Wednesday, 18 July 2012


After some comments on Farcebook and from recent discussions, I though I might briefly set out some ideas on the subject. Please let me know what you think about the ideas,especially what I have left out or got wrong.

From the academic research I have done into this and from empirical evidence I can say the following.

They are motivated by fear and insecurity, and the need for self-preservation in a world about which they are fearful and insecure to an extent beyond that of those with a normally developed emotional intelligence.

In relationships, they have an over-weaning need to exercise power and control, often by any means, since self-preservation is of paramount importance.

The control takes the form of the carrot and the stick. The carrot takes many forms masquerading as generosity and charm, but is calculated to keep the subject subjected and 'on-side'. The stick also takes many forms, like withdrawal and/or reversal of the carrots, and, crucially to get other subjects to act in concert with them. For example, by contriving some injurious fault of the subject and discussing this 'injurious fault' with their other subjects, so that the subject is tried and convicted in absentia. Here is another facet of the bully, they are expert at playing the victim. The guilty blame the innocent to excuse their guilt. The first the subject gets to know about this is when they, for example have the normal social support withdrawn and possible some spiteful and anonymous retribution occurs. The subject never really gets to know what the causality is of these situations, since preserving the subject's ignorance is an important tool in preserving power.

Bullies are so insecure that even the slightest hint that a subject is not totally in their thrall will provoke many, if not all of the bully's arsenal of control.

Bullies need to 'divide and rule' by a constantly shifting sets of alliances and contrived enemies.

Bullying falls into two general types, the inveterate and the inadvertent. The inveterate is the dyed-in-the-wool bully who can be the head bully or a bully further down the bullying chain of command. The inadvertent go along with the bullying status quo for fear of receiving the same treatment.

It is this last bit that often motivates the inveterate to identify through their highly developed low cunning to identify a strong character (those who have their own minds) to victimise as an example to their subjects.

When a bully is in a situation where there exists a more powerful figure whose power is unassailable, then they contrive to be the power-behind-the-throne.

As alluded to above, the bully often accuses the victim of bullying.

How to deal with bullies

It is important for a victim to know it is not their fault and that they are not responsible for the bullying they suffer, especially since victims of bullying are often intelligent, competent people with a high moral sense.

Unfortunately, there seems to be only one way to deal with bullies and is a lot easier said than done, and requires courage, perseverance and stamina. Bullies need to be confronted relentlessly.

The victim who tires of their victim-hood should know that they are involved in a to-the-death struggle. This does not mean that the struggle will cause the death of an adversary.

Bullies will never be appeased. It is pointless to try.

When bullying accusations fly, fling real accusations back.*

When accusatory questions (questions keep the questioned on the back foot and cedes advantage to the questioner), don't answer, except with another question. You can be fair (although God knows why) and answer the question, but follow up with a question. Never answer immediately. Even if the pause is only a few seconds, it is effective, since it says that the victim is not spooked into a knee-jerk, fearful wish to appease the bully.
“I'll have to think about that one.” And, “I'll get back to you.” are good, especially if the victim goes on to ignore the bully.*

In discourse with bullies, be wary of questions or statements (as rhetorical questions) prefaced with things like, “So you're saying . . ?” And, “Don't you think that . . ?”

*Be prepared, be diligent in constant vigilance and take notes - lots of notes – bullies are well practised in their activity, victims have to learn the battle.

When the bullying has a large element of physical aggression, the victim must appeal to an equitable and canny higher power. This higher power/authority will need evidence, but bullies can be trapped into their activity in such a way as to have it observed and recorded. Physically to confront the bullies is dangerous.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Iggy's Dream School

