Saturday, March 31, 2007

The End of Primary History?

There’s an interesting post in the TES Community Staffroom (just about the only place teachers can write and share views – every other channel has been closed down) questioning the health of history teaching in primary schools. Some replies have focused on their own schools, ‘we do it well’, but there is always a danger of extrapolating an isolated example of good practise and generalising, this seems to be the case with ICT as well.

I’ve always loved doing local history projects, because the children relate to them so well and you can involve the community. Some schools are beginning to use topic work again so that isolated units of history, art and music aren’t being taught.

One thing should be absolutely clear though and that is the absolute desert that is Year 6, why the hell do we inflict it on our children? Year 6 has become a virtual year of testing, with foundation subjects almost completely sidelined and ignored. Before secondary teachers begin to get all self-righteous there was a report in the TES last year which examined data from 88 of the 104 most improved secondary schools 2001-4. Through judicious use of GNVQs they had climbed the league tables, but only 15% of pupils achieved a C or better in a GCSE language, seven schools had not a single pupil taking history.

I’m quite pessimistic about primary history, here’s why-

1) The narrowing of the primary curriculum

Research last year from Manchester University showed that eleven year olds spent more than half of their time in school learning maths and English. At key stage 2 pupils spent 26.7% on English and 21.9% on maths. Subjects like history and geography accounted for only 5% of teaching time.

Doctor Bill Boyle said, “If you can’t test it, teachers have practically been told ‘What’s the point?’ They are made to believe that it is the first week in May that is the most important.”

2) Teacher Training Institutions

My evidence here is mainly anecdotal but every student teacher I speak to complains about the lack of breadth, foundation subjects are left out of their training along with education theory and child development. One three-year BEd student had only six weeks of history lectures during her training, that isn’t unusual. I always look out for adverts for history lecturer posts in primary, they must be as rare as an apology from Sir Alex Ferguson.

3) The decline and fall of the LEA

In the recent past even small LEAs would have advisers for primary history. In our LEA they were all sacked and replaced by School Improvement Officers who prowled round the schools ‘boosting’ SATs results. There are always posts advertised for Literacy and Numeracy “Consultants” but primary history jobs have become extinct.

There used to be training and regular meetings held for history co-ordinators. The only training now is the dull boring DfES-inspired sessions on maths and English (if you want a laugh just watch the ‘teaching’ videos– where do they get those classes from?).

There’s the stereotype that history is dusty, greying professors in corduroy jackets with elbow patches arguing over obscure points. Against that TV programmes like Time Team, Restoration and documentaries by Simon Schama are incredibly popular.

How do we restore primary history to its rightful place? Free up the curriculum allow teachers to innovate and above all scrap the tests and league tables, they really are the cancer that is destroying education.


Friday, March 30, 2007

Joke of the Week

What's green and invisible?

(Hold your arm out and stare intently at the upturned palm of your hand)

This cabbage!


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Homophobic Bullying

The House of Commons education select committee have called for a national inquiry into bullying, they believe that schools are not addressing the issue because they are trying to protect their reputations. New guidance is also needed to ensure that victims who dare to fight back are not suspended or expelled. ChildLine reported that it had received 37,000 calls about bullying in 2005-6, 12% up on the previous year.

The report singles out Catholic schools, which, it says, should be forced to make public their commitment to stop gay pupils being bullied. The Catholic Church has refused to follow government guidelines urging schools to set up specific policies against homophobic bullying. The MPs' demand for schools to detail types of bullying conflicts with the policy of the Catholic Education Service, but the committee says this must be challenged. “Unless specific forms of bullying are explicitly included in anti-bullying policies, there is a danger they will not be adequately addressed.”

The committee was told that about 10-20% of young people had experienced general bullying, while that might rise to 30-50% among secondary school pupils who were attracted to the same sex.

Giving evidence to MPs the Archbishop of Birmingham defended the way Catholic schools teach children about homosexuality. Vincent Nichols said specific policies to tackle homophobic bullying were unnecessary. He said, “As to the moral codes concerning sexual behaviour there is a simple principle - sexual intercourse belongs within the marriage.”

The Pentecostalist view on homosexuality is quite clear, one of the largest groups are the Assemblies of God they view it as an aberration, evil, a sin against God and man, and ungodly. The Canadian web site Religious Intolerance states,

‘They view the issue of homosexuality as not a matter of discrimination but of morality. Thus, in order to preserve the moral and spiritual health of the nation, gays and lesbians must not be granted equality with heterosexuals. Homosexuality is regarded as a conscious choice; a lifestyle; the implication being that an adult can change their sexual orientation. They believe that all sexually active gays and lesbians are destined for hell. However, those who repent and accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour will be converted to heterosexuality and attain heaven. A homosexual is not permitted to join the denomination as a member. Thus, ordination is out of the question.’

On other Pentecostalist web sites you will struggle to find a statement of beliefs about anything, they are too busy selling DVDs, CDs and books or soliciting donations.

Graham Dacre the man behind the academy in Norwich used to belong to the Assemblies of God influenced group ‘Proclaimers International’, recently he merged his own church with Mount Zion Family Life Church to form Norwich Family Life Church.

Let’s imagine the following scenario, your child attends the new Norwich academy they have a particular sexual orientation and as a result suffer homophobic bullying, will they receive support from the school? The trust that sponsors the academy (Graham Dacre is supplying £1.95 million the Church of England Diocese of Norwich £50,000) will have a majority on the board of governors, they will decide on the “ethos” of the school.

Graham Dacre left Proclaimers International in December 2004. Was it because of their attitude towards homosexuality or does he still believe it is a ‘sin’? I’d like to know.

Assemblies of God statement on homosexuality

Ted Haggard

Anti Academies Alliance


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Schools Football Initiative

This scheme is sponsored by the drink ‘Yazoo’ and sports clothing company ‘Umbro’. The leaflet features a glowing testimonial from John Terry.

In return for a coach coming in to school children are expected to take home a sponsorship form with the carrot that 50% would go to the school, 20% would pay for ‘Umbro’ footballs and 30% for ‘reinvesting’ in SFI.

There are so many fund raising schemes from charities that you could send something home every week. Some children are fairly blunt, ‘Sir, my Mum and Dad haven’t got any money.’

On the day, one trainer arrived in school with loads of balls, so to speak, the session for every class lasted about half an hour, nothing special most teachers could do the same thing if they had… more balls. Some of our children who attend other football coaching events thought it was, ‘rubbish’, I didn’t want to concur in public.

I’m not expecting the Football Association to organise coaching in schools, they can’t even appoint a team manager with any degree of tactical competence, only when Belgium was trashed did they realise that their away support had become a travel agency for Column 88 – they were probably too busy ‘socialising’ with their secretaries to notice.

Besides that the FA doesn’t have any money, especially after paying off Sven. By contrast the latest Premiership TV deal with Sky is worth £2.7 billion (Christiano Ronaldo’s pay negotiations are starting at £140,000 a week) is there no chance of spending a few pounds on school sport? Who knows they might even discover a decent striker.

If multi-million companies want to provide coaches for schools I don’t have a problem. But please don’t ask our children for ‘sponsorship’ – it’s a con.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mount Zion Family Life Church

Graham Dacre the millionaire second hand car dealer turned preacher (the man behind the academy bid in Norwich) recently merged his Drayton Hall Church with Mount Zion Family Life Church to form the Norwich Family Life Church.

