Saturday, 31 December 2011

What Do Teaching And Policing Have In Common?

I realise that with a question like that you could have numerous answers - perhaps it could be an exam question, as long as it's not deemed as being too difficult or easy. My (short) answer would be this:

Everyone has an opinion on how to do the job.

When I hire a builder to do something at my house, I tell them what I need doing and then bow to their superior knowledge on how to achieve that goal. I won't stand over them whilst they carry out the required work, telling them that they are doing it wrong and that a better way of doing it would be a way I suggest.

If I'm not feeling well I will book an appointment with my doctor, and whatever the doctor tells/prescribes me, I will almost certainly do. I won't let them tell me sat their bit then argue that actually I should do something else.

So why do people feel that they can tell teachers (who've done years of training and in most cases have years of experience) and police (who've also done loads of training and often have years of experience) how to do their jobs?

I must admit that I'm as guilty as the next person in some cases. We had a drunk person trying to get in our house at about 1am the other night and duly called the police. Now you have to bear in mind that we have a yound child in the house and that the drunkard had taken off his trousers, for reasons best known to himself. The police were quick to repond to their credit, and were soon outside our front door coaxing the man to dress himself and go home. After what seemed an eternity he was escorted around the corner and told to get back to his own place of residence. A quick chat with the police and we went back to bed, although not straight to sleep due to the adrenelin still coursing through our veins! Not a pleasant experience.

My partner is a police officer and I was quite angry that the bloke hadn't been hauled off to a cell for this. In my opinion he'd been trespassing on our property, been quite abusive (anti-social behaviour?) and had taken off his trousers (indecent exposure?), so why hadn't he been charged with something? It all seemed logical to me, someone with absolutely no expertise in the field. My partner explained that he hadn't actually done anything worthy of arrest, although if he came back he could be arrested for harrassment. As he hadn't got into our house there was no grounds for trespass, still had his boxer shorts on there was no indecent exposure, and actually had sworn on private land (our property) so there was no anti-social behaviour. It just highlighted my total lack of knowledge regarding policing (and the law) as a profession.

We see a similar thing in teaching on a daily basis. Regularly teachers have phone calls from parents to explain that their children are not being taught properly, or that the teacher is doing something that's unfair with regards their child. On what basis do these parents make these accusations? The answer: on the biased account of their child who is probably knowingly in the wrong and therefore embellishing the story in an attempt to make themselves appear to be the party that has been wronged.

As a teacher you find yourself constantly justifying yourself and your actions to parents, and increasingly, line managers, who have little or no experience of teaching your subject. To a certain extent this is fine, as parents should be kept in the loop, if they are interested, but do they really need to question everything?

I had an example of all of this recently when a parent phoned to complain that I wasn't setting challenging enough homework for their child. Fortunately my head of department fielded the call, which went something along these lines:

Parent: My child's homework is too easy and not relevent to their ability.
HOD: How do you mean?
Parent: It's all too easy and most of it is set from a website that neither I nor my child think is very good.

Now I ought to point out at this stage that the parent claims to be a teacher. The fact of the matter, a fact they later admited, was that they used to teach trainee teachers, which is a totally different thing.

HOD: We all put links to our homework tasks, both set on that website and on paper, on the school's website, so I will just go and have a look to see what homework your child has been set.
Parent: Yes, most of it has been on that website - the exam is taken on paper not online, it's ridiculous. And it's nowhere near challenging enough for a child of my child's ability!
HOD: Ah yes, I've found the right page. There have been 17 homeworks set to date, of which 3 have been on that website. And looking through the list of topics, the difficulty range is roughly from A* to B grade. What's your child's target grade for GCSE?
Parent: Their target is a B grade. Are you sure that only 3 out of 17 homeworks have been set from that website?
HOD: Positive. And it would appear that the work is challenging enough for your child In fact, in theory your child should find this work very difficult, so they are clearly tackling questions that are supposedly above their ability level. Is there anything else I can help you with?
Parent (sheepishly): No.

This is not an uncommon conversation for teachers to have with parents, and actually it's quite insulting for a teacher. On the one hand it's nice that the parent actually takes notice of what their child is learning at school, but the constant justification of what we do in the classroom (and out) is demoralising and shouldn't be required. Teachers in many cases have spent years learning how best to go about teaching their subject informed by experience and training, although many areas will need fine-tuning still and could be improved. A teacher's judgement is almost always going to be better than that of a parent or member of the public who has little or no experience of teaching. A parent can aid their child's learning in class by pointing out things that their child has found tough in the past or learning styles that they respond to, but ultimately it's down to the teacher to deliver the content in any way they deem best. I don't know of any teacher who would purposefully teach something badly.

