Friday, October 24, 2014

Units of Meaurement

Units of measurement are the ground rock of Science. They have to be clear and unambiguous, precisely defined at great trouble and expense, so that when you refer to a mass of 1 kilogram, I understand exactly what you mean and can reproduce your experiment accurately.

The Unit of Length is the Metre, (defined in terms of the speed of light); the Unit of Electrical Current is the Amp (equal to a certain number of electrons passing a point in one second) and to measure Stupidity, we use the Ashley. (Just as the Ohm was named after Mr Ohm, so the Ashley took its name from a particularly foolish pupil at St. Thickchilds School)

Shouting out during a lesson demonstrates wisdom of 2 Ashley.

Scribbling your own name on your desk is generally held to be around 4 Ashley.

Pretending to be your father when the school secretary phones home to ask why you are truanting and then falling for a simple trick question is conduct of 8 Ashley.

The Institute of Scientific Measurement are the arbiters of all Scientific Units. They are based in Paris and are currently considering whether to adopt the Ashley as an International Standard Unit, along with the Kyle, which is equivalent to a force of 10 Ashley.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Today's Appeal

Today, Christians all over the World celebrate the feast of St. Dweezil, Patron Saint of Children with Silly Names.

I would like to take this opportunity to ask all new parents to pause with me for a couple of minutes at noon and spend the time in silent contemplation.

Then name your child Mike, Andy or Jane rather than Cody, Mayday or Captain.

In return, they will spend their adult life thanking rather than cursing you.

Rev. Chalk

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Behaviour in Schools

Teachers quite rightly complain about how pupils cannot sit still and keep quiet in class. The official reason for this is that their lessons are not sufficiently interesting and exciting..

The real reasons are:

1) Some have seen through the bluffing and realised that they can do pretty much what they like.

2) Fed on a diet of sugary drinks and snacks throughout the day, many kids are in a constantly hyperactive state. To excuse this, a whole load of medical problems have been dreamt up by drug companies eager to sell new products to the gullible. Every class register is now chock full of acronyms and excuses such as ADD, Bipolar Somethings, Aspbergers, Oppositional Defiance Nonsense and of course ADHD. Here's a handy tip: if your own child is naughty just send a letter to his form teacher with your own impressive sounding disease and his every misdemeanor will be forever excused. It's like the 'Get Out Of Jail Free' card in Monopoly.

3) If I am cooped up all day without taking any exercise I will cause mayhem and go mad. It's no suprise that the kids do exactly the same. Many are driven to school and simply forget their kit or waste their time playing table tennis in PE. Nobody dares force them out to do physical activity and so they burn off their excess energy in your lessons.

Ask anyone who has taken a school trip somewhere involving lots of fresh air and physical activity, whether there were any problems from the naughty kids after the first couple of days.

Private Schools and institutions such as the Armed Forces have known this for centuries and make them do sport every day whether they want to or not.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Washing Lines

The latest nonsense idea that I've heard about in teaching is called the 'Washing Line'. This is where the kids either stand in a line annoying each other or stick pegs on each other's ears or clothes, whilst playing about with a long piece of string.

Great when you are six years old, but unfortunately it's aimed at GCSE and A Level!

Can you imagine them doing stuff like this at Eton? It's the kids who are being hung out to dry in the State system by ever more crazy teaching methods.

By the way, is it others, other's or others'?

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Sheffield Prepares for the Tour de France...

Rubbish on School Road, Crookes.

This Sunday Stage 2 of the Tour de France will finish in Sheffield. A glorious chance to showcase the city to a Worldwide audience you might think. If you or I were on the Council, we would make damn sure that the route only went through the best bits of town and that there was loads of bunting everywhere, along with yellow bikes and jolly cycling paraphernalia. We might even decide to have the finish line somewhere nice (like Eccleshall Rd) and we'd make very certain that there was no litter anywhere. 

But no, after several hours of beautiful Yorkshire countryside, the TV cameras will be treated to an urban wasteland featuring derelict factories and the remains of a recently demolished sports stadium. Spectators will be able to enjoy the view of the burnt out former 'Ski Village'. Mind you, it will at least encourage the riders to get a move on (for fear of being mugged) and I'd strongly advise the Team backup vehicles to keep their windows wound up and not to hang about either.

I was a student in Sheffield in the 1980s (in fact I actually lived on the road where the above picture was taken yesterday). A friend told me that the bags have been there for over a week and are being gradually pulled apart by rats! He reckons that the present Council are every bit as dumb as they were in my day and are taken by surprise with monotonous regularity each July when there is a problem with departing students leaving rubbish outside their houses. 

At least other areas on the route are getting into it: 

Anyway, hope it doesn't rain- I'm going up to watch near High Bradfield. If you see someone sitting on a deckchair  wearing a stripey jumper, a stuck-on moustache and a string of onions, with a baguette, cheese and a bottle of red wine, then do say 'hello'. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Partnered Post: Kids and Homework

Kids and homework: the benefits and the excuses

Love it or loathe it, homework is here to stay. And whether your kids are just starting out in the education system or well on their way to exam success, there’s a good chance they’ll be sitting down every night for a bit of extra schooling.

Though it can sometimes be an inconvenience, in general homework will benefit your child’s education. So whatever excuses they come up with to avoid doing a bit of home study, just try to focus on the good you know it’s doing them.

Benefit: It really can improve school results

Next time your child’s homework is getting in the way of a family day out or evening meal, just try to remember that it really can make a big difference to their school results.

In fact, research has shown that doing around two hours of homework a night can boost school results; giving your child a greater chance of success and helping them to stay one step ahead.

Excuse: There’s no time for homework

One of the most common excuses put forward by both parents and kids is that there’s not enough time to get homework done.

Though this may be true occasionally, normally most kids can find a few half hour slots in which to finish off those maths problems or start an essay. If time really is an issue, look for opportunities wherever you go.

For example, next time you visit the grandparents at home or in a McCarthy & Stone development, try to find a quiet corner for your kids to work in – their grandparents may even be able to offer some useful help and tips using their experience!

Benefit: It can make kids more disciplined and more focused

Whether it is 30 minutes or 2 hours, sitting down to do some homework every night really can make kids more focused and more disciplined. If your kids decide to go on to university or embark on a challenging career, this motivation and dedication can be a huge benefit.

Excuse: The dog ate it

Over the years, kids have come up with every excuse under the sun to explain why their homework has gone undone. Though some may contain a smattering of truth, very few essays have in fact been eaten by the family pet or, as one creative student claimed, blown up in a controlled explosion!

At the end of the day, homework is there for yours and your child’s benefit. If they’re struggling to get in done, talk to their teachers and work together to ensure your child doesn’t get left behind. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Wayne Rooney's Role in the Rise of House Prices and Fundamentalist Islam in British Schools

Well they say that you can't keep a good man down and neither can you get rid of me for ever. Sorry about the slight delay since my last post, but when you run a dynamic and highly successful cutting edge business it does eat up a large amount of your time.

If however like me, you just bumble along, then a different excuse is required. Basically I just got tired of moaning about teaching. After writing two books and over a thousand blog posts, the job of teaching along with the quality of education in a typical Comprehensive has simply got worse. Whilst I don't think that's entirely my fault, it is a bit off-putting.

Anyway, hope you are all well. I'll post occasionally from now on, maybe some bits about teaching along with other stuff that interests me. I will also use Twitter now and again.

The title of this post is nothing more than a blatant attempt to catch web searches. As far as I'm concerned Sharia Law sounds great (as long as you're a bloke).

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fleet Tutors

Need a boost ahead of your exams?

With the ever-stressful exam period just around the corner, more and more parents are looking to use private tuition to give their child that final push. A personal tutor can supplement a classroom education with a personalised programme helping a child achieve his or her highest academic potential.

Enlisting the help of a personal tutor is being seen as an increasingly necessary tool in the preparation stages of exams. A recent poll shows that in the UK, 24% of all young people have embarked on a course of private tuition at some point in their academic life, with that figure climbing to 40% in London; it is clear that private tuition is a booming industry.

