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Posts Tagged ‘Commentary’

End of term emotions 

July 2, 2016 Leave a comment

What an emotional few weeks. This time of year is always emotional, but this year that has been ramped up to a whole new level. There is all the usual emotion of Y11 and Y13 classes finishing the year, and this year that has been compounded by the fact that I am leaving my current school at the end of term. 

I’m sad that I won’t work. With some of my colleagues anymore and I’m sad that I won’t get to teach some of my classes next year. On the flip side, I’m excited by the challenge that lays ahead and I’m excited by the fact I’m going to be working with some former colleagues and friends again.

Then I’m devastated by the referendum result. I thinks it’s a disaster for the country for so many reasons. The economy will suffer, the rich diverse culture that we have in Britain will suffer, it will affect touring musicians which may mean many UK based ones will give it up and less overseas stars grace our shores. 

Then there’s the rise in hate crime. In the first week after the referendum there were 300 reported hate crimes against non brits. Up from 60 on a normal week. I find both those figures abhorrent, but the larger one particularly so. To me it shows that the racist and xenophobic underbelly of our society now feel they have been legitimised. It was always going to happen they way Nigel Farage and his cronies have spent the last two decades selling the EU debate as “we want our country back”. 

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A parents hope for the primary years

April 10, 2016 Leave a comment

This post was originally published here on Labour Teachers 6th April 2016.

It’s parents week on Labour Teachers this week, and that has gotten me thinking about my daughter, as she embarks on her journey into education. She’s 3, she’ll be 4 in July, which means when she is 4 years and 6 weeks she will start school,  and that seems far too young!

She’s excited, she came on the visits to te prospective primary schools and we discussed together which ones we all liked before we put the preference form in. She was perhaps a bit too honest, announcing loudly on one tour that she much preferred the other two we’d seen at that point! We find out where she will be attending in a fee weeks.

I do worry though, I worry that as soon as she walks in she will be judged and assessed, and I worry about what the state of the British education system will be if the ideological asset stripping continues. Will there even be a public education system by the time she hits 13?

Schooling is a long process, and there are some things I would like her primary school to provider her with:

A) a good grounding in the basics – she can write her name and a fee other things, knows what all the letters look and sound like and can count, I would like her schooling to build on these basic skills.

B) a wide range of interests topics – I think that during primary schooling a wider curriculum is better, if an area piques her interest then we can explore that with her. I remember my parents building on things I’d learned at school with me and I hope to do the same with her.

C) some great friends. Some of my best friends are the ones I met at primary school, and I’m hoping daughter can build some equally enduring friendships in her time there.

These are my 3 hopes from her primary schooling, none of them have quantifiable targets attached, and I tend to think that the majority of the new tests and measures for the primary sector are about measuring teacher performance, rather than improving outcomes for children or appeasing parents, and that seems a little backwards to me.

Academies, Local Authorities and a Research Based Profession

March 23, 2016 Leave a comment

Today I finally had time to sit and look through the government white paper “Educational Excellence Everywhere”. A catchy title I thought, and I was interested to read what it actually said. I didn’t get chance to read all 150 pages – I will – but I did get to read the first chapter, and I thought I’d frame some initial thoughts.

A fantastic aim

In the foreword Nicky Morgan states that ‘Access to a great education is not a luxury, but a right for everyone.” – Definitely a sentiment I agree with, and certainly ine James Kier Hardie would be proud to hear espoused by a conservative politician, but not one that has always been an obvious policy driver over the last six years.

Academisation and Local Authorities

The white paper continued in this way, setting out an idealistic vision, but in the early stages not much was said about how this would be achieved. There was a lot of talk on the forced academisation of all remaining local authority schools.

There were some qualifying statements about Local Authorities (LAs). The government are hoping to keep the current experience and envision those who run LAs to go and work for academy chains. This fits the Conservative ideology of small state, bigger private sector, and seems to hint that this ideology is the driving force.

They also claim that moving school control from LA control will give greater accountability, as those elected can’t are there to further the interests.pf their constituents and they apparently can’t do this when LAs control schools. This is a nonsensical argument and the reality is in fact the complete opposite. When schools are under local authority control they are run by officers of the local authority who are answerable to elected members. Thus they HAVE to respond swiftly and allay concerns. Academy chains have no such in built accountability to the elected members and hence the electorate.

LAs will focus their role on core functions. These will be – ensuring all have school places, acting as champions for children and families and ensuring the needs of the vulnerable are met. It’s the third one that worries me. Currently local authorities provide a great deal of support to vulnerable children through Ed Psychology, CAMHS, and a whole host of other services and agencies. In the new world of tiny LA budgets, how will they afford to keep up this level and meet this core function?

