Monday, 7 December 2015

A Response to Nick Gibb

Margaret Thatcher famously rebutted a criticism by telling a reporter ‘I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.’
Ad hominem is that oh so favourite tool of those seeking to shut down debate, to silence, to snuff out freedom of thought and expression. In education circles it is rife.
I have been told many times by teachers and educators that my view doesn’t count because I am a Tory. Rather than grapple with facts and argument, those with an ideology to push will often resort to personal attack and, like Thatcher, I am uplifted because it only reveals that lack of depth and rigour of their argument.
This morning, The Guardian published a piece by Schools Minister, Nick Gibb (the full text can be found here), which seeks to shut down debate by calling those who argue with the central assertion, racist.
Of course, the words are carefully chosen to avoid such a harsh word, but Nick writes ‘Those who try to dismiss their methods using crude national stereotypes’ and accuses anyone who demurs of ‘narrow-mindedness’.
It is a very fashionable political tool at the moment to use an accusation or racism, homophobia, transphobia and a range of other taboos.
It is a real shame that Nick has decided to use this approach, rather than engaging with the real debate.
Teacher exchanges are wonderful. I have had the great pleasure over the years to be involved in several in differing cultures. I also have the great privilege nowadays to spend time in schools across the country and around the world. Every single teacher can learn from each other. Collaboration is an incredibly important ingredient of effective professional development.
Nick asserts that teachers in Shanghai are highly effective and that their teaching is of high quality. He is absolutely right, it is.
But his argument that those who challenge the current DfE policy are making ‘ crude national stereotypes’ misses the point. There are many of us who talk about culture. But we are not talking about culture in the wider sense (though of course, this is important), we are talking about the culture in the school. The culture that is built up in the classroom. These things are crucial.
Rather than avoiding the cultural debate (for fear I may be shot down as a racist), I think it is at the heart of the issue. We teachers cannot change our model of society, but we can create a culture in our schools of high expectations, a culture that is explicit in stating that every single child can be successful and then demanding that they are, a culture that ensures every single child grips every single mathematical concept and does not accept a conveyer belt approach to curriculum.
Speak to your own Chief Inspector of Schools, speak with the many head teachers running schools in the most challenging of circumstances who are achieving excellent results, speak with colleagues in the many incredible independent schools across the country. All of these people have created effective cultures and values in their schools.
Nick, I am not a racist. And I do not accept that critics of current policy should be silenced. Debate is important in getting to the real issues and making real change.
Attainment in mathematics is exceptionally high in Shanghai. Should we learn from what is happening there? Of course. It is obtuse to shut down any opportunity to learn.
But it is equally obtuse to make sweeping statements that will alienate those very effective teachers who teach mathematics in classrooms across England day in, day out. To write in a national newspaper that ‘England is still hobbled by the misplaced idea that teacher instruction is irredeemably boring’ is both wrong and damaging. Many, many thousands of teachers in England are extremely expert in what they do, many, many thousands of teachers use high quality, group instruction on a daily basis as a foundation of their teaching.
Nick goes on to state, ‘Shanghai maths teaching works because it is meticulous. No pupil understanding is left to chance or accident: every step of a lesson is deliberate, purposeful and precise.’ Well, what on earth do you think thousands of us, here in England, have been doing for decades? Our teaching is meticulous, our teaching ensures purposeful lessons.
To make the claim that this sort of practice does not occur in England is simply wrong. Many of us, ignoring trends and fads, have taught effectively in England’s schools for a long time.
Tarring 350,000 maths teachers with the same brush is dangerous and ignorant.
I do, of course, understand why the Minister needs to do this. It is, after all, far easier to make such generalisations than it is to publicly state there are serious structural problems in the teaching profession in England.
There are many people teaching mathematics who do, indeed, deploy ineffective teaching methods. There is a massive requirement for subject specific CPD to help these teachers develop more effective practices.
But is the best way to achieve this to ignore and write off the thousands of effective schools and teachers in England in search of a new silver bullet? I think not.
I wish all of the Shanghai teachers visiting England an enjoyable and enriching experience, I wish all of the teachers who get to interact with them while they are here the same – I hope that the exchange is as successful as the many teacher exchanges over decades that UK teachers have engaged in.
The trouble with the current policy is that is has deliberately and viciously sought to be non-inclusive. Why are we not holding up those schools in England that have cultivated incredibly conducive cultures for schooling? Why ignore the thousands of teachers who have very well developed, evidence based, effective pedagogies?
As I travel the country at the moment, running workshops on mastery models for schooling, I am continually impressed by the teachers I meet. They have theories, they have deep knowledge and they want to engage in the debate. Don’t write them off as flakes or racists, engage with the debate and there can be so much to gain.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