The notion that "I know better than you" as far as teaching (and policing) is concerned won't change though as it's perpetuated from the very top, i.e. government. Constant interference from ministers and their celebrity "experts" who regularly state that schools are doing things wrong mean that there is no confidence in the profession from the top level, meaning that the general public have no confidence in it either. The spectre of Ofsted and continual changes to the curriculum mean that teachers have to justify their every move instead of doing what they should be doing: teaching children so that they are employable and can function in the world beyond school.

I'm not saying that all teachers are faultless, what I'm saying is that there's got to be an element of trust that they are doing what they think is best for the young people they teach. That's why they entered the profession in the first place.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

New Head Of Ofsted Starts Early

He's not even in the job yet and he's already begun in earnest - Sir Michael Wilshaw has made two statements to brighten up every teachers' Christmas holiday:
  1. Local troubleshooters should be employed to speed up the dismissal of incompetent headteachers, as the time elapsed between Ofsted inspections can be too great and the damage will already have been done. These troubleshooters would report to central government.
  2. Scruffy teachers should be "rebuked" and the attire of the staff should be mentioned in Ofsted inspections.
The first idea seems a good one in theory, but where are these troubleshooters going to come from? Are they going to have teaching and/or management experience or be former headteachers themselves? Aren't they Ofsted inpsectors?

How are they going to judge whether a headteacher is incompetent? Are they going to look at data alone or seek the opinions of staff, students and parents from the suspected incompetent's educational establishment? Ofsted already hand out a questionnaire to those three groups which appear to be largely ignored, certainly as far as the staff one is concerned. The parental one (which is only ever filled in by those who want to gripe about something) appears to be the only one they actually take any notice of.

When they report back to central government, what will actually happen? No-one actually knows, although I reckon that a piece of paper will end up on a civil servant's desk at a cost to the tax-payer of thousands of pounds.

As usual it will boil down to league table positions alongside unrealistic target grades and whether they are met or not. Pointless therefore, and for the job of"troubleshooter" more "jobs for the boys" for those who have no place or desire for a place in education for real, although I know of a few potential candidates for a position as one.

As far as the "rebuking" of scruffy staff, this is a total nonsense, although a practise that has been going on in my current school for a few years, and is verging on bullying. Wilshaw cites the fact that we expect doctors and lawyers to be smart, so why not teachers? The fact that doctors and lawyers get paid far more money than teachers might have something to do with it; it's not just the cost of a suit that's the issue, it's the regular dry cleaning bills that need covering on top.

He even stated that a comment should be made in official Ofsted reports regarding the appearance of the staff. Why would people have any interest? Another waste of money.

Studies have also found that the appearance of a teacher to be irrelevent when it comes to their classes' learning. This is the tyrannical Wilshaw showing his true colours with idiotic statements and policies.

Teaching has just died a little more.

Link to the article: Here!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Turning To The Dark Side

Excellent, that's my sister's Christmas present next year sorted: a red light sabre. All those in the Star Wars films who have turned to the Dark Side own a red light sabre.

My sister, who is also a teacher has turned to The Dark Side by accepting a job that starts in September at a private school on higher wages and what has to be better working conditions than she currently endures. After a few years teaching at an academy she has finally had enough.

She has been called every name under the sun by students, regularly has boys pulling each others trousers down in class, trashing the classroom/equipment, found subjects on her timetable that she has no desire to teach and had requests for assistance to the leadership team ignored, or even worse, told "what you need to do is...". Having got into her car and bursting into tears one Friday, a quick polish of the CV and a first class stamp later she was at interview being offered a job, which she took with no hesitation at all. The academy now has to replace a hard working and good teacher, spending hundreds, if not thousands advertising a wholly undesirable post in an academy that is arguably going to the dogs due to overpaid leadership being reluctant to get their hands dirty in any way, shape or form.

Can you blame her?

The simple answer is "No", and I nearly did the same thing a couple of years ago, but with the increased travel coupled with a similar wage as I was already on, I decided not to take the post I was offered.