There’s a strong tradition amongst the Pentecostalists of charismatic preachers forming their own churches or splitting from an existing congregation. Mount Zion Family Life Church was founded forty years ago by “Doctor” Sedley Pimlott (he was awarded a doctorate by the Logos International Seminary in Miami in February 1992). He died in 2006, but his sons Alan, Trevor and Bud (dynastic succession is another common thread) are listed as pastors of the new church along with Graham Dacre.

From their web site you won’t divine much about their beliefs or values, they do however state,

‘Over the years we have had the privilege of hosting a range of world-class speakers who have spoken into the life of our church. They have included Rick Godwin, Ed Cole, Henry Hinn, John Bevere and Phil Dooley (Hillsong United.)’

The list is a virtual ‘Who’s Who’ of Pentecostalism. Looking at their web sites one thing is clear – “Shop”, “Store” and “Donate” feature very prominently. The Biblical quote, that ‘It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven’ or St. Chrysostom’s maxim that, ‘the rich man is a thief’, don’t make an appearance. If you’re used to economically challenged clergy think again, when it comes to the Pentecostalists with the ‘prosperity gospel’ their mansions, fleets of cars and expensive clothes are merely a sign that God has blessed their ministry.

Pentecostalist web sites are full of personal attacks on rivals, obscure Biblical quotes and arcane disputes. To save you trawling through here’s my guide to the preachers that Mount Zion Family Life Church has ‘had the privilege of hosting’.

Henry Hinn

Henry and his more famous brother Benny represent the faith healing branch of Pentecostalism. In a rich country with free and comprehensive health cover you might have a benign attitude and view them as charlatans. This interview with Henry Hinn about Kenya puts things in a different light.

‘The presence of God in these crusades is what heals the sick. But there is a peak that takes place, there's a certain peak, I call it the 'miracle peak' where my brother leads worship, leads the presence of God, leads worship where the presence of God comes, and there is, there's about maybe less than ten minutes, 15 minutes, I call it the time of miracles. If you know the peek it reaches, that's when people receive. That lady in a wheelchair was back there with this tumor big huge wheelchair. She could only move with her hands. The wheels are in her hands, huge. Here she sees her sitting there crying among the crowd, and she's screaming. I go down there sand all over my shoes. A million people squeeze. Here's God almighty, the Lord himself, you feel His presence out there and this lady's tumor falls off the wheelchair and bursts behind her in the wheelchair and I get the privilege of seeing people who are sick and seeing them healed. And what a privilege that is for me to be able to see what God is doing.’

Rick Godwin

His most famous book is ‘Exposing Witchcraft in the Church’. The main root of witchcraft is rebellion. As explains –

‘Godwin defines witchcraft as rebellion, based on 1 Samuel 15:23 ("for rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft..."). At the root of witchcraft, according to Godwin, is rebellion. How does this manifest itself in the lives of people? In three main ways: manipulation, domination, and intimidation. According to Godwin, "whenever you run into these three things, an evil spirit lurks not far behind." He feels that if manipulation, domination or intimidation are present, then so is witchcraft, because witchcraft is the use of power for an illegitimate reason or from an illegitimate source.’

Rick seems to be obsessed with it, don’t mention Salem anyone.

Ed Cole

Founded the Christian Men’s Network, Ed advises us that, ‘Men were born to be champions, heroes’, and he has some practical advice about condoms

“ [they] don’t protect people, they protect lifestyle. Condoms are porous with each pore approximately fifty micra. Human sperm is 400 micra and cannot pass through. But the HIV virus is 4 micra. Four dozen passing through is not a guarantee of protection from disease. Safe sex is done with your wife. No wife, no sex.”

Abortion “is too often an atonement for the consequences of immorality, the sins of the parents.”

Evolution? “Believing in evolution is believing in the unproved, while believing in Christ is believing in the proven.”

Ed Cole died in 2002 his legacy are his ‘Coleisms’ and they run to 939 items, whatever you do don’t go there…

John Bevere

Was one of Benny Hinn’s personal assistants before he branched out on his own and established Messenger International. His wife Lisa figures prominently on their web site (allegations of nepotism are never far away).

Phil Dooley

Hillsong United are the youth movement of the creationist Assemblies of God Church in Australia.

I strongly believe in freedom of thought and religion. I’ll defend the right of creationists, the ‘Flat Earth Society’ and the Aurelians to propagate their views. I just don’t want them running our schools…


Monday, March 26, 2007

Well done Ken!

Not being an avid Daily Mail reader I missed this. On Thursday Ken Boston the head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) called for the scrapping of all Key Stage Tests and for good measure the league tables as well. As a method of assessment tests would be carried out on a sample 3% of children.

This is significant because the QCA is one of the important education quangoes. Ken Boston has also made a specific demand - end Key Stage testing.

This is far better than Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green's measly, 'tests are nasty'.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Nanny of the Maroons

I rarely watch television, if there’s anything that’s guaranteed to addle the brain it’s the constant diet of soaps, docu-soaps and reality TV, every so often there’s an exception, Ms Dynamite’s programme on the Jamaican slave revolt leader Nanny of the Maroons was excellent.

A debate is opening up surrounding the two hundredth anniversary of the abolition of slavery, not to doubt William Wilberforce’s moral integrity, he had to battle against derision and abuse but the main determining factors were economic and the revolt by the slaves.

There are few actual details about Nanny’s life, we don’t even know for sure when she died. A mythology was attached to her – she could catch bullets in her buttocks, the British put it down to witchcraft.

From Britain’s invasion of Spanish held Jamaica in 1655 slaves fled to the hills. In the revolt 1730 – 1740 they established autonomous areas and inflicted military defeats on the British. They singled out the sugar plantations for attack and in 1734 twenty of them were abandoned.

A harrowing moment was when Ms Dynamite was shown some of the artefacts from a slavery museum - shackles for children and a gibbet that still contained human remains when it was found in the nineteenth century. There was an embarrassing interview with the Farquarsons whose descendants had been plantation owners, amidst the evasions and qualifications a ‘slavery was inhuman and cruel’ wasn’t really forthcoming.

In 1738 the British signed a treaty with the Maroons, but they agreed to return any runaways or slaves who had fled within the last two years. They were divided and significantly Nanny of the Maroons didn’t sign. That is another reason why her reputation has thrived and she is now an official ‘Jamaican Hero’.

A fantastic antidote to ‘Amazing Grace’.


Anderton Boat Lift

It was a beautiful day despite the cold wind, it felt like spring in the sunshine. Not that we’re throwing off the shackles of winter any more – the seasons almost merge together now.

I went to look at the Anderton Boat Lift near Northwich, ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’, built in 1875 it lifts boats from the Weaver Navigation up to the Trent and Mersey Canal. Closed in 1983 it was restored and reopened in 2002.

Walking down the towpath I passed some massive marinas chock full of narrow boats. I wonder what it’s like in the summer? You buy a boat to get some peace and quiet and then there’s ‘lock rage’ as boats try to beat the queues.

I went through Marbury Country Park, which has beautiful views across Budworth Mere (part of Northwich Community Woodlands). The Barry family built a mock French Chateau in the 1840s, but they decided to live in one of their other mansions – as you do. It was auctioned off in the 1930s, requisitioned during the war and demolished in 1968.

In the open fields a skylark shot upwards and hovered with its insistent call. Even a townie like me could recognise it.

By the time I got back the Anderton Boat Lift was open, there’s an excellent exhibition which is only £2 for adults. I was just waiting to see it in operation but no deal.

Northwich was founded on the salt industry they pumped brine out of the ground and then allowed the water to evaporate. Later this caused subsidence and buildings began to sink, nothing daunted they shored the foundations up or just moved the houses.

