D’you know how you get really into one subject? How that subject becomes the window through which you see the world? For some of you, it is maths, or science, or art (how I envy you), or geography, or history, or music, or … well, you get the picture. When your subject is the way you interact with your world, you see everything through that window.  These are your “Doors of Perception” (as Aldous Huxley once said).  I can no more see the world in terms of economics, or mathematics, or science, than I can flap my arms and fly. My world is made up of words; I’m on the alert for tone, and structure, and spelling, and context, and meaning. However, if you talk to me gently, and explain it to me as a fellow human being, I’ll shuffle over to where you are and have a good look. Because I love to see the world through other people’s windows.

Posted in Learning, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Knowledge: The First Five Years

When I was born
I didn’t know much
I knew how to scream
And I knew how to touch.

I didn’t know who
All the big people were
My eyes didn’t focus
My world was a blur.

But now five years later
They’ve sent me to school
‘Cos I know loads of things
And I’m nobody’s fool.

I know how to roll
I know how to sit
I know how to stand
Though I wobble a bit.

I know how to listen
I know how to talk
I know how to laugh
And I know how to walk.

I know who my mum is
I know who’s my dad
I know my big brother
Can make me feel mad.

I know what a car is
And how fast it goes
I know that it tickles
When dad counts my toes.

I know how to eat
Though I have to confess
It sometimes goes wrong
And I make a big mess.

I know how to play
I can stack all the blocks
I know what a bird is
And even a fox.

I know what books do
And I know what I love
Those times when mum cuddles me
Tight as a glove.

And I learned all this stuff
By watching and playing
I listened and learned
From what people were saying.

So now that I’m big
And I know tons of things
They’ve sent me to school
To memorise kings.

Posted in Children, Knowledge, Learning, Play, Schools | 3 Comments

28 Days

The only way to get better at writing is to do it. You must free yourself up to do it first, but then you must sit down and put the words on the page. The great thing about initiatives such as #28DaysofWriting and NaNoWriMo is that they do both. Like the best teachers, they say ‘hey it’s okay to splurge out your ideas’ but they also say ‘here’s the target for how you have to do it’. Most of your ideas always end up in the bin, but when you have a word count and a time target, it makes you take the discipline more seriously. You look around yourself for inspiration; you look inside yourself to make the ideas hang together. Then you  tie your leg to the desk and you get on with actually doing it.

Posted in Blogging, Writing | Leave a comment

You Cannot Be Serious

Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like education has gone all po-faced in recent years. We seem to believe that everything must be measured, analysed, specified, standardised, turned into data that someone can input into a spreadsheet. We have started using words like “metrics”, and phrases such as “opportunity cost”. We have begun to talk like accountants and economists. We pick apart the minutiae of this method or that method, claiming that research will tell us exactly which one to use. I read entire blog posts about teaching, that do not contain the word “children”. We seem to have lost sight of the fact that learning is slippery, complex, nuanced, elusive and uncertain. And apparently we have forgotten that education does not just take place in school.

Recently, I’ve heard being a teacher compared to being a pilot or a surgeon. Now, don’t get me wrong, teaching is probably as hard and as complicated as being a pilot or a surgeon. Teachers should definitely have a long period of specialist training, and plenty of ongoing professional development. I do not believe that we should have unqualified teachers in our classrooms, not least because it under estimates just how difficult the job can be. But let’s be honest with ourselves: we are not flying hundreds of other human beings through the sky in a 450 ton metal tube, nor are we cutting open a human body and fishing around inside. Or, to put it another way, even in your worst lesson, nobody died.

Education takes place over years and decades, not minutes or hours. Education is a process that has no beginning or end. And education is a joint enterprise. It is not something that you can do to my children. It is something you have to do with them, or you will fail. When I think back over the education I had myself as a child, and the education my own children have so far received, it’s easy to highlight the kind of things that got us learning. It has never really been about the systems schools use, or the methods teachers choose. It has always been about people: the great, beating heart of humanity. The teachers who got me and my children learning (and, perhaps more importantly, sustained our love of learning) were warm, kind, funny, approachable, caring, strict when needed, flexible when required, clever, creative, imaginative, inspirational and all those other wonderful attributes that the best teachers have. But they were always, always first and foremost flesh and blood human beings. They were people who could have some fun when the situation merited it, because they did not take themselves too seriously.

Posted in Children, fun, Learning | 8 Comments

And If You Tolerate This

I spent today delving into the details of the approved providers for the Reception Baseline Test (and, no, I’m not going to call them ‘assessments’ like the DfE and the approved providers all do, because they are tests). Worryingly, three providers couldn’t yet tell me how much their tests will cost (whoops). From the ones that could, a quick bit of maths says that implementing the baseline will cost the taxpayer around £5 million a year. By the time the first cohort makes it to Year 6, and the DfE is finally able to pretend that all this data is useful for accountability, they may have spent upwards of £35 million. In terms of teacher time, it was hard to get specific details about the time it will take to administer each test, but two figures that did come up were 15 minutes and 30 minutes. That must mean at least a week, if not two or three, of teacher time spent administering the test.

