Thursday, September 28, 2006

Letter to Alan Johnson (Education Secretary)

Sorry I've not been posting for a few days, I had a few problems with my modem which exceeded my meagre technical abilities. Hopefully all is now ok. I'm going to send the following letter once you've told me what you think:

Dear Mr Johnson

You’ve been sent a copy of my book, so has Tony. Neither of you has bothered to comment or reply. Let me give you a further example of what I am complaining about.

A good friend of mine has a Year 7 class with 42% having Special Needs. Several can barely read a sentence, others cannot listen for more than a few seconds without shouting out or making stupid noises. Many of the group cannot sit still, most have no idea how to follow simple instructions either verbal or written on the board, as they have never been made to do so in Primary School. In short, it is bedlam. The school has no effective discipline policy and no effective leaders.

In this same class is a girl who today asked a probing question about a topic that will not be covered for two more years. Her ability is way beyond the rest of the class. There are three others who are also well above average.

Today one of the loonies (my words not hers) stormed out of the room after assaulting another member of the class. This is not the first such incident.

This teacher is renowned as being excellent. She is honest enough to admit that she simply cannot effectively teach such a wide range of ability especially with the huge behaviour problems that are also present. She despairs at this situation (i.e. no discipline and no setting by ability) that is forced upon her and feels that the majority of pupils in the class are being let down. The school does not set in years 7 or 8 and the other classes are similar.

She explained to me that she felt a great sadness that she was simply unable to do her job and is considering moving to the Private Sector, where in her own words:

"At least I will be able to teach rather than just attempt crowd control, which is all I do here".

You are directly responsible for Education in Great Britain. Your Government has been in power for 9 years. Please tick whichever box below that you honestly believe corresponds best to its performance in this area:


If there is any doubt as to the authenticity of the above example I shall be pleased to provide you with the exact details. I would also be prepared to forward you over a hundred emails I have received (after obtaining the senders' permission) detailing similar cases.

Any chance of a reply either to my email or to this site?

Frank Chalk


Anonymous said...

Frank, this is the sort of letter our Unions should be sending him on a regular basis (if they were any use at all)

Will email you seperately with an account of similar problems and my details which you can use

The Conservative Bookman said...

I very much doubt he'll reply, Frank.
But good letter, all the same.

Anonymous said...

It is so sad that brighter pupils are being held back by children with less ability, so sad that the "so called" Government refuses to recognise that not all children are the same - so sad they will not allocate resources so that children receive education APPROPRIATE TO THEIR NEEDS.

As in so many other aspects of this Government, it is the politics of jealousy being applied to children who have no voice to shout for them.

Anonymous said...

'Neither of you HAS bothered'
'despairs', not 'dispairs'.

Sorry to nitpick but you don't want to give anyone any excuse not to take you seriously.

Jenny said...

Don't hold your breath re the reply. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say except to take issue with you on your comment about the primary school. What makes you think that primary schools have any more sanctions to impose or ways of enforcing discipline than you in secondary schools have? In most cases, it's more difficult as there are are far less support staff than are needed and no member of staff with the necessary non-contact time to sort out individual problems. As I can attest from personal experience, that usually falls to the deputy head who already has a full teaching timetable or to the head teacher who is often not around anyway.

John Hemming said...

Try contacting me at

Anonymous said...

This is Alan Johnson, the former postman? And you expect a reply?
I know, unfair comment. Plenty of my friends work for the Post Office. Hard workers, truly hard workers who put up with an incredible amount of abuse at times - but the management is garbage.
What amazes me (or should that be appals me?) is that someone thinks this guy has the knowledge, experience and expertise to manage an education system of such unbelievable complexity as our education system. What he knows about education could be written on the back of a postage stamp.
(Ouch - couldn't resist).

Anonymous said...