Driving away the chemical works are still smoking away in the background, once part of ICI they’ve renamed them Brunner-Mond (now owned by Tata of India). Brunner and Mond were Victorian philanthropists, who introduced holidays with pay, a pension fund and encouraged trade unionism, wonder what it’s like today?


Saturday, March 24, 2007


This was a cross between Lord of the Rings and Carry on Thermopylae, cast list?

King Leonidas – Bernard Bresslaw

Queen Gorgo – Barbara Windsor

Leonidas' Mother – Hattie Jacques

Captain – Roy Castle

Ephor (diseased mystic) – Kenneth Connor

Theron (lusty old goat) – Sid James

Dilios (optimistic youth) – Jim Dale

Stelios – As himself

Xerxes – Charles Hawtrey

Brothel Keeper – Terry Scott

Ephialtes (traitor) – Frankie Howard

Messenger – Peter Butterworth

Thespians – Kenneth Williams

Oracle Girl – Joan Sims

This film was so bad it was hilarious!


Primary MFL

A few summers ago I stood in the queue at a Belgian Tourist Information Office listening in awe, the callow youth behind the counter effortlessly switched between Flemish, French, German, Dutch and English. He wasn’t unusual and when we got to Holland everyone seemed to speak English.

You can always tell the English abroad, they speak VERY LOUDLY, use a mixture of English and ‘foreign’ words and gesticulate.

The proposal to make foreign language teaching part of the primary curriculum is to be welcomed. My only doubt is whether this will be another “initiative” that withers on the vine due to lack of funding and inadequate training – who is going to teach it?

Foreign language teaching in primary schools began to appear during the 1960s. However, a paper from the National Foundation for Educational Research in 1974 delivered a crucial set back. It claimed that achievement in foreign languages in secondary schools bore no relation to learning at primary level. When the National Curriculum was introduced in 1988 there was no provision for foreign languages.

The advantages of teaching languages to primary children are now undisputed -

· They are more flexible in their use of language and are not as frightened of making mistakes as older children, they are willing to experiment with the sounds and pronunciation.
· They may be more motivated to learn a language, where the emphasis is not so much on the written language and there is a greater ‘fun’ element.
· The longer children learn a language the greater chance they have of absorbing vocabulary and pronunciation.
· Primary teachers can embed the language into the curriculum and can use commands and instructions in another language.
· Children have an entitlement to learn other languages and to experience other cultures.
· There is a strong socio-economic advantage for people who are fluent in another language.

Successful teaching strategies have involved use of games and songs. Lessons are also based on speaking and only introduce writing when children are secure in their oral understanding.

During the ‘Dark Ages’ for Primary MFL in the 1980s Kent was almost unique in developing a county-wide scheme of excellence in language teaching, they pioneered extensive use of audio-visual resources to assist teachers; regular courses to train teachers; integrating foreign languages into the rest of the curriculum; embedding foreign languages in the daily life of the school, and use of specialist teachers and assistants to supplement the work of classroom teachers.

In Scotland primary teachers were trained to deliver effective language teaching based on a 27-day course. The advantage of using primary teachers rather than specialists was their expertise in primary pedagogy, their relationships and knowledge of their pupils and their ability to integrate and imbed languages in to the life of the school.

In 2004 changes to Key Stage 3 teaching allowed secondary schools to offer one instead of two foreign languages and children could stop taking lessons at 14. As a result from 2004 when 80% of children took a GCSE it has now fallen to only half. There’s also a clear class divide, only 25% of pupils on Free School Meals took a GCSE in foreign languages compared to 80% in independent schools. Schools have concentrated on French and Spanish so other languages like German have lost out.

At ‘A’ Level there are only 30,000 studying and just 3% of degrees are in foreign languages. Therefore there are a small number of potential teachers. Most European countries teach a baccalaureate type of exam where entrance to University is dependent on knowledge of foreign languages.

Teaching languages in all primary schools will help the transfer to secondary schools where most lessons start from scratch, which bores to death those children who have a good grasp of a particular language.

The government proposals will only work if teachers are given enough training and have the confidence to teach a foreign language. Last year I went to a training day in Lancashire. First up was a secondary specialist with an all-singing, all-dancing lesson and she had a perfect French accent. Faced with that you often feel, ‘I am not worthy. I couldn’t do that.’ Later on I went to a workshop by primary teachers, they were really nervous, they’d only been teaching French for a few months, the resources were a bit 'Blue Peterish' (Here’s something I prepared earlier) and their accents were part Coronation Street. However, they’d all supported each other and weren’t frightened of making mistakes. I left the workshop feeling; ‘I could have a go at that’.

When you visit Europe the cultural impact of English is everywhere – in music, films and television. That is the most problematic issue – how do we get a cultural shift in attitudes where children respect other cultures and want to learn another language? How not to do it? See ‘The Sun’ and ‘The Daily Mail’.


A Shameless Plug

If you like the blog read the book. Not having served a term in HMI Prison for telling lies or polluting the planet with gas guzzling cars, ‘How Not To Teach’ isn’t exactly in the bestseller list. It’s just an attempt to chronicle the life of a primary school teacher in today’s education system beset by targets and continual testing, it’s not just a moan, there’s lots of humour as well.

Why ‘Mr Read’? Bookshops prominently display ‘Miss Read’s’ ‘Village School’ but that is a million miles removed from the reality of teaching today.

If you want to buy a copy please consider News From Nowhere, they are a cooperative based in Bold Street, Liverpool, and you can order it from them online. Or alternatively use any independent bookshop.

‘How Not to Teach’ is only available in a limited number of Waterstone's store. Like everything else a few companies dominate, half bookshop sales are through Waterstone's and after swallowing Ottaker’s they are talking about closing shops where there is ‘duplication’. Borders have also announced that they will be pulling out of Britain.

If you really must there is also Amazon.

I’d welcome any comments, critical or complementary.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Joke of the Week

What did the inflatable teacher in the inflatable school say to the inflatable pupil who brought a pin into class?

You've let me down, you've let the school down, but most of all...


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Abusing Waiters

I went to Manchester today for a British Council meeting on ‘Making Links’. Streuth! There’s an absolutely bewildering array of trips, awards and seminars you can apply for in a range of exotic locations – if you can only negotiate your way through the thicket of web sites and application forms.

As the EU oversees everything some of the form filling and language is Byzantine in its complexity. You don’t have visits but ‘mobilities’ and the Belgium’s have three organisations to contact – the Flemish speaking, French speaking and one for the 20,000 German speakers. Why can’t they just get on with each other?

There were some interesting case studies but what really raised my hackles was one involving public schools in England where the pupils (paid for by the British Council) had visited several European countries. What is it with these people? They opt out of the state system but they expect massive tax concessions (they’re “charities” don’t you know), employ teachers who have been trained at the state’s expense and then use EU money to go on a Cook’s Tour. Thousands of children never have any type of holiday. Maybe this is just getting them used to a life of privilege where they can abuse waiters, slam car doors late at night, talk in a loud voice in public and trouser billions in City bonuses.

Before I went into a full Dave Spart rant and embarrassed the assembled suits by asking an impertinent question I was distracted by a brilliant presentation by two teachers from a school in Moss Side. Most of their children hadn’t been further than the local park, but they’d taken them to Ireland and Spain – the world was their oyster. What finally stole it for me was when they scorned the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy. If only I could get a job there. Hope springs eternal in the human breast.

Who is Graham Dacre?