What are the benefits of teaching in a private or public school (there is a difference, but both essentially involve parents paying money for their child's education)?
  1. The term are shorter, although more intensive for the teaching staff as the days are longer and the running of extra-curricular activities tends to be an expectation. The holidays are longer though, which means that staff can take of advantage of cheaper holiday prices as they can go outside of state school holidays.
  2. Discipline is far stricter due to the fact that private schools can just get rid of those students who feel that it's beyond them to be able to behave. If you are too much hassle as a student (behaviourally that is) you can leave - the school can live without your fees, thank you very much. In a state school evidence has to be gathered in the form of statements from all witnesses, staff and students, and even then the governors might just let the child back or the local authority will rule that your school has gone over its quota of exclusions this year, meaning that the student can continue to cause havoc without fear of recrimination. All, that drivel in Channel 4's "Educating Essex" about not excluding permenantly just doesn't teach kids how the world works - if you mess up you face consequences. Not in state education people!
  3. Resources don't tend to be as good in private schools as they are in state schools, purely because the school has to buy the stuff itself rather than get it all funded by the local authority. The upside in private school is that because the discipline is good, you can use what you've got effectively, whereas many resources in state schools are just abused by children who don't realise how lucky they are. The state-of-the-art equipment is rarely used to its full potential because the teacher is constanty trying to discipline the class or stop them breaking the stuff.
  4. Extra-curricular activities are allowed to flourish at independent schools in general - the facilities are excellent and it is made clear that you are privileged to be allowed to use them. Time is given for students to reach their potential outside of the classroom, which can have a positive effect in the classroom; whereas in state schools, depending on the make-up of the top brass at individual schools, extra-curricula activities often get sidelined due to pressure on achieving results to gain a decent league table position.
Many teachers and people in general may feel a little intimidated by the independent school system, not knowing how they really work. Some have a moral objection to their existance, but you have to remember that not every student in private education is going to be or act like a front bench politician (fortunately), most are just like the children in state schools - decent and hard working if given the opportunity to be so.

I must admit that I did start looking at local independent schools again after a recent incident at school where I was told that I was an "F****** C***" by a child in class. I told the boy to "Stop acting like a prat and sit down" as he was just showing off to his mates. I was told shortly afterwards that I had made the deputy head's job almost impossible with my comment and the child dutifully received a day in internal exclusion and an hour's detention. The child not only swore at me, he then used his mobile phone (which he shouldn't have in school) to phone his father to accuse me of all sorts of things that I hadn't done (my story was backed up by the "statements" of all the other students in the class) and the father abused the deputy head down the phone. The deputy duly folded to parental pressure and relented from excluding the child for a few days. How supported I felt - not!

I will be checking online for any upcoming jobs, as well as finding a red light sabre. I might even get one myself.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Academies - The Way Forward?

News has broken this week of an academy being accused of mismanagement. More precisely it's a group of academies, the second biggest in the country.

Academies, we are told in the teaching profession, are the way forward, and there are rumours that all schools will eventually be forced to become academies, with courses being held for schools' leadership to attend on how to become an academy. The theory behind schools becoming academies is this:
  • Schools who become academies can plough their budgets into whatever they deem fit. Financial incentives can be made to prospective staff to encourage them to take the job, and presumably make them work harder. Academies don't have to adhere to the pay structure set out by maintained schools. Academies get money from the government but can use it in whatever way they think is most beneficial for their school. This seems a decent idea on the face of it. You would assume that a school's management would know best how to spend their money rather than be dictated to by a suit in Whitehall.
  • Academies take over under-performing schools across the country and by offering better wages to staff, attract the "best" teachers who will turn those under-performing schools into beacons of education, a blue-print to be admired and drooled over by all. This also seems a decent idea in principal, as those students getting a raw deal in "failing" schools will get a better deal.
  • Ultimately all schools will be encouraged to become academies because of the huge benefits of doing so. And who could blame them?
What actually happens is the following:
  • All the money is spent on leadership and not very much is spent on the people who actually have to go and teach those "under-performing" children. This is what has happened at the MediaCity Oasis Academy in Salford, where 13 teaching staff are being made redundant in order to pay for the leadership team, many of whom I presume don't teach very much, if it's anything like any other school in the country. Many academy leadership teams are made up of old mates who pay themselves increasing amounts to do less and less. The only thing being that if the results don't meet expectations, those members of the leadership are out on their ear. We have a local academy whose headteacher was escorted off the premises and many senior staff are just being given a box to pack up their things. Make a deal with the devil people...
  • The clientele, or "stock" as Ofsted like to call them, remain the same. It doesn't matter how many millions of pounds of public money are spent on new buildings, state-of-the-art facilities/resources and "the best teachers" in the land if those who are receiving that education are disaffected and have little or no interest in gaining qualifications because their parents hated school and have imposed their attitude towards education upon their offspring. You can polish a cowpat until it's so shiny you could do your hair in it, but ultimately it's still a cowpat.
  • The number of "top quality" staff available to fill the posts falls well short of the number of posts to fill. There are lots of good teachers in the land but not all are up to it to be honest. You can't just magic up a replacement for a poor teacher over-night, and many don't want the extra stress that an increased wage can bring.
  • If all schools become academies, the financial benefits of becoming one will be nullified as there's only so much money to go around.
  • What isn't reported by the government is the fact that the main reason academies have appeared to make huge strides in raising achievement with their cohort is because loads of them are put on BTEC (or equivalent) courses which require little or no exams, but are mainly coursework which can essentially be dictated by the teachers and are worth 4 GCSE grades. This is changing so that a BTEC is going to be worth just 1 GCSE - I can't wait to see how the academies do then!
  • The increased money paid to teaching staff needs to be earned (rightly so - you shouldn't expect to get more money for no extra work), so therefore those "top quality" staff end up burning out very quickly and either have lots of time off with stress (cover teachers will need paying) or will just leave the profession, because of stress (they will then need replacing with teachers who aren't as "high quality"). In some subjects, it's difficult to get mediocre teachers to fill posts.
Most educational policies that recent governments have pushed through are just designed to win votes and gain good press. Very few, if any actually encourage students to reach their potential in education, and just as importantly, although often forgotten, none of the policies make teaching a more manageable or desirable job. In fact, teaching is becoming an untenable job, as increased interference and demotivation become serious issues in the profession.