MathsConf

I have long known that the answer to improving an education system is to fill it with teachers who are determined to never stop learning. Teachers who are intellects, who question and challenge, teachers who do not accept the words of fools and instead insist on an evidence informed approach to classroom practice.
Professional development has been my obsession for many years now. It is the very reason that I was behind the NCETM, the reason I conceived and founded the charity Teacher Development Trust, the reason that I built this very website.
I have long known that we, as a teaching profession, hold all of the answers. Teachers are all researchers. Each and every hour, a teacher will test hundreds of hypotheses, will make hundreds of predictions, take hundreds of decisions. All teachers have theories, although many do not recognise that they do. The answers are all there, but they are unlocked or, worse still, they are suppressed, stifled or forbidden. This is why collaboration is the key – we are stronger together. No one teacher can possibly know all there is to know, that is the joy of being a teacher, that there is always something new to learn. Being willing to engage with external others, whether they be the teacher next door or a teacher in another country, is vital. We listen, internalise, contextualise, fit to our pedagogy and our setting and our culture. Collaboration is key.
*
In spring 2004, I was giving a speech at the national AST conference in Leicester, pontificating about the importance of collaboration. As I spoke, a man in the audience stood up and bellowed at me, ‘why don’t you stop talking about it and do something about it!’
He was, of course, dead right.
I drove home and created Emaths. My every free hour then dedicated to creating a one-stop-shop of support for maths teachers and a place for colleagues to share their ideas and resources.
*
Since then, I have had the great privilege to work in education systems all around the world, to learn and to support. I have run national improvement programmes and have been lucky to meet some amazing people from whom I have been able to grow.
At the beginning of the NCETM, I continually argued that teachers were hungry to network and collaborate, but that school leadership (as a whole) was poor and was acting as a blocker. I argued time and again that CPD provision could take place at the weekend and during school holidays as well as during the working week. I argued that large numbers of teachers were fed up of education being London-centric and that events could take place anywhere. But nobody agreed, I was mocked for thinking that teachers would come to Kettering!
I founded and built La Salle Education because the state of maths education CPD and networking is simply not good enough. We are determined to play a part in making things better.
So, in June 2014 we hosted the first MathsConf – on a Saturday, in Kettering! And you came, in your hundreds.
In the past 18 months, we have had the great honour of providing events to over 2000 schools, with the number growing every week.
350,000 people teach mathematics in England every day. The institutional knowledge is immense.
Unlike other events, MathsConf has no party line. I do not choose workshops based on my own ideology or pedagogy. I actively encourage a day of opposing views and contradicting evidence. Because teachers are really bright, they are discerning and they can and do debate a variety of positions. The only goal I have is that MathsConf delegates question all that they hear, challenge each other and then build on the evidence.
I wanted MathsConf to reflect the intelligence of the teachers who come. The events therefore needed to be highly professional in their operation, which my wonderful team has managed superbly in their own time. Education conferences should not be amateur, should not run off schedule, should not patronise.
I am delighted that the events have become so popular and I am humbled by the large number of volunteers who have made it all possible. To be credible, conferences must be relevant and this can only be achieved if the people in the room and the people speaking are current practitioners. MathsConf is attended almost exclusively by current teachers and it is palpable the knowledge that they hold.
I wanted MathsConf to be grown up, to be respectful. That is why we have a festival feel to the events, with fringe activities such as the Tweet Up and informal, fun and friendly additions like the maths cake competition and the treasure hunt.
My complete obsession is to create an opportunity for maths teachers across the country to come together as one, to form supportive friendships so that no teacher must stand alone. I thank, from the bottom of my heart, all those who are helping to make this possible through MathsConf.
MathsConf has cost us dearly. We have lost many thousands of pounds and given up hundreds of hours of our time. I very much appreciate the support of our sponsors, but the funds do not come close to covering the costs. I am happy for this to be the case if each MathsConf moves just one teacher on in their practice, improves just one child’s life. La Salle is committed to continuing to provide these and other events. I hope to see you at MathsConf6 in Peterborough. Booking is open now http://mathsconf.com/