Fleet Tutors, the UK’s foremost tutoring agency, has assisted over 100,000 students across Britain and overseas, supporting preparation for exams at all stages and age levels with their brand of personal tuition. Offering a variety of tutoring methods; including group or one-to-one tuition, specialised revision courses and even live online tutoring, Fleet Tutors only supply education experts of the requisite experience and competency, as well as the necessary qualifications.

The benefits of a tailored program of education focused upon a singular student, rather than the division of time and resources that often occurs in a classroom, have been proven on many occasions. With the attention centred on the needs of the individual, an environment is created in which a successful tutor is able to stimulate learning and renew enthusiasm for a particular subject or subject groups.

As well as an increase in academic results and achievement, private tuition has also shown to lead to a boost in a student’s confidence and self-esteem. With the fear of judgement and embarrassment removed, one-to-one tuition allows for active discussion which in turn increases a student’s confidence in the subject matter, leading to a far more comfortable pupil when amongst his or her peers.

Whether you need a helping hand with your GCSEs and A-Levels, would like to give your child the best chance possible in an entrance exam or 11+, get in touch with Fleet Tutors to see how they can help you or your child to build confidence in a demanding subject.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Online Learning in the U.S.

Education in US a Little Lacking?
Education researchers are taking a fresh look at some hard statistics about education in America as they prepare a plan to move the American educational system into the 21st century.
According to recent findings, U.S. manufacturers report that 40% of high school graduates don't have the math skills and 60% don't have the reading skills needed to hold down a production job. The U.S. ranks 12th among 38 industrialized countries for numbers of 24-36-year-olds with college degrees, putting the United States behind New Zealand, Israel and Canada.
Most importantly however, long-term earning statistics for adults indicates that while a high school drop-out can expect to earn $18,000 per year, a high school graduate can expect to earn $28,000, a college graduate can expect a salary of $51,000 and a person holding an advanced degree will earn upwards of $74,000. The more a person earns, the more he will spend which, for economists, emphasizes the importance of encouraging national academic advancement to create a thriving economy for all Americans.
Online learning programs are expanding but basic public school education, even with complementary e-learning components, is still dependent on the classroom teacher. School systems and non-profit organizations have begun to institute new changes and advancements that will enhance the performance of public school teachers and prepare them to meet the challenges of the future.
  • Teacher training programs are increasing the on-site components of their programs to provide new teachers with more time in classrooms where they can apply educational theories in practical, real-life settings.
  • Online education is moving into a more prominent role in the classroom. Online learning individualizes instruction, offers more options for student evaluations, exposes students to more information than their classroom teacher might have and increases the interactive components of a lesson.
  • Teacher awards acknowledge particularly effective teachers which serves to  motivate the recipients themselves as well as their colleagues and other community educators.
  • Teacher-mentoring partnerships are becoming increasingly popular in schools throughout the country. Teacher-mentoring programs facilitates mentoring relationships between veteran, effective teachers and teachers who may be struggling with their classes.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


I can't help but think that we're getting a bit carried away with this 'heatwave' stuff. It's only been two weeks after all and the Met Office is issuing 'Level Three Alerts' on the News, whatever they are.

Global Warming is to blame, just as it was responsible for the cool, wet and windy weather that preceded it, the cold dry winters and the warm wet winters as well.

I'm so glad I'm not Global Warming- it gets the blame for everything.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Independence Day

Today is the day when Americans get to eat loads of hot dogs, shoot things in the woods and be generally loud and obnoxious whilst banging on about how they are the best country in the World.

Yes, it's Thursday again.

School Holidays

On Jeremy Vine's Radio 2 show yesterday, they were discussing school holidays and whether schools should just be allowed to decide their own dates.
At the moment, most State Schools have roughly the same holidays and the travel companies add on a huge price hike to go away in those weeks.

If every school just does their own thing, imagine a family with three kids, one at infants, one at junior and the other at senior school, all with different holidays? You'd have one of them at home virtually every other week! You could even end up with a couple who both worked as teachers but never had any time off together. (In some parts of the Country, statistically you would have at least two children and four grandchildren off at any one time with only three partners out of prison to help look after them).

However the bit I liked best was the person who said that teachers spend a great deal of the long Summer Holiday going into school and preparing for the next term. Maybe you need to if you are the Head or in the Senior Management, but any ordinary teacher who does this needs to get a life. One of the great perks of teaching is the long holidays and by refusing to admit this, we just make ourselves look silly.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Schools Direct

So we seem to be facing a shortage of teachers again. This has happened roughly every ten years since the Pyramids were built, usually because either:

1) The economy is booming, or
2) There has been lots of bad publicity about pay and conditions in teaching.

As always, the problem is most acute in the important subjects (A shortage of Drama Teachers would simply be cause for celebration).

Anyway, the Government has brought in a new program called 'Schools Direct' where you train at a school and get paid. Sounds like a good idea. However it's only accepted about half as many trainee teachers as hoped because:

1) Not enough schools have agreed to provide the training, either on ideological grounds or because they aren't being paid enough.

2) Nobody thought to advertise it.

3) Maybe, as with all targets, the numbers were a bit arbitrary anyway.

Heads of participating schools haven't been too impressed by some of the candidates they've received. This isn't surprising when you bear in mind that all the new comedy Universities are churning out hundreds of tonnes of dross each year.

'Half of Teacher Training places unfilled' makes a good headline, but the publicity it generates will be enough to boost the numbers by the time the courses start- you mark my words. (Just don't mark the applicants' words).

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Teacher Training

The best way to learn how to be a teacher is in a school. Despite what teacher training courses might tell you, (in order to justify their own jobs) there really isn't any important theory worth knowing. All you need is lots of practice with some guidance and regular feedback from a good teacher.

This statement assumes you understand the subject you are going to teach, which unfortunately isn't always the case.

I don't care what standard of degree teachers have because they won't be teaching anything at degree level. It's no more relevant than whether they can juggle three balls or stand on their hands. I do want them to have good  'A' and GCSE results in their subject because that is precisely what they will be teaching and if they weren't very good at it themselves, I'd rather not have them in front of my kids.

ps my first book's just had its 200th review on Amazon. It's worth scrolling through them as there are some quite amusing rants

Bizarrely the sequel only has ten reviews, for which I have no explanation

Monday, July 01, 2013

Independent Financial Advisors

The Financial Services industry has reportedly shed 10 000 jobs in the last three months according to the Financial Times.

Now you will no doubt be distressed by this news, but dry your eyes and read on. I'll get to the point.

For years I struggled desperately to keep a straight face whenever a friend or colleague told me, usually in hushed and solemn tones, that they had "spoken to a Financial Advisor". Before the recent changes (which should have taken place 20 years ago), these actors would feign great interest in your financial future, speak very seriously about planning, security, risk and return, before recommending that you buy whichever product made them the most commission.

Simple as that. The reason I can say this with such confidence is that it's exactly what I would have done in their place. We can assume that a fair percentage of the population are just a self interested as I am and out of those people, a disproportionate number are attracted to jobs which require very few qualifications and the opportunity to earn lots of money.

The old commission system was as crazy as getting teachers to mark their own pupils' exams. Oh hang on a minute...

ps as an Independent Book Reviewer I'd recommend that you take this book or this one on holiday to read on the beach. Remember, your future happiness is very important to me.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Contains only Natural Nonsense

Can we all please agree to stop using the word 'natural' to make things sound good? I've just seen a sports drink advertised as containing only 'natural sugars' as if there were any other types.

Natural things occur in Nature ie Arsenic, Mercury, Bubonic Plague, Deadly Nightshade, Cancer and Radioactivity. Just remember, Nature isn't just Pandas, Penguins and Koala Bears. It's chock full of things that are always trying to kill us.

Nasty 'artificial' things include central heating, Vitamin C tablets and most medicinal drugs.