Article here!

Teach Maths Up To 18

The latest bright idea from Michael Gove, who seems to have a new policy for each period of 24 hours that he remains in the job of Secretary of State for Education is to teach most student maths until they are 18 years old. Gove apparently said that he found it "bizarre" that the vast majority of children in Britain have never even heard of calculus.

This is the brainchild and thinking of someone who is so far removed from the classroom that he may as well be holed up in a cold war bunker somewhere in Hertfordshire. Although I agree that many students forget very quickly the mathematics they were taught in schools, there are fundamental flaws in the idea that most young people should continue studying mathematics for a further two years beyond the age of 16.

The flaws are, in my view, below:
  1. There aren't enough decent, or even part-decent maths teachers to teach most children mathematics up to the age of 16, let alone 18. Even now some children aren't capable of sitting GCSE level maths and end up taking what is known as the Entry Level Certificate. This exam requires candidates to turn up with a writing implement and their fingers to aid calculation. It is an excuse for a qualification and part of the reason that the general public believes that standards are falling. The extra two years will require thousands of extra hours and therefore teachers, which in turn will require a lot more money at a time when budgets are being slashed.
  2. For well over half of GCSE maths entrants, the finishing of their final GCSE exam can't come quick enough - a further two years would be (even more) purgatory, not only for the students, but also the people who have to attempt to teach them the blessed calculus lessons. If I had a pound for every time I was asked by a student "When am I ever going to use this in real life?" I wouldn't be bothered by the pension debate, I'd have been able to retire within a few years of embarking upon my teaching career. Students don't learn for the sake of it nowadays, they will only learn of there's something in it for them (a decent qualification is not a sufficient carrot). Calculus is not going to whet a lot of 18 year old appetites.
  3. Where are all these extra classrooms going to come from? Infrastructure will be required in the form of, presumably, portacabins in which these extra lessons will be taught until more permanent structures are erected. More money.
  4. Presumably the 18 year old students will need a qualification at the end of it - more money. And are those who got an E grade in their foundation GCSE going to be taking the exam? What would be the point? They couldn't even properly pass the GCSE, so what chance are they going to have on a new, potentially more difficult exam?
There are probably many more flaws to this policy, but they have escaped my notice for now.

The more Michael Gove opens his mouth, the more idiotic he seems. He has commissioned a review of the curriculum in general, which will almost certainly mean that all the new resources schools bought 2 or 3 years ago to cover the last "new curriculum" put forward by government will be totally useless, and thousands will need to be spent updating them.


The article is here!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

ICT Teachers Are Rubbish!

Ofsted have reported this week that "the teaching of information and communications technology is inadequate in a fifth of school", with Schools minister Nick Gibb claiming that ICT teaching was "far too patchy".

Here's the article: Click Here!

The article says that last year, out of 74 schools inspected, 14 showed inadequate teaching of ICT. Now you are welcome to accuse me of splitting hairs at this point, but I kind of presumed that the country had more than 74 schools, and actually 14 out of 74 is just under 19%, rather than the 20% quoted. The trouble is that I just sound like a politician, spewing numbers out for no apparent reason, but it does seem a little sweeping to me.

