Wednesday, 16 February 2011


There are teachers who can't teach, there are teachers who can teach but are too lazy/tired/ washed up and there are many teachers who can but struggle to do so consistently due to the challenging behaviour in the classroom.

I have a teacher in my department who works hard and with the right classes is a good teacher. However, this teacher can struggle with some classes and the results for last year's GCSE cohort was not good. So this teacher is on an informal capability procedure. Now I have no problem with removing bad teachers but I have a real problem with using such a blunt instrument on struggling teachers. Before I became a teacher I worked in business for 10 years and came across 100s of workshy, lazy and incompetent people. Yet I never knew of anyone who was put on any kind of warning for their performance, they simply didn't get pay rises and soon either improved or moved on. I find it remarkable that schools try to use such blunt instruments as capability so quickly, because as soon as something goes on your record that's your career as good as over.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Germanopoly II

The Germanopoly game really bugged me and then I found this speech by Michael Gove in which he picks out Germanopoly as a prime example of the problems in history teaching. This is symptomatic of the disconnect between what the government is saying, and  as you can guess something I'm broadly sympathetic towards, and what actually happens on the ground. As I have said before the government really needs to get to grips with waht OFSTED regards as good teaching rather than the grand structural plans.


My school is due an OFSTED inspection sometime within the next year. As a consequence the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) have gone crazy on the new OFSTED teaching criteria and brought in a series of highly paid consultants to talk to us all and 'help' us. It was my turn today and it was the usual mix of ' reach for the sky style' platitudes and ideas to engage the students that didn't involve them actually having to read or think. My favourite was the suggestion that I play a game called 'Germanopoly' from the best selling German A level textbook (Weimar and Nazi Germany, Hite and Hinton if you're interested). This is a game to help the students 'understand' the Nazi economy, it is unbelievable simple, fatuous and in bad taste - but it's fun! and that's what counts for our education watchdog.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

I have a dream!

I support the idea of providing parents with some (if limited) ability  to choose schools. The problem is that the Free Schools and Academies are free in some ways, see the list below but aren't free from the constraints of OFSTED and their idiotically prescriptive view of teaching.

  • the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff
  • greater control of their budget
  • freedom from following the National Curriculum
  • freedom to change the length of terms and school days
  • freedom from local authority control.

Freedom for schools should mean freedom to teach how they see fit. After all in a market led economy, surely choice should mean providing the consumers (parents and children) with a choice of the mode of delivery. As a consumer of electricity I couldn't care less how the electricity company is regulated but I do care about the cost. Similarly, parents are mostly concerned about the outcomes of teaching not the peripherals.

So my dream is allow schools to advertise how they teach. Imagine 2 schools in a local area.

School A "We follow a traditional curriculum and teaching methods. Children are pushed to achieve, are streamed by ability, sit in rows, make notes, and sit frequent tests.

School B "We allow pupils to work at their own pace in a mixed ability classes. Our teaching is interactive, we teach using a variety of learning styles and we never sit tests, they are far too stressful.

My bet is that school A would be heavily oversubscribed. But we don't want the parents to have a say in actual teaching do we?

Friday, 4 February 2011

Choosing the 'right' A levels

The publication of a guide explaining how the 'top' Russell Group universities look down on certain subjects has been met with predictable howls from the left and the usual scorn for Media Studies from the right.
I teach both history and politics and it's clear to me that there is a vast difference between the standards required for history and politics. Politics can be learnt by rote, indeed I had a student at a previous school who achieved a staggering set of results in Politics without understanding a thing, he simply learnt all the model answers he'd been provided with. In his other 2 'academic' subjects he achieved 'Ds'.

It shouldn't be the case that the universities have to choose between different A -levels it's OFQUAL's job to make sure that their is academic equivalence between subjects. However, they don't want to interfere with the 'market' between exam boards and this alongside with the vogue for democratising education has led to the universities having to blacklist subjects . It's this failure to regulate and to be honest with students that has affected the lives of students not the elitism of the Russell group.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

OFSTED Lessons

You teach a group of sixth form students, their ability ranges from a C grade up to A* and one of them wants to study history at university. The topic: The Munich Putsch and its consequences for the Nazi party. What do you do?

The way I think it should be done
Read about the Putsch, provide some different materials for the different abilities (I'm not a complete dinosaur!). Get the students to highlight the key points about the Putsch and make some notes after a discussion. Repeat process for aftermath of Putsch and get them to categorise and prioritise the answers after a discussion.

Homework: Write an essay.

The outcome of this lesson would be a clear understanding of the lesson objective and some useful, well organised notes to revise from. It would also be an Unsatisfactory lesson.

The OFSTED way
Start with a short game to test the current learning - a game of blockbusters or jeopardy perhaps.

Now have some cards prepared get them to work in groups to organise them into a timeline of the Putsch, get the most able students to lead, even though there bored by this fatuous activty that has taken you about 3 hour s to prepare.

Now ask them on their mini whiteboards  to pick out the most important events

Ask them what the aftermath of the Putsch might have been. Show a film clip from the shitty Hitler mini series starring Robert Carlyle about the aftermath. Ask how it differs from their previous views (it's wrong factually anyway but don't worry about that). Keep checking their understanding through the use of thumbs up, coloured cups and assorted bollocks.

Now don't make them read anything - provide a helpful handout with all the changes that occurred after the Putsch and ask them to put a number against them to show the order of significance(after they have discussed it in groups of course). The more able student might also write a couple of sentences to justify his point of view.

It's plenary time now. Ask them to evaluate their learning by working in pairs and writing on a post it note:
What have I learnt?
What have I found easy?
What have I found difficult?
What do I want to know now?

and sticking it on the board.

Homework: Mark a couple of essays that you have sweated blood to make sufficiently crap to be believable.

Outcome: The students have written at most 2 lines, read nothing, have no notes and you get a GOOD from OFSTED.

That's teaching the OFSTED way. For OFSTED 'engagement' is holy writ not the transmission of knowledge

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

OFSTED Lesson observation criteria

One of the disappointing things about the education debate in the mainstream press, and even the TES, is the lack of focus on what is expected to go on in the classroom. The spotlight is usually on macro issues: the quality of teacher training or the problems with league tables but very little about teaching practice.

The new OFSTED criteria for judging lessons has had no coverage in the press, yet it influences teaching throughout the UK and I believe if parents and politicians really knew what was required for a lesson to be rated highly they would be amazed.

The school that I work at is due an OFSTED inspection in the next 2 years and is therefore on high alert, consequently we have had the new criteria pushed hard since September and had a number of OFSTED consultants in, so far I've discovered that teachers are not there to teach but to: 'facilitate learning', that 'learners should make discoveries through their own research', every pupil should know their level at all times and that every child in every lesson needs to make measurable progress.

Over the next few posts I will try and pick apart the OFSTED view of good teaching and what it results in.