Tag Archives: government policy

Top five things more likely to make me quit teaching than equal marriage

I was quite startled last night to discover that my profession is being used as a political pawn once again (no that’s not a shock in itself – quite used to that!). This time it’s being claimed (by the Coalition for Marriage) that the very idea of Equal Marriage is causing a shortage of teachers in the UK.

Just for fun, we’re going to ignore the first and very obvious fact that there is no shortage of teachers, and the second fact that sharing any nasty little homophobic views you have has been against the law for teachers for some time, and I’m going to share my ‘top 5’ things that just might make me (in some cases, have made me) consider quitting the job I’m passionate about. I needed to limit it to 5 since, as I’m sure you’ll realise, there are rather more factors that would come higher up the list than the Equal Marriage Bill.

1: Arbitrary and dishonest goalpost shifting, aka the #GCSEfiasco. Do you have any idea how hard it is to talk to GCSE English candidates about their options and likely outcomes now?

2: Rushed overhaul of examinations without listening to consultation. Yes, like Guardian’s “Secret Teacher” column of a couple of weeks ago, I accept that A Levels could do with reform, but sort of  – not entirely – removing AS levels, and focusing exclusively on how and when the exams are taken (once, after two years – no modules, no resits) hardly seems the best way to achieve this.

3: Fear of teaching the new GCSEs which are not tiered (no ‘higher’ and ‘foundation’), which we’re somehow claiming is fairer and gives everyone an equal chance, and which are at the same time harder. I cannot for the life of me picture how one exam can test the A*-G range.

4: More concrete (read pay-enforced) responsibility for students’ results. Of course I accept that I have a role to play, but my input is far from the only factor – merely the only one I personally have control over.

5: Consistent and systematic rubbishing of my professionalism in the media. I’m responsible for riots, family breakdown and the country’s economic decline, apparently.

Clearly, as I said, there are more. I was quite tempted to simply put “Gove” as my top potential reason for quitting, but that particular factor is a hundred reasons by itself…

And just in case anyone’s wondering, I’m in favour of equal marriage and feel that its presence in the news has given me more opportunities to challenge homophobia in teens (which there is a lot of by the way – many teens are immature, after all). It’s also made it possible to show that homophobics are in the minority, which I’ve never been able to so easily claim before.


I’m not going to post at length here (it could get horrifically ranty), but here’s where we are:

GCSE English fiasco

  • Kids in Wales who sat WJEC English Language GCSE have had their results changed as a result of the grade boundaries being moved
  • Kids in England who sat WJEC English Language GCSE have not
  • Kids in Wales who sat other boards’ English Language GCSE have not

EBC Qualifications

Kids who are currently in yr 7 will sit the new EBC qualifications in English, Maths and Science when they complete yr 11. They will have to sit a 3-hr exam for each subject and no coursework will be included. Resits will not be possible. The remaining EBacc subjects (Languages and Humantities) will be sat from the following year, with non-core subjects following later. The exam boards are preparing their bids to compete for the right to offer each subject; schools/colleges/pupils will not have a choice – there will be one specification for each subject. These papers will not be tiered; all pupils will face the same questions/tasks.

Because of the preparation time needed to create exams, it will not be possible to reverse these decisions, no matter what the outcome of the next election. Yes, that’s right. Obviously, there is some kind of consultation period, but it’s hard to imagine this not going ahead at this point.

It is possible for Lib Dem to claim that we/they have ‘won’ in that there will not be a return to an O Level/CSE style division, but in reality all that has happened is that only the O Level equivalent will be available. There will be more failures, and this is to be seen as a sign that the new exams are more robust. Those who are not entered for the EBC (or the EBacc – it’s not entirely clear) will be issued with a statement of achievement, which sounds rather like a school report or reference outlining their abilities.

Need I repeat that Gove must go?

Riots and Looting in London (and elsewhere)

Never having lived in London, I feel unqualified to comment on its current situation, but at the same time I’m astounded by the simplicity and narrow-mindedness of some of the arguments I’ve seen in blog comments and on Twitter (including let’s shoot them, it’s because of single parents, this proves the BNP is right etc etc). I thought a simple round-up of some of the excellent writing I’ve seen on the subject would be a good idea.

I’m including the Telegraph’s piece about the context. It has been widely retweeted, but that’s because of its quality. Neither condoning the rioters’ actions, nor simply dismissing those individuals, Mary Riddell explores various contributing factors.