What the article doesn't mention is that there is a chronic shortage of ICT teachers in the marketplace, or should I say, there is a chronic shortage of "decent" ICT teachers in the marketplace. The school I teach at held interviews for a new head of ICT and didn't appoint any of the four candidates for lack of quality, and all these people were experienced practitioners. The post had to be readvertised, and we did get someone second time around.

There's also the fact that the ICT curriculum, written by the government isn't very good. Having taught ICT I know this from first hand experience. The tasks are woefully thought out and totally uninspiring, which means that young people aren't enthused enough to carry the subject on further.

ICT isn't the only subject, with mathematics being another problem area to staff. I have known of collegaues of mine say to senior management who were on their case "Feel free to get rid of me, but good luck replacing me with anything as good or better". It may sound arrogant, but they almost certainly had a point.

Teaching, along with police, are seen as relatively safe jobs - there will always be children and criminals after all. People blindly stumble into teaching via a PCGE course expecting to turn up and be able to "knock 'em dead" from day one. This isn't the case, no matter how proficient you are in your subject, the skills involved in relaying that information to a bunch of teenagers who can't be bothered have nothing to do with your aptitude for the subject.

And herein lies the problem with ICT - those who are good at it and have knowledge that could be passed on to youngsters aren't always the most out-going of people. Let's face it, people who are great at programming and databases tend to be geeks (not all of them!), and the same applies to maths. Teaching involves a personality that many of those apparent experts don't possess.

There's also the fact that if they are genuinely good at ICT (or maths) there's probably more money to be made outside of teaching, in an environment that doesn't involve actually talking to people very much. Trying to encourage these people to leave university with a first class degree and walk into teaching with a golden handshake and a shortened teacher training period is not the way forward, even though it sounds good to those who don't know, namely the general population who cast their vote, and the press.

Of course there are people who are good at ICT (and maths) and can deliver it, but they are few and far between, and often lured to academies who don't have the strict financial controls that a mainstream school has with regards teachers' wages.

And as we all know, almost all academies have become academies because the clientele aren't necessarily the most diligent, so you have the best teachers teaching those students who are highly unlikely to actually want to progress in the field.

It's the teachers' fault for being rubbish though, clearly.

Mock Exams

It's that time of the year when the students in the exam years take some mock exams. In my department's case that means years 10 and 11. There's the usual mixture of fairly disappointing and extremely disappointing results, with a smattering of decent grades thrown in for good measure. The poor results are mainly due to the fact that very few actually revised for the exams and some didn't even turn up on time or with the correct equipment, namely a calculator.

All those years ago when I first started my career in teaching the poor results used to get me down, and I'd wonder if I was doing something wrong or hadn't covered the syllabus properly. I have since come to realise, and the good results are extremely reassuring, that perhaps it's mainly the children and their inherent idleness that is to blame in the main. There could always be improvements made in the way I deliver certain topics but ultimately if a child makes no effort at all, I'm not entirely sure what else I can do.

Ofsted, and therefore the leaders of a school will immediately blame the teacher but unless that teacher pops round to every child's house and sits with them while they revise, then packs their bag ready for the exam in the morning, sets their alarm clock and knocks on the door in the morning to insure that they arrive on time, I don't really see that the teacher can do much more than deliver the syllabus to the best of their ability. If an entire class gets no marks in a certain topic then by all means blame the person at the board, but more often than not every question is answered correctly by someone in the class, inferring that the whole class had been taught the stuff sufficiently.

It's funny to see the reaction of some to their result. Most are genuinely embarrassed by their poor result (those who did well are genuinely pleased), but it will only make a difference for a lesson or two before they revert to type. I had a class today who had generally done appallingly (no real surprise, I hasten to add) and two nice girls in particular did really badly. They spend much of their time in lessons discussing who the best looking celebrity is, whether that bloke walking down the road is "fit" or daydreaming. Our conversation today went something like this:

Me: Why haven't you done any of this activity? It's the sort of stuff that will be in the exam.
Them: We don't get it.
Me: Have you asked for help? No you haven't, because you've been too busy staring out of the window trying to catch a glimpse of a boy.
Them: But we're teenagers and that's what teenagers do.
Me: You can do that in your own time, but in maths I'd like you to do some maths. Are you surprised that you didn't do very well in the mock?
Them: Yeah, but that was a mock; I'll actually try in the real thing.

I just looked exasperated at this point and went to help someone who was making an effort instead, thus avoiding the temptation to (attempt to) shout some sense into them. The reality is that they will try to cram some revision in to the evening before the exam, none of which will stick, and they'll do just as badly in the real thing. The fact that they have done precious little so far this year will also mean that they are literally starting from square one as they have done little or no class or home work. "Split them up" you may say, but then they just distract others who might want to do some work - a quandary, I'm sure you'd agree.