“They're a pretty low ability bunch.” She told me as she opened the door to the classroom and, once in, introduced me to the class, then left. They were a bottom set and knew it, and seemed to take some pride in it and let me know it. I imagine like The Dessert Rats took to Rommel's pejorative, or similarly The Old Contemptibles after Kaiser Bill called them England's contemptible little army. I had the sense it was the same sense of pride as Hell's Angels felt; something brought about from a recognition of being at the end of a long line of no-hopers – a class full of what Arlo Guthrie called the Last Guy.
From the getting to know you badinage, it was clear to me that these people were actually quite average teenagers with a couple of livelier minds bouncing around too. They were as interested in me as I was in them and they allowed me to ask some tricky questions like why they thought they were the bottom set: why they were apparently so proud of it and why would they be in a bottom set? To cut a long story short, they had been labelled as any number of things, for which I could see no real reason, except that they fulfilled these historical judgements up to this moment – it always had been this way and always would. They had absolutely no belief in their intellectual abilities and nothing had happened in their short lives to disabuse them of this lack of belief.
Of all my classes in my teaching career, I am most proud of them, even more than those that entered Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Oxford, Cambridge and all the other Ivy League schools, because they developed belief in themselves and shook off other people's prejudiced burdens. It was a two way thing, they believed in me that I could help them get their GCSE in science and it was a bit like having your home fans cheering you on, or an audience willing you on to higher and higher peaks of musicianship. I have seen this so often in my career, that I wonder how some teachers and it is usually teachers, get away with it. Furthermore, who in God's name have allowed these people to be teachers; to have access to the plastic, pliant minds of children. Surely, this must rank highly as a crime against children; as child abuse.

School years should be the best years of our lives, but often it is just something to be endured, and endured with some resentment. I think schools should be places that foster self-belief based on continual and relentless achievement and where all parties to the learning community show unswerving belief in the ability of others continually to achieve; to find their best and do better. Implicit in this is an obvious affection between teacher and student. Naturally, the teacher has responsibility for establishing this, and granted, it can be a tough job sometimes, but the teacher must remember that before you is someone's pride and joy and deserving of the best. Even if the student is not someone's pride and joy, they should be and so the teacher should behave accordingly.

This does not mean that discipline goes out the window. Imposing sanctions for poor behaviour that preserves the dignity of all parties reinforces positive relations, especially if one's students see that you adhere to the same principles of dignity, discipline and diligence that you expect of your students. Sanctions should be applied immediately and with a proportionally that should be left to the teacher's professional judgement. There has been a lot of movement away from this idea of late in Britain and, like many of the changes was predicated on a lack of trust of teachers, so one-size-fits-all, highly prescriptive centralised policies have been implemented. When a misbehaving student understands that the teacher has the authority and discretion to apply these sanctions, they will have a lot less latitude to continue their misbehaving. And anyway, people like to know the limits and that the limits are strict.

Teachers should be geniuses in the Einsteinian sense of being passionately curious. I'd like to extend this by positing genius as an aesthetic phenomenon in recognising intuition and inspiration and acting upon it. In this, I am in total opposition to someone from the TDA who said on radio 4 that teaching is much more of a science. In fact, I think that this is one of the most idiotic notions I have come across for many a year. This implies a do-this-get-that-every-time thinking, i.e. a simplistic application of behaviourism. I see this in the bought-in, inflexible and imperative curricula that come complete with lesson plans, which include imperatives for differentiation. This is wrong on so many counts. A recent article in London's Evening Standard by the heads of five major, English public schools would appear to reject this trend in education.

This essay is unfinished, but below is an indication where it should go:

Genius is an art/ realizing intuition and inspiration skills/content syllogism of skills/content
Creativity in all things from pastoral, curriculum, pedagogy... and all considered as a whole
Cross-curricularity history of thought/theory of knowledge