Graham Dacre is the wealthy Norwich second hand car dealer turned preacher, who wants to turn Heartsease School into an academy. In 2005 he sold his Lind Automotive Group for over £100 million. Dacre was formerly a member of the Pentecostalist group Proclaimers International. In December 2004 he threw them out of his country mansion and formed his own group Drayton Hall Church. After their church was destroyed by fire in February 2006 Dacre gave a home to the independent Mount Zion Family Life Centre, things went so well that by March 2007 the two groups joined to form the Norwich Family Life Church.

In 2006 Dacre put in an application with the Norwich Diocese of the Church of England to convert Heartsease School into an academy. Papers obtained by the Eastern Daily Press under the Freedom of Information Act were quite revealing about the financial burden of the respective bidders – Dacre was putting in £1.95 million and the Norwich Diocese a paltry £50,000, aside from the obvious ‘tail wagging the dog’, it does raise the issue of, who is leading the bid?

The new £25 million 1,400 pupil school is being billed as a publicity friendly ‘green academy’. But why replace Heartsease School? The school roll currently has 398 pupils, opponents fear that a brand new school with state of the art facilities will have a devastating effect on the three schools adjacent to it. Instead of schools cooperating and working together it will lead to the inevitable decline and closure of other schools in the area.

Academies have also been sold as ‘replacing failing schools’ Heartsease is far from that. In 1996 it did go into special measures but came out in 2000, the most recent Ofsted report in 2007 described it as an ‘improving’ school and it was in the top 100 most improved schools in the country for Key Stage 3 results.

Dacre and the Diocese of Norwich have been ‘unavailable’ on several occasions when asked for comment by the local press, you certainly won’t glean much from their web site. Dacre’s former church the Proclaimers International are linked to the fundamentalist Assemblies of God (creationist, anti-abortionist, homophobic). You can vote for politicians on a local and national level to run education, they have to put forward a manifesto and their views are a matter of public record. Would Graham Dacre let it be known, did God create the world 6,000 years ago? I’d like to know.

Local opposition

Anti Academies Alliance


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

You Can Call Me ‘Al’

‘The Guardian Education’ carried a lengthy interview with the new children’s commissioner for England, Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green (to give him his full title). It started well. He stated that he was concerned at the numbers of unhappy children and schools’ ability to cope with them.

He cited the problem of constant school tests,

“Children feel under such pressure from endless testing, they do not feel they have the time to enjoy themselves. What is the purpose of education? Is it for the attainment of government targets, or is it to provide children with life skills to become confident adults?”

But just to show he’s ‘on message’ he reverts to ‘Blairspeak’ – you trot out a platitude that no one can disagree with.

“Of course we have to have measures of achievement, but to subject very young children to regular testing is a worry.”

A worry? Obviously child-friendly ‘Al’ doesn’t do over-statement. What about the most pernicious form of testing the Key Stage 2 National Curriculum Tests (SATs) which alongside that spawn of the devil, league tables, have blighted and distorted education in England (they aren’t used in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales)? What does ‘Al’ have to say on this? Nothing. Look at the web site. Nothing.

Maybe he inhabits the same moral home as those Labour MPs who retain their CND cards but voted to spend billions on replacing Trident, or those with an Amnesty International card who remained silent about abuses at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraid.

Really it’s not surprising, who gave ‘Al’ the job? The government. Naturally they’d want a ‘safe pair of hands’ and not any old ‘loose cannon’ who would ‘rock the boat’ (you can probably guess what the grammar target has been for this week and yes, rule one is - don’t mix your metaphors).

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Learning Brain Europe

I’ve had an e-mail asking me to mention the Learning Brain Europe Conference -

‘Run by teachers passionate about raising achievement, the event brings key mind-friendly learning experts together for a conference unique in Europe.’

The programme is based on research into Multiple Intelligence by the American academic Dr. Spencer Kagan. I’ll have to come clean I’m not a great fan of ‘Multiple Intelligence’, John White from the Institute of Education has written some excellent critical material. I went to a lecture by Alistair Smith on ‘Accelerated Learning’ – great knock-about stuff, should have been a stand-up comedian but sorry, education? It was snake-oil salesman time.

You’ll also have to pardon my scepticism about America – reconstitution, charter schools, unequal funding, unqualified teachers, ‘No Child Left Behind’, high stakes testing – not a great track record. If anyone does get the chance to attend I’d be interested to hear from you.

On the positive side there are teachers speaking at the seminars and there don’t appear to be any dodgy sponsors i.e., McDonald’s or Microsoft.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Norwich Family Life Church

There seems to have been a pretty spectacular fall out between Proclaimers International and millionaire used-car dealer Graham Dacre. In December 2004 they were forced to leave their 500-seater church in Drayton Hall (owned by Graham Dacre) and relocated, with their tambourines, to the Ramada Jarvis Hotel in Norwich.

In February 2006 one of the largest independent churches in Norwich the Mount Zion Family Life Centre on Heartsease Lane was destroyed in a blaze. They were allowed a temporary home in Drayton Hall. Subsequently, in March 2007, Mount Zion Family Life Centre and Dacre’s own Drayton Hall Church merged to form the Norwich Family Life Church, they also announced plans to takeover the former David Rice Hospital site, on the outskirts of Norwich, and build a 2,500 capacity church costing £5 million.

Proclaimers International, Mount Zion Family Life Centre, Drayton Hall Church, Norwich Family Life Church… if you thought left wing politics was dominated by factions, schisms and splits then you don’t know the Pentecostalists. In America, Australia and Brazil there are different Pentecostalist churches ferociously competing for converts. What do they share in common?

· Forget liberation theology or social justice, in the Pentecostalist eyes being rich is not a sin, far from it, they will train you to become wealthy
· They are heavily involved in right wing politics from the Family First Party in Australia to the tele-evangelists like Pat Robertson in America
· They aggressively evangelise and win new converts, if the established churches are the shop keepers they are the foot in the door salesmen
· Members are expected to pay high tithes – often 10% of income
· Charismatic preachers dominate their churches, when they die there is often an unseemly tussle for power among the acolytes
· Dissent is not tolerated, apostates are expelled
· Despite claiming to be ‘the fastest growing churches’ there is a very high turnover rate of members

Graham Dacre made his money from the Lind Automotive Group and established the Lind Trust to fund youth work and his own religious activities. In March 2006 he put in a joint bid with the Church of England to convert Heartsease High School in Norwich into a 1,400-pupil academy. The £20 million plan would represent a significant investment in an area noted for social deprivation. However, there is considerable local opposition, the school governors voted 13-3 in March 2006 for a year long feasibility study. The local MP Ian Gibson said,

“There seems to be a whole gang of evangelical Christians in Norwich, among them Graham Dacre and the Bishop of Norwich, not motivated by education but by indoctrination.”

The spin from the Government is that academies are replacing ‘failing’ inner-city schools – THIS IS A LIE. None of the academies were in special measures, some had been described by Ofsted (not that they are infallible) as ‘outstanding’, Heartsease High School in its inspection in February 2007 was described as ‘improving’.

Why is the government willing to hand state schools over to any old second hand car dealer linked to fringe religious groups? Mr Dacre – what are your views on creationism, homosexuality and abortion? If I was a parent at Heartsease High School I would certainly like to know.

Proclaimers International, Norwich Family Life Church, wacky creationists trying to takeover schools, churches burning down, the plot thickens. Definitely a case for Inspector Read.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Proclaimers International

One of my exclusives was on the proposed academy in Norwich to be opened by Graham Dacre who was linked with Proclaimers International. I've received this e-mail from Tom Rawls and in the interests of open discussion here it is. My apologies for getting it wrong. However, I'd still like to know Mr Dacre's views on creationism, abortion and homosexuality, just send me an e-mail and I'll oblige.

