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.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Need for Creativity in Education

The Great Debate initiated by James Callaghan in 1977 that had its first fruition in 1988 as the Baker Education Act is still going on. There has been a greatly heightened consciousness on the subject over recent years and especially since Michael Gove became Secretary of State and Katherine Birbalsingh dropped her whistle-blowing bombshell at the last Conservative Party Conference. Since then everyone it seems has something to say about our 'broken system' from Jamie Oliver to academic luminaries, not to mention the hundreds of hours of vox pop. I come to the question from an international educator's perspective and having specialised in epistemology, chemistry and physics, I feel I have something worthwhile to add to the debate.

The central tenet of this piece is that the pedagogical process is a creative one and that this is largely missing in the British state system. It will cite Radio 4's Saturday Live, Start the Week, the BBC News website, the New Scientist website and the TES website.

Sir Ken went on to ask the quasi-rhetorical question, “How do we get this creativity into our education service?” and cited Finland's individual approach and Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence. He expressed concern over current moves to make the service look more like the 19th C, whereas we should be applying ourselves to the 21st C so we need products of our system that are confident and adaptable. In making direct reference to the E Bacc (Bacc. is the usual diminutive, not Bac.), that it is a catastrophe that it should omit arts courses and that it is based on the old fallacy that the arts contribute very little to the economy and that it was the product of the troubled imaginations of politicians that getting the basics right (English, math and science) will get everything else right.
The noble baronets reservations of the E Bacc. Where echoed in another BBC piece on the ASCI conference where the attendees sported badges with 'I failed the English Bac.' This reminds me of the Bart Simpson badge, 'underachiever and proud.' I do not really understand what all the furore is about, except that propensity in some to love being outraged and incensed. What I do object to is the name. If it would be a true baccalaureate, it would have an arts subject and the standard would be a lot higher, since a C at GCSE is not a very high level.

Andy Burnham was at the conference and took a load of badges back for the Shadow Cabinet, which seems to set the tone for glorifying ignorance just as the set of reforms did in precious Labour administrations. He said that the E Bacc. Was a throwback to the 1950s and was very unfair. There's that word again, 'unfair'. It is the current paradigm to equate plumbing with brain surgery; that there must be a degree for everything and that all degrees are the same to give people the allusion of equality, while being sold a bill of goods. We need plumbers and plasterers and electricians and … as much as we need brain surgeons, lawyers (no, wait, let me think about this one), academics, artists, musicians, scientists, mathematicians et c. And we should give all the opportunity to achieve highly by overcoming obstacles from nature and nurture, but to say these academic achievements are of equal value is unfair and destines many for settling for less than they should. The idea that the E bacc is a throwback to the 1950s is unfounded and presumes that the teaching of these subjects would be less creative than they are now. I think that would be very hard, according to what Noble Bart went on to say.

Noble Bart also seemed to tacitly criticise the current system for its standardisation and conformity. Commenting on discussions with scientists, he claimed the curriculum was wringing the creative life out of their discipline, but went on to say that the same could be true of artists. He went on to assert the need for greater balance in education since we do not need a country full of statisticians and scientists, citing the the opportunities afforded by dance, theatre, music and design technology to inculcate creativity. It could be inferred from this that greater creativity in math and science would be effected by this.

There was a curious piece in the TES that seemed to bear out Sir Ken's point here. The piece was responding to Jamie Oliver's Dream School where the respondent seemed to bear out the modern teachers formulaic, standardised and conformist notion of education devoid of creativity reference was made to four part lessons and AFL strategies. So, a lesson has to have four parts and one can enumerate specific off-the-shelf strategies for formative assessment? Oh dear.

Reference was made in the piece to Michael Gove's determination to apply higher standards for teachers and Sir Ken's response to this is that we all remember our great teachers and that they were for us critically important and great teachers are critically important generally. He went on to say that teachers often feel that they don't have the opportunity to be creative in their classrooms and that the government holds all the cards. He suggested that since the Secretary of State is not at the back of the classroom, then teachers do have the scope for education. This seems to contradict an earlier statement in the piece about standardisation and conformity. Further, I was shocked to read a teacher's blog making the point about lazy, uninspired and uninspiring teachers. I was shocked, because, whatever the faults of our current system, one of the reasons for the reforms that have led to our current system was to eliminate these sorts of malpractices. In the state schools in which I have done supply, I have found that the regimes have been highly prescriptive and standardised to the point that it makes a mockery of the idea of individualised education, so actually the Secretary of State is in the classroom by proxy.