Saturday, 30 May 2015

21st Century Learning

The children in our schools today will face a world unknown to us. The careers they will follow, the lives they will lead, and the decisions they will take can’t possibly be imagined.
Schools must prepare children for this new, unimaginable world. We need to ensure our education system is reformed so that it is equipping our children for the future they will face, not the futures that we faced.
Many of the jobs that I have done in my life, many of the decisions I have taken, could not have been predicted by my teachers, were not understood by the society that I grew up in, were not yet invented and were unimaginable. Many of the ways in which I lead my life, such as the use of Twitter or this very blog, are the preserve of this new future that I exist in, unimaginable to the school system of my childhood.
Yet, I have been successful in my career, I am able to make decisions, and I can cope in this unimaginable world of technology.
How on earth did my school manage to prepare me for such a world? And how can we reform our education system of today to ensure that it is readying our children for their future?
This might sound radical, but here is how it is done: make children really bright.
My schooling ensured that I could read and write, ensured that I was mathematically able, ensured that I understood history and could argue and reason, instilled a sense of purpose and hard work, focused exclusively on making me brighter and able to network. Meanwhile, my parents wrapped me in love, imbued in me an everlasting confidence so that I would be able to cope with any change or challenge, instilled in me a drive and determination and a pride in hard work.
It isn’t rocket science. The idea that there is something radical that needs to change in schools is correct, but only insomuch as we need to strip schools back to these core purposes. Head teachers need to be left alone to create institutions focused on creating learn’d young men and women with the confidence to make their way in the world no matter what that world becomes.
Make children really bright. Everything else will follow.
Trying to predict the future and then molding an education system around that prediction is not only doomed to fail (we are awful at predicting the future!) but it is also a foolish starting point. Who cares what the world we become? Why worry about it? Just make children really bright, they will overcome.
Why is it that I am able to communicate through Twitter or write in programming languages that didn’t exist when I was at school? Simple: because I am not a moron. I am educated (in the true sense of the word), which means that I can continue to learn new things and can adapt. My schooling gave me the foundations and knowledge to do so. My parenting gave me the personality and confidence to want to.
So yes, we should reform. We really should. Because between 2001 – 2010 in particular, England deployed an education system hell bent on destroying aspiration and determination. One that believed that only certain types of children from certain types of background should have access to success while the rest would be restricted to a happy-clappy, wrapped in cotton wool experience.
Every single child in every single school should be provided with an education exclusively focused on making them brighter and giving them the ability to network.
Let’s reform education literally. Re form it. Back to a shape when it was about high expectations for all, when it understood that if it didn’t make every child a reader, writer and mathematically literate, then that child would be screwed for life.
Of course, the truth of the whole 21st Century Learning swindle is that, actually, the overwhelming majority of jobs will be exactly the same. But that doesn’t matter either. What matters is that every child leaves school having had the same opportunity of provision (we can’t have opportunity of outcome, that is down to them and parenting).
If we want our children to lead the most successful and happy lives they possibly can, then schools need to re-remember their core purpose: make children really bright.

