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