Many of the most affecting pieces I’ve read have been on blogs, often written by Londoners.
Jen Campbell (of the fabulous ‘Weird Things People Say in Bookstores’) wrote a lovely piece entitled ‘I Heart London‘.
Stella Duffy has two excellent posts on her blog: from the early hours of this morning, musing on the coverage of the riots and what there is left to celebrate about London/Britain; from this afternoon sharing her experiences out in her local community.
From another bookshop blog (The Big Green Bookshop) – an initial post from Sunday about the devastation in their local area (Wood Green) and a follow up from today, explaining how things are looking in the neighbourhood now.

As well as all these, of course, I’ve taken comfort (as have many) from the @riotcleanup and #riotwomble campaigns and this wonderful picture of the community cleanup operation and this great image of solidarity and support.

I hope that normal service will be resumed shortly. I was going to post a book review today, but it seemed too frivolous to do so.

Tuesday Tidings: I need discipline and fear

According to Oliver Letwin, I do, anyway. That’s the problem with us public sector workers these days – we’ve grown too comfortable and complacent. Probably the students are already too comfortable and satisfied as well; perhaps the cane would help? Or maybe they should bring it in for the staff? My college has a rather lovely quad – public floggings, perhaps?

Interestingly, in this same week I came across this article from Channel 4 News about the suicide rate among teachers (it’s almost doubled in recent years, with teachers now 30-40% more likely to commit suicide than others). The article draws a fairly clear connection between teacher suicide and the Ofsted regime:

Teachers often cite the pressure they experience in the run-up to Ofsted inspections – the usually triennial assessment of schools and individual teachers, with grading from inadequate to outstanding. The inspections make them feel like they can “make or break their reputations, and by extension the school, so it is extremely high stakes”, Mr Illingworth added.
“It’s to do with teachers not trusting Ofsted, which has proved to be a very erratic inspection agency: a school can be outstanding one year and failing the next: so teachers feel there is no consistency among inspectors. They’re therefore extremely nervous as they don’t know what to expect, how to prepare.”

In the past few years teachers have been held more accountable for students’ achievements than ever before. Students making little to no effort; students with long-term personal or health problems; students working doggedly in very difficult circumstances. All assessed the same way – what the last school got out of them + x National Curriculum ‘Levels’ = their expected achievement. Unfortunately, people are neither machines nor products and it just doesn’t work like that. Thankfully for us, some students will blossom in sixth form and ‘outperform’ based on the standards expected of them. Others will achieve exactly as expected and some will not. A Levels are still demanding academically, whatever you will read in the papers in a couple of weeks on results day. Hard-working students can do very well in GCSEs, but hard work alone will not get you to an A or A* grade at A Level  (gratifyingly, nor will natural ability alone – both are needed for the top slots). Students’ results depend on considerably more than just the ability, commitment and talent of their teachers (just as they should).

I don’t know where Oliver Letwin obtained his knowledge of the recent workings of schools, colleges, prisons, hospitals and other publically-funded institutions, but I think he’d find it difficult to do much to increase the culture of discipline and fear.

What should children and teens read?

A few things have made me think about this lately: Gove’s ill-fated ‘approved’ reading lists for UK children, that Wall Street Journal article that prompted the #YAsaves hashtag on Twitter, and my 12 yr old’s struggle with a book outside her usual reading.

As with most things related to children, people have opinions about what’s ‘good’ for them to read, or even more prescriptively, what they should read. Our hapless Education Minister believes in the canon and the classics, suggesting that there should be lists of books to be recommended for each school year, and that kids should expect to read 50 books per year. Often these arguments end up linked to general intelligence or, more disturbingly to morality, as though only morally upstanding citizens read, and a good dose of literacy could innoculate our youth against crime.

The WSJ article that has caused so much outrage focuses on concerns about what type of reading should be available to kids. Centred on the belief that only ‘dark’ material is available to teens these days, it implies that negative experience shouldn’t be presented in books for this age group (or perhaps for anyone…). Quite rightly, authors and lovers of YA are protesting that in fact there is a range available – not all teen titles feature horrific future worlds or supernatural violence – and anyway, within these dark storylines, the message is frequently one of hope, strength and generally positive attributes that we would want to nurture in our teens. Hence the wonderful #YAsaves hashtag.

