Sssh… it’s a secret!


Originally uploaded by daniel_pfund

I had a tutorial lesson today. Or maybe citizenship. Or PHSE. You get the jist…

The aim of the lesson was for the students to understand the concept of budgetting. In addition to the central aim I wanted them to appreciate what their finances might be like in the future and to compare their expectations with harsh reality.

So, printing off a semi-random budgetting sheet found on letting agent’s website we proceeded to fill it in as a class. It took the full hour.

We discussed the cost of renting vs buying, shopping at different types of supermarkets, repayments on loans for different standards of car and, with some degree of shock for the students, the difference between gross and net salaries!

At the end of it we packed up, threw the paper in the bin and went to lunch. I didn’t formally assess their work, they didn’t produce evidence of having completed tasks or showing progression in their knowledge and understanding. I would have been graded as Requires Improvement, or probably Inadequate.

And yet, I’m absolutely certain that EVERY student in that class learned something. They might not remember the figures, but they were surprised by how inaccurate their preconceptions about incomes and expenditures were, and they bought into the lesson really well.

I could have built in more activities – learning checkpoints, scaffolding, differentiated resources and mini-plenaries. And in many cases those tools are incredibly useful. But every once in a while I like to just spend the full lesson exploring something and not necessarily weighing the pig every 10 minutes to see if it’s gotten fatter.

But I’m in the middle of my appraisal, so sssh… it’s a secret! 😉

Time for a change?

I seriously considered leaving education today. And if I had a viable exit strategy I might have taken it further.

Did I have a bad lesson? Was a pupil abusive, violent or threatening towards me? Not at all. I had the pleasure of my delightful Y7s, made a breakthrough with my Y8s, managed some productive revision and even had a pleasant time on a cover lesson.

What made me think about leaving was the agenda for Monday’s full staff meeting. Item 1? OFSTED. And pinned up next to it, the minutes of a recent Heads of Faculty meeting.

  • In recent years we’ve been told our lessons have to be pacey.
  • They have to help the students demonstrate independent learning.
  • We have to give the students time to explore concepts and ideas.
  • We have to demonstrate progress. From every student. Every 15 minutes.
  • We have to make sure we build literacy explicitly into every lesson.
  • We have to show an awareness of which pupils are FSM, EAL, EM, GAT, SEN, SA, SA+.
  • We have to show how we make learning activities available to kinaesthetic learners, visual learners and audio learners.
  • We have to differentiate our work for multiple intelligences.
  • We have to aim for a 70:30 classroom.
  • We have to assess every student every 6 weeks (that is, after every 6 hours – imagine having to assess every employee at work at the end of every day).
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have a full suite of policies to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have detailed exam analysis to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have a detailed, evidence based SEF to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have marking that demonstrates progress to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have detailed lesson plans to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have detailed ‘narrowing the gap’ data to show them
  • When OFSTED show up  I have to have seating plans to show them

Via the minutes of the meeting I was informed that in my gained time I also have to arrange for a collaborative observation program for my department. Every member of the department has to carry out observations and also has to be observed. Each observation must be written up, objectives set, observations repeated and the whole process evaluated. In addition to planning new schemes of work, updating resources, rewriting lesson plans using the new double sided lesson pro forma, preparing book scrutinies… oh, and at some point teaching all of the Y7, Y8, Y9, Y10 and Y12 students.

At the same time I am told that I will have to work for another 36 years. That I will receive less pension than I was promised (despite the fact that the TPS pot has been overpaid for many years). That tests are too easy. That my subject is not good enough. That I need to solve gaps in parenting. That I should receive performance related pay. That teachers are paid too much. That public sector workers in the north are paid too much. That teachers ‘cheat’ when the watchmen come. And today I’m told that ‘teachers don’t know what stress is‘.