As a country we are getting left behind.
contrast the above against China, where it's the otherway round. (crap teachers good students)

Do you realize in China parents PAY you to set home work for their squidlings. Mainly because most teachers don't(read cannot be bothered to) put the afterwork preparation .
you could be looking at an extra GRAND!! in your pocket at chinese new year as well. That plus running after school English lessons. A hundred pounds per student per 3 months.

Anonymous said...

As a country we are getting left behind.
contrast the above against China, where it's the otherway round. (crap teachers good students)

Do you realize in China parents PAY you to set home work for their squidlings. Mainly because most teachers don't(read cannot be bothered to) put the afterwork preparation .
you could be looking at an extra GRAND!! in your pocket at chinese new year as well. That plus running after school English lessons. A hundred pounds per student per 3 months.

Anonymous said...

Great letter, Frank. I doubt he'll reply either, but at least it's something.

I've spent an evening in school talking to parents, one of whom is desperate that her 12 year old daughter can barely read, comprehend written information or write legibly ... and is getting into constant trouble because she can't do her French homework. What IS the point?? Why should she be made to feel so hopeless in such a mixed ability range where she works alongside those who are capable of learning 3 or more languages at once?

She has said that she feels she can't cope with anything, that she is such a loser, that she will never catch up. Our system is doing that to her.

Keep it up, please, Frank.

Oh, and GREAT book, too - thanks!

Anonymous said...

Yes, great letter, Frank. Please post it pronto, but don't forget to tell him what your book is called, plus the name of the publisher, weblink to Amazon etc. Don't expect any prior knowledge on his part; he is a politician, after all.

Oh, and note that 'ie' should be 'i.e.' (if I remember my Latin correctly from school).

I know this is stupidly nitpicking, but presentation counts for *everything* with this government. In fact 'New Labour', the political party, is a glorious triumph of style over content, IMHO.

Mary said...

Yeah, use words like "loonies" to describe the problem students, that'll make them take you seriously, definitely.

Anonymous said...

You just don't get it, do you?
But then, I followed your link and found your website to be a self-pitying wallow of mush about M.E. (imaginary, look-at-me laziness, effectively).
I think you're better off not reading here, you know. You're one of 'them', you see.


Anonymous said...

I think your letter is a good idea, Frank; go ahead and send it, by registered post (so you can prove it was received, and when).

Do realise that you will meet with Defence Tactic Number 1: "Ignore everything unpleasant; it will probably go away". If they ignore your letter, what will be the consequences for them? Those of us who know you sent it will despise them - but we already do.

Also expect, in the vanishingly unlikely event that you do get any sort of reply, that your information will be dismissed as "anecdotal". This is another reliable bureaucratic ploy. Unless facts and figures are based on exhaustive surveys, polls, and academic research using the latest techniques, they can always be written off as "anecdotal". After all, maybe your school is far worse than any other in the country. Anyway, you are probably exaggerating.

A related technique is to refuse to discuss, or even accept, information about any specific person or institution on the grounds that "we do not discuss individual cases".

Nevertheless, go for it! As one of my favourite writers, Robert Heinlein, used to say, "Of course the game is rigged. Don't let that stop you playing - it's the only game in town".

Roses said...

Send the letter. You must send it.

Why is it, when the system isn't broke, they try and fix it paying out huge amounts of money for consultants who steal your watch to tell the time? When it is so obviously is broke, they do bugger all of any worth?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Chalk, you clearly have a large readership, most of whom share your frustrations. I believe that government is unlikely to take the controversial action that is required unless its hand is forced by a mass of numbers. If you want government to take notice I believe you need to mobilise your readership, or at least have us sign something.

I would suggest removing "loonies" from your letter. It would give the recipient of your letter excuse enough to ignore it.

I guess it all depends on whether your primary objective is to bring about change or to vent spleen. Both understandable for someone in your position.

Anonymous said...

Frank, if you send this it will be filed in the round cabinet because it gets lost in the tons of dross he gets every day.