Death of the High Street

The following story neatly illustrates how most traditional High Street shopping chains deserve to go under, as they don't try to offer something that the Internet cannot.

A friend of mine wished to buy some road cycling shoes and as her city had two large cycling chains, Evans and Edinburgh Cycles, she imagined that the task would be a doddle.

Instead she described it as a wasted afternoon of total frustration. Hardly any staff and no shoes in her size. (No she doesn't have size 13 feet, she's a very average six). Both shops made vague offers that they might be able to get some by Wednesday or Friday but couldn't guarantee it because they have to go via central depot- it's the way the ordering system is set up... blah, blah blah.

Believe it or not, they both wanted her to put down a deposit before they would order the shoes in her size! I can't think of a better way to put customers off, but apparently that's their policy.

Instead she simply went home and later ordered half a dozen pairs from the internet shop 'Wiggle', which arrived two days later, (with the brilliant option of having them delivered to a local newsagent). She tried them all on without having to drive anywhere, kept one pair and simply returned the others via the same newsagent for no charge.

I'm not getting paid anything by Wiggle, but which business do you think deserves to survive?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Jeremy Forrest

So 30 year old Maths teacher Jeremy Forrest got five and a half years. Whilst we probably agree that what he did was wrong, should he really spend more time in prison than a mugger,  a burglar who attacked a woman in her own home, or a robber who almost killed his victim?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Invisible Children

Chief Inspector of Schools, Michael Wilshaw has discovered yet another group who are being let down by teachers- invisible kids from seaside resorts:


Before this, teachers were busy letting down poor white kids, but only after they had finished letting down black pupils, girls, inner city kids, children from rural areas, disabled pupils, naughty pupils and the ones who didn't come to school at all.

Maybe if teachers weren't told to spend all their time on nonsense such as group work, differentiation, filling out endless unnecessary forms, peer assessment, role play and any other fads that Senior Management Teams dream up whilst stoked out of their heads on LSD, then they might have time to search their classrooms for invisible children.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Coursework Capers

Normally if a child hands in coursework that is worth a 'D' grade, then that pupil is told how to improve it, the work is returned to them and they bring back a new improved version in a couple of weeks time. (Note that this extra help is only for the 'D' grade children because they are the ones that matter.)

As the deadline to send off the marks to the exam board draws near however, panic sets in amongst the staff, as there will always be a few lazy pupils who haven't redone their work.

A novel approach was explained to me last week by a friend whose department simply reports all the 'D's to the exam board as 'C's and only bothers getting the kids to improve their work in the unlikely event that the exam board select one of the inflated pieces of coursework to be sent off for checking.

Everyone's a winner. The teachers don't have to chase as many kids, the department gets more Grade 'C's and the school's exam results go up. I don't know why the practice isn't more widespread.

Oh hang on, it is.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

House Repossession

Many people are threatened each year with the awful prospect of having their home repossessed by their mortgage lender because they have suffered a change in financial circumstances which leaves them unable to meet the full monthly mortgage repayments.

The banks can be extremely inflexible, despite the generosity of the taxpayer in bailing them out when they were having difficulties and dealing with them is a daunting prospect. You can never get through to anyone who isn't simply reading from a script.

If you are facing the prospect of having your house repossessed then it's got to be worth contacting Repossession Stoppers. They will give you advice as well as making you a cash offer for your house.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Selling Your House

Even though the economy is starting to improve, many people are struggling to sell their house, as the banks are still restricting mortgages and asking for large deposits, which many people struggle to come up with.

Estate Agents charge a fortune for what they actually do and many sales fall through when the mortgage lender suddenly decides to restrict the amount they are prepared to lend because of something in the survey such as 'possible damp in the beams' which has been written in purely to cover the surveyor's back.

A much simpler and easier solution might be to look for a specialist cash buyer such as Ask Susan


Monday, April 22, 2013

Football and School

Footballer Luis Suarez bites an opponent in 2010, blames it on jet lag and is suspended for a few matches. No fine or sacking. In 2013, he does it again. This time he is fined a trivial amount and sent to 'Anger Management' classes.

At school, Jayden from Year 9 swears at a teacher and is sent to the Head of Year. He apologises, blames it on his teacher Mr Jones 'winding him up' and is given no more than a mild telling off. Three weeks later he does it again and is given another talking to. Have a wild guess at what he does next term?

We bring it upon ourselves.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Teachers' Union Conferences

One of the main reasons I and many others went into teaching was for the long holidays. They are a great perk of the job and it always saddens me that many teachers don't make more use of them. It's not lack of money holding them back (how much does it cost to go for a long walk?) It's all too often lack of imagination.

One Easter Holiday activity to avoid at all costs however is the various Union Conferences, whose main purpose is to provide the tabloids with more headlines to turn public opinion even further against us. Every daft proposal and every foolish statement is Manna from Heaven for the journalists.

Here's a much better activity for those readers who live in the North. Build yourself an igloo following the instructions below

The internet never ceases to amaze me. On learning of Amazon's purchase this morning of I repeated a phrase that I must have uttered hundreds of times over the last 15 years. Namely "Why didn't I think of that?"

Thursday, March 28, 2013


As a teacher it is important to regularly express your distaste for the Conservative Party and the 'Establishment' and absolutely vital that your colleagues know how much you hate the Daily Mail.

Such sentiment is not always unjustified. The Mail keeps its niche readership in a state of constant rage by playing to all their fears, whether it be of immigrants eating their babies or asylum seekers murdering them in their beds. It is not exactly renowned for supporting State School teachers, whom it regards (sometimes correctly) as a bunch of raving lefties.

The following article won't be news to anyone who works in a hell hole school, but it's worth a quick read if only for the comments. If you select 'best rated' then you will be surprised at how supportive of teachers they are. (Well they were at ten thirty this evening anyway). There's also some useful illustrations to remind you of what teachers, pupils and computers look like.

School Bans Triangular Flapjacks

For years I have warned of the dangers of these lethal biscuits, but would anybody listen?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Financial Advisers

For some reason an oily man who described himself as a 'Financial Adviser' wanted me to "talk over some investment possibilities" with him last week. (Seriously, this is how these people speak).

"Do you have an enormous house, a selection of holiday homes in desirable parts of the World, a posh car and a yacht?" I asked.

His baffled silence saved me from asking the obvious followup:

"If you don't know how to make a success of your own finances, why on Earth would I want your advice on mine?"

Taking financial advice from someone who isn't ridiculously wealthy, strikes me as being about as smart as listening to my views on diplomacy.

(Oh and someone is going to pull me up on the punctuation in that first paragraph).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Kids of Today

Here's a bizarre BBC News article where a man in his early 50s goes back to the rather nice school he once attended and wonders why it it's full of aspirational, well behaved, mature young people rather than mindless yobs, vandals and dropouts. (Which of course is exactly how it would have been when he went there).

Did the BBC never think to send him to St Thickchilds? Our inner city hell hole could have supplied him with plenty of miscreants to keep him happy. I'm sure that his face would be a picture of delight when some 'rebellious pupil' swore at him or spat on him as he walked under a classroom window. Just imagine how proud he would be on returning to his car to find that it had been scratched with a key by some young 'challenger of society's values'.

Most kids today are fairly sensible. Most kids always were.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Facts and Learning

When I did my teacher training in the late '80s, advocating any sort of rote learning (or indeed any learning) was about as wise as openly declaring your love for Margaret Thatcher. When I asked how kids were supposed to learn their tables or spellings, everyone laughed at my old fashioned foolishness. This is the modern world, our lecturer told us. There are new and more exciting ways to teach nowadays (and one day there may even be telephones that do not have to be plugged in to the wall.)

This is still the situation today. Critical thinking, group projects and working things out for yourself are far more important than simply learning facts. Why would children need to waste their time and clutter up their brains learning things when we have Google, which can tell us anything we wish to know.

Now my problem with all this is that if you have no facts to compare an answer with, then you can never judge it's authenticity. For example, if I ask you what the Gross Domestic Product of the UK was back in 1970 and you tell me that it was £25, then I need some related knowledge before I can say whether this is likely to be correct or not. We have been brainwashed in teaching to regard everyone's views as equally important and we think that simply having an opinion somehow has some value in itself.