Three local schools have had the dreaded ‘O’ visit them in the last 3 months. Two were graded Satisfactory (which will soon be officially less than satisfactory) and one was given notice to improve. SLT appear to be living in a climate of fear that is pervading every meeting, every document, every decision and every discussion. It appears that my job is becoming more and more about pleasing our overlords (Did I say overlords? I meant protectors – Jonathan Coulton) and less and less about educating and enthusing children.

I’m not leaving teaching today, because there are still too many moments that I enjoy. The XKCD comic at the top of the post perfectly sums up the reason I became a teacher. The idea that someone can leave the room knowing more than they did when they went in has always fascinated me, and that I have the ability to be a part of that is wonderful. The fact that my AS Computing class is taught almost exclusively out of schools hours – when neither I nor they are required to be there – fills me with hope. TEACHING is a great activity. Teaching, at the minute, doesn’t always feel like a great job.

Under Siege?

Caverlaverock Castle with Trebuchet

Originally uploaded by jarek69 & evelyn

I’ve not been blogging much lately, and while I’m not overly keen on meta-posts I’ve been thinking a lot the last couple of days about why that is.

Partly, it’s because I’ve been flipping busy. But writing a post doesn’t take long, so that’s no excuse.

More significantly it’s because a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about, and even started to write on occasion, have been less than positive. And I don’t want to be whinging and moaning – partly because it reinforces the negativity, partly because it makes me look bad and partly because I’ll end up saying something that will get me in bother.

So why the negativity? I’m not 100% certain, but here’s an interesting fact.

In the four days alone I’ve seen news reports telling me that:

Teachers who say things like “I’m not a teacher on here. I’m just like anyone else, I drink, swear… but don’t tell anyone.” can find themselves reprimanded by the GTC and hauled through the press. (

Schools who are judged as outstanding will be free from routine inspections by OFSTED, except those whose exam results drop (so no pressure there then).

Even those schools judged as outstanding will be subject to departmental inspections, particularly focussing on those subjects trying to get themselves into the EBacc (staff meeting).

Those schools judged as outstanding in every area, but merely very good in terms of teaching (based on a 2-day snapshot) will no be allowed to be outstanding.

Schools that are currently satisfactory actually require improvement. OK, I can just about accept that, but it means that all schools will either be unsatisfactory, requires improvement, good or outstanding. That sounds to me like an F, a D, a C and an A*. (

It seems to me that there are lots of students in my Y11 classes who are doing better than scraping a C, but are not up to A* standard. It feels like someone is saying “unless you are truly amazing [which, after all, is what outstanding means, at least as I understand it] then you’re just not good enough”.

You see, and now this has turned into a negative rant. Which isn’t what I want. And inspection is a necessary evil. There are some schools and some teachers who don’t work hard enough, or don’t work right. There aren’t many of them, but we do need to ensure that standards are high. Fine, I accept that. I just feel as though the entire profession is under siege at the minute.

We’re lazy (we should have fewer holidays and longer working days), we’re overpaid (hence the pay freeze), we’re greedy over pensions (which is why I’ll be losing £100 a month on top of that pay freeze), we’re rubbish (hence all the OFSTED stuff) and we’re not allowed to have any kind of public or personal life (see any news story relating to teachers and social networking – including my HT telling me that any teacher with a Facebook account is being silly).

So maybe that’s got something to do with the lack of posts lately, despite lots of good stuff going on. I think I need to start focussing on that, really.

Work/Life Balance?

Balancing act

Originally uploaded by Brother O’Mara

Two students of mine missed a week of school to go on an army course. Which is fine.

The next lesson, they were due to catch up the filming work the rest of the class had done in their absence. Taking advantage of the opportunity to work unsupervised (as I was with the rest of the class), they mucked about, achieved literally nothing and damaged some expensive equipment.

They both had a session booked after school today to complete the filming under supervision. Neither bothered to turn up.

The only punishment I can realistically offer is to organise the equipment and the supervision for another night. Net loss to pupils – nothing. I can’t allow them to fail and I have to rise above any petulant desire to vent my frustration.

And so I find myself quietly seething, almost 5 hours after the end of my working day.

What balance?

