Boris Johnson Is A Very Clever Man

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We all exaggerate in interviews. Whether it’s claiming that your worst trait is your perfectionism when actually it’s your lack of punctuality or taking sole credit for a team effort. It’s what makes internal interviews harder – you can’t bullshit. The interviewers already know it wasn’t you who introduced that new initiative and that you leave slightly too early at the end of the day for their liking. So you have to feel sorry for Boris Johnson- he’s currently in the middle of the most important interview he’ll ever have and it’s internal. You see Boris Johnson wants to be Prime Minister.

Boris has decided the best way to become Prime Minister is to try and get people to vote to leave the EU in the Referendum. Boris Johnson is a very clever man. Boris knows that lots of members of the Conservative Party want out of the EU and he hopes that by campaigning for Brexit those members will vote for him. Boris’ friend David is campaigning to Remain in the EU and Boris knows he needs to oppose the Prime Minister to have a chance of becoming the Prime Minister. Boris Johnson does not care whether we are members of the EU. Boris Johnson cares about being Prime Minister.

Boris Johnson is a very clever man. He knows that a lot of people who want to leave the EU want to do so because they believe it will reduce immigration. Boris knows that people who are scared of immigrants will be reassured by a well-spoken man in a suit confirming that they are right to be scared of immigrants. He knows that people who are scared of immigrants want a well-spoken man in a suit to confirm that immigrants ARE causing the hospital waiting times and the lack of school places. Boris Johnson knows that immigration is not the reason for hospital waiting times or the lack of school places. He also knows that most people will have forgotten about that time in 2013 when he claimed to be the “only British politician who will admit to being pro-immigration“. Boris was born in New York. His Grandfather was Turkish and his Grandmother was Swiss. Boris Johnson does not care about immigration. Boris Johnson cares about being Prime Minister.
boris

Boris Johnson is a very clever man. He knows the things that he has to say to make people vote for him. In his speech yesterday Boris Johnson tried to distance himself from the “Fat Cats” on the Remain side. Boris tried to present himself as a regular, normal-sized cat. Boris Johnson doesn’t care about fat cats. He also doesn’t care about thin cats. And he really doesn’t care about poor cats or stray cats.

Boris Johnson cares about being Prime Minister.

 

Sorry, Nicky, I’m out.

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Dear Nicky Morgan,

Please accept this as written notice of my resignation from my role as Assistant Head and class teacher. It is with a heavy heart that I write you this letter. I know you’ve struggled to listen to and understand teachers in the past so I’m going to try and make this as clear as possible. In the six short years I have been teaching your party has destroyed the Education system. Obliterated it. Ruined it. It is broken.

The first thing I learnt when I started teaching in 2010 is that teaching is bloody hard work. It’s a 60 hour week only half of which is spent doing the actual teaching. It eats into the rest of your life both mentally and physically. If it’s not exercise books and resources taking over your lounge and kitchen table it’s worrying about results or about little Ahmed’s home life keeping you awake at 2am. I’ve never minded this. I’ve always been happy to give my life over to teaching as I believed it to be such a noble cause. Besides we’re not the only profession who work long hours. What I didn’t realise back in 2010 is that the job would get harder each year.

First you introduced the phonics check. I was in Year 1 that year and continued teaching phonics to the best of my ability. I didn’t spend much time teaching children to differentiate between real words and “non-words” because I was focused on, you know, teaching them to read. I sat and watched child after child fail that ridiculous “screening” because they read the word “strom” as “storm”. The following year I taught to the test. We spent weeks practising “words” and “non words” and sure enough our results soared.

My second year brought with it the changes to the Ofsted framework and the obsession with data began. Oh the sodding data game! The game that refuses to acknowledge how long a child has spoken English or whether or not they have books or even food at home. The data game changed things. Attainment in Maths and English was no longer just important, it would almost entirely decide the judgement made about your school. Oh and whilst we’re on the judgements “Satisfactory” was no longer satisfactory – it was the far more sinister sounding: “Requires Improvement.”