Dear Mr Read,

My name is Tom Rawls and I am the senior minister of Proclaimers Church and I have been the pastor of Proclaimers now for over 3 and a half years. I arrived in July 2003.

Just to correct a few mistakes in your blog. Mr Dacre is no longer a member of Proclaimers our church and has not been a regularly attending member for well over 4 years to my knowledge. Just to keep you correctly reporting he is not a financial backer of our church either.

Since Proclaimers Church stopped meeting at Drayton Hall in December 2004 Mr Dacre has been leading and pastoring his own new church at Drayton Hall called “Drayton Hall Church”. Mr Dacre is the owner of the Drayton Hall facilities and no longer wanted us to use them for our churches ministry so we moved to the Ramada Jarvis Hotel to conduct all our Sunday services.

It was recently reported in the Norwich news papers and the Christian press that he, along with his three brothers-in-law formed a new church now named “Norwich Family Life Center”

The church formerly known as Mt Zion Family Life Center has been occupying Mr Dacre’s building at Drayton Hall since the tragic event of the burning down of the church in the Heartsease Estate a year ago.

The four of them are reportedly the new pastors of this newly formed church.

Hope you don’t mind me writing to bring some corrections.


Tom Rawls


Take Me To Your Subject Leader…

Regular readers of this blog might remember a previous post – ‘The Sheer Futility of Human Existence’, when we heard at the staff meeting how co-ordinators in primary schools had been replaced by ‘Subject Leaders’ who would drive everything mercilessly forward with ‘vision’.

Central to their task would be preparing a mazzy big file with a Job Description, Vision Statement for your School/Subject, Subject Policy, Subject Development Plan/ Action Plan, Annual Maintenance Schedule, Subject Scheme of Work, Examples of Planning (medium or short term), Assessments, Marking Policy, Tests, Some examples of assessed work, Examples/Reports of monitoring activities, Monitoring Schedule, Schedule for Staff meetings where Subject is on agenda, Relevant Minutes of above meetings, Schedules for SMT Subject Management Meetings, Reports to the Governors, Minutes of above meetings, Subject Evaluations and reviews including last OfSTED, Copies of monitoring feedback to teachers, Budget Information, List of resources and Purchases, CPD Log for Courses, Activity Log For Subject Leader and Pictures of La La and Twinky Winky. OK, I did make the last bit up, but I’m sure you get the point.

However, I’m reliably informed that particularly if you are expected to ‘manage’ other staff then you are entitled to a Teaching and Learning Responsibility (TLR) payment. The relevant paragraph is from the Frequently Asked Questions in the ‘Rewards and Incentives Group’. In question 41A they state,

‘In cases where responsibilities exceed or lie outside these parameters (for example, where the co-ordination of subjects across the curriculum entails leading and managing other teachers), it would not be reasonable for teachers to undertake them without additional remuneration. It would then be for the school to determine whether such responsibilities/posts of responsibility meet the criterion and the factors for the award of a TLR payment or whether they would better be undertaken by an AST, an Excellent Teacher or a member of the leadership group.’

I won’t quote the full answer for reasons of brevity and also whenever I start reading official documents it induces a state of catatonic stupor.

What is clear – Subject Leader = payment = even then avoid it like the plague – give it to management.


Sunday, March 18, 2007


Why would a mother send her child, unaccompanied, to a foreign country carrying only a suitcase full of clothes and displaying a number on a sheet of cardboard tied round their neck with a piece of string?

It was the events of ‘Kristallnacht’ in 1938, a state promoted pogrom where Jewish shops and businesses were trashed or torched by Nazis thugs that convinced mothers to send 10,000 children to Britain – the Kindertransport.

They arrived nine months before war broke out and there is no doubt that this saved their lives. Those that stayed behind perished in the concentration camps, either through disease, starvation or in the gas chambers.

Diane Samuels’ play ‘Kindertransport’ is an outstanding piece of theatre, the script is spellbinding in its intensity and the simple set with spooky cupboards and old suitcases effortlessly transports you across several decades.

Eva (played with incredible virtuosity by Matti Houghton) is sent by her mother to Mrs Miller in Manchester with the promise that the rest of the family will follow in a few months time. Fast forward and a daughter leaving for university is sorting through the cups, pans and knives when she finds a box full of old letters and photographs. Eva has become a middle class English woman called Evelyn.

Diane Samuels wrote the play with the knowledge that every mother, from the moment they are born, prepares for the day when her child will leave, but not under the conditions of the Kindertransport. The play explores the fraught mother/daughter relationship that is given a savage twist by the shock discovery.

Central to the script is the question of identity, who am I? Where did I come from? Some of the children of Kindertransport refused ever to speak German again and became completely anglicised.

‘I renounced my background; I was ashamed of it. I wanted to forget everything. If I was asked where I came from it was tantamount to being accused of a crime… I never think of my birthplace as home now and never refer to it as such’

- We Came as Children, Karen Gershon

A common reaction to intense trauma, suffering and genocide is ‘survivor guilt’. Eva/Evelyn has struggled to come to terms with it all her life. There’s also the insecurity – was I a good child?

‘We were told that we must always remember that other children might have come out in our stead and that they might have been more worthwhile people than we. Since then I have always been obsessed with the thought that I must justify my survival.’

We Came As Children – Karen Gershon

The story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin and the gruesome figure of the Ratcatcher lurks constantly in the background. This imagery of the supernatural, the terror, reaches out to the dark side of Eva/Evelyn’s psyche.

Racism tries to dehumanise its victims as mere chattels, subhuman. The play shows how the children of the Kindertransport had their identity stripped away. Slaves were forced to speak English and adopted their masters’ names. What relevance has the play for today? Children fleeing from the civil wars in Africa routinely appear at Heathrow without papers, sent by their mothers for ‘a better life’.

This play demonstrates how theatre, as a medium, can gather the audience together and draw them into the vortex of the plot in a way that film cannot emulate. The conclusion is heart-rending, I cried. Make time watch this play.

The play is still on tour in Ipswich, Brighton, Salford, Leeds, London, Southampton and Oxford.

Shared Experience Theatre Company


Nil by teachers

What do ‘Primary Teachers’ (funded by the DfES), the General Teaching Council’s magazine and the union journals all have in common? Apart from being glossy all colour productions with snazzy design and catchy headlines, there’s virtually nothing in them from… teachers. Professional journalists write everything.

‘Primary Teachers’ contains 36 pages, as a concession the last two pages are given over to classroom resources, classroom capers, answers please and ‘I’m a teacher and a…’ (don’t answer that).

I’m not suggesting that it should be filled with articles by teachers moaning, but a certain sense of reality would help. Also why not try to inspire us?

‘Primary Teachers’ really is the ‘Truman Show’ of magazines, we all live in this permanently sunny, smiley world where happy and contented teachers work in bright, freshly painted schools with manicured lawns and white picket fences. Naturally they didn’t want to disturb the inhabitants by commenting on the Unicef report (most miserable children).

How could I sum up ‘Primary Teachers’ in three words? Trite, insubstantial and patronising.


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.


Friday, March 16, 2007

Joke of the Week

Last summer I was reading the paper in the living room when I heard a faint knock at the door, when I opened it, there was a snail. He looked up at me and said,

“It’s very hot, can I have a drink of water please?”

