Strange things are afoot at the Circle K

Yesterday, I blogged a little prayer. Several things have happened since then:

1. The drunk mother to whom I refer literally fell out of a pub on Saturday (and into a busy main road, in front of an ambulance carrying a man who’d had a heart attack! Couldn’t make that up if I tried!!)  and it has now come to the attention of her lovingly-misguided children that Mum is not okay. I’m glad. Children shouldn’t have to worry about their mum, but they told her they were worried and now she’s said she’ll quit. She said she’ll quit smoking too. I’ve heard this from her for 20 years, but nothing beats the concern of your 6 year old to make you quit doing something.

2. Jasmin, who rocks, is Steve’s daughter. Seems like her day got a little brighter

3. Anne, from United Utilities rang to check if my meter had been read and said she’d passed it on for refunding. Above and beyond the call of duty. Thanks, Anne. It almost makes up for being robbed by your company.

4. The boat sold and there will be money by Saturday.

Unfortunately, poor Mr Gove, our Minister for Education, is still ‘on trial’ in the Commons today. I wish him all the best. I know it will mean not all schools end up glamorous and glitzy, but that’s not what makes a good education. I went to visit a friend’s sister once, who works at a very, very exclusive public school in Hertfordshire. High fees, vast lawns, golf classes on Fridays…. like Hogwarts without the magic. And she taught in a portakabin that had a tree growing into it. Still, she was a biology teacher, so she made the most of the tree. But the desks were wobbly, the chairs were mismatched. There wasn’t an interactive whiteboard in sight, and they still get amazing results. Unfortunately, poverty = under-performance, and no amount of shiny atriums will iron out that so easily.

I’ve just checked out my nemesis the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust – they’re my nemesis because I did some work for them. Firstly, it was in the Emirates Stadium at Arsenal. I have no idea how much that venue is to hire, but I’d like to bet it’s not as cheap as, say, a mid-budget hotel and conference facility. Secondly, they’d rounded up ‘coasting’ schools and told them off. Yeah, not how you inspire achievement. Thirdly, they have all these bizarre rules for conferences, like providers can’t give out handouts. As a teacher, you judge a course by its handouts. How, also, are you supposed to remember anything? They didn’t even provide slide-show notes! Also, there was no agenda. There were no aims, no outcomes and it was for a very mixed audience.

Geoff Barton, my hero, presented the first session. It was great for motivation and common sense. It was also, sorry Geoff, lacking in actual, practical tips for improvement. The English section really stuck in my craw, for two reasons. One of these is that English education has, for a long time, been about ‘reading books’. If you don’t read fiction, and worthy fiction at that, you’re not reading. I’ve seen Jake’s report. It says he doesn’t read at home. He does. He reads comics, magazines, things on the internet. He reads quite a bit more than my brother Alastair used to, just because of the internet. The written word is replacing the spoken, right now, for Jake, through texts, instant messaging, status updates etc. He reads a lot. It was however, the bugbear of the teachers there that ‘boys don’t read’.

Well, should boys read fiction?? Do men read fiction? My dad reads about a book a year. He enjoys it. It’s always a Lee Child book. He reads the papers sometimes. Steve reads off the internet, only for information. He never, ever reads for pleasure. Al reads from time to time. John, my step-dad, is the most educated ‘intellectual’ man I know. He reads the Guardian daily (online) and the Observer. He reads academic economics books and studies. He reads books about cricket, autobiographies and history, especially of Manchester City. I never see him read ‘a book’ (fiction). Dale, my step-brother, reads sci-fi, that last bastion of man-centred reading. He loved Lord of the Rings and Terry Pratchett. He likes humorous sci-fi or epic fantasy. My Gramps read Wilbur Smith and the Daily Mail…

*Just as an aside, the Daily Express headline yesterday made me almost wet myself. It said: ‘One in Five Britons to be Ethnics.’ I kid not*

So, boys read. Men read. They just don’t read what women read. Or, specifically, what middle-class women read. Fairly educated women read books prolifically. All my girlfriends read a lot. My mum and nana read all the time. So does my sister. And we read junk.

Who really reads those books on the Man Booker list? One or two break through, but they’re middle class readers, academics, predominantly female.

So, to have a session moaning that boys don’t read isn’t good.

Secondly, his advice about getting a C was reductive at best and educationally unsound at worst. He reduced it to a D grade checklist: a recipe for how pupils can get a C. Well, sorry, Geoff. I’ve marked thousands of exam scripts and what you said was a C, isn’t. Maybe that’s where people are going wrong.

Anyway… I see Sir Bob Geldof is presenting the next conference. More money than sense, the SSAT. I’m not being funny, but what does Sir Bob know about education?? Fuck all? Close to Fuck all? Tenuous link: he and his kids went to school once. Now, I like Sir Bob, but he’s not exactly who I’d choose to head a conference about education in England.

Hah. I also see they’ve got the publicity-seeking psychologist-whore ‘Professor’ Tanya Byron. Hmmm. Dubious Labour connections there. She writes the most trite, patronising ‘psychology’ reports ever. She wrote an article about her husband being fat and he got a book out of it. I’m aghast. He wasn’t even that fat. She co-created The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle, picking up on middle-class anti-Jeremy Kyle mentality, and her back story is filled with media connections. What I dislike most is the line on a top search for her that says ‘The Prime Minister asked me to write…’

“Asked ME…” It’s so vain.

Anyway, between pseudo-pop-psychology of low ecological value, based purely on this woman’s usually personal opinion (she’s very good at giving that out, and being patronisingly middle-class) with no science behind it, and the other non-teachers and non-educationalists (a guy quoted as inspiring the uber-middle-class Slumdog Millionaire and an opera singer) there are three people who have an educational background.

SSAT? Huge waste of cash on ‘nu’ values and divergent thinking that doesn’t actually get to the root of the problem: what makes a good learner, and how can our teachers ensure they get good learning?

Anyway, back to the point. Good luck Michael. And, just in case you’re wondering what to do next, look at getting the SSAT to cut back their ridiculous speakers and make their conferences sharing of good practice. Not just a whole load of ‘fashionable’ and ‘important’ people in the world who have little idea what happens in a classroom.

It all seems, again, like the SSAT going for showy and shiny over substance and science. Hmmm. Theme of the last 13 years of Government, it seems.

I’m particularly interested in how these SSAT aims are going to be achieved by Sir Bob, and Professor Byron et al:

How should students learn?

I might go to the conference, for a laugh! I’d quite look forward to hearing TB talk about pedagogy and practice.

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