Satisfaction guaranteed?

Collar-label making process

Originally uploaded by Stephanie Booth

I have a new idea for organising my classes.

They’re currently mixed ability, which means I sometime have very bright students mixed in with less able students, and this makes things confusing, so I propose putting them into 4 groups.

I’ll have one group on the Outstanding table, where the best, the brightest (and the well dressed) can be quickly identified. I’ll also make sure I put a big sign on the table, so all the other students know who they need to emulate.

On the next table will be the Good students. Those who are doing pretty well, but could do better. If they work hard, they might move up to the Outstanding table, but I’ll have to lay down the law and threaten them with possible relegation to the Satisfactory table.

Actually, no. We’ll call it the Requires Improvement table. If I judge they’re not up to snuff, they’ll be plonked here and given a good going over. They’ll be told in no uncertain terms that if they’re stuck on this table for more than two cycles then that’s it – we’ll be looking to throw them straight down to the Unsatisfactory table (otherwise we’ll run out of room to put all those kids from the Good table who are coasting!).

Finally we have the unsatisfactory table. I don’t care if their social background is an issue, I don’t care if previous students have left their table in a mess – if they’re not sorting themselves out good and quick then it’s out on their ear and we’ll have to hire a whole new cohort of students to see if they can do better!

You see it’s all about choice, really. If I’m asking a question, I want to make sure I’m well informed as to who is who. I wouldn’t want to ask the wrong kind of kid!

Wait… what? What do you mean there’s a free table over there where the kids can pick their own curriculum and choose their own school hours?

Oh, I give up…


I’ve spent the last 10 minutes writing a very grumpy post about all the things to do with my job that are making me grumpy at the minute.

I suddenly realised two things.

1. If I had posted it I would probably have said something I would come to regret. Nothing major but I would have directed my ire at 1 or 2 individuals in a way that you really shouldn’t do in public.

2. If I hadn’t spent the 10 minutes doing that (and the 5 minutes doing this, for that matter) then I could have packed up and gone home by now.

See you on Monday.

Image attribution: Grumpy Originally uploaded by Crowcombe Al

The one in which Mark feels grumpy

In the last few days I’ve had several conversations about the use of programming software in schools. Scratch, Alice, Kodu, Logo, Starlogo, Gamemaker, Scratch BYOB, Greenfoot, BlueJ, IDLE… the list goes on.

A number of people have tried to convince me that I should drop Scratch for Scratch BYOB, drop Gamemaker for Starlogo, etc. Now I know these people (in a virtual sense, at least) and I know they are speaking from their own experiences and beliefs. I know they want what’s best for the pupils, the teachers, the future, etc. And I tried really hard not to get too defensive about my position. (And I’m really not aiming to offend them. Really.)

My position, as Head of Department, is to set out a curriculum that will help my students, as taught by my staff. That means that although one of my staff loves Alice, because a majority really don’t then we’re not going to include it. This doesn’t stop colleague A from using it as and where he sees fit, but the written Scheme of Work, resources, etc. for the department as a whole will not include Alice.

Likewise, I’ve tried Starlogo. We wrote a Scheme of Work, taught it, and it didn’t work. Maybe we should try again, maybe we should try harder. Well, one of my colleagues has spent a great deal of time getting into Gamemaker and writing a Scheme of Work. Under no circumstances am I going to turn around and tell him we’re not using it because someone on Twitter told me Starlogo would be better.

I’m also not convinced that there is a right way to introduce programming using these graphical tools. In fact I *am* certain that there isn’t one.

I got really grumpy a minute ago when I saw someone tweeting that Kodu “SHOULD replace Scratch in schools!”. I have several issues with this. First, our all-in-one PCs, our thin clients, our netbooks and our Macs all refuse to run it. We do have some PCs that will run it, but not enough for every pupil in a cohort. Secondly, WHY should Kodu replace Scratch? Nothing other than a link to the Kodu page was posted. I’ve seen Kodu, I’ve had someone from Microsoft demonstrate it for me. It looks lovely. I can see why someone might WANT to replace Scratch with this. I can see why someone COULD replace Scratch with this. I disagree strongly with the suggestion that we SHOULD.