Teachers, Training and Research

The next section turned it’s attention to teachers. I was a little worried that this white paper seems to ignore the recruitment and retention crisis we are experiencing, and the idea of placing responsibility for accrediting teachers into heads hands worries me. I’m certain that for the vast majority this would be fine, but I have heard some terrible horror stories about bullying from heads, particularly in the primary sector, and to give more power to do this worries me.

There was an extremely positive line on ITT content though:

“We’ll ensure discredited ideas unsupported by firm evidence are not promoted to new teachers.

So no more VAK pushed on unsuspecting ITT students! This is part of a wider drive to get more teachers to engage with research and development a research based profession. This is an idea I am fully behind, but with the caveat that we need to include training on how to engage with research. Every class in every school is a different context. Just because research shows something works some places doesn’t mean it will work everywhere, there are no magic bullets, no snake oils. We can take ideas from research and try them, but we have to adapt them to our own contexts and be able to see when things are just not working.

There are my initial thoughts on the first chapter. Some positives, some worries, and some signs that we are in the process of full privatising our education system. What are your thoughts on the ideas mentioned here?

Questioning Authority

March 1, 2016 Leave a comment

This post was first published here, on Labour Teachers, on 28th February 2016.

In life there are often many ways to reach a certain place. This is true in all aspects. You can take different routes when you travel to get to the same destination, you can solve trigonometric equations a number of ways, you can take many different routes into becoming a teacher, I’m sure there are plenty of examples from other subjects too.

Recently I was reflecting on the way I teach certain topics, and which method to complete them I think is best. This reflection led to a wider discussion and many of the contributers from that wider discussion stated that they preferred the method that they were taught at school. I found this interesting and it got me thinking about things.

I think there are a lot of instances where I am guilty of this. There are certainly topics that I have a preferred method for completing that stems back to the way I was taught, I’ve often suggested that I feel the PGCE is the best route into teaching – and it’s the route I took. I remember discussing with a friend the make up of exams when I was at uni and professing the belief that I thought a linear course was preferable at GCSE and a modular approach was preferable at A level – perhaps this discussion should have suggested we’d both end up.as maths teachers! There are even examples in wider life when I drive home from a friend who lives near my old school’s house I always take a particular route that passes my parents,  and I think it’s because that’s the route my mum always drove me when I was a kid.

I have questioned all of these ideas to some extent. I now believe that different routes into teaching will suit different people and each has its merits and downsides. I now belive that a linear approach is preferable at GCSE and A level. I’m starting to use a different route from friends house that is actually quicker and my reflections gave led me to begin to question the methods I prefer.

It struck me as a blindingly obvious thing to do, but one that I had missed. I’ve become very good at challenging things I read and critically evaluating new things, it’s something I believe is vital and I’ve written on the topic before. But until recently I’d not thought to question some of the other things that stem from childhood – bizarre, perhaps, as I have questioned and left the religion I was brought up to be part of.

Young people take in things they are told by authority figures as hard truths. When we, as teachers, express the view that method A is preferable for solving trigonometric equations then those in our charge will follow that. We all know this, and often we need to ensure we are presenting an unbiased view on things (although trigonometry probably isn’t one of these…). What we sometimes miss, though, is that some of the things we learned as children may have been the opinion of our teachers,  and we need to critically evaluate those things too.

I intend to reflect on the topics I teach and the methods I prefer to ensure that I am teaching the what my students need to see.

Stop with the negativity

February 12, 2016 Leave a comment

This post was first published here, on Labour Teachers, 9th February 2016.

So, this went viral this week. The latest in a long line of post that surely impacts on the already crisis hit recruitment of new staff into the profession. These articles are seemingly written by people eager to combat the myth of lazy teachers working 9-3, but I don’t think that this myth exists anymore. Certainly no one I know actually believes it, and even if they did it wouldn’t matter. I know I don’t only work 6 hours a day,  and so do those closest to me, who cares what others think.

I worry for the author of the article, if this truly is their day then I can see a burn out happening for them in the very near future.  I will admit, a few of the things rang true, but if your day truly contains all of these elements everyday then you need to stop putting insurmountable pressure on yourself.