Send it to your MP and ask him for a reply from the Minister. Your MP must be responded to.( Why not send it to the others guys as well e.g. Cameron at the Tory HQ)

Anonymous said...

or contact John Hemming MP ( email address in previous post) and ask him to post a question in the House of Commons.Would be a good advert for your book too!

Mary said...

What on earth does my illness or my website have to do with anything? Imaginary or real, I don't see what bearing it has on my comment except as something for you to try and personally attack me with. I do not believe personal attacks are called for at this moment.

As for being one of "them", I'm not sure who "they" are. I'm not a parent and I'm not a teacher, I just don't think the word "loonies" is appropriate in an official letter that someone wants to have taken seriously.

I don't agree with everything Mr Chalk says... isn't that the point of a discussion? I'm not trolling, I'm not being abusive, I'm not hiding behind anonymity.

Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate that your letter will either be ignored, or,less likely, will result in a reply extolling the amount of money poured into education, in comparison to the Conservatives, claiming that everything is so much better than it was, that things are getting ever better, and that we will soon all be living on the sunny uplands of life. You will NOT get a response that addresses any issue

Anonymous said...

Excellent letter, Frank! I agree with sending it to AJ and sending it to your own M.P. or Mr. Hemmings so they can (possibly) embarrass AJ in the House or (more importantly?) on the News.

The real situation, as you so clearly illustrate in your book, is that the life chances of millions of kids are being stolen by the insane, politically correct policies and practices
of "Inclusion" where the disruptive/violent/mindless/ignorant/unable minority (less and less of a minority with every passing year!) are allowed to get away with wrecking lessons on an epic, nationwide scale. Plus, this promotes mixed ability teaching or, as it should be known "lowest common denominator" teaching.

I've just finished attempting to teach a Y7 geography class; while they weren't actually disruptive, I was unable to provide to teaching required by the 5 or 6 bright kids in the class who finished in ten minutes the laughably easy worksheets that the rest of the class found mystifying. I was too busy attempting to get across concepts that an average eight year old should find straightforward to this class of eleven/twelve year olds.

"Frustrating" and "heartbreaking" don't even come close to summing up this lunacy!

Anonymous said...

I'll echo other people's comments by saying that I doubt you'll get a reply. In fairness, I have a big pile of unread books here, so if someone sent me one that I hadn't asked for and then complained that I hadn't read it and reviewed it, I wouldn't be particularly sympathetic. (That's not intended as a criticism of your book, which I ordered from Amazon yesterday.)

I think you might do better with a less confrontational approach, rather than playing Paxman, and asking him to condemn his predecessors (since he hasn't been personally in charge for the last 9 years). Ranting is fine for your blog (and presumably your book), but I'd recommend a more focussed approach for your letter.

So, rather than trying to cast blame, just outline what you see as the current problems (e.g. mixed ability classes), and then suggest what you see as the best solution. Bear in mind that it's good to plan ahead (e.g. changing the way kids are taught in primary schools), but there will be a time lag before you see the benefit of that, so it would make sense to have a short-term solution as well.

Anonymous said...

Hate to point it out but the Government, including Tony Blair, have stated their hostility to mixed ability classes many times over the years, certainly since they were the Opposition. The trouble is the Government does not run schools (or the exam boards, or the GTC, or the QCA, or the universities that actually train teachers) they only set the legal framework. There's an episode of "Yes, Prime Minister" in which the politics of education is described as "responsibility without power". I don't think the Tories were ever keen on mixed ability teaching either and Jim Callaghan, the previous Labour Prime Minister, hated trendy teaching methods. The rot in education goes back long before New Labour and has happened despite the expressed views of elected governments.

Mr Ken said...

The inability of many students to simply listen, sit still, or endure more than 30 seconds silence is at the root of many educational problems.

Imposing a new system whereby Connor, Ashleigh and Bethany get to disrupt others' learning until they're 18, rather than 16, is not just ignoring the problem, it's encouraging it.

We will end up with fully-grown adults who simply do not understand the concept of self-control, or delayed gratification.