Somebody asked me why I was considering a Scratch-based animation unit and not using Flash. This was a very fair question, and being made to question our decisions is a good thing. No-one was telling me I was wrong, they were just trying to get to grips with my point of view to see whether I had a point. In hindsight I think they were right and I think I’m going to run a couple of lessons in Scratch followed by a few more in Flash and then compare them. But at no point did anyone say that I SHOULD be using Flash.

To give another example, I am a *huge* fan of Moodle. Enormously so. I honestly don’t believe I have told anyone that they HAVE to use Moodle, or that they SHOULD use Moodle. I’ve told them that they COULD. I’ve told them that I will help. I’ve generally also told them about Edmodo in the next breath. Sometimes Frog. Sometimes a blog. Sometimes a wiki. I just don’t believe that telling people that they SHOULD do things is really the right way to go.

So there. I’m being a grump today. Harumph.


Image attribution: Grumpy #5 Originally uploaded by Dagza

Why should I be teaching this?


Yesterday I posted about my new Digital Storytelling course at Mukoku. Students use audio editing software and Storybird to create both a short story and an audiobook of that story, with optional extra activities of using video editing software or presentation software to present the information in yet more forms.

I’m actually quite excited about using the course with My Year 7s next week and I’ve also enjoyed seeing my son (11) start to use Storybird himself (having co-authored 1 book and written 1 all by himself in the last 2 days).

What I don’t like is that an ICT teacher is the one doing it. English – yes. MFL (in a different context) – yes. This brings us back to the old discrete ICT vs embedded ICT argument. Should all ICT be taught through other subjects? Or none?

The answer, of course, lies somewhere in-between. Spreadsheets are undoubtedly ICT tools, and while I would like to see Science and Maths lessons using these tools, I think there needs to be discrete teaching. Databases are also ICT tools, although heading in the direction of Computing/Computer Studies. Programming is definitely Computing/Computer studies.

A lot of the ‘C’ topics in ICT could easily be taught elsewhere – creating presentations, flyers and posters, use of online tools such as email and forums. The problems here are two-fold:

Teachers in non-ICT subjects often lack the skills necessary to teach ICT effectively*. How many teachers in your school book an ICT suite and tell their students to ‘make a PowerPoint’? How many would appreciate the reasons for resizing or reformatting images? How many would appreciate just how unfailingly awful Word Art is? How many would consider having students use Prezi, video editing software or other methods of presenting the information*? Without a significant amount of training, support and practice, it is unreasonable to expect non-ICT specialists to teach these skills to the required level.

The other problem is access to equipment. PC costs have never been lower and there are an increasingly diverse range of technologies out there – notebooks, tablets, mobile devices and much more on the horizon. And yet in most schools there are just enough computers for the ICT lessons plus maybe one or two departments who have paid for their own suites (in our case MFL and DT). Teachers wanting to book an ICT suite have perhaps a 15% chance of finding one not scheduled for a timetabled lesson, falling to 1% if they leave it less than a week in advance. The chances of finding 2 or 3 lessons in a row in order to complete any significant computerised tasks is typically nil.

So there is a lot that needs doing if things are to improve. I share my ideas with other colleagues – both within my own school and through the likes of Twitter, Techy Tips and Mukoku. I offer to give up free periods to support others. I offer to hang around in my teaching room (a Mac suite) when booked by others in case they need a hand, or just the safety of knowing I’m there just in case. Sometimes I feel like I’m peeing into the wind, sometimes I think I’m trying to move a rubber tree plant.

* I am very aware that some non-ICT specialists are very knowledgeable in this area and do an awful lot of brilliant work. I am also aware that a number of ‘specialist’ ICT teachers are making pupils victims of the ‘anyone can teach IT’ policy, although they are in the minority in my experience.