Memorizing and Learning

There is a lot of confusion as to what learning is, and different people and agencies define it differently at different times, so the word becomes ambiguous, but we still all think we know what it means, so we don't question it.
It is sometimes defined as the memorization of facts. This is fraught with difficulty, since what is a fact in the first place. Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that there are, hard, immutable facts. They can be considered as cerebral points. All you have to do to 'know' them is remember where you left them – simple recall – worms can do it, i.e., it is not a high intellectual skill, but it is what passes for education.
Sometimes 'learning' is defined as recall of a process, which can be considered as remembering how the aforementioned points are joined up. Here, we're looking at higher order skills, in the sense that causal chains are involved, but is specific only to that process. Again, however, it is simple recall and is habitual.
My definition of learning is when we see the commonality between processes that are quite disparate in nature, but all of which, when viewed through the lens of this intellectual paradigm are identical. One might call this intellectual paradigm, reason, but there are many different forms of reason and logic – all you have to do is to look at how other cultures go about the same social phenomena to see that. Furthermore, and more importantly, an intellectual paradigm is a web of reason whose nodal points are not the hard, immutable facts mentioned above, but change with the phenomenon under investigation. In this sense, it is like a template that you put onto the data and a conclusion presents itself. The template will ignore some data as irrelevant, but an assumption checker is part of the paradigm, and if the ignored data turns out to be relevant, then the paradigm evolves. Therein genius resides, I think. There seems to be a commonality between the processes that historically have led to intellectual events that have caused global paradigm shifts and it is very simple. They all seem to be syllogisms of two intellectual paradigms, e.g., General Relativity links the four dimensional geometry of Riemann Space with three dimensional Euclidean Geometry and time.
One doesn't learn facts, one learns intellectual paradigms, i.e. one learns to think and it is what state schools in England have failed to do, since the abolition of state grammar schools.
There is also individual resistance to this form of learning, because sometimes the conclusions presented are uncomfortable and go against individuals' emotional biases and therefore a more comfortable world view. Learning, as defined here takes care of that, since it implies a striving for the truth and the detachment from bias. In this sense, discovering that one has been in error, is a matter of joy, since one is then no longer in error. Here, we have the difficulty that society puts on admitting error, and some societies, I've noticed are worse than others. Without it, however, we are stuck in a web of fallacy; true fallacies are those things that we accept as true simply because they are often repeated. This is why advertising works, politicians get elected and newspapers sell.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

What makes a teacher great? Discuss:

I posted this on LinkedIn group for Free Schools, but I'd like some other respondents.

From a previous discussion the question was posed, Since everyone agrees that great teaching is the key element in improving educational outcomes for young people why aren't we discussing this?

I think getting the team right in the first place does a lot to ensure continued success even after the initial team has moved on. In this spirit, I'd like to ask you, what are the characteristics of great teachers and great educational leaders, and how do you establish an ethos that the whole learning community advocate and promote?
There has been much talk about the nuts and bolts of setting up Free Schools, but this question is so pivotal that it cannot be left until after the mechanics have been satisfied, IMO.

What are your thoughts? I'll post mine later.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Response to Free Schools Discussion Thread

As an international educator of some 20 years standing that returned to this country to teach, but who left secondary school teaching in order to do what I love, teaching, I have a perspective that perhaps others do not. That said, I am heartened that so many of you have the intelligence, experience and perspicacity to analyse our system without the benefit of perspectives from outside the paradigm.
Here are my thoughts on this thread.

Train teachers to be the very best they can be. Resource them to be great. Get parents and communities totally behind them. Appoint great headteachers.

In my experience, great teachers are born. They can be educated to bring out that greatness, but to assume that anyone can be trained to be a teacher is part of what is wrong with the system. Other cultures refer to the pedagogic arts, not a mechanistic operation. It is like substituting painting by numbers for art. Great teachers are also themselves demonstrably lifelong learners that have very good levels of knowledge of other disciplines that they use to illustrate concepts within their own. They also have thorough knowledge of their specialism and can approach concepts from many different perspectives at a moment's notice. They have a sense of fun: are real, believable characters: take the time to get to know their students, both within and without the classroom: they have unambiguous affection for all their students and exercise total consistency in upholding the highest ambitions set out in the school's philosophy and mission statement.
Great teachers operate much less effectively without a close relationship with the student's parents or carers, so from a Free School's perspective, this should be enshrined in the philosophy and mission statement, thereby formalising an obligation to a parent/school partnership.
Resources are important, but, to quote my daughter who spent a few days in a state school, “Papa, where has all the money gone?” I had told her that the British government were pouring loads of money into state education. When I told her these things, neither of us had any direct experience of the system as it became in the last fourteen years. Until our school really got going, I had to scrounge materiel from anywhere I could for free, cannibalising for bits and making Heath Robinson efforts for practical work and bought chemicals from industrial suppliers at a fraction of the cost of that from educational suppliers. My colleagues in other disciplines did the same. Resources are not as critical as the inspirational teaching afforded by great teachers.
The most important resource is leadership and in that they must exercise a light hand. Inspirational heads are the figurehead for the philosophy and mission and should involve themselves in keeping the path open for the brilliance of great, inspirational teacher.
Very often inspirational heads become so by contact with their inspirational teachers.
Great schools are where the whole learning community live and breath the philosophy and mission and support each other in doing so – no us-and-them.

