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New authors for Unteachable

September 9th, 2010

This term we’re going to try something different at Unteachable, and host a range of other teacher bloggers alongside an occasional rant from us.  Just let us know if you’d prefer more bile and less enthusiasm!

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Why we won’t win the World Cup

June 3rd, 2010
By SimonSays

1274887_classic_soccer_ball_2If you’ve ever wondered why we’ve not won the World Cup since 1966, this article on the Times Education website might answer the question for you. Apparently, the local council in the article has a “trophy-free” policy to ensure children express themselves “without the focus on the result”.

I could understand this for activities such as music or dance where you can have fun without any competitive element. With sports like football, though, there’s not much point in doing them unless there is a winner.

I’m glad the parents managed to get the competition reinstated in the end and I hope whichever team loses this year won’t end up too traumatised.

Hopefully with all this drama cleared up, the local council will be able to get schools to focus on areas where it’s really important to remove the competitive element – like Chess Club.

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Are we supporting deprived children at the expense of Gifted and Talented?

June 1st, 2010

cartoonpupilThis post kind of harks back to something I’ve been complaining about for, and it’s an issue that is really starting to concern me. I have some bright kids in my class, and some totally hopeless ones. They both need attention. But plans to take even more money from the Gifted and Talented programme and give it to bright kids from deprived backgrounds (again) seems to show that there is only one group of interest to politicians.

We have so many initiatives and schemes already in place for the kids from deprived backgrounds; special reading groups and measures with one-to-one tutoring. Extra funds and rewards for those pupils who acheive that crucial C grade at English or Maths. We talk about our ‘deprived kids’ in staff meetings, and attend lectures on social mobility. But I can’t remember the last time I heard someone say something about ensuring some our brightest kids achieve the best they can. In fact the general consensus is that they’re likely to get an A or a B, so why bother? They’ll be fine; we’ll hit our league table targets. All is good.

This attitude is failing kids in exactly the same way that we are always accused in the press of failing kids from deprived backgrounds. These bright kids have a certain potential, and we are not pushing them to fulfil it for fear of not doing enough for the less able pupils. It’s like some kind of inverted elitism. When did we stop caring about being the best and just settle with, that’ll do?

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Good with a capital G

May 27th, 2010

goodToday was not a Good day, for several reasons, but mainly because I had to discipline a teacher, and put them on a monitored teaching scheme to make sure their lessons were up to scratch. I hate doing this; sometimes I just want to go into the classroom, bore the kids with some dry Shakespeare history play and then go home.

But I am the head of English, and I do actually care that our teaching is Good. Yes that’s Good with a capital G. Ofsted Good, as it were. The ‘sted are due any minute now, and the school is going for Good status. I think we should get it, and actually seeing everyone in the school working towards Good status has (dare I say it) ‘raised standards’.

But for the English and Maths departments the pressure is oh so much higher; the big drive now is 5 A-Cs including English and Maths; because these are considered Good GCSEs, so we have to make sure ALL our pupils have the best teaching possible. And, there’s that word again. Good. It’s really quite an arbitrary way to measure something, if you think about it; I mean Kit Kats are Good, beating Arsenal is Good; a lie in is Good. But, can teaching standards and subjects merely be called ‘Good’? And how on earth can you really measure it? I know Ofsted have a criteria, but does it really mean something is actually Good, or is it just their way of judging everyone?

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What’s the longest English word?

May 24th, 2010
By SimonSays

longest_English_wordI am very proud of the amount of useless facts that I know. Put me in front of an episode of QI or a pub quiz and I’m in heaven. So, last week when a student asked me about the longest English word in class I rattled off a long answer about how there are some chemical names that are more than 1000 letters long but the longest word in the OED is ‘Floccinaucinihilipilification’.

Well, it’s not – it’s actually ‘Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis’. The student directed me to this article via. the Macmillan Dictionary Blog as proof. I felt a bit silly about being wrong (even though I’m not an English teacher) but was happy to find out the correct answer to amaze my friends with at the next pub quiz I visit.