Friday, 24 April 2015

50 Million

Ok, apologies for the self-congratulatory tone of this blog, but I'm really rather proud of Emaths.
In February 2004, I was giving a speech to a conference of teachers. There I was pontificating on the benefits of collaboration: how we, the 350,000 maths teachers in England are stronger together. That if we could network and share resources and ideas, the system really could improve. I talked about the need for a one-stop-shop, a place where any teacher could add their resources and find support materials.
As the speech went on in my usual evangelical manner, a delegate stood up in yelled – and I mean really yelled – at me "why don't you just do something about it?"
On that stage, in those seconds, my life changed forever.
I drove home that night with his words going round and round my head. He was, of course, right.
So, I started to write Emaths. And on March 4th 2004, the site was launched.
I don't watch my site stats very closely, but this morning I noticed that the number of users was approaching a pretty significant number and knew that it would tip over that number at some point today. And it did.
50 million users.
At some stage this afternoon, the 50 millionth user of Emaths did some maths or found some support or used some material.
Emaths has been a labour of love over the past decade – though it looks after itself nowadays (except for the funding required!).
I am proud of what the site has achieved. I created, designed and wrote Emaths from scratch, by myself. No grants, no government funding, no corporate money. Just me, at home trying to find a solution to that heckle all those years ago. And then, of course, all those teachers who have been generous enough to share their approaches on the site.
50 millions users. I am proud that I have played a part in the education of many millions of children and proud that the site continues to do so.
Emaths has drained my wallet and has driven me to the edge over the years – those nights of working on the site at 4am when I had to be up for school in the morning!
For over a decade now, my every waking moment has been filled with the obsession to 'do something about it'. I am absolutely sure that the answer lies in large scale collaboration, that every single teacher of mathematics can benefit from the knowledge and skills of every other teacher. Bringing these teachers together, creating a 'social brain' of all our experiences and knowledge is what continues to drive me. I have tried several possible solutions, Emaths being the first (and like the first born, has a special place in my heart). Other attempts have included the NCETM and 'wiki-curriculum' in Canada. Today, after much experimenting and research and pain and tears and success and failure, all of the wisdom is being rolled into my last hurrah, Complete Mathematics – never before have we created something so powerful and never before have I felt we are so close to realising the vision I had on that stage in 2004.
For now though, for today, I'm going to spend a few hours thinking about my beloved Emaths and all that it has achieved. I hope that the site has helped you over the years and, if you have one to hand, would like you to raise a glass to the old girl.
So, excuse the self-indulgent blog, but I think that 50 million is worth celebrating and am proud that Emaths will continue to give free of charge support for many years to come.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Some Things I Would Change

Just a random stream of thoughts as I sit in a cold railway station trying to get home...

Primary curriculum

• Scrap current curriculum
• Primary maths to be solely concerned with

1. Numerosity / Number sense
2. Place Value
3. Base 10 System
4. Arithmetic
5. Proportional Reasoning
Each of these 'primary domains' is effectively infinite and can be studied to post-degree level! A minimum standard in each domain to be set, which every child must attain. However, those children who become secure with these domains at the minimum standard continue their learning in each domain to as high a level as appropriate.

Primary teaching


• Scrap the structure of one teacher teaching multiple subjects. Mathematics to be taught by maths specialist teacher (these can be drawn from existing workforce, with the appropriate support to ensure they become specialists – primary teachers would be given a lead-in of 5 years to choose and up-skill their new specialist subject)
• Improve subject specific pedagogy of those teaching mathematics with extensive support to ensure understanding of concrete-pictorial-abstract, multiple representations of problems and solutions, and connectionist approaches.
• Scrap teaching assistants and direct funding to special schools
• Scrap learning walks, lesson observations and SMT inspections
• All teachers must be part of a professional learning network, undertaking continual teacher enquiry / lesson study

Secondary curriculum


• Complete removal of probability and statistics from the mathematics curriculum
• The formation of two new subjects; Pure Mathematics and Statistics
• Pure Mathematics compulsory for all students aged 11 – 18
• Statistics optional to all students aged 11 – 18
• Pure Mathematics builds on the foundations of the five 'primary domains'
• Raise the bar for the Pure Mathematics qualification at aged 16 by introducing basic calculus as a requirement for all by end of KS4
• Emphasis on mathematical modeling, increasing year on year
• Complete ban on 'conveyer belt' curriculum models
• Scrap homework and replace with 'prep' – all schools to have provision for 'prep' classes after hours

