Thursday, January 27, 2011


One of the fundamental changes I've seen in education is the change from learning facts, formulas and processes to investigating, designing and discussing things. Rote learning is now utterly taboo. My problem with this is that you can't have a meaningful discussion about a topic that you know nothing about, nor do I believe that designing a pizza menu or a mobile phone holder is more important than knowing about temperature, calorific value or the electromagnetic spectrum.

A group discussion about the effectiveness of different makes of running shoes is meaningless when the participants do not understand how to rearrange the equation that relates pressure, area and force. Surely it is better to be able to calculate a frequency from a given wavelength and vice versa than to investigate which brand of sunglasses cuts out the most light?

Basic skills such as drawing a graph, rearranging a formula, simple grammar, punctuation and spelling have all been lost and I'm not really sure that they have been replaced with anything of value.

On The Edge

For those of you who want to know what it's really like teaching in terrible schools - where the Senior Management Team are a joke, half of the parents are aggressive, sub-literate fools and their children should be sectioned or jailed - you should click on the link opposite and buy my book. If, however you've already read it, then I recommend Charlie Carroll's new book, On The Edge (also published by Monday Books). Charlie is puzzled by the fact that half of all NQTs (newly qualified teachers) quit the profession inside five years, and wants to find out why. He resigns, buys a VW camper van and spends a year travelling round the country supply teaching in some of the worst places imaginable.

If only he'd asked me, I could have saved him an awful lot of trouble! But then he wouldn't have written this book...

Charlie is 10 or so years younger than I am, so he's not yet had time to become quite as jaded as I have. (With seven or eight years in the classroom under his belt, he's not a novice but he is still a bit of an idealist who thinks that if we can only find more resources and exert more control from Whitehall, something magical will somehow happen in the bottom 10-20% of schools.)

For non-teachers it will be an eye-opener; for teachers, it will cause you to wake up in the middle of the night, sweating, and wondering if you'll end up somewhere like 'Varka School'.

Violent, abusive and foul-mouthed pupils, mindless, energy-sapping and often counter-productive bureaucracy and paperwork, spineless, treacherous SMTs... it's all here, together with those few quiet kids who sit in the corner, the kids you think you could actually reach and help if only the others would stop shouting obscenities, playing with their phones and throwing things.

Also some nice writing about the highways and byways of England - principally the north.

I don't agree with all of his conclusions - though he's definitely right about the need for exclusion to be made easier - but it's a really good read by a man who is obviously passionate and dedicated. For now...


I had to go to Liverpool last year to sort out a problem with my passport and it really is a complete dump. I've never seen a place with so many people hanging around doing nothing. The passport office employs not one but two security guards and you even have to pass through a metal detector. (Not that you are likely to have any metal on you by the time you arrive as every piece of roofing lead, copper wire or phone cable has been stolen long ago.)

They seem unaware that the Beatles are no longer Britain's leading pop group and have named the airport after John Lennon. Mass protests were taking place over the planned demolition of some uninhabitable slum that Ringo apparently lived in for a while when he was three.

All is not lost however- Liverpool Hope University (cynics would add a 'No' in that title) is offering a degree in the Fab Four. No doubt Goldman Sachs will be clamouring for graduates in this subject, so sign up quickly.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fighting in the Street

Twenty odd years ago as a student at a certain University I won't mention, we used to sometimes visit a city centre pub which would be closed down in a flash today. Nowadays we blame the strength of modern lagers for trouble and yob violence, but this place brewed its own own range of beers, one of which was so strong that it literally made your eyes go funny. They only served it in third of a pint glasses and gave you a certificate for ordering one. If you were daft enough to repeat the process, you would receive another one whose writing was blurred.

There weren't just customers drinking outside on the pavement (which would get stopped by the Police today) but people dancing about in middle of the road, spilling over to the opposite side of the street and even the people patiently queueing up to get in would be consuming beer that they had persuaded customers to buy for them. On certain nights it was mayhem, mass singsongs, dozens of students in fancy dress, down-in-one competitions and all manner of raucous behaviour. During one memorable evening, a friend threw up on the floor and the barmaid simply gave him a mop along with a clip round the ear and made him clean it up! All the staff wore some sort of medieval outfit and there was even a resident parrot which would occasionally 'escape' from its cage and fly around the place squawking away.

The only thing I never saw was any trouble. I can remember dozens of people standing on the tables trying to do a haka, and I can remember seeing people literally collapsing in front of me, but I genuinely do not ever recall seeing a single fight, nor do I ever remember the atmosphere feeling even remotely threatening.

So why is it that when I went into that same city centre on a Saturday night three weeks ago, it was filled with luminous Police and felt like a war zone?


Ritalin is one of several trade names for the chemical methylphenidate which has been used since the 1960s to treat hyperactive children. It seems to work by raising the amount of Dopamine in the brain, which generates a feeling of contentedness and improves the ability to concentrate.

Here's two shocking statistics:

1) In 1990, just 9000 children in the UK aged 8-13 were being treated with Ritalin type drugs to try and improve their behaviour. By 1997 that figure had risen by a factor of ten to 90 000 and by 2010, 650 000 children between 8 and 13 were taking Ritalin, ie the numbers have increased by 70 times in the last twenty years.