I work long hours, but I certainly don’t work from 7am to 11pm every day. I would never get time to see my family if I did, I would miss seeing my daughter growing up. That’s 15 hours a day. 75 hours a week. That’s an unsustainable life. If you have found it is actually your life you need to take stock of what your doing.  You need to take a breathe and reflect. You need to work out how you can do what you’re doing more efficiently otherwise you’ll cripple yourself.  And if the weight of this pressure is coming from external places, then you may need to look for a new school. If you intend to make a career in this you may be looking at 50 years til retirement. And no one can work 75 hour weeks for 50 years.

I doubt that anyone actually does encounter all of these issues in a single day, most of us will have encountered most of them, at some point in our teaching lives, but to frame them as a daily occurrence is a worryingly dangerous thing to do at a time where we cannot recruit enough teachers into our schools. How many fine young minds have read this viral article and switched away from thoughts of the profession?  I know at least 1 of my Y11s and at least 1 of my Y13s who have been put off.

The negativity needs to stop. I love my job, I basically get to talk about the beauty of mathematics all day long, a lot of the time with people really keen on the subject. I am alway pleased when students go on to study it at higher education. It would be a shame if others missed out on such a great job because of articles like this, and the often negative secret teacher.

The small things

December 4, 2015 1 comment

This week has been hellish. I’ve felt more ill than I can ever recall feeling but because we had an external review on Thursday I dragged myself in each day, compounding the tiredness and the run down feeling that goes hand in hand with feeling crap. Today was Friday, the end of the week and the chance to try sleep some of the grogginess off was in the offing so I felt positive about it. However a couple of incidents of poor in periods 2 and 4 managed to take the sheen off it a little.

But then period 5 arrived. Period 5 Friday is one of my favourites as I teach year 12 further maths, and today we were talking topology. We were looking at route inspection problems and discussing Euler in great depth. The discussion wandered to the traveling salesman problem and how it can be mapped do all NP problems, meaning that a solution to the traveling salesman problem able to sole any in polynomial time would be enough to prove that P = NP ie that any problem that’s easy to verify can be solved quickly also and earn the mathematician in question a million dollars.

This piqued their interest no end and we had a nice discussion around the millennium prize problemsand the other great unsolved maths problems. This also led onto a discussion of Fermat and his last Theorem. It was really great to see young people so enthused about mathematics and the different types of problems involved,  and to see them trying to get their head round such complex ideas as the Riemann zeta function.

On top of this amazing fact they also completed some great work collaborating on a set of topological problems I’d set them. I ended the day felling extremely positive, and despite the week I’ve had I can’t wait to get back into it on Monday, although I do hope I feel better by then!

This post was cross posted on the blog “One good thing”, here.

Another year over

July 19, 2015 1 comment

Friday was the last day of term. The end of another year “at the chalkface” as it were. This year was my first in a new school, and that itself brought challenges. I wasn’t prepared for quite how massive a change it would be to move schools. Going from being established,  knowing all the students and being known by them to being a new face unknown to all.

In some ways it felt like being an NQT all over again, not knowing the systems or the kids,except this time I had experiences to fall back on and I feel I found my feet faster than I had back then.

The government have certainly kept us on out toes this year, massive curriculum changes, rejected sample assessments, an internal war within ofsted around lesson grading. It’s been a fast changing world,  Education.

We have been involved with the early adopters programme fro Core maths, which is extremely interesting,  but brought it’s own set of challenges. No specification until Christmas and still no way of knowing how best to assess learners on this new course with it’s new methodology.

Now we I’ve into summer,  having said goodbye to learners who have left, hoping to gain the grades in august to get them onto the next level of their journey. I know they put the effort in, and I hope they all get the grades they want.

I was blown away by the school production, my former schools has a history of performing arts and I had sen some phenomenal productions there and I didn’t think any school could match it, but I they did. The show was beauty and the beast, and it was amazing. The title roles were performed by a year 8 and a  year 9 yet we’re played with a maturity and professionalism way beyond that. I can’t wait to see how brilliant they are when they reach the sixth form.

It’s a year ago since I left my last post, and I’ve been reflecting on that this year as I have watched others moving on to the next stage of their careers. I’ve missed some of the classes I had in my old school, and some of the people I worked with. Former pupils seem to be a recurring theme lately,  I’ve run into quite a few who now work in bars, restaurants and bowling alleys I frequent and it’s great to catch up and hear how they’re getting on. I was even found on Monday by a year 10 at my new school who had met one of my old tutor group at a party and he’d promised to pass in her best wishes. Whenever I bump into or hear from former students it’s great, and I was particularly happy to hear that a few of them have passed their first year of their degrees with flying colours.

Summer is now upon us, time to recharge and reflect ahead of the new year, which will be here sooner than we think.

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