line.

The same process has happened with the detailed plans for the Literacy Strategy, which have been expunged from the DfES ‘Standards’ web site in favour of the lighter touch Literacy Framework. Another echo of Stalinism, any former stalwarts of the regime who disappeared during the purges were airbrushed from history.

Why did Stalinism collapse? One reason was the complete lack of innovation and critical thought, the stultification of art and culture. The system was so centralised that no one lower down the command chain wanted to take a decision for fear of reprisals. It lead to stasis and paralysis.

At the staff meeting no one seemed to remember the previous discussions on the daily maths plans. Maybe the Teachers Development Agency could add this affliction to their 97 competencies for teachers –

· Ability to plan lessons in minute boring detail
· Monitoring, assessing and recording every single piece of work
· Plastering the classroom with targets
· Testing children to death
· Full frontal lobotomy to erase any memory

Don’t even mention the gulag of the mind – we’re already there.


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