2) An educational pschologist has said something sensible. Dave Traxson has warned that they are being over prescribed.

I'd say that Ritalin pills are being given out like Smarties. One of the things I went on about in my book was the fact that I had noticed how when any of these kids with 'behavioural problems' were given plenty of exercise outdoors for two or three days on the trot, all these 'problems' simply disappeared.

Try the following experiment:

Get up in the morning and drink two cups of tea or coffee. Now try and concentrate on something non physical like reading or writing. Chances are you feel a bit jittery, nervous and easily distracted. Now go out for a walk, run, swim or bike ride for an hour or so then return to the same task. You feel much more calm and able to concentrate.

I think that this is exactly the effect that Ritalin has. Trouble is, it's easier to give your child a pill.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Katherine Birbalsingh Yet Again!

Katharine Birbalsingh, the teacher who gave a speech at the Conservative Party conference condemning her school clearly saw the writing on the wall, as it is now going to close!

Facebook Pictures

Several teachers have recently claimed to have got into trouble as a result of their pictures posted on Facebook.

Do we really think that Heads have nothing better to do all day than trawl through Facebook looking for compromising pictures of their staff?

Well I certainly would in some cases but in others I'd just print them off and hang them in my window to frighten off burglars.

Whilst I have doubts about how true some of these reports are, I do think that many people are extremely naive when they publish pictures and details of their private life on the internet (once they are on they are pretty much there for good and can still be found a long time after you remove them). I sometimes forget that if you are under 25, you probably barely remember a time without the internet, so its familiarity brings a certain openness and nonchalance, without all the suspicions that cynical old gits like me have.

The other problem of course, is that you can be 'tagged' in a photograph that was taken and posted by someone else without your knowledge. A simple search can then find these pictures.

I've no idea how effective 'privacy settings' are, but I think I'd find out if I were a regular Facebook user.


Having had just about enough of the British winter, I've just spent a week in the Canary Islands doing some warm weather cycling. Flights to Lanzarote are reasonably priced if you book in advance and Thomas Cook haven't let me down yet, unlike another well known carrier who sent my luggage to a beautiful and exotic holiday destination which I'm sure was far nicer than the one that I was going to.

The main attraction of the Canaries at this time of year for me is the warm sunny weather (you can usually count on 20-21 degrees in late January and plenty of nice quiet roads with good hills to train on. Over in Tenerife there's always Mt Teide if you want to test yourself on Europe's longest climb.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Daft Jobs

No need to worry about financial cutbacks if you are in the market for a daft job. Just get yourself over to Pimlico Academy where they are looking for a Raising Aspirations Coordinator

False Allegations Against Teachers

Seven years ago some girls alleged that Sheffield teacher Robert King had groped them, the case went to court and he was found not guilty. The Education Secretary told Sheffield Council that no action should be taken to bar him from teaching. This didn't happen, as you can see from the news article here and here

I don't want to focus too much on this individual case, as to be honest, I don't really want dyslexic teachers who need 'teaching aids' in front of my kids thank you very much and there were 'other issues' cited by the Council which haven't been disclosed, so we need to be careful before judging whether the school should have got rid of him. (I admit that's a bit rich coming from me.)

The point I do want to make however is that false allegations made against a teacher really can ruin the rest of their lives. Successive Governments have promised to address this problem and the sooner they get on with doing so, the better. It is so easy for a vindictive pupil to make up an allegation, which will always be always treated extremely seriously, escalating rapidly through the Head, the Police and the Courts without the child ever really being given an opportunity to retract their tale. (Which is why when they are finally cross examined in Court by a barrister, their claim is often found to be full of contradictions). Unfortunately by this time it is too late for the poor teacher whose life is in tatters.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Leonora Rustamova Again

Miss Rusty is back! You'll have long forgotten this post about her being sacked from Calder High School in July 2009 for writing a 'racy book' to try and get her pupils interested in reading. Well now she is taking her employers to a tribunal and quite right too if you ask me. Just as in the case of sledging teacher Richard Tremelling, Heads seem more interested in sacking teachers with something about them, rather than getting rid of the thousands of incompetents.

Hang on a minute- she got into trouble for writing a book which 'was riddled with expletives, under age drinking, pupils skipping school and hinted at drug abuse...'

Now who would be stupid enough to do something like that?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Richard Tremelling again

There's an interview with Richard Tremelling here. He seems entirely sane, which is more than can be said for the howling moondogs who sacked him. One thing's for certain- we're on a slippery slope...

I am not suggesting for one minute that being English and an officer in the TA counted against him. If he wants my advice, I'd say that he should rent a shop directly opposite the school and start selling these sledges as they look superb.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Richard Tremelling, Sledging Teacher Sacked.

Imagine two teachers, lets call them Teacher A and Teacher B.

Teacher A is completely useless, knows nothing about their subject, cannot control their classes and is full of all the latest nonsense. During their career they will ruin the chances of thousands of their pupils. Teacher B took some pupils sledging without incident.