As time has passed during my teaching career I have come to accept this, but I will still be blamed for leading the horse to water and not forcing it's head under. The students will see no consequences as they will get opportunities to resit the qualification, and even if they mess that up they will get into college because that particular establishment needs their bum on a seat in order to get the necessary funding to remain open.

Once again the educational system in this country has embedded in young people the attitude that they will get what they want by doing as little as possible because the consequence that once was, the lack of an offer of a place from a college or university, is no longer there. They will get in whatever because those places need bodies.

The quick fix culture of modern society is also a major factor with last minute cramming preferred to working solidly throughout a course (X Factor Culture I like to call it, whereas instead of touring the country building up a fanbase and large back catalogue, singers just have to win a TV show). It is now an accepted form of "learning" as I discovered at my last parents evening, when an underachieving child's parents sat down at my table, with the conversation going something like this (we shall call the child "Dave"):

Me: Dave is doing little in class and no homework. The homework is set to practise the skills he will use in his exam, so I suggest he actually does a bit more to reinforce what I have taught him in class.
Parent: Just before the exam I'll make sure he does some homework, and we always cram the night before an exam.
Me: I'm not sure that's the way forward if I'm honest, and Dave's grades in previous units would also suggest this.
Parent: I'll make sure he does some work in the week leading up to the exam then.
Me: Right - great.

Dave's mock exam was one of the "very disappointing" ones, but it was only a mock after all. He'll be fine in the real thing.

He won't - I'll get told off. Can't wait.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Financial Sense Classes

Government big-wigs have decided that school children need lessons in financial management, teaching students all about credit cards interest rates and the meaning of APR amongst other things. What do these people think we do in maths lessons? Do we not cover percentages, interest rates of varying types and other stuff that children may come across in modern life?

The launch of this new policy, in which a senior teacher will be placed in charge of teaching "financial sense", presumably on a supplement to their current wage (fair enough, but expensive in a climate where budgets are dwindling), will be attended by the government's celebrity maths guru, Carol Vorderman.

This current government, and actually all recent governments, continually send out the message that teachers can't be trusted to deliver a relevent education. In this particular case it's maths teachers, but not doubt there have been many other examples where teachers of other subjects have essentially been told that they are not doing what's required of them. The government themselves dictate what goes on the curriculum, so if it's not relevent, they only have themselves to blame

This is yet another example of people who no longer do, or have never done the job of teaching coming up with policies for the sake of coming up with policie, presumably to justify their considerable wage to whichever politician has been appointed to meddle in schools as a stepping stone to "greater" things.

Funnily at the school I teach at we already run this sort of thing - the kids hate it. They realise that it may come in useful later in life, but later life isn't now, and anyway parents can always bail them out. In ICT we teach them how to set up spreadsheets so that they can effectively keep accounts in case they end up being self-employed. In maths we teach them about compound interest (essentially APR) and the perils of gambling, in that the odds are stacked against the punter and how you calculate the odds in the first place. Many are capable of calculating using these skills, but so few are capable of taking a mathematical concept and using it outside the classroom, because there's no-one standing at their side explaining exactly what they need to do.

It's all well and good educating children in what these various financial terms mean, but whether the children pay any attention or actually put what they're taught into practise is a totally different thing. Maybe the only way that many will learn is by making the very mistakes Gove and his cronies want us to avoid and having to get themselves out of a financial hole - call me old-fashioned, but that's how everyone else has managed.

All this policy stuff fronted by Vorderman and Gove is just another (desperate) plea for votes, as many of the policies pushed forward by government seem to be. The things they are introducing as being new and forward thinking have been happening in schools for years, only the young people of today have no concept of accountibility or consequence. They are shielded from failure in exams, because they will end up with a qualification or two no matter how little they do, and even if the certficates they now own are the equivalent of toilet paper, they will get into college because the college need the money. It's all well and good saying that children need educating in matters financial, but they won't be interested because they are immune to failure; or so they believe.

Perhaps the credit card companies need to be educated into not continually extending credit limits, even when an extension isn't requested. It's a novel thought, but maybe the teaching profession isn't at fault this time. Maybe teachers are actually doing their job, perish the thought. Maybe someone else is to blame - children or parents?

Can I have a B please Carol?

Friday, 9 December 2011

Examiners - Cheating?