As I understand it, there are moves afoot to make the minimum qualification for a PGCE a II.II ( a Desmond, as we used to call it) and a III (the gentleman's degree) is below par. I think this is too persciptive. I have known teachers with masters, Ph.D.s all categories of degrees and little of their qualifications makes a difference to the quality of their teaching. I have known Ph.D.s that had no idea how to teach. One in particular, when asked by her students to explain a concept again, because they did not get it, just repeats herself and does not find what the problem is and address that by approaching the topic from a different angle. This is a creativity in action. On the other hand, I've known truly inspirational teachers with gentleman's degrees who are immensely knowledgeable and who bring that wealth to their teaching again creatively, by drawing parallels to other spheres of knowledge, conjoining two or more intellectual paradigms to produce novel thinking and thereby are effortlessly innovative.

This is not to say that teacher selection should be made more rigorous. If an applicant has a gentleman's degree, then investigate through an academic reference if there were mitigating reasons for this category other than lack of diligence or ability. I would also advocate that teachers work for a number of years in something other than education prior to applying for initial teacher training. The selection process should be a lot longer. In my case, I had to spend two weeks teaching lessons before starting my course and I was observed every time. This process would be very telling whatever the applicants' paper qualifications. It would also be cheap. Curiously enough these points were raised by Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the international achievement test known by its acronym Pisa in a NYT piece.

I also think that the assessment criteria should be sharpened up, part of which would include a creativity component, e.g. come up with different ways to approach given topics in the same way as ToK is partly assessed in the IBDP by the breadth and depth of approaches. There should also be exams for those to teach secondary school that they know that which they are supposed to teach. As a rule of thumb, I would consider a Higher Level paper fair if I could do it in a third of the time students had. Less than that then it was an easy paper, more than that, it was a tough paper. This idea could be used to test the knowledge base and analytical skills of prospective teachers. At the moment, there are only two criteria for this assessment for teachers.

On Monday's (14/03/11) Start the Week, Andrew Marr talked with Brian Greene, Brian Cox and Angela Saini on science, its importance, popularization and education. The scientists view was that today, one cannot be considered educated if you have no science and that science is the most important thing that we do, but that our current system does not inculcate understanding or respect for the process of evidential reason and peer review and that these are hard things for people to understand, since, in education the details are focused on too early, one has to remember a large body of 'facts' and that there is no focus on the big picture that popular science is so effective at doing.
Andrew Marr said that he had been bored rigid in science.

I can only agree, having studied and taught the curricula offered in the UK that it lacks vision, but it is possible to bring it alive for everyone and make it fun. The bigger picture is what I would refer to as the conceptual framework. 'Facts' happen along that are to reinforce the conceptual framework. For example, the curriculum for chemistry I wrote for IB MYP (subtitled, Why Stuff Is the Way It Is, How We Use It and How We Use the Knowledge of Stuff to Make New Stuff) that I wrote for 9th and 10th grade (years 10 & 11) starts with the formation of the elements in stars and novae; how do we know this? Well, from the light given off. Do some flame tests for characteristic colours of some elements to get the picture. Bring in a bit of history with Lavoisier and Proust with appropriate practical work and the student has their own data and forms the idea of relative mass. Move along to Boyle, Charles and Avogadro and you have relative atomic mass, the mole and the fundamentals of all chemistry. The course brings in history, literature, music and art, it is entirely heuristic and has a real rational flow. There is no rote learning of facts; the students work things out from experimental data, while having the freedom to ask questions at any time and have the right to have that question answered, if necessary by abandoning the planned lesson and doing an impromptu one. I have often felt that these impromptu lessons are the best. The course continues with compounds, formulae, bonding and The Periodic Table of the Elements, reactions and reactivity, organic chemistry, biochemistry and industrial chemistry. It is possible to get the hook in very early and establish the big picture into which the rest of a course fits, after all we are causality seeking machines and we have an emotional need to know.

The assembled scientists also claimed that the vast number of teachers had no real experience of science and that government has a key role in bringing professional scientists into the system. Here again, I have difficulty with this notion. Do they mean that secondary science teachers do not have science degrees? All of us do. Perhaps they might mean primary teachers. From what I have read in primary science books, what primary teachers say they do in science and from the absurd notions that many students bring from their primary science, they might have a point. As far as professional scientists that have come from research labs that have come into teaching, they are not any better as teachers because of their research experience. Many have come into teaching because of family reasons, e.g. wanting to have the same holidays as their children, or were made redundant et c., but not for reasons that they would be in their element, doing something they love, for its intrinsic value and therefore have no reason or impulse to be creative.
The same goes for ex-bankers and soldiers, although, a military school for expulsees (pardon the neologism) would be effect and cheap – a school with military discipline and military sanctions, but with psychologists and professional, dedicated teachers.