Now whilst I'm not saying that everything should simply be learnt off by heart, I don't agree that it is a waste of time. Rote learning teaches young children to concentrate. We are forever hearing that pupils have much shorter concentration spans than they once had and this is blamed on the increased pace of modern life. Why don't we try and improve their concentration rather than just accepting it? There's also a nice calming effect which we could really do with later on as well.

Repeated practice is also immensely effective and enables you to recall a skill or fact years later. I still say "amo, amas, amat..." whenever anybody asks me whether I did any Latin at school, whereas I just stare blankly with my mouth open if they enquire about anything I did in Geography. I also never had a clue how long division worked, but was perfectly capable of doing it. Debates and peer-centric review? No, just learn and practice and you'll be fine.

(By the way, this post is not meant to offer any support for the teaching of Latin in school, which is a complete and utter waste of time).

Friday, March 22, 2013

Snow Again

Apologies that my recent output has been less than a Cypriot cashpoint machine, but I've been busy. (Well by my standards anyway).

Right, here's two things that have caught my attention recently

1) Many young teachers seem to be applying for promotions incredibly early on in their careers. Eg  a second year teacher got a deputy head of department job and another became a Head at 31. Now this either means that they are incredibly aspirational and talented, or that there is a preference for younger staff, or simply that older teachers just don't want the extra workload and stress that comes with these positions.

2) If the parents of kids at the top or bottom of the ability range at Secondary school ever found out how much resources are concentrated on the C/D borderline kids, there would be uproar. Getting Harriet an A* grade or teaching Jayden to read is of no importance whatsoever. The best teachers along with extra revision classes and intensive tuition days are thrown at that one important group.

(Oh, for those of you outside teaching, the A* grade was brought in because the ordinary A grade became devalued as they were awarded for little more than filling your name out correctly)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Well I suppose we can hardly complain about Britain's infrastructure and then whinge when those in charge try to fix it, can we? Mind you, wouldn't a couple of extra lanes on all our motorways help more, cost less and not spoil anybody's garden?

I also wish that we wouldn't make ourselves sound so ridiculous by quoting a finish date that is decades away. It just doesn't sound very likely to actually happen. If we are really going to do it, why can't we do it right now?

Also, I couldn't help but laugh when I saw that Sheffield's station is going to be at their out of town shopping centre. Residents in the South West of that city (the only group who will be able to afford to use the new service) will probably see their journey times to London increased.

Finally, I've just noticed that my 'autobiography' has more reviews on Amazon than Richard Branson's. That's got to mean something, but I'm just not sure exactly what.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Eyes and Stuff

As there has been a sudden Email interest in my health, I will answer all questions in one go:

1) No I am not about to croak.

2) Several readers have asked "What are the symptoms?" So far I have resisted the temptation to reply that they are a little yellow cartoon family on the telly. The truth is that I noticed a small dark grey patch in the bottom left corner when looking through my left eye which (for those of you who did not pay attention in biology) means that the retina has started to peel off in the top right corner. If  you notice the same effect, then go to your nearest hospital straight away. DO NOT EMAIL ME!

There, hopefully I've done my bit for the public's health.

3) How long did I have to wait? It's classed as an emergency, so they did the operation within 24 hours.

4) Local or General anaesthetic? It's up to the patient- the op. can be done under both. I had local and it's pretty weird. Not painful at all, but you have to be able to keep your mind focused on something else. The operation lasts an hour and then they put a bubble of gas in your eye to push against the retina to keep it in place. (Don't ask what the gas is- it annoys the surgeon).

3) Afterwards? You lie face down feeling sorry for yourself for an hour, wear a patch for a day and you can go home once the pressure in your eye is below 30. (Nobody knows what the units are and only people like me ever enquire). One in three suffer from elevated pressure in the eye for a while (which feels exactly as you'd imagine it would), but it's easily treated with eye drops. Don't forget to take the eye patch home with you for future Adam Ant/ Pirate dressing up amusement.

For ten days you have to maintain a certain position as much as possible in order to keep the gas bubble pushing in the right place- in my case I had to have my head upright during the day and sleep on my left side at night. (I had the easiest regime- some poor sods have to lie face downwards or on their side for the first ten days.) You take drops and tablets for a couple of weeks, which unfortunately don't have any interesting side effects. All your friends will be moderately sympathetic until they tire of you shouting "Who said that?" every time they ask how it's going.

Outcome? It's like looking through a bowl of water at first then the bubble gradually disappears from your vision over a few weeks and now I can see one between one and two lines less on an eyesight chart. This isn't a major problem as I wore contacts anyway, so I just get a new prescription. Apparently the vision may improve over the next six months or so. (Or so my optician hopes, so he can sell me another contact lens).

Anyway, that's it. Now that you have all convinced yourselves that you have a detached retina, I shall await the News at Ten report that every Eye Department across the Nation is under siege.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

NHS Bed Shortage

About six weeks ago, I had to go into hospital to have an operation on my left eye, as I had suffered a slight retinal tear. Worry not, as the procedure went well and the next day I was told by the surgeon that I could go home.

"Hoorah!" I thought and paid no attention to the rest of his sentence: "- just as soon as your drops and tablets have been sent up from the hospital pharmacy."

Four and a half hours later, they duly arrived. According to the nurses, there was nothing unusual in this timescale and they assured me that it was much worse at weekends, or Bank Holidays.

"You can be waiting 8 hours then!" One of them added cheerfully.

Several times during my long wait, I thought of simply going home and picking them up later. However I couldn't drive, so would have had to scrounge a lift. It would have been an hour's round trip and no, the staff can't phone you when your medicines are ready. So I stayed put, wondering how much my bed cost per hour.

I finally received my bag of drugs, said goodbye to the others in my little ward and as I walked out I could hear the man in the bed opposite me asking the nurse how much longer his prescriptions would be (He had already waited over three hours).

Bear this story in mind the next time you hear on the news about a hospital beds shortage.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Teachers' Pay

So a Government Education Minister has finally decided on the radical step of paying good teachers more than bad ones. Needless to say, everybody is up in arms.

Introducing any kind of real-world market forces into Teaching never goes down well. The Unions oppose it because they have to be seen to be opposing things, the hopeless teachers don't like it because they will get paid less and the good teachers say they oppose it in the staffroom, but are secretly delighted. The main objection is that 'it is too difficult'.

Bradley and Jordan from Year 9 have used that excuse in the past to great effect.

I'd go further and pay more to those who teach subjects for which we are short of teachers. The howls of protest would put a werewolf to shame.

Here's an story about a Saudi Arabian man who got a bit carried away with his love for education.

Finally, best of luck to my good pal Jez Bragg who is starting today on a 3000 km run along the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand. It goes North to South across both islands and you can follow his progress on his blog  here and on Twitter here  (He is hoping to be able to pronounce the name of the route by the end of January)

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Student House Rental Sheffield

Well it's that time of year again, when students across the land start looking for houses for the next academic year. It seems to get earlier and earlier each year (I remember we didn't start looking until about Easter). If you happen to be lucky enough to be studying at Sheffield University and wish to avoid old fashioned, damp and mouldy houses then contact this guy who comes highly recommended from a friend

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Raspberry Pi

Having covered so many IT lessons which were simply typing by another name, the Raspberry Pi computer is like a breath of fresh air. Dirt cheap, easily programmable and you can muck about with it to your heart's content.

Here's a demonstration of how to use it as a simple web server. It won't be particularly practical but that's not the point. It enables kids to learn some useful skills and actually do something.

You can even make an Airplay receiver but I can't afford to fight Apple's lawyers so look it up yourself. Hook them up to other high tech stuff that is rapidly becoming cheaper such as miniature video cameras, GPS, 3D printers and motion sensing game controllers- the surface has barely been scratched. Private Schools have spotted the advantages enjoyed by pupils who can actually program and are ordering them at five times the rate of the State Sector.

