Sunday, January 18, 2009

Emancipate Yourselves From Mental Slavery!

I’m back! For contractual reasons I stopped blogging in December 2007. Sadly the sales of ‘How Not To Teach’ weren’t exactly in the JK Rowling league, as a consequence the retirement plans are on hold. So what’s happened since I ‘retired’?

In April we had the one-day NUT strike over pay. The one thing it did demonstrate is that unions are still a force to be reckoned with, thousands of schools closed down for the day. In many schools where the union had lain dormant for years, crushed by management dictate, there was a revival, the ‘green shoots of recovery’. Lively marches and meetings were held in towns and cities across the country. Unfortunately the union leadership didn’t follow it through, left the pay campaign on hold, as a result when they re-balloted in October there was a slim majority for action but the turnout was much lower.

The Knowsley Building Schools for Finance (BSF) ‘Learning Centres’ are almost up and running. Shiny new buildings, state of the art computer facilities… shiny new buildings, state of the art computer facilities, so that’s everything sorted, what else do they need? Ah… of course, teachers! Two years ago when the BSF process began Knowsley called all the secondary teachers together for a meeting, the unsubtle message was poor results = crap teachers. All the schools would close re-open, as ‘Learning Centres’ and teachers would have to reapply for their jobs, ‘we’re only interested in appointing ‘good’ teachers’. Or, ‘most of you losers needn’t bother applying’. Needless to say, ‘challenging’ classes, relentless pressure for results, there hasn’t exactly been a long queue of applicants, (after national advertising 8 people applied for the 5 ‘Learning Centre Managers’ posts – a.k.a. ‘Head teachers’) one school failed to get any applicants for the Head of the English Department. So many teachers have applied for redundancy money that the bar has been lowered to any mammal with a teaching qualification.

The creationist academy in Norwich has opened – courtesy of funding from Graham Dacre, the second hand car salesman, turned Pentecostalist preacher. I can’t wait for the science lessons – was the Earth created 3,000 or 6,000 years ago? Maybe they could employ Sarah Palin as a teacher?

The same predictable suspects spewed forth their crazy ideas, Ofsted that fount of joy, creativity and imagination, declared that there were ‘too many boring teachers’. Yes, I’ve met so many ‘inspiring’ Ofsted inspectors. The General Teaching Council wanted to know why more teachers hadn’t been sacked. This from the organisation that arraigned a teacher before one of its disciplinary panels for failing to return library books and calling a pupil a ‘waste of space’. There but for the Grace of God…

The big news from me is that I’m publishing a second book ‘I 8 Skool’, it’s the usual mix of incisive analysis, humour and rage.

Why go through the pain again? Simply because the education book market is so dire. There is Ofsted throttling the life out of schools and what have we got to read? The market is dominated by the comfort read, whimsical, heart-warming, homespun tales from a retired teacher musing about life in their old village school, carpet slippers on, cardigan zipped up, a handy cup of Ovaltine by his side. I haven’t tried to write a ‘warts and all’ account of teaching it’s more a view from the trenches gazing in horror at the gaping mortal wounds through which the lifeblood pours out.

Teachers? In ‘Redemption Song’ Bob Marley opinions that black people in Jamaica, before they can do anything, have to ‘emancipate yourselves from mental slavery’. It’s worrying the number of teachers that can’t imagine life without Ofsted, league tables and testing. At best we have become functionaries, uncritical automatons; at worst, dehumanised, demoralised prison warders patrolling an overcrowded, discredited penal institution.

Just how grim, how dire, how utterly joyless is the primary curriculum? Let me put it this way, if I had a ten year-old child ready to enter Year 6, that grind of revision, mock exams and testing, I would give up my job, live on baked beans for a year and home educate.

I read an interview with a head teacher in which he declared, ‘I admit we are an exam factory and I’m not going to apologise for it’. Like many children I’ve become increasingly school phobic, I no longer see it as a place for learning more as a venue for testing and assessment. We need to keep asking the question - what the hell are they doing to our children?

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Hurray, you are back!! Your voice has been missed. I'm totally with you on the direness of year 6 and the joylessness of that whole testing process.
School phobic? Yes me too. Sadly adult education is going the same way :(
Off the top of my head, in our school, Year 6:
- have the chance to visit a local 6th Form college and university, to raise their aspirations
- take part in business and enterprise initiatives
- form the bulk of school netball and football teams
- sing in the choir (recent gigs - MEN Arena, Liverpool Cathedral)
- do individualised projects so they can research things that interest them
- take part in an annual arts festival and multi-cultural weeks (you should see the quality of their art-work)
- lead school council, sit on the local youth parliament
- have access to personal music tuition
Is that an exam factory? No, Mr. Read - it's a well-rounded Year 6 education that gives children a chance to enjoy and achieve. What do the Year 6 children in your school do, Mr. Read?
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