Archive | July 2014

Four More Sleeps To Mrs Tyler!

Little Rowen Pedlar was four years old. He was due to start in the Reception Class the following Monday, and he was bursting with excitement.

I smiled, broadly. We would do what we could to make that enthusiasm last. But we don’t stay four for long, and soon the weight of the system would bear down on him, and his innocence would be lost in the drive to get him up to a SATS Level 5 in seven years time.

My daughter thinks, as I do, that we can’t vote Labour until The Wrong Milliband is replaced by anyone, except, maybe, Ed Balls. So two thousand sleeps until we mark a ballot paper then. She has one caveat. Michael Gove, the Education Minister.

” I am horrified that this man is in charge of my children’s education.” Everybody needs to be.

I know something about education. I loved my job when it was creative, experiential, pedagogically sound and a pleasure to do.

Now, I’m glad to be out of it.

I don’t have a privileged background. I was brought up in the poorest, toughest neighbourhood in Gloucester. I am where I am today because I passed the eleven-plus and had it in me to survive the casual neglect of the working- class girls in my Grammar School.

Hilda Mortimer, the head of this institution, sent for my mother to say:

“You don’t want Mary to go to College, You’ll need her wage.”

This was 1969, not the Dark Ages. To those whom she favoured, Mort is lionised. I know, I read the obituaries.

God! I’m sounding bitter. I’m not, though I must admit, I’m glad I got THAT off my chest.

Until my last post as Head Teacher of a village school, I taught exclusively in schools in areas of socio-economic deprivation ( As we were trained to call them.I used to call them, ‘home’.) so I DO know what I’m talking about.

I laugh like a drain when I hear nostrums touted like, ‘ Raise Standards! Introduce Latin!’ I love this one. I think of Vincent. It took me a whole year to teach Vincent to read and write his name. In English. You wouldn’t want to know what his home life was like. I expect Vincent Is now in prison, or dead.

A string of frustrated teachers will have spent the six succeeding years trying to get Vincent to a Level Four. He wouldn’t have made it. The most likely scenario is that Vincent’s frustration will have boiled up into such anger that he will have been ‘excluded’ long before he sat the Y6 tests.

It’s not LATIN, you f****** idiot, it’s the fact that schools that teach it usually have far fewer than thirty children to teach it to, that gets results.

I apologise. I reserve the F*  Word for the rarest of rants. It means something then, doesn’t it?

I expect you’re wondering what set me off: Sports Day at my granddaughter’s nice little school in the next village down.

What a ghastly occasion this is! I have hated Sports Day since my infancy. No-one ever told me that I was unlikely to win anything because I was short on height and protein. Perhaps they didn’t know? I was about eight when I resigned myself to the futility of it, and stopped trying. I became clever at other things instead.

Back to the present. I three times crossed the tracks at the gd’s Sports Day, in unsafe UV levels, to find and replace her hat. I smiled a lot though: I wanted only to be a mild pain in the arse.

I got chatting to one of the parents sitting nearby. The head teacher doesn’t speak to Lynne anymore because she opened her big Liverpuddlian gob to complain. These were her issues:

Her 11 year old daughter was taught by a Classroom Assistant in the weeks leading up to the SATS tests because the teacher wanted to concentrate on the students she thought might make LEVEL SIX. This is NOT what primary education is about, or shouldn’t be. Don’t tell ME being taught by a TA is the equivalent of a teacher’s attention: if it WAS, she could have taken those being hothoused, couldn’t she?

I don’t want to be over- dramatic, but isn’t this just the kind of pressure that is leading to increasing levels of child mental illness, and teenage suicide? Not a price worth paying for the kudos of a few insecure level 6 ‘s .

There were fourteen children in Sarah’s ‘exam’ class Ten were given prizes. Good for their self-esteem, but what about the four singled out as failures? Negatives like this SERIOUSLY impact learning. I know this.

( It’s the proportion I object to. This is double incompetence: too many awards to be worth anything, and so many, leaving the excluded four feeling all the worse for it.)

I’m not going on, the other issues relate to the school now being run as a business, and extras that were once free are now beyond Lynne’s reach. Football Club, for instance.

Don’t get me wrong, bad schools need fixing. But when I see backward-looking, score-based solutions, that won’t work, that won’t work, because they never have, being trumpeted, I get mad.

And now teachers are going to be paid by results. This will be fun. It’s hard enough to persuade colleagues to take a Year 6 class as it is… . And the ridiculous, I would say statistically dishonest, measure of a child making ‘two thirds of a Level a year’ is frankly unworkable.

( Dishonest because SATS levels are calculated on huge populations, they are unsafe predictors of individual performance. Speak to a statistician: I did.)

There’s a logic to this if you’re making widgets, I can see it clearly. But we’re not making widgets, we’re raising the next generation. Pissing a teacher off by further holding down her pay is not a good idea. It is not going to make for a happy teacher, and unhappy teachers run unhappy classrooms. I’ve seen it, I know. You’ve been in one, you know. And you can’t sack all of them.

There are alternatives. Intelligent systems that are liberal and humane, (and SUCCESSFUL) like the Primary International Baccalaureate, and (Dear God, I AM mad! ) scrapping Trident to lower class sizes so that EVERY child gets the start in life that the sons and daughters of politicians can have.

( Now you know what a wet I am, I expect you think I banned competitive races on Sports Day. You’d be wrong. I simply made them voluntary… .)


PS If you believe that class size doesn’t matter, you’re right. For rote-learning.