Secondary Schools


• All secondary schools to have a dedicated 'primary domains' provision – any child who arrives at secondary school without the minimum standard in the five primary domains does not begin studying Pure Mathematics, instead they attend the provision and then join a Pure Mathematics course one year late (if they have secured the five domains) in a year 7 class.
• Reopen the 1000 special schools closed in the late 1990s (you can read why on my blog "Inclusion is a Misnomer")
• Scrap teaching assistants and direct funding to special schools
• Scrap learning walks, lesson observations and SMT inspections
• All teachers must be part of a professional learning network, undertaking continual teacher enquiry / lesson study

The Workforce: New Entrants


• Employ really bright people
• The schools minister, Nick Gibb, said in 2010: "I would rather have a physics graduate from Oxbridge without a PGCE teaching in a school than a physics graduate from one of the rubbish universities with a PGCE". Interesting, considering he didn't go to Oxbridge, but the general gist of raising the aspiration that teaching becomes a profession welcoming of great intellects is one I agree with. However, subject knowledge is utterly useless without subject specific pedagogical knowledge and skill. ITE courses should only attract funding if they robustly address subject specific pedagogy, but being a teacher does not necessarily require QTS – it is foolish to have such a blanket rule (particularly when much of that provision is poor quality)
• Wherever possible employ those who have had a career prior to teacher training (fill schools with those who can talk eloquently about working as a mathematician, engineer, etc). We desperately need people standing in front of maths classrooms who can speak to students about why the are a mathematician and what that means
• Require all teachers to gain a master's degree with focus on mathematics specific content knowledge and mathematics specific pedagogy within first 5 years of teaching
• Every teacher to be linked to at least one research partner from a different school or HEI for the duration of their career

The Workforce: Existing Teachers


• Fundamental to what I believe is that the 350,000 people who teach maths in England's schools each and every day are good people who want the best. I have almost never met a teacher who goes to work wanting to give their students a crap experience.
• National recognition of the expertise of this group of people
• Those who do not already hold at least a masters degree, to do so within 5 years (again the focus must be on mathematics specific content knowledge and mathematics specific pedagogy).

School Management


• Every SMT to contain at least one maths specialist with a deep understanding of mathematics specific content knowledge and mathematics specific pedagogy.
• Drastically raise the bar for entrance to headship – scrap NPQH and replace be demands on proven track record of teaching expertise and a demonstrable level of intellect, so that headteachers are first and foremost leading, with intellect, teaching. Remove all of the business management functions from head teachers, with each school having a COO, preferably drawn from successful experience in the private sector. Fundamentally, a head teacher should be a figurehead who commands the respect of the teaching workforce because they themselves are incredibly successful teachers. Wherever possible, head teachers should hold doctorate level qualification, with emphasis on planning, carrying out and evaluating education focused research. A 10 year lead in to achieve this.
• All head teachers to linked to at least 10 other head teachers in an enquiry / research group. Each critique and support each other. Held jointly responsible for standards across their institutions

School Inspection


• Scrap Ofsted
• Only maths specialists have any place in inspecting maths provision
• Inspection to be concerned with the output and not to take a view on the how and why of approaches. This can be largely a data exercise
• Other forms of inspection to be scrapped. Replace with national programme of teacher enquiry. Each teacher to work with the research partner(s) over the course of their careers in a continuing spiral or enquiry – all teachers theorise, test, evaluate, publish every academic year. As the research partner of a teacher in a different school, their role is to challenge, test, support and learn from their colleague.

Department for Education


• Wherever possible, SoS to serve full term and be held to account for delivering the mandate the electorate gave them (rather than going off on a personal crusade)
• Wherever possible (though not always easy from a pool of just 650 people), SoS to be a towering intellect
• DfE to be concerned solely with the output of the education system and to leave the how and why to those who actually know what they are doing
• Complete autonomy to be devolved to head teachers and their local communities, but this to be hand-in-hand with complete accountability, with the local community able to remove head teachers where school performance is not good enough