I went mad,

“Blooming snails, eating everything in the garden, now you want a drink of water!”

So I picked the snail up and threw him down the street and he bounced about twenty times right to the end.

Last night there was another faint knock on the front door, I opened it and there was the snail, he looked up at me –

“What did you do that for?”


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Comic Relief

Lest I be cast as an incurable misanthrope I must inform readers that I once dressed up in a pink dress on World Book Day (Bill’s New Frock); played the role of the grumpy shepherd in the infants play with comic abandon and came to the school disco disguised as a Jamaican rasta.

When it comes to Comic Relief my abiding memory is being sworn at by designer-scruffy, sallow-skinned, heroin-thin, stubble-chinned, hollow-cheeked, mega-rich pop stars – “poverty is your fault, give us the money bastards”. We took it from Saint Bob, now imitation is so passé. I instinctively reach for the off button when grinning, fat, bespectacled, follicly-challenged, WASP businessmen shuffle blinking into the spotlight clutching over-sized cheques with their company’s name displayed in huge letters.

Undoubtedly charities can play a vital role, innovate when governments or councils hesitate; provide those extras that can make all the difference to disadvantaged people or organisations - there’s no doubt that Comic Relief has done some fantastic work in Britain and overseas.

However, for many people there is a residual fear, suspicion, and even hatred of charities. Why? Because there’s that patronising stereotype of needy, grateful, supplicants touching their forelocks as Lord or Lady Bountiful distribute alms to the deserving poor. Or with Comic Relief a billionaire pop star descends on bemused African villagers, rushes round looking jolly, organises an “impromptu” football match and then high tails it in his convoy of limousines back to the 5 star hotel in the metropolis.

Comic Relief is superb for television – here we are we’re doing our bit. Yet news reporting on developing countries is at an all time low. Compare the hours spent on the deluge that affected Bocastle (a few hundred well-insured business people) with the paltry seconds on the floods that ravaged Bangladesh, where millions endured weeks of misery and starvation squatting on the roofs of their tin shacks.

If television and the BBC have a mission to explain then Comic Relief is not part of it, the programme is like reality TV – cheap and trashy, ratings-fuelled, the equivalent of junk food, with its sugar rush that eventually addles the brain. When will any of the salient facts about “aid” to developing countries appear? For every £1 donated, £8 will be paid back in debt payments. Maybe they could invite an IMF policy wonk to explain why benefits and schooling are routinely abolished or cut? Could they even hint at the unjust terms of trade – i.e., the millions in subsidies doled out to wealthy Norfolk sugar beet farmers, while sugar cane producers in Mozambique (who can grow the same raw material at a fraction of the cost) are excluded from the world market? In the absence of this Comic Relief helps to perpetuate the myth that poverty is due to some kind of aberrant natural disaster.

Many charities haven’t got an exemplary record overseas – spending too much on administration, failing to employ local people and allowing money to disappear through corruption. As one American president cynically explained charity is, “poor people in rich countries giving money to rich people in poor countries”.

Contrary to the image businesses in Britain give a tiny percentage of their profits to charity - last year just 0.95% of their pre tax profits was donated, making up only 5% of leading charities income. And who donates the highest percentage of their income to charity? The poor, Sunderland was top of the charity giving league table. In 2006 the Charities Aid Foundation reported that the richest 1% owned one quarter of the wealth but only contributed 7% of the money given by individuals to charities.

Call it compassion fatigue but Comic Relief has had its day, that tired old formula – its Z-list celebs desperate for any publicity to resuscitate a faltering career; the cheap and tacky “specials”; those supreme moments of unintended irony as call centre staff raise huge sums of money before the banks ship all their jobs out to Bangalore; the pressure-selling and desperate pleas for money as the programme reaches its climax, tug the heart strings, bang in another film about street children in India but whatever you do don’t mention Bhopal. I’m at one with the comedian Mark Steel, when Phil Collins comes onto the screen with film running behind him showing a poor child in the Third World and asks who is going to help him? I’m shouting at the screen, “You, you’re loaded!”

We’re baling out the ocean with a thimble. In our celebrity-obsessed consumer culture we’re showing a few nanoseconds of concern. Still, as Smashy and Nicey used to say it’s all for “charidy”.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Irony is Dead!

I’m an optimist by nature, but I’m also a realist. I’d rather be writing about the joy of teaching young children, but here goes…

I’ve just read the DfES proposals for children from birth to five. Babies will be assessed on gurgling, babbling and toe-playing abilities. Every nursery, childminder and reception class will use 13 scales, give them a score and then pass on the information to the DfES.

By the time children enter Year 1 they will be expected to read simple sentences using phonics, count up to 10, sing simple songs from memory, as well as respecting others’ beliefs. Honestly, I’m not making it up.

Any organisation that wants to opt-out must apply for exemption.

On the birth to 11 months assessment carers will be expected to note the interest infants show “in the marks they make when they rub a rusk round the tray of a feeding chair”.

Just imagine the following scenario –

“Quick Thelma, look at this, he’s copying the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We can tick that box.”

“No he isn’t you daft bugger, he’s just having fun!”

What happens when there’s excessive form filling? Rather than spend time making lessons interesting staff spend hours ticking boxes. In Finland they encourage creativity, outdoor learning and cooperation - formal learning begins at seven or earlier if children are ready for it. Still I suppose the targets culture and testing will prepare our tots for the school regime that will grind them down with 100 formal tests by the time they are 18.

Ted Wragg memorably raged against the ‘foundation stage profiles’ in 2004 and asked why nursery staff weren’t out demonstrating on the streets. Maybe there are people out there in the wilderness of cyber space raging against it. Surely when Unicef say we have the most miserable children out of the wealthiest countries there should be some pause for thought?

Ted Wragg always said that when it came to education - ‘irony is dead’. What did he say about tick boxes for infants in 2004? “…in the totalitarian society in which we now live there is absolutely nothing anyone can do about it. Except vomit.”


Titanic Trip

The children were all hyper about the trip to the Maritime Museum’s Titanic Exhibition. Just before the train arrived at the station I got them to line up with partners.

The train was full of senior citizens who gazed beneficently at our horde. Peter went into overdrive and began chattering like Graham Norton on speed, “Is that signal down sir, sir? Is another train coming? Did you see on the news about that train crash with all those people killed sir, SIR? I’m watching Saints next week, they’re world champions.”

The old gentleman sitting next to him is also a Saints fan; he tries and fails to get a word in edgeways.

“Sir look at that house it’s MASSIVE, they must be posh! Look at that sign sir, 58 steps from the station to the road, sir, sir.”

“Peter, do you get out much?”

The woman next to me smiles.

We count everyone off the train and head for the underground, down the steep escalators, into the darkness of the echoing station. Keith’s mum was concerned about the short trip into Liverpool and whether he would return unscathed and intact. Keith chooses this moment to collapse into the arms of a teaching assistant, he sits there whimpering on the train seat.

Blinking into the sunlight we walk to the Maritime Museum. The Titanic exhibition has changed to include the sinking of the Empress (it collided with another ship in thick fog in May 1914 in the St Lawrence Seaway, Canada, over 1,000 people died) and the Lusitania (torpedoed by a German submarine in May 1915 with 1,201 dying).

The children rush round without even reading anything, I herd them back to watch a film about the search for the wreck of the Titanic. There’s an apron from a servant who survived the sinking and artefacts like rivets and uniforms. They race through the ‘Battle of the Atlantic 1940’ and the ships’ models. The ‘Shipwrecked’ exhibition is excellent, they dress up as animals and have to answer clues to win a badge and certificate. This keeps them occupied for ages.