From then on things began to unravel at an alarming rate. The threat of forced academisation hung over each set of SATs results and the floor targets continued to rise. Gove cut the calculator paper (because calculators are cheating) and introduced SPaG. Grammar was no longer for writing – it was for grammar. Around the same time he also froze teachers’ pay and doubled the contributions we would have to make to our pensions. Teachers were suddenly worse off than they had been the previous year and under more pressure than ever before.

So teaching became harder still and life in schools started to change. There were new hoops to jump through and somehow we just about managed to get through them. It meant sacrificing everything that wasn’t SPaG, English or Maths but we did it – we learnt how to play the game. Outside of the safety of our schools though there was a bigger game being played – one that we had no chance of winning: the status of the teaching profession was being eroded away. There was the incessant name calling and smears in the media from “the blob” to “the enemies of promise” and, of course, “soft bigots” with “low expectations”. You drip fed the message: teachers were not to be trusted and it worked: the public stopped trusting us.

As bleak as it sounds, those years look like a golden age compared to what we have to deal with now.

I was delighted when Gove went. I knew there was every chance he’d be replaced by someone equally awful but I couldn’t imagine things getting worse. I figured the Tories were done playing with Education and they’d move on to something else. I was so wrong .


This year brought with it our greatest challenge to date – the new assessments. For most of the year we were completely in the dark. We had no idea what form the tests would take and how they would be scored (we’re still not entirely sure on the latter.) There was also the introduction of the SPaG test for 7-year-olds (which was sadly scrapped because of your own department’s incompetence.) The criteria for assessing writing has changed dramatically.  Gone is the best fit approach and what has replaced it is an arbitrary list of criteria of the things children should be able to do – some of which are grammatical rules that your department have made up . Year 6 were tested on their ability to read long words and remember the names of different tenses. Whatever foundation subjects were still being taught have had to be shelved in favour of lesson after lesson on the past progressive tense.

In some ways I don’t feel like a teacher at all any more. I prepare children for tests and, if I’m honest, I do it quite well. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of as it’s not as if I’ve provided my class with any transferable, real life skills during the process. They’ve not enjoyed it, I’ve not enjoyed it but we’ve done it: and one thing my children know how to do is answer test questions. They’ve written raps about how to answer test questions, they’ve practised test questions at home and test questions in school, they’ve had extra tuition to help them understand the test questions. They can do test questions – they just haven’t had time to do anything else.

At the same time you’ve cut school budgets to pieces. This one hasn’t been widely reported yet but it will be over the next 18 months. I know of 3 head teachers who are considering having their own class next year as they can’t afford to replace the teachers that are leaving. Most schools I know have already cut back on support staff (read: made valuable, hard-working teaching assistants redundant.) And this is just the start of it. I suppose the only thing schools should be grateful for is that you introduced performance related pay and, with the leap in National Expectations, there will be fewer teachers getting their pay rise this September.

In many ways I’m one of the lucky ones – I work for two smart Head Teachers in a school with an SLT who genuinely care about teacher workload. Meaningless box ticking exercises are kept to a minimum and meetings are kept brief. We only have INSET on average every other week and book scrutiny/monitoring is only carried out once a term. Demands on teachers’ time are kept to a minimum but there is very little we can do to protect teachers from the unreasonable expectations being put on them by your Government, the threat of no-notice Ofsted inspections and, of course, the ever increasing risk of academisation.

I know I’m not alone in feeling like this. A recent survey found that nearly 50% of teachers are considering leaving in the next 5 years. Just within my own family my fiance, my sister and my sister-in-law have all quit the profession in the last 12 weeks. Rather than address this issue you’ve decided to allow schools to recruit unqualified teachers to fill the gaps. The final nail in the profession’s coffin. I don’t want to stop teaching. I love teaching but I have no interest in being part of this game any more.

Worse than being a teacher in this system is being a child at the mercy of it and to them I say this: we tried our best to fight these changes: we rallied, we went on strike, we campaigned and made as much noise as we could. I’m sorry it didn’t work and I’m sorry that I’m not strong enough to keep working in this system but as I’ve told many of you many times: when someone is being mean to you – you ask them to stop. If they continue to be mean you walk away. It is now time for me to walk away. I’ll keep up the fight though.