Sunday, 29 March 2015

The People I Respect in Education

2015 is the year that Marty McFly arrives in a future of hoverboards, self-drying jackets and pizzas that come as tiny dried tablets.
Robert Zemeckis is a clever chap. When writing the Back to the Future movies, he chose the years 1955, 1985 and 2015. This is not just on the off chance.
A thirty year gap does of course play right for the intergenerational conundrums which befall the hapless McFly family, but thirty years is important for a more important reason. To sell movies (and boy, did that franchise sell), the writer needs to tap into something in an audience – a familiarity, a connection, an emotion. Setting the first movie in 1985 and 1955 is so easy because, effectively, they are the same year.
The eighties saw a huge fifties revival sweep across America. The music, the fashion, the teen culture were incredibly similar. And so it was, when cashing in on a follow up movie, Zemeckis knew that the wise thing to do would be to choose 2015. He had no idea if we'd be flying about in garishly coloured cars by then, but he did know that fashion would be repeating itself. He was able to have sets and costumes designed to mimic the 1950s and 1980s – look at the 'futuristic' clothes that the youths in the cafĂ© are wearing and you can't find much difference from the greasers of the fifties.
Fashion has, and always will, come around in thirty-year cycles. It is not rocket science to understand that those so deeply influenced by the clothes, music and movies of one era – the 15 year olds – are those same people who thirty years on – now aged 45 – are the music producers, TV executives, decision makers and fashion designers of the day. We can't, as a species, help but hark back to our youth and misremember it more favourably and more colourful than it actually was. This is why we recreate that past or at least a new iteration of thirty years ago.
You just have to look at the t-shirts and pumps that 15 years olds are wearing today or listen to the new-romantic-esque sounds of some of the most popular bands, to know that 1985 is indeed back. And we even have thumb print operated doors and lights that come on to a clap. Well done, Mr Zemeckis.
This cycle of fashions and fads is not restricted to clothing and pop culture.
Popular approaches and policies in education work on exactly the same time cycle.
I have a certain soft spot for hippies. A certain understanding of those old boys who dress as though it were 1969 and have done ever since it was. They found a look, they found a belief and values that work for them. And they are sticking to it. Of course, at the moment, they are out of cycle, but the 1990s crusties and new age types brought them back to fashion again for a while and in 10 years they will back hip once more (those who are still alive). Peace and love will return, man.
I think there is something quite special and important about a person who experiences a great deal, tries many different things, experiments and works out what they believe in. Then stays loyal to it. Conversely, I worry about those who have never bothered to live and then pontificate in a role as a teacher about how the next generation should live.
The people I respect in education?
They are the grumpy old buggers, the beleaguered, the disillusioned, the bitter. They are also the young who have experimented enough to come to an informed conclusion and are now pinning their colours to the mast.
Some of us grumpy old buggers should really be quite happy just now. I should be. You see, I'm back in fashion (though most certainly not in clothing or music tastes – still have a while to wait for that to come back around). In terms of the predominant movements in education, I'm on the mark. I believe in rigour and intellectualism, challenge, connectionism, I believe that the purpose of schools is to hand down a body of knowledge, I believe that the answer lies within the profession and that upping the bar is always a good thing to do, I believe that teachers should be towering intellects able to make children yearn for knowledge, I believe in a model of curriculum that ensures everyone studying mathematics is able to firmly grip underlying concepts before building on top of them (see my Jenga speeches or my 'Every Single Child Can Pass Mathematics' article), I believe that social class is not a barrier and I hate apologists who want 'poor' kids to study less demanding subjects. Much of this would sound perfectly familiar in a 1950s schooling discussion as it would seem all too familiar to the team who wrote the 1980s Cockcroft Report.
So I should be very happy that many of the ideals I hold for education are increasingly becoming demanded in England's schools. The trouble is, of course, that I am an old bugger. I have witnessed it before and I know that the cycle will continue on. All of this good will inevitably be lost. There is already a watering down happening since Gove was sacked.
The cycle is so predictable, so perfectly timed. Look at the destruction of education in the 1970s by apologist 'progressives' who sought to make sure that schooling was about self-esteem and feeling happy-clappy and to Hell with becoming cleverer, and you'll see an almost perfect repeat of this in the 2000s when Balls and Gilbert, with the ever so twee DCSF looking like a bloody children's cartoon book and Ofsted doing its bidding, systematically reduced schools to wishy-washy, bleeding heart, balls of cotton wool to wrap children in. Repeating those mistakes of the past means we have as a nation, once again, churned out a generation of young adults who are wet and without ambition.