Which one is most likely to be sacked?

Correct! Teacher A is still working in every town and city in England. Teacher B is Richard Tremelling.

There's a Facebook Group here that you can join if you think he should be reinstated. I've no idea whether these things do any good, but it doesn't cost anything, so it's probably worth it.

Recipe for Success

Look at the biggest and best known Internet based enterprises: Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, Groupon, Google, Linkedin... etc. They are all worth billions and have one thing in common- they are all American. If you go back to the previous 'new thing' ie computers, the story is the same (IBM, Microsoft, Dell, Oracle and Intel). Go further back to the early days of aeroplanes or the motor car and the story is similar.

What is it about the United States that gives them the ability to generate talent and success in any new field?

Friday, January 07, 2011

Power Balance Bracelets

You might have seen someone wearing a blue silicone wristband with a hologram on it. They are called Power Balance Bracelets and the hologram resonates with and responds to your body's Natural Energy Field thus improving your balance, strength and flexibility. They are endorsed by David Beckham, Andrew Strauss, Robert De Niro and Kate Middleton and you may wish to buy one for £30.

Alternatively, have some fun by asking the wearer to explain what a hologram is. Then send me just £20 and I'll post you a rubber band with a photograph of my dog attached to it. It will work just as well and is endorsed by Mrs Chalk and her friend Sue.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Amazon Kindle

Before I saw the Kindle, I was sceptical. I don't like reading things on a computer for any length of time and I like the 'feel' of a real book. Now having used one, I can safely say that I am a convert. It's easy to read, doesn't strain your eyes like a computer screen and after a while it may as well be a book.

The price savings then become obvious. Many books can be downloaded free and those that you have to pay for are much cheaper than buying the paper version. It wouldn't take long to recoup the £111 for the WIFI only version and I'm surprised that they aren't trying to push the 'green' angle a bit more.

My own book (which is a masterpiece) is available on Kindle here for just £3.44. I'd honestly recommend that you buy it even if you already have the paper version (or frankly even if you don't have a Kindle). It is selling like hot cakes (where did that phrase come from?)

ps You can also download the Kindle software so you can just read off your PC , Mac , iPhone or Android Phone.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Dangers of Rap Music

Listening to rap music (retards attempting poetry) doesn't just turn your brain to mush faster than watching the National Lottery, but it can also trigger a massive 30 man SWAT team assault on your workplace as some poor bloke discovered when he sat on his phone, dialled his wife and she panicked and called the police. It could probably only happen in the States but judge for yourself.

Whilst on the subject of the USA, I received the DVD Bicycle Dreams for Christmas, which tells the story of the 2005 Race Across America (RAAM). Stop reading now if you aren't into cycling, but if you are then buy it immediately as it is excellent viewing. Then decide which qualifier you want to do!

Building on Green Spaces

A couple of weeks ago I met a friend I have known since we were small children. We do not see each other much nowadays but it is always pleasant to catch up and during the conversation, he made an interesting observation.

The field that we used to play football and cricket on as kids has now been built over, as has the one that we walked over to for Games Lessons in Junior School. The field that we played rugby on in Senior School is now a housing estate just like the area of meadowland where we (often reluctantly) ran cross country. Moving on to our Universities, he added that the tennis courts at his hall of residence are now just another accommodation block, as is the large green grassy area in front of mine.

The fewer green areas there are, the fewer kids play out. The fewer kids play out, the more parents obsess about their child being abducted and do not allow them out of sight. Cheap and simple objects such as bats and balls are then replaced by highly expensive consumer electronic devices. Widespread obesity and nervous, under confident adults are the inevitable result.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all readers!

I've been up in the Yorkshire Dales, walking in the hills and drinking Black Sheep Bitter. As we were beyond the reach of the internet, you have been spared my foolish prattle.

However all good things must come to an end, so I will start ranting and moaning again. If however, I can make a few readers smile and perhaps momentarily brighten up a gloomy day, then my efforts will have been worthwhile.

The school term began yesterday with a training day for many and the first reports of madness have already arrived in my inbox. 'Independent Learning' seems to be the buzzword for 2011 which basically means telling the kids to go and look it up themselves on the internet and accept whatever they find as correct. Hopefully nobody will ask the obvious question: 'Why do we need teachers then?'

'Free Schools' (ie schools that are not run by the Local Authority) will also feature prominently this year. The National Union of Teachers says that parents do not want them, whereas groups of parents who would prefer their child not to have to attend a 2000 pupil War Zone are busy setting them up. I'm sure that some will fail and others will excel, but it's worth asking yourself: 'Just what is my Local Council good at running?'

It's still far too early to judge what effect the increase in university tuition fees from 2012 will have on applications. I suspect fewer 2011 A Level students will take a gap year holiday in order to squeeze in an extra year of University before the rise. There may also be an impact on the Mickey Mouse establishments with their degrees in vegetable painting, but overall who knows?
There's bound to be a few more protests so that Tristram and Cecilia can tell their friends how they 'took on the Police', (before tripping over and scratching their new IPad anyway.)