Maybe in time things will change and, when that time comes, I can come back to the job I loved but until then sorry Nicky – I’m out.

Yours Sincerely,

Zoe

P.S: One last thing – if you do end up losing your job over your shambolic running of the Education System – make sure they don’t replace you with Boris.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Words

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When I was three-years-old I learnt the word peculiar. It was the first Big Word I learnt. I fell in love with it and said it over and over again. Earlier this year I learnt the word defenestration. I fell in love with it and said it over and over again. A couple of months ago I taught it to my class and they fell in love with it and used it over and over again.

We all agree it is it important to teach children the Big Words. You know, words like: serendipitous, phosphorescent, acquiesce and meticulous. The Big words. There are lots of ways to teach them. You can make children say them lots and lots of times. You can write stories with them. You can sing songs about them or show children pictures to help them remember them. Children like learning Big Words because using them makes them feel clever. Even working class children like learning Big Words.

The problem is there are just so many Big Words we could teach. At the moment there are 1,025,109 words in the English language and hundreds of thousands of those are Big Words. Sadly, we cannot teach all of them. We do our best and  we use a broad and rich vocabulary ourselves but we still won’t cover all the Big Words because there are so many of them. Some words we won’t have encountered with our classes because they are quite obscure. Words like sepulchral, maieutic and mallemaroking. It’s important to teach Big Words in context and that’s harder to do with those particular Big Words.

Some children will have parents who use Big Words so they will learn Big Words at home. Some children have parents who don’t speak any English so the Big Words they learn might be in Tamil, Punjabi or Romanian. Those children can still learn Big Words in English at school but they won’t learn as many at home. Some children have lots of books at home so they might learn Big Words by reading those. They might learn more than a child who does not have books at home.

This week Year 6 children across the country had to do a reading test with lots of Big Words in it. One of those Big Words was rehabilitation. The children in my class have learnt lots of Big Words this year. This week alone they have learnt: superfluous, pedantic and plethora but they haven’t learnt rehabilitation. Even the best teachers – the ones who have taught lots of the Big Words – might not have taught the word rehabilitation. They might have taught other Big Words instead like enigmatic, petrichor or discombobulated .

Some children might have learnt the word rehabilitation at home, in a book or on TV. Children whose parents don’t speak any English or who don’t have books at home, or whose parents haven’t taught them the word rehabilitation, might not have known it unless their teacher had specifically taught it to them. Those children wouldn’t have been able to answer the question about rehabilitation of the dodo because they would not have known what rehabilitation meant and you’re not allowed a dictionary in The Test With The Big Words because that’s cheating.

If children’s success in The Test With Big Words relies on their knowledge of very specific Big Words then maybe we should let the teachers know. That way the teachers can teach the children the Big Words they need to know before the children have to do The Test With Big Words. Especially as we are using the results of The Test With The Big Words to decide which schools are the best.

Or do we have to teach all the words? All 1,025,109 just in case one of those words comes up on the test?

What a load of b******s this is!

children's writing

There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the new KS1/2 assessments; the most common complaint is that the tests are simply too hard and the teachers haven’t been given adequate time to prepare the children for them. Next week the current Year 6 will be tested on a curriculum that they have only been taught for half of their KS2 career. The Government will tell you that these tests are necessary to raise standards. If by raising standards you mean more children will be able to identify subordinating conjunctions then yes, standards will have been raised. It will have been at the cost of teaching science, history, art, music, PE and anything else not being tested but trust me these children will bloody well know what a subordinating conjunction is.