Towards the middle of the debate, the scientists seemed to change their tone, “Science and the arts are the pillars for life.” Well, I wholeheartedly agree. The production of art is uniquely human and we always have done it. Why we do it is debated as much as what it is, but perhaps Oscar Wilde nailed it with, “All art is quite useless.” In that it has no practical value, but is bursting with spiritual an emotional value and in this way we know we are alive.

Where do we go from here? Well, keep the debate going and sign up for for a such as

To return to Sir Ken and Saturday Live, he wants, as we all do confident products of our education system. We have that in spades, but they are confident in their ignorance. To paraphrase Bertrand Russell, the ignorant have no doubt, while the clever are full of doubt. This video clip amply illustrates the point.

Here's more from Sir Ken:

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Sleepy Teenagers

I have just read this about training teenagers to sleep,
Again, we have wheel reinvention. There is something called the flicker response that fires up the reptillian brain for food or danger. Either way, it is stressful. What TV and computers do is also fire up this flicker response. Many teachers know this.

What the article does not address is that teenagers have a different diurnal rhythm than children and adults. Generally, they tire later and cannot get to sleep at adult and children's bedtimes as well. They also do not have the same natural getting up times, again being later. In many school districts in California, senior high schools start later and the school day is longer. Want seems to result from this is lower crime and better grades.

How about we learn from others instead of always finding out the same things in isolation.

Staffroom Cliques

I wrote this in response to a comment on a Torygraph blog

I have yet to touch on the dynamics of the staffroom/department and I'm glad you have. I have seen great teachers bullied, harassed, pushed out, suffered all sorts of horrors as a knock-on effect of the stresses occasioned by their caring 'colleagues'.
In a book called Advice to Clever Children by Celia Green, the point is made that much that appears as overt altruism is, in fact, hatred and more particularly, self-hatred. This is why these caring 'colleagues' band together in self-supporting and self-affirming groups. As such, great practitioners are a threat to them and must be eliminated.
I've often thought that survival in schools require you to have a constituency, since standing up to these groups needs support.
In workplace mobbing there are the inveterate mobbers and the inadvertent mobbers. The inadvertent mobbers see what is going on but stay distant, since they do not want the same treatment.
I have also noticed that the inveterate mobbers know all the talk, the jargon, acronyms et c., which tries to systemise the bleedin' obvious and claims that this is what they do to claim their implied assertion that they are great teachers - supported by their clique.
I came to teaching from a career in business as a positive choice and not due to redundancy or any other negative reason. This business background affords me the notion that the further away a worker is from the bottom line, the more likely they are to get involved in political and careerist machinations. Closer to the bottom line, one sees that the bottom line is affected negatively by such activity.
I was once told by a wise teacher that small minds discuss people, larger minds discuss ideas.
I think I am advocating the selection of teachers of greater maturity.

Friday, 11 March 2011

We Don' Need No Edge You Kayshun: Was Waters Being Ironic?

I wrote the following in response to Katherine Birbalsingh's Torygraph blog and the discussion that followed.
I'm sorry if you were inticed in thinking there was going to be something about Floyd, because there is nothing.

I saw a cartoon in the Independent once that said Britain compares itself to Germany ten times more than Germany compares itself to Britain. Perhaps Germany should compare itself more often to Britain, because the same debate is starting there that happened here thirty years ago that has led us to this awful state of state education. If they observe us more closely, perhaps they can avoid our parlous problems.
I taught Theory of Knowledge for the International Baccalaureate Diploma for many years in which students were expected to develop sophisticated argumentative skills and present these arguments in a balanced and rational way. In class discussion and in their reading, they were presented with many different opinions and analyses without fear. For example, Japan's history of WWII, China's version of Tiananmen Square, the Israeli-Palastine conflict et c.
It often struck me that we could not do these things without getting into troubel, if they were in a British state school. I cannot imagine the alternative narratives of the reasons for Britain's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan or the morality of fractional reserve banking being discussed.
I could do these things, possibly, because the students before me were the children of the great and good and therefore it was acceptable for them to develop the critical faculties that might allow them to come to the conclusion that most of the world is being shafted, because they are not among the shafted.
After all, it has been observed that NICRA activists were all grammar school educated, as were many of the other groups in the rest of the free world similarly educated that led to the great upheavals of 1968 and led, eventually to nearly thirty years of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.
To further this argument, in whose interests would be a well educated populace? (rhet.) The idea of the philosopher soldier or the shop assistant with whom you can discuss 3 down in the Times crossword is very nice, but hardly practicable.
On the other hand, true democracy can only come about in a well educated, critical thinking community. It seems the focus of education in this country in my absence has shifted heavily towards utility, or at least has tried to, but utility without critical thinking skills is useless.
I saw another cartoon in the Telegraph of a Conjeror saying,
". . . For my next trick, I will attempt to fail a GCSE . . ."
Apropos of nothing at all.