Finally, my own daughter’s slight struggle in reading “The Railway Children”, which of course I remembered fondly, showed me loud and clear how problematic it could be to force challenging older (‘classic’) texts onto reluctant readers. As is clear from the reviews here, I am a reader of YA and I read it because I enjoy it, and also because I enjoy writing it. Having taken another look at the E Nesbit classic, at my 12 yr old’s prompting, I realise how much more difficult a read it is. Obviously there have been differences in the language in the 107 years since it was first published, but also people’s behaviours, expectations and beliefs are quite different to today. She enjoyed it nonetheless, but probably wouldn’t have read to the end if she hadn’t been required to, and she did find reviewing it difficult, because she wanted to say that it was hard to read, but felt that was too negative a comment. This was the third book she’d had to review and the first time she wanted to discuss a review book with me.

In all, I suppose my (not very earth-shattering) conclusion is that children and teens should be encouraged to read by being allowed to explore a range of material. Unfortunately, however, it seems to need saying at the moment.

I don’t think we can (or should attempt to) shield kids from anything and everything negative in the world, and I believe that books have a role in allowing us to explore and extend our emotional lives, which is best achieved by letting us into experiences that we wouldn’t necessarily have ourselves. As a teacher and a parent, I am convinced that setting books which won’t engage kids is the very best way to turn out non-readers. Seeing my booky daughter struggle has absolutely shown me that a kid who didn’t already believe in the power of books would simply see that difficult text as evidence that they were right to see books as boring.

How the Coalition Killed the Gruffalo

Ok, so that’s a bit of a stretch.  But our forests and woodland are an integral part of our story heritage – and our ‘greenest government ever’ wants to sell them off.  You can read more about that – and about a campaign against this thoughtless move – here.

Without woodland, European folklore and myth would not be what it is.  And what it is leads in a glorious and psychologically-satisfying line to the Gruffalo.  (Did you think I’d forgotten my sensationalist title?)

From the hiding place of our national rebel hero: Robin Hood, to that other well-known Hood who shouldn’t have strayed off the path, the forest lurks in our psyche as a place of darkness, of secrecy and of danger.  And Julia Donaldson’s contemporary classic uses these same resonances, set as it is in the “deep dark wood”.

Plaque available from http://www.angelsandfairies.co.uk/ 

Where would our national consciousness be without the tales of Sherwood and its outlaws?  Or the impish figure of the Green Man?  Or the fairy tales of the Grimms, Perrault et al?  The forest is a central trope in our literary and mythic heritage, hovering in our unconscious as a symbol of depth, danger and daring.  Losing it would obviously have terrible consequences for our ecosystem and our leisure time, but also for our identity as a nation.

Joined up thinking? …

I cannot believe that our libraries are in danger from the same government who claim to want a return to a ‘traditional’ curriculum and ‘traditional’ values in teaching and assessment.  How can this be?

On the one hand, we are told that spelling, grammar and punctuation should be assessed on all GCSE and A Level papers with marks deducted for errors, whilst on the other, the rich resource of reading is being pulled out from under our feet.

This is such shortsightedness and an incredible threat to our culture.  While I could not wholeheartedly accept the ‘return to tradition’ rhetoric around kings and queens and Dickens and Austen, it’s lunacy to deprive people of access to good and varied reading material.

Yes, Michael Gove and Ed Vaizey, I blame you.  Maybe you should speak to one another – like the writing blogosphere is today.

As a parent, I use the library regularly with my two girls (currently 7 and 12), who value it for its offer to try something new, to take a risk in your reading with an author or genre you’ve never come across before.  And now that real bookshops are crowded off the highstreets in our cookie cutter shopping malls, libraries are more important for this than ever.

As a teacher, I often encourage my students (sixth formers taking A Level English) to use their local library – to encounter a dictionary that fills a whole shelf, to access a wide range of written language for analysis, or to use the internet or even just a quiet place when it’s tricky to work at home (you try studying for A Levels when sharing a bedroom and having no online access at home).

These are just the immediate concerns that I as an individual have – where will my girls find those happy stumbled-upon treasures, and how can our college library offer everything my students need?  Others have eloquently blogged about wider concerns – see the links below as a starting point, and/or check out the #cftb (Campaign for the Book) threads on Twitter.