In most schools KS1 have only ever known the new curriculum as it was introduced at the beginning of their time in Year 1. With this in mind, in my opinion the KS1 Maths isn’t too unacheivable and even a school such as my own, where the starting point is well below national average, I think we can get them there. The SPaG test has famously been cancelled so we won’t worry about that for now. My problem is with the writing assessment. For those not familiar with the new framework – this is the new assessment framework. It will beforever burnt into my retinas.

writing assessment

At first glance it looks straight forward enough: a list of criteria that children have to meet to be working towards, at or exceeding the expected standard. However this document is not to be used as “best fit” guide – a child has to meet ALL of the criteria for “working at” to be graded as such. If there is just one area lacking evidence then they cannot be “working at” they are “working towards”. I might have been able to accept that until I looked closely at some of this criteria. I’d like to draw your attention to point two on the “working at the expected standard” list:

Using sentences with different forms in their writing (statements, questions, exclamations and commands)

We’re all familiar with these different types of sentences and we’ve been teaching children to use them for years. At this point you need this additional piece of information. I present to you: The DfE Exclamation Sentence

exclamation sentences

So let’s unpack this a bit. To be judged as MEETING National Expectations children have to have to use sentences that begin with “what” or  “how” that include a verb and end in an exclamation mark. This is what the DfE has decided National Expectations are. I challenge you to open up ANY book on your bookcase at home and find just one example of a DfE Exclamation Sentence. You won’t because that’s not how writers use exclamations. I spent quite a lot of time looking for “real life” examples of DfE Exlamation Sentences to share with my class and, other than Little Red Riding Hood, I failed to find any. Whilst searching I did a quick assessment of the writers on my bookshelves and Shakespeare, Dickens, Sue Townsend and Richard Dawkins were all graded as “Working Towards National Expectations” because of the lack of DfE exclamation sentences in their work.

Now I have some incredibly talented writers in my year groups. Writers who at just 6-years-old can draw a reader in with their story telling. Some of these children will still be told that they are below National Expectations unless I can prove that they are independently using DfE Exclamation Sentences.

Those of you that follow this blog will know that I recently wrote a post about weak English teaching in primary schools and how important it is that children are actually taught how to write. I believe we should be teaching children how to structure sentences and how to link clauses from a young age. This isn’t about having low expectations my issue is that we are assessing children’s ability to follow grammar rules that have been made up by the DfE. I’ve not even tried to convince the children that this will improve their writing or make it more interesting for the reader – I’ve just started being really honest with them.See Figure 1.

Figure 1

My most able writers will absorb everything you tell them and sure enough after a lesson on exclamation sentences they started shoe-horning exclamation sentences into their writing. Their writing is now considered to be meeting/almost exceeding National Expectations but it’s clunky and awkward to read. We’re now in a situation where teachers are having to spend time teaching made up grammar rules which leaves them very little time to teach the things that might actually improve children’s writing.

As always I shared my frustrations on Twitter and I believe this exchange best sums up the situation.

tweets exclamations

Use Your Head

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You could almost have missed this nugget amongst the recent KS1 assessment balls up drama. Watching the DfE in crisis would perhaps of been the highlight of the past couple of weeks had three of my favourite people Toby Young, Michael Wilshaw and and Sir Anthony Seldon not put there little heads together and come up with something even more bizarre. They’ve proposed a School Leader’s College that will allow graduates and “career changers” to progress from NQT to Head Teacher in just 2 years. They claim that it will address the shortage of “great heads” in schools at the moment.  I’ll unpack that for anyone who may have been skim reading: they claim that taking graduates straight from university/career changers without any teaching experience and putting them in charge of schools will increase the number of “great heads.”

The problem here is the idea that two years of leadership training can make up for experience. Obviously there is not always a direct correlation between years of service and skills (doing the same job badly every day for 20 years does not mean you’re owed an SLT position as a reward for “years of service.”)

I’ve attended a number of different Leadership Programmes and courses over the last couple of years and whilst some have been very interesting, others have been a PowerPoint of quotes about leadership. Despite days of leadership “training” any leadership skills I can claim to have I’ve developed on the job. Sorry Young, Wilshaw and Sheldon here are the things your leadership college couldn’t have provided me.

Credibility

Walking into an interview aged 28 to argue my case for why I should be an Assistant Headteacher I felt the need to address the “issue” of my age. I cannot imagine, two years out of university standing in front of a school as Head Teacher explaining that I’d never taught and only graduated two years ago. Firstly – why should any group of staff trust a school leader that hasn’t been a teacher? Apart from the Business Manager, my entire SLT team teach. The Assistant Heads and Deputy Dead each have class and the Head teaches Year 2 Maths every day. You’re a more credible leader if you’re able to practise what you preach. Being in class and juggling Assistant Head duties is challenging but the benefit is I am able to model the expectations in my own classroom. Also when we have to make decisions about monitoring, marking, assessment etc… we can make them with teacher’s workload at the front of our minds.