This really is pioneering stuff and hopefully the next Steve Wozniak is furtively connecting dozens of them together in order to make a supercomputer in the back of a classroom near you.

Oh hang on I forgot- none of this is on the syllabus.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Comment Verification

Several readers have complained about how difficult it is to read those distorted letters that appear when you try to leave a comment. Apparently they are supposed to verify that you are indeed a real person leaving spam rather than a computer programme.

I apologise and admit that they are a nightmare. Unfortunately when I tried turning the feature off a few days ago as an experiment, I was immediately bombarded with almost a hundred comments hiding links to all sorts of rubbish.

Now this makes me wonder. Everyone operates on the same cost-versus-benefit rule, no matter what line of business they are in or whether they are honest or not. No matter how cheap it is to send out spam, it isn't free. Nor is it free to host a website. Therefore somebody, somewhere must be following these links and buying the products on offer.

So this begs the question:

Just who exactly believes that they will get a cheap Rolex watch by visiting a website based in Russia? Or that a reputable chemist is waiting for them at the end of a link entitled "Best Cheap Price Viagra"? I want to meet the person who sends their money off to buy a "Lois Vuitton" handbag from Nigeria and more importantly, I want to know who was responsible for their education.

We should teach kids the meaning of the word 'gullible'? (Which by the way, isn't actually in the Oxford Dictionary)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tutor Kings and Queens

"If you want to be a top tutor, it definitely helps if you are young and attractive" says young and attractive Kelly Mok from the amusingly named Hong Kong tutoring company- King's Glory. More on the phenomenon of celebrity tutors here

Must dash, as I think the postman has just arrived with an invitation to start a new life in the Far East.

Monday, November 26, 2012

New Teachers

It has been fashionable to criticise the younger generation ever since Ug was a caveman, but nevertheless, you may be interested in a conversation I had last week with  two Science teachers James and Ivan. Both men are in their mid-fifties and I was asking how teaching had changed since they started in the late 1970s.
(Please bear in mind that this is not a Scientific experiment with reproducible results- it's simply three guys talking in a pub).

Their first admission was that the new teachers worked so much harder than they ever did. Ivan pointed out that 'in the olden days' the staffroom was always full of people chattering and at lunchtimes they would play darts or pool. Nowadays they said, the room is almost silent and the young teachers are always marking and planning.

"They are under so much more pressure than we ever were" agreed James.

"We were pretty much left to get on with it, whereas nowadays you always feel like there's someone looking over your shoulder. "

Both men admitted that they were glad their circumstances would enable them to retire within the next few years and felt that they were luckier than young adults nowadays. They had not had to pay to go to University, could not imagine teaching until the age of 68 and felt sorry for people starting off in teaching.

Ivan qualified this by pointing out that half the country goes to Uni nowadays, whereas it used to be much more selective academically, so many of those who get a degree today would never have been given one in the past. We got slightly sidetracked at this point with a calculation that our nearest University now had four times the number of students that it had thirty five years ago. All three of us agreed that a huge con was being perpetrated on the current generation by telling them how clever they all were and pushing them into 'debt and dodgy degrees'.

This led to James claiming that the present generation of teachers were on average less intelligent than his own. He emphasised the 'on average' bit, before adding that in his opinion half of the 'new ones' wouldn't know how to work out an average anyway. Ivan agreed that subject knowledge along with standards of English and basic maths had dropped considerably in the last 30 years, but also pointed out that he had heard the same claims from older teachers when he was young and it was blamed on the arrival of electronic calculators.

"The young lads dress better than we did" admitted Ivan. "I used to wear a leather bomber jacket for school and you used to wear jeans half the time (indicating James)- whereas they tend to wear a nice suit nowadays."

"Yeah, but what some of the young female teachers wear these days is unbelievable!" Announced James enthusiastically, spilling some of his pint and barely able to sit still.

"Teaching methods have changed massively too. We just did chalk and talk so if you were having a bad day you just sat down, buried your head in a pile of marking and got the kids to do an exercise in silence from the textbook. Both laughed. "Now you're expected to provide non-stop entertainment".

They agreed that the job had become much more demanding. Ivan had started out when their school was a Grammar and recounted the shock that they all had when the Comprehensive intake arrived and suddenly the ability range broadened.

"The older teachers (at the time) just couldn't cope with a load of kids who could barely read. But even so, they were streamed from the minute they arrived in Year 7, not like now where you've got two years of mixed ability to deal with and all the Special Schools have closed so you've got all the head cases in there as well"

"And all this multicultural stuff- all the problems with the foreign kids' different culture and language. We never had to deal with any of that." James added.

"Looking back the discipline was so easy. We might have complained about the odd naughty kid, but nothing like today. At least there was a little bit of respect for teachers back then, both from the kids and parents- now we're just dirt.

Finally I asked them both whether they would recommend the career to a bright 21 year old graduate.

After a slight pause, they both shook their heads rather sadly.

I pointed out that job security counted for a lot these days and teaching was pretty safe. They agreed, although James pointed out that this would not be the case in a few years time when most schools had become Academies and could hire and fire teachers much easier.

He paused and added:

"Accountability and professionalism are all very well, but once they go too far and the job just becomes unpleasant then you'll only recruit those who can't do anything else"

"Like you, Frank!" They both added in unison.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Doom and Gloom

So inflation's going back up, the gas companies are ripping us off, the BBC's in crisis- can it really get any worse?

What? They've let who out of jail?..

Monday, November 12, 2012

International Aid

How on Earth can we expect India to fund an £800 million space exploration programme if we're going to start penny-pinching and not send them any more money after 2015?

Likewise, if we cut back on the river of cash flowing to Nigeria each year, how will they afford to let people know about their £251 million win in the Lagos State Lottery? Or that a long lost Auntie has unfortunately been involved in a plane crash and left them a fortune, which can be sent out after a small administration fee has been paid?

Still, at least we are boosting aid to Pakistan. Their defense budget rose by 10% this year and some of their nuclear reactors could really do with a bit of modernisation work. Maybe they'll be able to sell us some electricity once our lights start to go out?

It's no wonder Amazon, Ebay and Google don't want to pay taxes in our Country. They're just saving us from ourselves.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Obama Wins

Well at least we don't have Mad Mitt in charge of things over the Pond, although the impression I got last year was that most people would reluctantly vote for Obama simply because there was no serious alternative.

Oh and today's top tip- don't go cutting any of your pupils' hair (even if it is too long)

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

School Dinners and Jamie Oliver Again

The canteens in schools which have become Academies don't have to follow the same nutritional regulations as those in schools which haven't. Now I've no idea whether these rules make the food better or worse (anyone can call themselves a nutritionist as it's not a protected name like 'Doctor').

However I do know that if nothing is done, then Jamie Oliver's chubby grinning face will appear on the telly faster than you can say 'chip butty' and we all have a duty to try and prevent that.

We need more rules for Academies
Governing chips, potatoes and peas.
So write to your MP today.
And together we'll keep Jamie away!

Monday, November 05, 2012

Vanessa Greening and Jeremy Vine

A quiet word from the Head should have sorted out this nonsense, but instead Vanessa Greening received an assault conviction and her school will now 'carry out an investigation' before deciding what to do with her.
I don't mind admitting that I did exactly the same thing a dozen times.

Do we hear her Union speaking out in her defense, as they would do if she didn't know anything about her subject, couldn't be bothered to try and control the kids, or never came in to work?

Also, well done to Jeremy Vine last week for highlighting the madness of teachers marking their own pupils' coursework when they are themselves judged on how good the marks are.
More on this in

Monday, October 22, 2012

Question Time

One question that I know the answer to and a couple that I don't- reminds me of my Finals.

1) Why do adverts for watches always show the same time- ten minutes past ten?

2) Why do I need an European Health Insurance card to get free medical treatment in Europe? (they used to be called E111s) when I have a perfectly good British Passport?