The relationship between politics and education is in fact relatively new.

. . .[C]hoice drives excellence . . .

It depends on the nature and degree of choice. I once had to babysit an East German post-doc student at Cambridge. I took him into Sainsbury's and apart from the fact that there was something on the shelf, he was astounded by the range of choice. For some reason, we were in the dog food isle and I remarked that there was probably 30 varieties of dog food here, to which he replied that it was still dog food.

And I believe you need the radical experiments to test and prove new solutions

Where's the experimentation? We all know what good teaching and learning looks like, we just have to free ourselves from the bureaucratic dogma that hinders great teaching and learning.

. . .[G]iven the point made in other LinkedIn threads about the failures of the last decade or more in education terms, spelt out in national (ONS) and international (OECD) data and other information which is available right now, the previous situation can hardly be held to represent 'what is known to work'

Have you seen any of the test papers for the PISA study? You can download them from my website. You will see that they are not very challenging, which suggests that our system is rather worse than it seems from its position.

. . . [P]urchasers of the service - namely, parents and their children . . .

Unfortunately, that which is communally owned most often suffers from the Tragedy of the Commons and is therefore not valued. Greater parental involvement assuages this to a very great extent.

Is 50% 5 A*-C's good enough for you?

Referring to GCSE, no, it is not. GCSEs are trivial in comparison to other educational systems. This level of qualification is more appropriate to year 9 for the average student.

. . .[A]s a nation we cannot afford not to invest in education.

More and better teachers.

How to improve education outcomes. Some starters for 10:
1. Stop messing with structures and processes
2. Radically reform teacher recruitment, training, monitoring and remuneration
3. Minimum age for teachers to be 25
4. Impose statutory obligations on parents re engagement with their child's education e.g. attendance at parent's evening, monitoring of attendance, checking records of achievment etc. etc. etc. etc.
5. Progression by stage not age
6. No league tables

Agreed! League tables operate much like quotas in the former USSR. You can have tables, but not the simplistic, easily reinterpreted things we have now.

Since everyone agrees that great teaching is the key element in improving educational outcomes for young people why aren't we discussing this?

Yes let's discuss this. It is pivotal.

I taught for twelve years in an environment where parental turn out at parent's meeting was 100% and teaching performance monitored annually and pay increments based on this monitoring.

Me too. Teachers also had two year contracts. The performance monitoring was mostly informal. SMT felt free to drop in to classes and did so regularly and were welcomed. Small to medium  salary increments were given for r&d into ways to improve the product  and larger increments for the degree of extra-curricular input.

I have personally known several schools, that have suffered when a good Headteacher has moved on and the choice of replacements has been so bad.

On the other hand I have seen great leaders hobbled, stymied and forced out by an intransigent and belligerent staff.I refer to my comments on leadership above.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Free Schools and Me

I believe the Opportunity afforded by the Free Schools movement offers the best chance to improve Britains slide in international education standards. My interest is less of the practical mechanics of setting up and running a Free School, but to establish the philosophical background that is likely to ensure success and not just as lip-service.
Below is my take on the latest direction for Free Schools in terms of philosophy and mission, based on submission documents.