The Daily Telegraph has been running a story all week regarding examiners of various exam boards telling teachers who attend £200 per day courses what is going to be on the forthcoming exam. There are a few issues I'd like to bring up about this:
  1. This is clearly not on - presumably this is how they encourage schools to opt to take the exams provided by the board. Exams are big business, with each major one costing around £30 per head - one average-sized school would spend thousands of pounds per year, per subject on exams. I suppose any carrot they can dangle in front of a school needs to be exploited I suppose, but telling teachers the questions is a step too far.
  2. What the press are clearly expecting is that pupils will take everything their teachers tell them is taken on board. As most teachers will tell you, this is just not the case in general, especially if you only say it once. It also assumes that all the children in those classes actually care, which again, most teachers will tell you is not always the case.
  3. The press have made out that those attending the course were told what specific topics would appear on the exam. Couldn't the schools just save the £200 and read the curriculum? I assume that the exact questions didn't appear on a powerpoint.
  4. One examiner openly admitted that they were surprised that certain papers/questions were passed by board's regulators, but again this isn't huge news. It's no secret that exams are generally getting easier, although in my view it is still difficult to get the top grades. Government targets have made this a necessary evil for the boards who are in the business of making maoney ultimately.
  5. What school nowadays can afford to send anyone (other than the headteacher or their deputy, or both) on courses that cost £200 per day?  The first thing to go when a budget is tightened is the staff's access to external training or CPD (Continued Professionaa Development), unless you are the headteacher of course.
The newspaper and media in general are making a big deal of this story, but what the public don't realise is that this has been going on for years, it's just the first time it's been made public. If people really think it will make a huge difference, they are mistaken, but schools will take any opportunity to improve their league table position  - what a pathetic educational world we live in, driven by league table positions rather than offering an education that could actually be useful in the marketplace.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Gambling Lessons

The latest bright idea from the Department of Education: lessons in gambling and the odds/probability of winning, or not as the case may be.

Genius - well done! That stuff is never covered in maths lessons after all, not that anyone has bothered to ask maths teachers around the country. During my teacher training I was first shown a worksheet or two on the topic, and have used or at the very least, discussed it when covering probability in class. In fact I purposely cover gambling and how the odds are stacked in favour of the bookies, casinos or bingo halls. The old phrase "you never see a poor bookmaker" springs to mind.

However the government clearly see this as a vote winner, and no doubt millions will be spent implementing this new "idea", with resources having to be written by expensive consultants, training having to be provided by expensive consultants, and then the printing/distribution of resources to all schools. All this will need paying for when maths departments up and down the country are perfectly capable of delivering what the resources they already have to hand.

The whole drive behind this new policy is that more and more people are apparently accruing mountains of debt with the numerous online gambling sites, from bingo to spread betting to poker, available to anyone who is prepared to hand over their bank details. Advertisements are all over the television for these sites, and one can't fail to think that there surely can't be a market for so many, but presumably there is as new sites seem to be advertised on almost a weekly basis.

In my opinion it's not the lack of understanding that more often than not you will end up losing money - I actually believe that the government underestimate the intelligence of much of the population (how much intelligence do you need to work out that you are unlikely to win?). The problem is two-fold:
  1. The "Somebody's got to win, so why can't it be me?" attitude. This is fair enough, and is part of the reason that people have gambled away their earnings for hundreds and thousand of years.
  2. "I want something for nothing". This is education's fault, or should I say, education policy-makers' fault. Students have left school with certificates oozing from every orifice for the last 15 or so years, many having not actually lifted so much as a finger to gain these "qualifications". In other words, school has taught them that they will be just fine whether they work or not, so when they can't get meaningful employment, they turn to gambling as a potential quick fix. Obviously not every young person leaves school with this attitude, but the fact that a record number of 18 to 24 year olds is currently unemployed would suggest that many are.
Gambling is a relatively healthy hobby, in moderation and kept within a gambler's means. The problem is that the more desperate one gets, the bigger the risks and the more they tend to lose. That is not a lack of understanding of gambling and the odds associated with it, that's looking for a quick fix. So why are we just about to waste millions of pounds implementing an expensive new policy that has been happening in classrooms up and down the land for years?

I'm not sure I'll ever understand those people up in Whitehall.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Ahh...The Memories

I went shopping with the family today in a town we don't normally go to and whilst on the escalator going up to the children's section of a famous clothes store, passed the very first headmaster of my teaching going down the other escalator. He didn't recognise me, although his wife did as she was a teacher there.

The story is not one that will get me on the after-dinner speaking circuit but it did get me thinking about that school, and one story in particular about a boy, we shall call him Liam, in my tutor group.