3) Is there a more infuriating website than Ryanair's?


1) Apparently it makes the watch look better (symmetrical and resembles a smiling face) whilst allowing the manufacturers logo to be seen between the hands. When this practice started, I have no idea.

ps Have a look at the review on the right hand side of the page (Scroll down a bit) under Most Recent Customer Reviews by JEM.

I don't reckon that they will buy the sequel...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mixed Ability

The year 7 class are having their first Science Lesson. Edward in the front row is bursting with enthusiasm, his little hand reaching for the sky as Miss Jones asks a question about the Sun. He knows all the names of the planets and is fascinated by anything to do with dinosaurs, Astronomy and things that go fast. He has a Chemistry Set at home and is desperately keen to learn how to blow things up.

Two rows back, Brandon and Lee do not know the answer. Brandon has a reading age of six and an ability level that prevents him from doing anything more complicated than drawing and colouring in. His writing is totally illegible and he cannot do basic arithmetic. He has no support teacher today, as she is only with him for three lessons out of five.

Lee has a similar ability but never even has a support teacher because he has not been statemented; a lengthy process which must be completed before any help can be paid for. For some reason his previous school never managed to do it, which is not unusual.

At the front, Miss Jones has a choice: she can either spend a huge amount of her time helping Brandon and Lee, or she can concentrate on the middle ability level of the group and simply let these two do something trivial. Either way, she has no time to answer Edward's numerous questions on asteroids and comets. She is starting to get fed up with him, as he makes her feel guilty. He keeps saying that the work is far too easy and is becoming bored and disillusioned with Science.

Let's not pretend or mince our words here- Miss Jones is simply wasting Brandon, Lee and Edward's time.

It's not her fault- she is only human and cannot possibly deal with such a ridiculously large spectrum of abilities. Deep down, she feels that mixed ability classes seem to let down the best and the worst. All she has ever been told however, is how great it is that the school is so 'inclusive'.

In my opinion, Lee and Brandon should not be in this lesson at all. They should be learning to read and write, to add up and subtract. They should be with people who are trained to teach these things, not Secondary School teachers. They should never have left Primary school until they have mastered these skills, because without them, they will never be employed.

Instead their next lesson is French...

Edward is also being let down and shouldn't be in this lesson. The school will not worry one jot about him however, as the chances are that he will muddle through and get a 'c' grade, so he is just forgotten about. In another scenario he would have grown up to become a great scientist.

The above story is happening right now at a school near me.

Unfortunately it's also happening at one near you.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Lance Armstrong

Very sad day for sport with the damning USADA report including doping admissions by several of Lance's former teammates who had all strenuously denied any wrongdoing for years.

I'd have said that we were more likely to see reruns of 'Jim'll Fix It' than a carefully worded confession from the saintly George Hincapie. It really does shatter any confidence in the riders, not to mention the drug testers.

Apparently, a group of former East German scientists and doctors are furious over claims that Armstrong operated 'the most successful and professional doping programme in history'. They plan to sue for libel.

Finally, just when it seems that things can't get any worse, the next scandal looks likely to be drug use by Kenyan runners.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Girls and Physics

In Biology, 55% of  'A' Level candidates are girls, in Chemistry it's 50%, but in Physics, it's only 20%.

Now my initial response was:

"So what?" If we were to look at the figures for Nursing, English or Sociology, we would find that boys were in the minority.

However that wouldn't make much of a post, so let's have a look at the three possible reasons.

1) Girls on average are not as good at Physics as boys.
2) Girls are not very interested in Physics.
3) Something else discourages girls from studying Physics.

Let's look at each in turn:

1) Doesn't seem very likely as girls do better at the Physics GCSE than boys. (As in pretty much all subjects.)
Now you could argue that the GCSE is female biased with its modular assessment and coursework. Maybe the male brain is more analytic and logical, which makes it more suited to studying Physics at a higher level rather than a woolly subject like Sociology for example. Maybe girls are also put off because of the Maths content.

Hard to say without doing a lot more research. It's also a taboo topic in teaching.

2) On average this is certainly true. My completely unscientific questioning of seven women (one of whom was a science teacher!) concluded that with the exception of Prof. Brian Cox, no aspect of Physics held any interest for them whatsoever. I then asked seven males and two admitted to finding the subject interesting. Maybe the things that most boys naturally gravitate towards- cars, guns mechanics, taking things apart, explosives, computers and football lead them in some way towards having more of an interest in the physical world.

3) Most Physics teachers are male, as are the vast majority of Physics students at University. (The same is true of Maths, Computing and Engineering). Most physics related jobs would involve working in a male dominated environment. I suppose that would certainly put off many females.

A BBC article stated that girls are much more likely to study Physics if they go to an all-girls school. However they failed to note that this might simply be because such schools are almost always private and tend to be very selective academically. Physics is one of the hardest subjects and so it's not surprising that more of the brighter girls study it.

Finally you could ask- do we actually need more women Physicists?

Monday, October 01, 2012

Here I am!

Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the internet...

Since I stopped blathering at the start of August, I've receiving dozens of emails asking me to come back, hundreds more begging me not to and half a dozen accusing me of having run off with Megan Stammers.

Jeremy Forrest could certainly have chosen a better time to disappear with his favourite pupil, than the week new legislation comes in to give teachers anonymity unless they are actually charged with a criminal offence, whenever accusations are made against them.

I've been banging on about this for ages, so I'd like to take some credit for its introduction. Like most things that I have anything to do with however, it is already being heavily criticised

The Guardian rather predictably claims that it might have stopped poor Megan being found, although I'm not quite sure how (It's hardly an accusation when there's cctv footage of them getting on the ferry). The paper also claim that just 15 malicious accusations were made by pupils in the last 'few years' (there's accuracy for you). I've had more made against me in a week.

Anyway, here's a new equation for Mr Forrest to ponder.

15 years + 30 years = 7 years.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

School Sport

The current government heavily criticised the previous one for allowing 200 state schools to sell off their playing fields to developers in ten years.

The previous government is now criticising the current one for allowing 20 schools to do the same in the last two years.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012


They call it God's County and you have to hand it to them. If they were a country they'd currently be an unbelievable seventh in the medal table.

Here's a list of words I've learnt the meaning of in the last week:

Omnium, double pike, Keirin, dressage, yuko.

I've got to say- even though we won a gold in it, the Keirin really does look bizarre. I definitely want to ride that motorbike in Rio...

Monday, August 06, 2012


PE departments across the Country will be bombarded in September with requests to try gymnastics, judo, rowing and cycling to name but a few. It could be a marvellous opportunity to find and encourage the next generation of athletes and point them in the right direction to achieve success.

Are we able to rise to this challenge in the state sector?

Sadly, I think the chances are smaller than Tom Daley's trunks.

7% of children in Britain go to Private schools, but they make up a much higher percentage of Team GB. Feel free to supply the reasons for this, but I suspect that ideas like "non competitive sportsday" play a major part.

Saturday, August 04, 2012


The best possible legacy from these Olympic Games would be if women were to start to value exercise and physical fitness above looks, shopping and celebrity following.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Heather Stanning, Helen Glover...

Helen Glover, Heather Stanning, Lizzie Armistead, Kate Walsh, Loius Smith, Sam Oldham, Kristian Thomas, Max whitlock, Dan Purvis, Brad Wiggins, Tom Daley, Zoe Smith... the list goes on and on.

Are we finally realising that there are real heroes out there? Exchanging our love of vacuous, self indulgent celebrities with people who can actually do great things, yet conduct themselves with modesty and dignity?

Saturday, July 28, 2012


What a great opening ceremony! Totally incomprehensible to the rest of the World.

A bit embarrassing to hear the BBC commentators this evening talking about the Men's Road Race which they clearly didn't understand at all. The reason Team GB couldn't help Cavendish win is simple- no other country seemed to want to do any work at the front. It doesn't matter how good your team of five is, you can't stay at the front for the whole race, pushing air aside for everyone else- you just end up exhausted. Simple physics really.