Section 3: Educational vision
  • A clearly focused vision that underpins the application
    I was instrumental in establishing the philosophy and mission statement of BBIS. Click here.     
  • Identify what will make the school distinctive in its vision and ethos.
    A large part of a successful school is the intimacy of the student/staff relationships and the collective responsibilities felt by all of the school community. Parents have a vital role to play in a school's success and should be closely involved not just with bodies like a PTA and fund raising, but also in their clear commitment to a true partnership with respective teachers for the benefit of the student. All too often there is an us-and-them mentality that stymies everyone's development.
  • Set out why you are establishing your Free School – curriculum offer/ pedagogy
    Since Free Schools do not have to address the National Curriculum, I would advocate abandoning it. The IB MYP allows, indeed demands that the schools determine their own curriculum within certain guidelines. This allows innovative approaches that builds a sound skills/content base for lifelong learning. The MYP specifies 8 subject areas, but I feel that the model falls down for Free Schools as far as commitment to the E-Bacc. (I use the original French diminutive) and its science stipulation.
    For years 7 through 9 an in-house innovative curriculum should be developed that is highly rational and contextualised with a framework (the big picture, as Brian Cox described it in a recent interview), e.g. In chemistry, an historical/heuristic approach, in physics, a curriculum based on energy as its central theme, in maths, an historical approach from Euclid onwards, modern languages, should reflect learning about the culture and learning the language is easily facilitated by focusing of words that are near homophones with their English equivalents. In this the principle of quot homines to sententiae can be applied since there are many novel ways to approach each subject that can allow the student to assimilate content while developing skills in a quick and efficient way. Students, like us all dislike mechanical memorising tasks, so curricula should be so design that content is assimilated while developing the skills.
    It is highly appropriate that the curriculum in this phase should also be driven by a true commitment to cross-curricularity, and here again, innovation is needed not just for the obvious, like between maths, science and technology, but also between the less obvious, like between maths/scinece and the arts The obvious is often missed in schools, e.g. I have very often had to teach remedial maths for my courses, because the maths courses seemed to have inculcated the idea that maths was restricted to the maths class and maths homework. Students very often improved in maths when its relevance outside the class/homework context was broadened. There are very many great opportunities for cross-curricular teaching and its benefits for the student in each individual subject cannot be stressed highly enough. It allows students to draw on different intellectual paradigms to analyse problems in novel ways.
    Students in this phase should be allowed and encouraged to take relevant GCSEs, since most students, properly taught can manage them long before the end of year 11
    In years 10 and 11, I would advocate a mix of GCSE, IGCSE, Higher E-Bacc, and early AS. There is a problem with how the QCA compare GCSE and IGCSE as equivalent for league tables, that is frankly risible, but early GCSEs can overcome this league table concern.
    With a bit of thought, these different qualifications can be addressed together in the same classes often, rather like HL and SL subjects in the IB Diploma.
    Pedagogy should be driven by personal warmth and mutual respect, teachers should know their students well and spend time with them individually and in small groups, both inside and outside the classroom. Students should be encouraged to ask questions whenever they have questions, since it helps teachers know their students better and how better to tailor their lessons for the individuals involved. In my experience, this simple strategy allows students to take ownership of their learning. For teachers, this is a gift, since it offers a learning opportunity based on the student's enthusiasms. In my experience, if a student asks a question, then about a third of the class has the same question, another third is not entirely sure, and those that know the answer either like the opportunity to answer the question or like to hear a different perspective. This requires the teacher to have a complete knowledge of their subject at this level, to be flexible and confident to approach a topic from a number of different perspectives. It requires the teacher to be a lifelong teacher themselves having intellectual enthusiasms beyond their specialisms from which to draw these different paradigms and analogies in addressing different perspectives and approaches. I have not encountered this approach from very many teachers, but those who do are very effective and popular teachers, and as such are assets to the school, for the academic and real bottom line, since their usefulness in PR is beyond measure.
    The curriculum should be planned according to principles of rational/causational flow as should each lesson, but, to incorporate the above, teachers should be flexible enough to accommodate students expressed needs.
Section 4: Educational plan

[What will be] [T]he experience that pupils will have whilst attending it. You should set out what pupils will achieve, how they will achieve it and how the school will evaluate performance, both of individual pupils and the school as a whole.