Liam was reasonably bright although not one to trouble the dons at Oxford or Cambridge. He was in the sports teams based mainly on his gift for talking up his own game rather than any special talent, and he was popular due to the fact that he was the "class clown" - one of those people you found it difficult to get angry at but a nightmare to have in class.

I had heard on the grapevine that Liam had developed a trick during lessons that seemed to be amusing those who were in the same classes as him. Liam would borrow a pencil from someone, put it down his trousers and then pass it around for other to sniff. Disgusting - yes, but I had no proof of him actually doing anything, so I couldn't actually do very much. I had no idea how to broach the subject at all, so decided to make the following announcement in the next morning's briefing to the whole staff:

"Liam in my form group has his own special pencil case by all accounts. You'll know what I'm talking about if you catch him."

I left it at that much to the bemusement of my colleagues, who kept asking me what I was on about. I refused to tell them, saying that if he utilised this private pencil case, all would be revealed, as it were.

A few days passed when one break time an RE teacher came running up to me and said very excitedly "I know what you mean - he did it in my lesson!"

I asked exactly what had happened and sure enough, Liam had done his pencil trick. Liam got a talking to from the head of year (that's what they are paid for after all) and presumably developed a different, and less  trick, as he was never one to be away from the limelight for long.

The story went down in folklore at the school, and still makes me laugh today.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Parents Evening Season

Parents' evenings have started again with the traditional Year 11 one to kick off in a desperate bid to kick start them into action and maybe achieve somewhere close to their target grade. It will work for a week or two, but ultimately if the child doesn't want to put the time or effort in, they won't.

I actually quite enjoy parents' evenings as it's a chance to tell the parents exactly what their children are like. I'd like to think that I tell the truth, although true descriptions of some have to be toned down understandably. And what can be quite funny is watching the child's face when the truth outs - many children can't accept the fact that their behaviour will get back home.

Most parents, or those who actually turn up, are generally realistic and open to advice about their child's learning, but not all. In fact, I had one tonight who was quite amusing, a parent who, let's say probably didn't do overly well at school themselves. That parent has somehow produced a relatively bright child though, although a child that spends much of their school time acting like a 5 year old and then complaining that the teacher hasn't explained it properly and they "don't get the work" or getting stroppy when detained for lack of industry in class and out.

I suggested that an increased focus in class, actually completing homework and doing some revision may be of some benefit to future exam prospects, at which point the parent defended their offspring with the statement "we always cram the night before an exam and do homework at that time too". End of conversation - waste of my breath, time, energy and anything else you care to add. If you don't like what you are going to be told (I said exactly the same thing last year) then don't book an appointment.

Every parents' evening some of my colleagues bemoan the fact that "the people they really want to see never come in". I used to do that too until I realised that the parents of children who really ought to come find it pretty demoralising to be told repeatedly that their child is a waste of time, space and energy (Every Child Matters, my behind). If my child was like that, I probably wouldn't bother either.

Some are have a very short memory though - I taught a girl whose mother ended up crying every year as she was told that her child would get no qualifications because she literally did nothing. Fortunately a few BTECs saved her and she walked out with plenty of C grade equivalents (none being maths or English, or argaubly any use to her in future life) - having a concrete structure such as the BTEC courses does have its advantages for some.

Parents who do come in expect the truth, not a whole load of waffle. When I attend my own child's parents evenings I don't let on that I'm essentially a colleague to see how much tripe flows. If they ever bring that game out on the Wii, it would be on my Christmas list!

Jeremy Clarkson and Shooting Strikers

The BBC have received around 5000 complaints from viewers about Jeremy Clarkson's appearance on TV promoting his new DVD yesterday. I was watching The One Show as Jeremy Clarkson stated that all those who were one strike should be executed in front of their families. As a teacher, his comments were partly aimed at me I suppose, but fortunately I realise that the TV presenter was attempting a joke, not a very good one, but a joke.

Upon my return home I see on the news that Unison are seeking "urgent" legal action over Clarkson's comments. Honestly, have they got nothing better to do. Ok, he probably shouldn't have said that, whether it was a joke or not, and he managed to make other pretty tasteless "jokes"/comments about people who delay trains by jumping in front of them. Unison are surely not going to waste their members registration fees on this publicity stunt, are they?

We do live in a democracy and in theory people can say what they like - if you don't like it, don't listen, that's what school children do, and hence we've lost a generation.

Clarkson has apologised, not that it makes much difference (or did it sound that sincere). But honestly, who cares what the bloke says or thinks?