And how come we seem to have loads of empty seats?

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Aren't we supposed to have the Opening Ceremony before the events start?

Whoever mixed up the North and South Korean flags is probably looking at a change of Korea. Thing is, it's our Olympics and if anyone gets stroppy about the odd cock up, then just tell them to go home. We should be proud of our sense of humour and mix up stuff for a laugh- hoist a pirate flag if Somalia win and play the theme tune to Borat if Kazakhstan end up on the podium.

Top Tip: Take an empty water bottle and fill it up for free once inside the venue

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


So here's my solution:

1) The Government should cancel the contract with G4S immediately and refuse to pay them a single penny. Let them sue if they dare. They are a bunch of halfwits who cannot be trusted and will simply mess up if given the opportunity.

2) All security should be done by the Armed Forces because at least we can rely on them to do the job. It's a last minute panic measure and the soldiers will hate it. Many will have their holiday plans ruined, but reward them all with a huge bonus, free tickets for their families to any event they fancy and guaranteed leave after the Games have finished.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Mont Blanc Avalanche

The word 'extreme' is so often added to the most mundane of pastimes to make them seem more dangerous or exciting than they really are.

Mountaineering has never needed any such label, because it is really is dangerous, exciting and physically hard.

Condolences to the families of John Taylor, Steve Barber and Roger Payne; killed in an avalanche on Mr Maudit near Chamonix yesterday.

At least they died pursuing a dream, rather than sitting in front of a computer screen or a giant TV.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Immigration Queues

Those of you who try to escape the wretched weather by heading abroad, may well find that you are greeted by a mile long queue at Immigration on your return.

This happened to me at Luton a few months ago- only half the desks were manned, the new speedy e-passport checking machine wasn't working and we all stood waiting for the best part of an hour. There were sporadic outbreaks of slow hand clapping, whistling and the odd queue jumping accusation. I've faced pretty long queues in other countries, including the US, but that doesn't make it ok for us to be rubbish too.

Immigration Minister Damian Green has proved himself incapable of fixing the problem and has simply resorted to denying its existence and blaming the wind. We should just let Keith Vaz sort it out. (He's pretty good at shortening queues as the Hinduja brothers could testify).

Monday, July 09, 2012

Schools Let Down Their Best

A study by the Sutton Trust claims that English schools are letting down their brightest Maths pupils.

Non-maths teachers should be up in arms- one of the cornerstones of the comprehensive system is that we let the brightest pupils down equally in all subjects. What other outcome would you expect when schools are graded on the number of pupils who gain a 'c' grade at GCSE.

Obviously all the best teachers are put in charge of classes on the c/d borderline and those children are offered extra help after school. The best pupils are left to fend for themselves, as are the worst.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Charlie Taylor Behaviour Czar

Charlie Taylor is the Government 'Behaviour Czar' (who did he upset to receive such a daft title?) He met with the Education Select Committee yesterday and told them that:

"Some children are too disruptive to fit into regular school life"

Well goodness me, there's a revelation. 

Now you might imagine that his solution would be to send them to Borstal or something along those lines. but no, they must not be blamed or punished for their actions- instead he proposes that 'help and support' are what's needed. God save us.

It wasn't long before he degenerated into complete gibberish with such classics as:

"The trajectory of pupil behaviour is improving"

before describing some pupils' behaviour as 'challenging'. Why is it that nobody in charge can ever grit their teeth and actually say the word 'bad'?

Finally he reassured everyone by claiming that 'no-go areas where teachers fear to tread' are becoming rarer. This would be good news if we were discussing Helmand Province, but not so great when it is our own schools and the only cure suggested amounts to little more than a friendly chat over a nice cup of tea.

To be fair to Charlie he has come up with some sensible suggestions in the last year, such as telling parents not to keep their children off school for trivial reasons and proposing not paying child benefit to parents of kids who truant (I think he pinched both ideas from my book), but he needs to get a grip as far as pupil behaviour is concerned.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Natural and Organic

'Natural' and 'Organic' are two words which provide a licence to sell all sorts of expensive nonsense to the unwary. Combined with the right packaging, they are a marketer's dream, giving comfort and reassurance whilst discouraging us from subjecting the ingredients list to any scientific investigation.

Cyanide, anthrax, and radioactivity are all natural- that is they are found in Nature. Ebola, swine flu and cancer are all organic- ie related to a living organism.

'Herbal extracts' is a close runner-up in this race to fleece the foolish. A herb is simply a plant that has no wood in it and as most plants don't really like being eaten, it should be no surprise to learn that many of them have evolved all sorts of defences to dissuade animals from doing so.

However, never let it be said that I don't have the highest double standards, so keep an eye out for Chalk Industries' latest product.

Our natural, organic rat poison with plant extracts will be hitting the shelves soon. (The 'plant extract' is the cardboard box it comes in).

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


The BBC claims that Heads who have been sacked because their schools failed miserably are now being employed by Ofsted to inspect other schools.

I wonder whether the idea behind this is that they are familiar with bad practice and can recognise it from their own experiences. I'm surprised they haven't offered me a job.

Or you could argue that it doesn't really matter whether they were any good at running a school or not, as they might well have been great teachers in their time. When the inspection consists of ticking a load of boxes on a form that the teachers have seen and have had time to tailor their lessons to fit them in a way they never normally would, then a trained chimp could do the job equally well. (Especially that one I saw on the tv a few months ago doing sums)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Alan Turing

Monday is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, one of Britain's greatest Geniuses. Prof Jack Copeland suggests that his death may have been an accident rather than suicide as is generally believed.

The Daily Mash has an equally insightful article pointing out that although Turing would not be persecuted today for his homosexuality, he would instead risk a beating simply for being unfashionably clever.

Western States

Congratulations to Ellie Greenwood on a brilliant win at Western States yesterday. Well done to Ian Sharman, bad luck to Jez Bragg.

If the above means nothing to most readers, just put it down as the rantings of a deranged loon.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Francis Gilbert

Here's Francis Gilbert losing it on BBC news in a debate with Toby Young:

Francis is a well known education commenter and unlike me, is very knowledgeable on the subject. He is very left wing (which is presumably why he sent his son to a private school). He is probably not my greatest fan, once describing my book as 'vituperative' when we were interviewed together.

I thanked him profusely, not having any idea what the word meant.

I shouldn't be nasty about him as he means well, but the video is quite funny.

Pub Complaints

Am I the only one being driven mad every time I am served beer in a glass with no line on it to indicate a pint? I'm sure that they always used to have these things, but recently the glasses seem to have become smaller and the pint level is assumed to be right at the top, presumably in order to make an extra profit of around 10% (my estimate).

It really annoys me, because even if you are stroppy as I am and ask for it to be topped up, the beer is then almost like a bubble on top of the glass and you invariably spill some of it over your freshly laundered shirt on the way back from the bar (and look a bit silly). If you are buying two or three then you end up having to drink a bit out of each of them before daring to walk away, which makes you look like a wino.

Whilst we're on the subject of pub madness, why do I always have to have a new glass rather than just have my old one refilled, thus saving the energy required to wash it up? Is it some imagined 'Health and Safety' risk? Neither can you bring your own oversized glass with a pint mark on it, because it might not be something-or-other to do with breaking that I can't remember.

Finally has anyone been to a pub where you can keep your own pewter tankard behind the bar? I've never tried beer from one but apparently it improves the taste.

It's strange really, when pubs are closing down all over the place, that we have so many silly little things that just put people off and encourage them to stay at home, where at least you know how much is in your supermarket bottle of lager and can drink it from your own boot if you so choose.

Michael Gove, Nick Clegg and Education

So just to sum up:

Michael Gove thinks that the GCSE has become dumbed down (which it has) and that having five exam boards competing to see who can offer the easiest papers has resulted in 'a race to the bottom' (which is also true- what else would you expect competition in this area to do?)

He proposes going back to the old system of more rigorous O Levels for the academic kids and more basic CSE exams and presumably vocational courses for the rest. The National Curriculum would be abolished.