So, although it does feel nice to be in fashion again, I'm only saddened that it will not last. This is probably no bad thing, I guess, the pendulum has to swing.
It is also an important aspect of human psychology that we feel we have our time to be the FIRST to feel this way, the FIRST to have ever thought this, the FIRST to have discovered a NEW way. Just as the 15 year old needs to think that his parents couldn't possibly, ever, no way, understand the style of his trainers, so it is that each wave in education must be the preserve of those finding it for the first time themselves.
The people I respect in education?
They are those who have evaluated the evidence, who have given great thought to what works, who have tested and researched and then come to a conclusion and stuck to it. I respect those who ignore fad, who do not do the bidding of quangos just to curry favour and promote themselves, those who always do what they truly believe is in the best interest of students and don't give two hoots for whatever mantra Ofsted is currently delivering on behalf of ministers (while simultaneously denying that they do).
When I hear teachers telling me they are wholesale changing their year 7 curriculum to ensure that kids become secure in concepts (even though I believe this to be right) I can't help but thinking, well what the fuck were you doing before?! Any why?! And I know that, as soon as the next popular phrase or ministerial decree comes along, they will change everything again. These teachers break my heart because of the sheer lack of thought that they employ and the risk that they pose to students' advancement.
At least those who peddle things like Learning Styles and stick to it forever are consistent – for that they get some respect. Don't get me wrong, Learning Styles peddlers are swivel-eyed loons with absolutely no place in any education system, but at least they believe in something!
During my time working in education, I was largely not in fashion. Time and again I was reprimanded by SMT and Ofsted for teaching my kids really well and getting really good grades – reprimanded because the way I went about achieving this did not fit their moronic observation grids or latest claptrap they had heard from a consultant.
I'm not bitter about this (yet) because I simply didn't care. I would have happily been sacked from being a maths teacher if my Headteacher wasn't interested in students becoming very knowledgeable and skilled in maths. That would have been fine by me and I would have happily buggered off back to working as a mathematician for the oil company I left to join teaching.
So many times over the years I have met really excellent teachers who have been told by their SMT or LA that they are failing or 'unsatisfactory', when in fact it was the Head or consultant who lacked the intellect to see that what they were doing was extremely effective, even if it didn't tick boxes.
It is sad for me to recall these incidences. I think of one particularly talented man, who I'm delighted to be working with again now, who I met in the mid-2000s just as New Labour was really ripping any rigour from the classroom. Talking with him was so upsetting – it was as though he had had the life drained from him and every ounce of passion for teaching beaten out of him. Here he was, an intelligent and eloquent mathematician being continually told he was a failure by those far less bright and talented as him. What a perverse situation.
One thing I am acutely aware of as I grow older is that I am fast becoming a parody of myself. I catch myself at times sounding like a broken record. Much of what I have written here I covered in my 2004 book 'On Being a Teacher' and here I am more than a decade later still banging the same drum.
I'm ok with that. It's my drum and I like it. It's nice to have some company at the moment and I am fully aware that in a very short space of time we will be entering the repeats of the 1990s (and 1960s) and I will look as odd and out of place as those glazed eyed hippies you see from time to time. My argument for rigour and intellect in schools will become as unfashionable as leg warmers and roller-skates. I will once again be a figure of ridicule because I'll still be saying the same things. Those eager middle managers of today buying into theories and practices that I actually wholeheartedly agree with, will be riding the wave of the next trend because they don't actually want to read or engage with evidence, they just want to look good on an Ofsted form. Little do they seem to know is that all you have to do is look backwards to see what's coming up.
I am heartened to discover a new group of maths teachers joining the debate – like the 60s hippies adopting the 90s crusties. I'm overjoyed when I read things like Mel Muldowney's blog in which she is happy about being challenged. I am proud when I see scores of teachers delivering workshops at our national conferences which are defensible and evidenced based.
Time will pass and some of these new teachers will stay wedded to what they espouse at the moment – they will become unfashionable with me, but will at least have the chance to come back into a position of respect in the 2040s. Most though, as history shows us, will move with the trends and never really believe anything other than playing the game.
The people I respect in education?
Hopefully you, dear reader.