Education (not teachers themselves, I might add, whose job it is currently to simply roll with the punches), along with many other social and cultural factors are combining to create a huge underclass of losers.

We currently have around 7million people of working age who do not work. If the evidence of my classroom is anything to go by, this number is going to grow.

The current system is holed below the waterline. And to follow this metaphor, teachers are being used as pumps.
And buckets.

Linked to this issue, I've written an article on the 'myth' of ADHD - currently on the TES website. Comments on that are welcome too.

Anonymous said...


Some advice from one who knows...

1. Do send it to your own constituency MP and ask him/her their views, and also to pass it to Alan Johnson for his views too. Ministers have to respond in person to other MPs, they can't just get their civil servants to do it.

2. Don't ask your MP to send it to Tony Blair, they won't do it because they know that if they do it will just get passed straight to Alan Johnson.

3. Don't bother sending it directly to Blair, he won't read it and at best you'll get a standard "Thank you for taking the time to send me your views" reply, pp'd by the current unpaid volunteer sprucing up their CV by working in the PM's correspondence unit. Save yourself the postage.

4. Do consider sending it to the Education spokesmen for the Lib Dems and Tories too - they are normally interested in getting case studies they can use for speeches. If you find you build up a rapport with any of them you could consider asking for a meeting with them - they may well be prepared to give you an hour if you're prepared to visit their office in Westminster.

5. Drop the "loony" bit.

What will be result of following point 1 above? Well, you'll get some kind of response from your own MP, how good it is will depend on the individual and how hard they work and also which party they are from.

A while later you'll also get a response, via your MP, from Johnson (or one of his junior ministers). This should be fairly good in the sense that it will actually address the points you raise (though of course you may disagree with what it says). These responses are normally fairly detailed and may even run to a couple of pages or so depending on how many points you have raised.

Hope this helps you and any of your readers who may be considering contacting their MP about this or any other issue.

dearieme said...

The trouble with setting is a logical/political one. If you admit that setting is a good idea, you thereby demolish the whole argument for Comprehensive schools.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that it is a waste of time but good luck. It needs saying loud and long. However, having sent e-mails to Cameron pointing out the wrongs of current education policy, I doubt that you will get any sense out of either party. The nonsense of the non streaming brigade is firmly fixed in their tiny little minds. Still, I don't suppose it mattered at Fettes or Eton

Anonymous said...

Chalk - good in parts, occasional loose grammar, never start a sentence with "hopefully". Better avoid it altogether, try "with luck" or "if all goes well". B+.


Anonymous said...

I'll be the first to admit, i'm seventeen and when i got to secondary school i couldn't spell at all, and had little to no understanding of proper grammer. Getting a level 3 in my sats for English while the others (Science and Maths) were 5 and 6. When i joined secondary school i went on to get at 6 in year 9 and a B at GCSE. My secondary school English teachers helped me a lot but my spelling must have driven them mad!!

Anonymous said...

The PM gets a great deal of correspondence every day. I expect he gets sent books out of the blue as well. It seems a little self centred to complain that he has not replied to you or read the book. Why should he? If your blog letter is an example I should think he thinks you're a member of the green ink brigade.

your blog is very observant and (sometimes) funny, but the issue you never seem to address is why don't teachers do a better job? There are hundreds of thousands of them. We spend a load of taxes on them. Why is everything so bad, and what should we do about it? And implementable suggestions/recommendations, please.

Anonymous said...

I'm a teacher in an integrated school in Northern Ireland. I love it. We have the whole range of ability including mild to moderate learning disability and giftedness. We choose to use mixed ability classes nearly all the time and it works well. We have lots of back-up from a civilised hard working principal who likes kids and is also kind to teachers... and if someone is stopping the lesson happening we are encouraged to sent them to the office. Their parents/guardians are called pretty soon if they do not settle. Most parents do come, too, and most badly-behaved kids get better over the years we have them. Frank sounds desperate but I think the difficulties his school has go far beyond having different levels of braininess in one class.