All morning I’m trying to stave off, “I’m hungry”. By 11 o’clock it’s changed to, “We’re starving” and half an hour later signs of serious malnutrition are evident. We’ve booked a room to eat our packed lunches at 12.30, but it’s a beautiful day and instead we sit on the benches on the riverfront. I warn them not to feed the pigeons and then give the command – ‘EAT’.

After polishing off enough food to… sink a ship, they clamber over statues, imitate Billy Fury (we all thought it was Elvis at first). Later on we race round the Customs exhibition, Slavery and Emigration. By the end of all this they are beginning to wilt and I’m marvelling at how many times they can visit the toilet.

We walk back to the underground and even Keith isn’t fazed by the lifts and escalators. Thinking on I should have been better prepared, split them into mixed ability groups with clues to search for, the museum’s worksheet was too difficult.

As we get back to school we can see Keith’s mother waiting anxiously, I’m worried he’ll collapse in a heap, but he’s quite matter of fact. Luckily even Peter is shattered and has stopped talking – at last.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Still Grim – Recovery Will Take Twenty Years!

Government funded research has shown that after decades of decline teachers believe their lot is improving – marginally.

Researchers found that workload reduction and increased spending has helped to improve morale. However, they warned that it could be another twenty years before teaching becomes a “high status” job.

Parents, governors and teaching assistants (associated groups) were asked with teachers to rank the profession on a five-point scale from very low (one) to very high (five). In 1967 the ratings were 4.4 for the associated group and 4.3 for teachers (the Plowden golden age?).

By 2003 the figures had fallen to 2.7 and 2.2. This year’s survey showed slight improvements to 2.9 and 2.5. Although teachers still thought their job was lacking in reward and respect, with high external control and regulation.

There weren’t any figures for when New Labour came into office in 1997, that would have made an interesting comparison. What the figures did show was that in four years morale has only marginally improved from a very low level. Surprising given the miniscule increase to see the headline in the Times Educational Supplement, ‘Feelgood factor is back’. I think mine is more appropriate.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Gradgrind’s Charter

There was a confusing blizzard of initials, the DfES (Department for Education and Science) decided on the recommendations sent to it by the STRB (School Teachers’ Review Body) on PBR (Payment By Results). Reading the proposals my heart sank they really are a ‘Gradgrind’s Charter’, but it’s the NQTs that I feel sorry for because they will have to inherit the wasteland.

What do the proposals mean?

1) Ambitious young teachers can jump some of the pay scales and get increased pay “based on results”.
2) The 240,000 senior staff will have their pay firmly tied to the treadmill of… yes, you’ve guessed it results.
3) NQTs will only move up the pay scale when they… get results.

For the 280,000 teachers on the main scale there’s a vague formulation that, “all progression on incremental pay scales follow a performance management review and that a teacher’s performance has satisfied explicit performance-related criteria.” In other words enough room for unscrupulous Heads to withhold pay increases. That government poodle the NAS promised that main scale teachers had “nothing to fear” from the proposals - so senior staff whose pay depends on results won’t be putting any pressure on, particularly for SATs and GCSE results? My name is Chris Woodhead and I claim my £10.

The NUT (which was founded in the late nineteenth century to oppose payment by results) usually talk a good fight but do nothing about it, they did a classic spin operation by reporting the progress made for part-time and supply teachers but abandoned the fight for NQTs.

Maybe when we talk about “results” we need a bit of intellectual honesty because even a brain dead chimp could “raise standards”. How do you do it? Simple, narrow down the curriculum, teach to test, constantly test children, focus on the borderline group that will make all the difference and if in doubt cheat, remembering the golden rule – don’t get caught.

In my experience 80% of children don’t have any problem with “the basics” the other 20% are the SEN children who need specialist help. The iron law of assessment is that the higher the learning skill the harder it is to assess. How do you actually measure, love of learning, innovation, creativity or imagination? Yes it’s a real bugger as soon as you try to enter them on a spreadsheet they escape like a ghost. It’s got to the stage now that whenever I hear the words ‘Multiple Choice’ I want to start screaming and head for the hills.

Exactly what sort of teacher will the payment by results proposals promote? Will it be?

Teacher A- who is creative, attempts to enthuse children with a love for learning, is well liked by his pupils and promotes cooperation between them, teaches a wide ranging and balanced curriculum, is always taking his class on trips out, inspires them with a love of reading and has colourful displays with children’s work all over the classroom walls.


Teacher B – a results obsessed, joyless, utilitarian automaton who teaches a narrowed down curriculum, there’s constant testing and the SEN children are on the brink of revolt, his pupils can’t wait to get out of class and the walls are covered with targets for the pupils, class and school, after being fed a constant diet of gruel the more able children are exhibiting the first signs of malnutrition.

Of course I exaggerate for effect, or maybe not.

In all of this my constant question is - what the hell are we doing to our children? See the Unicef report for more details. The other week I was talking to a Year 6 teacher, his Head had finally thrown his hand in after attending another LEA meeting on target setting. The school’s assessments had been ripped up and the scary consultants were asking them to “push more children through the barrier”. They looked at their children in Year 6, who were they talking about? There was the shy child whose confidence was fragile because his parents had just gone through a messy divorce, there was the pupil who had wet the bed during the Year 2 tests and her parents had made it clear “never again” and then there was the boy whose parents thought was a potential genius, yes they could, with a lot of work, get him to Level 5, but for his sake didn’t want to.

Some teachers may choose to worship the devil, that’s a matter of personal choice, but it’s not for me. The proposals on payment by results really are another bleak day for education and our children, slowly, slowly, the light is being extinguished.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Bring back the Orphanages!

It doesn’t exactly sound like a rallying cry, not in the wake of the abuse scandals, the way that some children were institutionalised and talk to any social worker and they’ll tell you that ‘residential’ is usually full of badly paid, unqualified staff, working unsocial hours.

Phil Frampton’s ‘Insider’ documentary for Channel 4 on Thursday night painted a different picture, his foster placements broke down and he was brought up in a Barnardo’s home in Southport. It wasn’t always clean, he was on occasions beaten and humiliated but he did get to university, along with other children from the home. Siblings stayed together and ‘everyone looked after each other’.

In the last thirty years the numbers in children’s homes has gone down from 25,000 to only 5,000, most placements are now with foster parents - in a ‘family environment’. However, although payments have increased there is a shortage of foster parents, which means that children can be shunted around a succession of short-term placements. One child had had 58 different foster placements, another had to travel one and a half hours to get to school.

There are many excellent, caring, foster parents but there are cases where they are given minimal training and support. A high percentage of placements break down. And as for the ‘family environment’ siblings are often split up with terrible consequences for the children’s mental health. Also it’s not unheard of for foster parents to go on holiday and not take the children they are fostering.

The German ‘Kinderhaus’ system places children in large houses with well-qualified staff, but due to the economies of scale it costs £20,000 per child as opposed to £30,000 in Britain. In Denmark a very high percentage of children in care go on to higher education.

We spend over £1 billion on the care system yet something like a third of homeless people and a high proportion of prison inmates have been through the care system. A higher proportion are in prison than university. It costs about £40,000 a year to incarcerate someone, surely it would be better to spend it on a world class care system – including some well equipped ‘orphanages’ staffed by well qualified professionals?

Phil Frampton's book - The Golly in the Cupboard

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The History Boys

It’s the sparkling dialogue and cracking one-liners (‘History is just one f’ing thing after another’) that carries the film of Alan Bennett’s ‘The History Boys’.