Knowing my luck, by the time I am asked this question again, someone will have already invented an even longer word!

Today’s image is by Dora Pete.

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Sex me up…

May 19th, 2010

sexeduI am concerned about sex education. From a distance, because obviously I’m not involved in delivering it.  Well, I wasn’t until some bright spark thought up SEAL. (Seriously, who names an important bit of legislative agenda after a fat, blubbery sea animal that claps its fins together and makes comedy honking noises? Really, who? I’d like to know.)

No longer is Social, Emotional and Behavioural Learning – or just ‘good manners, decency and respect’  to you and me – to be taught in tutor time, but now it shall be ‘delivered in every lesson’. At RedTape High we actually have a SEAL agenda for our lessons – for every single lesson. 

Sometimes it’s great; it links in with what we’re working on that day and it does give an extra structure to the classroom. The Colour Purple for instance invovled some genuinely inspiring conversations about race and prejudice and perceptions of colour – and the kids, of many different ethnic origins, were really enagaged: SEAL Agenda 1: Race Relations – tick.

And wierdly, Anthony and Cleopatra created some fascinating discussions about gang culture and the importance of your reputation - actually I was being observed that lesson and I have to say I totally nailed it. I was like Teacher Extraodinaire, linking themes, down with the kids, making them think, it was like something our of Dangerous Minds; though I’m not as hot in a skirt as Michelle Pfieffer.

Anyway, am off topic. The point is it works, but as a man, discussing sex with teenage girls, it’s like a black pit of possible disasters, and the guidance I’m getting is about minimal. Alarmingly minimal.

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Time to put the brakes on innovation?

May 17th, 2010

best teacher This article from the TES, which I finally got round to reading in yesterdays staff meeting, is quite interesting – though as usual it does annoy me when the papers ‘report’ on something revolutionary with bold type and a big headline, which is merely a repetition of complaints heard in staffrooms up and down the country for years.

Frank Furedi, who often lectures on education, says our fear of kids being bored is leading to over-innovation – i.e everytime results aren’t what the government hoped for some overpaid bright spark says that pupils aren’t motivated anymore and we must therefore have ‘more innovative and dynamic lessons to really get them engaged’. We must develop several new IT programmes to help with this innovation, draw up a list of targets to aim for and put together some sort of quango to ‘drive this agenda’.

Problem is, this is now happening almost daily. My pupils are so overstimulated they now start shaking if there’s more than a ten second silence; which means my Monday morning solution of ‘quiet reading on your own while I try to deal with this epic hangover’ is tragically a thing of the past. Leaving me attempting to motivate and inspire a group of hormonal, over-hyped teenagers while juggling a sore head and alarmingly blurry vision. Perhaps we’re all just too over stimulated now?

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Show me the money!

May 13th, 2010
By SimonSays

moneyEvery day so far this week, students have been asking me to explain what a ‘hung’ parliament is, while trying to hold back fits of giggles.

This has been annoying because, even though I like puns, hearing the same one in every class (sometimes more than once) is just too much. It’s also irritating because by the time I finally worked how to actually answer the question, it was all over and we ended up with a coalition.

As we saw last week, most of the parties had fairly similar plans regarding education but the thing the Conservatives and Lib Dems seem to have reached an instant agreement on is Pupil Premiums and how to fund them.

Although it looks like the money will be coming from child trust funds, I’ll be interested to see how they actually implement the cuts and whether they are across the board or they keep the trust funds for low-income family.

It’ll be a shame to lose child trust funds but I don’t think they would have ever lived up to the expectations some journalists laid out of these funds helping to encourage and glamorise saving money. As a teacher (although certainly not a particularly financially-savvy one) I cant help but think that actually teaching personal financial management in school would me more effective.

Now that almost all university students in the country will end up in debt, preparing them for it while they are still at school and teaching them how to manage it could be a far more valuable investment than a child trust fund.