A school where they like to go every day; where they know they are valued and welcomed with warmth, affection and mutual respect ; where people believe in their ability to achieve and trust in the goodwill of those entrusted with their achievement; where they will achieve skills, social, life and intellectual: where they will achieve valued qualifications; where they will develop as lifelong learners and critical thinkers.

Physical evidence allows some evaluation. To evaluate the other aspects that relate directly to the ethos and philosophy, qualitative evidence from the school community and its neighbours.

Curriculum and organisation of learning

Set out expectations around the length of the school day, term and year.

My concerns here are for teachers. Great teachers work hard and want to do an exemplary job at all times. Unfortunately, there is too much bureaucracy, which great teachers will also want to do properly. Furthermore teaching is a tiring occupation, as the Chinese know and incorporate this notion into the Chinese teachers workloads. Therefore teachers should have more non-contact than is usually the case in British state schools and these should not be taken for cover.
Timetables that cover more than 5 days and classes that are taught by more than one teacher, result in diminished level of attainment in students, increased levels of stress for teachers and are difficult for teachers and HoDs to administer and coordinate. While these types of timetable allows SMT greater flexibility to reduce costs, they are a false economy, since teachers will have a very much larger number of students and they see them much less often and so cannot establish the worthwhile relationships that result in achievement, actual and holistic. It is also a false economy, since raised teacher stress levels will result in greater sick leave.

The school day should have time at the end of the day for homework, for extra- curricular activities and disciplinary sanctions.

Curriculum and organisation of learning

Describe the curriculum in detail, setting out how it will be broad and balanced and meet the different needs and interests of all pupils.

Since cross-curricularity is central to the development of critical thinking and approaching questions from a range of perspectives, the curriculum should include academic, including foreign languages, arts and sports.

Pupil development and achievement

Show how your school will define, measure and hold people accountable for the success of: i) the whole school; and ii) individual pupils.

The commitment to collective responsibility is central to accountability of all individuals in the community, where teachers and managers are mutually supportive.
For teachers, physical evidence, grades of students etc. Qualitative evidence, perceptions of parents and class visits & observations. SMT and other teachers should feel free to observe at any time, and feel welcomed to do so. This necessarily means that SMT and peers must have time in their day to do this.

Behaviour and Attendance

Show how the Free School will promote good behaviour, positive relationships and good attitudes to learning; and show how the Free School will maintain high levels of attendance.

Attacking the culture of us-and-them by promoting the ethos above.
Disciplinary sanctions should be timely (justice delayed is justice denied), proportional and carried out to preserve the dignity of the individuals involved and that of the school. Teachers should be allowed greater professional judgement in these matters.
Once a sanction has been carried out, teachers should treat the cause as past and the good relations are maintained. This should be made explicit by the teacher. Firm, but fair.
A small detail, I have found a system of merits and demerits has a salutary effect, especially if they have thresholds that automatically trigger further sanctions.

Community Engagement

Explain how when the Free School is established it will aim to foster good community relations and promote active contribution to modern British society, in line with the Equality Act 2010.

I have found that the school's neighbours are an unmatchable resource as guest speakers and sources of materiel and that the neighbours are only too pleased to get their message across. It is a win-win for both parties and only requires a telephone and a friendly manner.

Who can teach at a Free School?
Innovation, diversity and flexibility are at the heart of the Free Schools policy. In that spirit we will not be setting overly prescriptive requirements in relation to qualifications. Instead we will expect Free School proposers to demonstrate how they intend to guarantee the highest quality of teaching and leadership in their schools.
Selection of great teachers is at the heart of great schools. Candidates should be prepared to demonstrate not only knowledge in their own specialisms, but also have reasonable knowledge of other disciplines concomitant with lifelong learning. They should also be able to demonstrate that they can approach a topic from different perspectives and to think on their feet, effectively and with confidence. They should have unshakable commitment to the school ethos and the relentless, quotidian collective responsibility required to maintain it.