Difficult conversations

On one course I attended I had to role play having difficult conversations. You know the sort: a member of staff isn’t carrying out their duties or their lesson observation didn’t go well or even a member of staff breaks down on you because they’re struggling to manage their workload or have things going on at home. These role plays in no way prepared me for the first time I had to have a “difficult conversation” because the role play was exactly that – play.

It’s the very fact that the staff you work with every day are real people with feelings that make those conversations “difficult” in the first place.The only way I learnt to have those conversations was by having them over and over and over again. To begin with there was always a more senior member of staff with me who would lead the conversation and who I could learn from – often my head teacher. Had my head teacher only graduated two years ago would they have been able to support me in those situations?

Understanding How Schools Run

By working my way up from class teacher I was able to develop and hone my skills gradually. In the first couple of years I was just getting my head around the logistics of running a class and the small matter of how to plan, deliver and assess lessons. Then I moved on to working in a team leading a foundation subject – this gave me the experience of writing, monitoring, and leading on a School Improvement Plan, later I became a Governor and got my head around the “behind the scenes” running of the school.

By the time I got my job as Assistant Head I’d taught across two Key Stages, observed dozens of lessons, written action plans, attended Governors meetings, run workshops for parents, lead INSET for staff, chaired meetings, helped with PTA events, written and directed a school play, written and ratified policies, held parents consultations, worked with external agencies, dealt with child protection cases and countless other experiences that could only have been gained through working in a school. Since September I’ve been confronted with new challenges nothing like the ones I’ve previously faced but having a secure foundation of skills and experiences to draw on and an experienced SLT to support me I have been able to deal with them.

I’ve worked in three schools in the last 6 years. That’s 3 different sets of staff, children, Governors and parents. Three sets of policies, 3 different timetables, 3 different curricula, 3 staffing structures, 3 different sets of values and potentially by the end of this year, 3 different Ofsted inspections. Every head teacher I’ve ever worked for has taught me something about the leadership. Most of the time that has been by setting a fantastic example although occasionally I’ve picked up what not to do. I’m not sure I ever want to be a Head Teacher but were the time to come I hope I would be able to learn from both the wisdom and mistakes of the leaders I’ve worked with as well as my own.

How To Teach

This is perhaps the most important one. The clue is in the job title: Head TEACHER yet so often that second word is overlooked. I would always expect my head teacher to be able to model exactly the sort of standard they expected in the school. If you are going to take tax payer’s money to run an establishment with the purpose of educating children you’d better know a thing or two about educating children. Yes you also need to know about recruitment, sharing a vision, getting people on board, working with the Local Authority (for now at least), speaking to Ofsted, dealing with parents, managing relationships between staff, having difficult conversations and a whole plethora of other skills but if you don’t know how to teach – how do you expect to develop the teachers in your school?

Resilience

6 years of working in a school has hardened me. I can now sit in child protection meetings and listen to accounts of abuse without so much as flinching. Six years ago this would have (and did) reduced me to tears. 6 years in I’m far more able to cope with pressure and stress of leading a school. I’m thicker skinned than I was 6 years and more in control of my emotions (read: crying in the toilets rather than in the staff room.)

I’m much better at saying “no” than I was when I first started teaching. At the beginning of my career my default was to say yes to everything and then have a meltdown when I couldn’t manage it. Now I do my job to the best of my ability but I don’t commit to doing things I won’t be able to deliver on. If I feel someone is trying to pass work on to me that they are meant to do I will say so. This was talking about on a Lead”don’t adopt monkeys that don’t belong to you” which sounds easy enough but in reality takes confidence, courage and experience.


Fast tracking graduates to head teachers is an attempt at a quick fix for a bigger problem. Rather than just waving more people through to headship, regardless of their skills or ability to do the job, why not address the reasons why the people who already working in schools don’t want to be head teachers?