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We wait, we hope…

May 10th, 2010

condemThese are without doubt exciting times. And you can feel the buzz all around the corridors at school. (Though there’s a good chance that might have more to do with some bad taste gossip concerning a certain physics teacher and his recently revealed predilection for recreating medieval battles in full traditional garb. I think a pupil even has a questioanable photo that seems to circulating via some form of social media…)

Aaaanyway, the scandal of the century that is consuming my every waking thought is whether i’d prefer things to be ConDem or LibLab. We’ve been discussing in class what the benefits for the school would be of each alliance, and I’m impressed at how well-informed some of my pupils are. Or rather, how sensibly they just want a government who is ‘going to give us lots of cash, Sir. Innit.’

Wise children indeed. Though I am still unclear on which marriage of evils would be best for us.

Pupil Premiums: No one has had the guts to say they don’t support this, but the details are hazy at best. LibLab would seem to be clearer on this, putting a specific sum of money into reducing class sizes and giving the power to headteachers. A ConDem option would merely focus on disadvanataged kids, which is vague at best.

Parental Involvement: You already know my views on this; and the ConDems would seem to support it, where LibLab would seem to be focusing more on closing special measures schools and starting Academies.

 Curriculum: LibLab plans for exams and an amended curriculum seems to be focused on making things easier, with a series of vocational subjects taking over. A ConDem plan would see us having more control over what we teach, and how we teach it, even offering international exams. That sounds pretty good to me.

University: Hard to see where the ConDems could reach a compromise here, with Cameron wanting to 10,000 more uni places available and Clegg wanting to scrap the 50% target for people attending uni. However, with Labour wanting 75% to go to uni, the LibDems may actually find more common ground with the Tories.

Bottom line, is that whatever we get will be markedly different to what we all thought we were voting for – which begs the question that has dogged discussions thus far. How can electoral reform not be considered a crucial part of any new government’s decisions when this hung parliament has left us with leaders and policies that bear no resemblance to what we hung our hopes (or resignation) on?


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It’s election time!

May 4th, 2010
By SimonSays

handcuffsAs the cloud of ash shot out into the sky from Eyjafjallajokull my inner geek shot out to catch it on the Internet and online volcano watching has consumed almost all my free time since the eruption.

I’ve been so distracted, in fact, that I almost missed out on the interest that Nick Clegg’s performance on the recent TV debates has stimulated in the Lib Dems. Now, it’s looking like their policies may have some relevance though, so I decided to have an ash-free weekend and do some catching up.

My starting point was Dan’s excellent overview of the manifestos and how similar they are. After reading that, I felt inspired to do a little further reading online and came across this really easy-to-read table comparing the offerings from the various parties on the Keystone education blog.

The most interesting part of the Lib Dem manifesto for me was the proposed end of KS2 tests and the introduction of ‘Teacher Assessment’ instead. I’ll be interested to read more about this over the next week and especially to see exactly how this would be implemented.

I was also interested to be reminded of the Tory proposal to only fund graduates with a 2:2 or above for teacher training. I know it caused a lot of fuss when they announced it but when you put it in context, it’s not such a big deal. Can you imagine any other course or graduate scheme giving funding to people with less than a 2:2? I certainly can’t.

The part of the Labour manifesto that caught my eye was the £10k ‘golden handcuffs’ for the best teachers. The idea of ‘golden handcuffs’ intrigues me for two reasons. Firstly, I wonder about the criteria for choosing the ‘best teachers’. Will heads have the power to nominate their ‘best teachers’ or is it just going to be based on statistics?

The second reason it attracted my attention was that sounded like some kind of unwritten James Bond novel: ‘The Teacher with the Golden Handcuffs’. Maybe he could charge £10,000 a class.

Since everyone from Sebastian Faulks to Charlie Higson seems to be writing new James Bond novels at the moment, maybe that’s what I should do to fill my free time once the elections are over…

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