Nick Clegg is furious at all this and has been phoning up from his hotel in Rio where he was sent to get rid of him for a bit.

These proposals raise a lot of questions which of course are too difficult for me to answer.

It's an awful lot of upheaval. Teachers have been messed about a great deal in recent years with course changes, constant new initiatives, alterations to the syllabus, new approved methods of teaching and marking, Ofsted etc etc. There would be some disruption for the kids but not too much.

Would the non academic kids really be given the resources to learn useful vocational skills. This isn't going to be cheap, but it is vital.

There would be lots of blather about a 'two tier education system' which of course we have already with private schools, good state schools and bad ones. Fashionable newspaper columnists and people paid to talk on Newsnight would go on and on about 'social mobility' and 'a return to the 1950s'.

Why not just make the GCSE harder (with just one exam board) and bring in serious, respected and properly funded vocational courses as well? If we throw out the prevailing idea that we are somehow all academically equal and everyone must pass whatever exam they sit, then we just might halt the decline in academic standards over the last 25 years and at the same time, produce some employable young adults. (Although I suppose in reality, this is exactly what Michael Gove is actually proposing, but without changing the name of the exams).

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Round and Round

Michael Gove read 'It's Your Time You're Wasting' back in 2007 when he was Shadow Secretary for Children, Schools and Families. He described it as:

'A terrifying condemnation of the Education system from someone who really knows what they are talking about".

Not many people have accused me of such a thing, however since becoming Education Secretary he has pinched almost every single one of his ideas from my book. In fact, if you want to know his policies for the next three years just buy yourself a copy and astonish your friends by announcing: "I bet he says this before long".

He even comes out with them in the same order I did, to make things easier for you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Staff Absenteeism

I often used to wonder whether my school was built over a plague pit, such was the level of illness. I don't mean the kids, I'm talking about the staff.

Whilst most teachers realise that they are actually supposed to come into work and are good attenders, there is always a hardcore group who are forever off and amazingly, nothing is ever done about them. Their reasons range from the vaguely believable to the utterly bizarre. (Strange allergies, mysterious 'viruses' and 'flu' every time the wind changes direction- a disease specialist would be fascinated.)

Short and regular absences are simply accepted without question and for longer ones, it's well known that a doctor will sign you off just to get you out of the room and even if they won't, no problem- just ask for an appointment with a different one until you find a soft touch. If I had my time again, I'm not sure that I'd ever come in at all.

What I never understand is why most of the other staff just accept this, muttering about "not giving it to the rest of us" despite it being well known that most infections have passed the contagious stage by the time you even realise that you are unwell. It's considered taboo in many staffrooms to criticise those who are 'attendance challenged' and unfortunately the vaguest mention of 'The Unions' is enough to make most Heads (who often don't know much about the law, but are very aware that they won't receive any support from the Council anyway) back down from taking any action in the face of skiving that would have you sacked in the corporate world.

Compare this laissez-faire attitude with that of our more successful companies who employ a doctor whom the staff must see as well as operating a 'managed return to work scheme' where the person who is ill is regularly monitored rather than just being allowed to fester at home. Funnily enough their absence rates are half of what ours are. Every time one of the workshy plays the system, it simply gives the Government more ammunition against us.

Until teaching gets a grip on staff absences, we will never be taken any more seriously than Council workers.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Jubilee Celebrations

Now I'm not bothered either way about the Monarchy. Sure, they cost £x each year but they generate £y. I don't know whether x is greater than y, nor do I care as the difference wouldn't pay our Benefits bill for a single day. If we got rid of Queenie and Co, we'd only have to replace them with some awful Tony Blair / Simon Cowell / David Beckham figures.

As it is, we can always rely on Phil the Greek and Prince Harry to provide some good entertainment.

So, I'll get to the point of this post. Whilst waiting for a train the other day I overheard two girls, probably in their early twenties, talking about how they were going to some anti-Jubilee protest. I had no idea that any were planned, so I listened with interest. They were complaining bitterly that the Royal Family had been born into privilege, had never had to work and shouldn't be given our money.

The irony of the situation was lost on them. They were both British- ie lucky enough to be born into the top 5% of the World's wealth, with opportunities available for the taking that a Chinese peasant or an African farmer can only dream of. Through no talent of their own, they had managed to exist in an era of unprecedented wealth, with free healthcare and a social security safety net that have been available for about 60 out of the last million years. They had enough money to travel by train and were well dressed in comparison with the average Eastern European, South American (or for that matter- me). One had an iPhone and the other had a tattoo and some ironmongery in her face.

These things require disposable income, as did their takeaway drinks from Costa Coffee. The majority of the Earth's people do not have a single penny to spend  on anything but survival and even the concept of having 'free time' to attend a protest, ie being rich enough not to have to dedicate every waking moment to work, preparing a meal or bringing up children, must seem an almost unbelievable concept.

I did not discover whether they actually paid any taxes or not, as my attention was distracted by a prettier group of women arriving on the platform, babbling about their Jubilee Party. Whether we can draw any conclusions from their relative attractiveness, I do not know.

Saturday, June 02, 2012


No doubt you will all be aware of the huge event taking place at the moment- The Grand Union Canal Race, a 145 mile footrace along the canal from Birmingham to London.

Next time someone tries to impress you with claims to be training for a marathon or some expensive but not particularly difficult desert run for accountants, just ask them if they have done GUCR and watch them shrivel up before your very eyes. This is the number one race for anyone serious about proving themselves in Ultrarunning (the crazy notion of running very long distances).

The race starts Saturday at 6 am and has a cutoff of 45 hours. If you happen to see any of the competitors (you'll recognise them because they will be on the canal towpath, have a number on their chest and quite possibly seem a bit the worse for wear) then cheer them on and tell them they look great.

You can get updates here:

or do the really modern thing and look on twitter

Friday, June 01, 2012

Education: My Part in its Downfall

I've noticed that a couple of reviewers have commented on formatting and grammatical errors in the new book, but unfortunately they haven't identified them. After downloading a copy myself and skimming through it today, I can't actually find any.

Whether the Kindle publishing software has been updated I do not know, (it used to have a tendency to insert gaps in text, repeat words and throw in the odd blank line), but if anyone can help me by pointing out exactly where any problems might be found, then I would be extremely grateful and promise to fix them. You can even have your name listed under 'Editors' if you want.

The book can be purchased here

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Gravitationally Challenged

The language police are out in force again, attempting to ban 'fat' 'obese' and 'overweight'.

This constant fuss about not using certain words or phrases, just reinforces the message that saying the right thing is more important than actually facing up to reality and dealing with a problem.


Once upon a time, schools used to be given lots of notice before Ofsted turned up so that they could expel all their really naughty kids and send the worst teachers away on a course somewhere. The remaining staff would worry themselves to death preparing ridiculous lessons which impressed the inspectors immensely and were a complete waste of the pupils' time. The caretaker would be told to paint everything in sight, pick up all the litter and put out some nice plants in pots. This pantomime suited everyone very well.

Then the system was changed so that schools were only given a couple of days warning. There would be a frenzied panic whilst everyone frantically covered their classroom walls with examples of the children's work, stayed up all night trying to get their books marked and delivered a wacky but pointless lesson on the big day.

Finally it was proposed that the inspectors just turn up unnanounced and see what really goes on. 

Obviously this idea was dismissed as being completely ridiculous after the unions complained and today it was announced that Ofsted will now be telling the Head one day in advance of their arrival.

If anyone doesn't like this new plan, then just be patient and it will change again before long.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Microwaving Bacteria

I might have known that somebody would email me this question:

'Can you kill bacteria in a microwave?'

Without bothering to do any research or carry out an experiment (what else would you expect from me?) I'd say 'yes'. The microwaves used are at the right frequency to make water molecules vibrate, all living things have water in them and don't like being heated up for long. As long as the oven has enough power, then after a while they will croak.

How long you need to keep bacteria in the machine, I couldn't tell you.