A boys’ grammar school in Yorkshire during the 1980s is trying to prepare its most talented cohort for Oxford and Cambridge. In attempt to give them some ‘polish’ the acerbic head recruits Mr Irwin. His moral relativism and intellectual detachment stands in contrast to Hector’s (played with gusto by Richard Griffiths) liberal, knowledge for knowledge’s sake, ‘pass it on, pass it on’. There’s a memorable conflict over the Holocaust.

However grammar schools those pale imitations of the independent sector – houses, masters in tweeds, classics – were largely gone by the 1980s. And Yorkshire in the 1980s? The social and economic background was the backwash from the Ripper trial, industrial decline and the miners’ strike. Cutler’s Sheffield Grammar School exists in a vacuum. See David Peace’s brilliant novels for the backdrop.

‘The History Boys’ fails to explore the tensions between the boys’ own home life and the faux public school values, something that Alan Bennett wrote about extensively in his autobiography (see also Richard Hoggart in ‘The Uses of Literacy’). Most teachers will be uncomfortable with the attempt to justify paedophilia as Hector having a grope with the boys on his motorbike; after all they even have a rota to enjoy this privilege.

Some of the comic acting is first rate; the re-enactment of ‘Brief Encounter’ by two of the boys was worth the ticket price, but the film does struggle in adapting from the stage, consequently the ending looks contrived.

Rating 7 out of 10.


Friday, March 09, 2007

Joke of the Week

(This joke can be embellished and extended to cover that awkward last ten minutes of the school day. Not recommended for infants.)

Once upon a time there was a family of gnus, mummy gnu, daddy gnu and baby gnu. They all lived happily together on the great plains of Africa. One day a nasty hunter tracked them and he trained his rifle on the daddy gnu and shot him dead.

The mummy gnu and baby gnu did their best to carry on but tragically one day when she was leaning over a cliff to reach some juicy grass she fell over the edge and fell onto the rocks below.

The baby gnu had no one left to protect him and a pack of hungry lions gobbled him up.

Well, that’s the end of the gnus…

Now for the weather forecast!


Thursday, March 08, 2007

School 'Choice'

I found an interesting article on the BBC web site by Mike Baker that compares the English and Scottish systems of secondary school transfer. The point he makes is that Admissions Day has become another traumatic time for many parents and children.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

It Won’t Be You!

As you’ve probably gathered from one of my previous articles on grants, bursaries and sabbaticals, I’m pretty much a serial applicant. I apply for everything. However, what I neglected to mention was that there is a fairly high failure rate. My success ratio is about 1 in 10. Not that I use a scatter gun approach, some of the ‘marks’, ‘charters’ and ‘awards’ are a total waste of time. My selection criteria are – What’s in it for the children? Will it help me develop as a teacher and is there any money?

I’ve had to endure a myriad of failed bids, letters that start ‘unfortunately’ and the bitter taste of rejection. In most cases it really doesn’t bother me, I move on, maybe apply next year. I’m also secure in the knowledge that I’ve had some fairly spectacular successes.

But there’s one rejection from the Heritage Lottery that has really annoyed me. We’ve been applying on and off for three years to make a film. The Heritage Lottery exists to help small community organisations with funding from £5,000 to £50,000.

I think I’ve lost count of the number of times our application has been batted back and forth. Finally we’ve been told that we need to “rescope” (whatever that means) our application. What really enraged me was that even though our forms hadn’t been to the final stage, where a regional board considers the bid, a new application must be re-submitted with original documents. So we’ll have to chase round for new letters of support and financial estimates.

The tone of their letter was a disgrace, finding fault with as many details as possible, not one positive comment. If I wrote children’s reports like that I would deserve to be sacked. They kept asking for ‘more detail’ when all they provide is a tiny box on the application form.

I did some research on the Heritage Lottery web site, our school is in one of the poorest boroughs in the country, in the last ten years we’ve received about £½ million in Lottery money. Compare that with two of the richest areas – Macclesfield with £13 million and Aylesbury with £15 million. It’s true that a large proportion has gone on expensive National Trust projects – no problem there, it is a ‘national treasure’. But why so little for our borough?

The grant officers seem to change with bewildering regularity, but they all seem to have been trained in the, ‘what do you peasants want?’ attitude. You definitely get the feeling that a knight of the realm or a titled lady on our board of management would help considerably.

There’s also the suspicion that money is being diverted from the Lottery to the London Olympics. There was an excellent article in ‘The Guardian’ by Simon Jenkins where he pointed out that £10 billion is being lavished on 16 days of sport. He also listed Lottery funded projects that were closing down.

You get the impression that the Heritage Lottery grants officers spend their time shuffling bits of paper around and sending out condescending rejection letters. Why not be honest? Just tell people, ‘You’ve got no chance, all the money’s going on the Olympics, and you’re wasting your time.’

I’ve written to our MP and contacted the papers, but I’m not confident that anything will come of it. What really pisses me off? It’s our children that lose out.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Blog Exclusive!

Who are Proclaimers International? They are an evangelical, Pentecostalist group based in Norwich. They have put in a bid with the Church of England for an academy to replace Heartsease high school. Proclaimers International are backed by car dealer Graham Dacre the millionaire founder of the Lind Automotive Group. The proposed academy will have a “Christian ethos”.

Go on to the Proclaimers International web site and there’s lots of pictures of enthusiastic, smiley young people clapping and singing. They claim it’s a church “without the boring bits!” Their statement of faith tells us that, “Proclaimers is a Pentecostal Charismatic church. Pastors Tom & Denise have their ordination through the Australian Assemblies of God and are in good standing with the AOG of Australia. They are in good fellowship with the AOG of the UK.”

The Assemblies of God is one of the largest Pentecostalist churches in Australia and is linked to the Families First Party that elected a Senator to the Australian parliament. The AOG is affiliated to the World Assemblies of God Fellowship. The church claims 52.5 million members worldwide. Its roots lie in the Pentecostalist revival in America during the early twentieth century.

Unsurprisingly, given the circumstances, there is no link from the Proclaimers International web site to the “mother church” in America. Once you examine the AOG’s “Fundamental Truths” it becomes clearer.

Homosexuality – “Christians should do all they can to assist the person who has struggled with homosexual behaviors to find deliverance. Change is not always easy but it is possible. It may require the help of others in the body of Christ, such as counselors and pastors, as well as a supportive church fellowship. Christian organizations are also available to help those who seek to change their lifestyles.”

Abortion – “The Assemblies of God views the practice of abortion as an evil that has been inflicted upon millions of innocent babies and that will threaten millions more in the years to come.”

Evolution – “[The] Bible record of creation rules out the evolutionary philosophy which states that all forms of life have come into being by gradual, progressive evolution carried on by resident forces. It also rules out any evolutionary origin for the human race, since no theory of evolution, including theistic evolution, can explain the origin of the male before the female, nor can it explain how a man could evolve into a woman.”

The academy programme (46 already open – target 400) has had to contend with a critical report from the National Audit Office and claims that the Grace Academy in Solihull gave contracts to organisations linked to its sponsor, millionaire Christian evangelist Bob Edmiston.

So where exactly do Proclaimers International stand on homosexuality, abortion and evolution? Why is the Church of England proposing to jointly sponsor an academy? Why is the state giving this organisation £25 million to run a school? Would you be happy if your children were going to this academy with its “unusual” sponsors? I wouldn’t.

Jimmy Swaggart

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