There are about 35 million reasons crashing around in my head as to why this is a monumental waste of time and money. For the sake of brevity, I’ll narrow it down to ten:

1. The incentive to ‘game’ the baseline is enormous: you literally couldn’t make it any bigger. The lower the starting point, the more progress the school can make with its children. This is not to say that schools would do this, but it seems very strange that the DfE suddenly trusts them not to, when they don’t trust them on pretty much anything else. (I’ll give you a clue why: not even the DfE would be brazen enough/could think of a way to give four year olds an externally marked test.)

2. There are all kinds of ways in which schools can accidentally-on-purpose ‘game’ the test. For instance, the DfE has apparently said that schools should wait until children are ‘settled’ before they do the baseline. But what does ‘settled’ mean? It can take some children a term or more to get over the Klingon-to-Mum thing. There is also a massive incentive to choose the baseline that looks most difficult (or the cheapest one if you’re worried about the DfE’s promise to reimburse you).

3. While it is to a school’s advantage for the children to do badly, early years settings will naturally want the children who leave them to do as well as possible. Before you can say ‘Make sure you don’t teach to the test!’ early years settings will react to what is in the baseline. And you can bet your bottom dollar that some parents will as well, cramming their 4 year olds with ‘practice baseline tests’ over the summer holidays.

4. The baseline tests are all completely different: some are internet based, others are done on tablets, some are paper based, others about using observations. There is no way you can compare one to another, and claim that they measure the same things in the same ways. There is no way you can moderate results, from one school to another, if schools are all using different tests.

5. Although the tests claim to test numeracy as well as literacy, in fact all the ones I have looked at basically test language acquisition. Or rather, test a child’s level of English. If you are a child with EAL, and you don’t yet know words such as ‘bigger’ or ‘longer’ in English, you will fail the numeracy questions. When I quizzed some of the providers about whether their tests were available in other languages, I was met with a puzzled silence.

6. Several of the tests are done online, or on a tablet device. Those children who are already confident and at home with technology will surely be at an advantage over others.

7. Some children taking the test will have only just had their fourth birthday, while others will already be five years old. In other words some children will be 25% older than others. We already know that being summer born has a big impact on a child’s results in tests. The difference here will be particularly stark, because the children are so young. When results are ‘reported to parents’, I sincerely hope that schools make this clear.

8. Some providers suggest that their tests could be given by a Teaching Assistant, as an alternative to a teacher. This rather puts the lie to the suggestion that the baseline is about teachers learning more about their new children. I’d also query whether you can expect a TA to be able to administer the test in exactly the same way as a qualified teacher.

9. Weirdly, some providers have included a test of whole word reading skills, in the apparent belief that children should be able to read when they start school. I’m not entirely sure what to make of that one.

10. The DfE baseline test page says: “We’ll cover the basic cost of approved reception baselines for local-authority maintained schools, academies and free schools.” I’m waiting a call back from them as to what “the basic cost” means. Several of the tests have consumable components (student marksheets) and I’m willing to bet those won’t be included. The page also says: “From September 2016, we’ll make sure that your school budget includes funds for the reception baseline.” Again, I’m waiting for clarification but let’s just say if I was a primary head teacher I would be laying good money on those funds coming out of another part of my budget.

In terms of which test I would recommend if you put a gun to my head, I’ll blog again once I’ve had a chance to look at samples from all the providers. At the moment, one test stands head and shoulders above the others, because it is based on an holistic view of early child development. It is not masquerading as a ‘computer based game’ that children will find fun and that teachers will find useful. But if it was up to me, we’d all boycott this atrocity. Because the words of the Manic Street Preachers keep ringing in my ears:

“If you tolerate this, then your children will be next.”

Posted in Accountability, Children, Testing | 19 Comments

100% Attendance

We’re sat in the outpatient ward of the children’s hospital. Fortunately for us, the reason we are here is not too serious (although it does mean fairly frequent days out of school). This time round, there has been an administrative error. Some paperwork was misplaced at the start of the day. And because of this, there is a two and a half hour delay before our consultant can see us. In that time, a series of children wait alongside us, some who clearly have complex medical problems. Most of them are in their school uniforms. And as I while away those two and a half hours I start to think, really think, about what it means when schools reward 100% attendance.

One little girl arrives who has obviously spent a lot of time in the children’s hospital. Several nurses pop out to say hello, and how is she doing, and how lovely it is to see her again. There are lots of smiles and hugs. But that little girl will not get 100% attendance. An older boy arrives, pushed in a wheelchair by his mum. She helps him out of his chair, into a seat, and he leans against her as he waits to be seen, clearly in pain. His mum comforts him gently. But that older boy will not get 100% attendance. Another little boy arrives, this one in baggy clothes. From the conversations that ensue it becomes clear that he is recovering from an operation. Clearly, that little boy will not get 100% attendance.

After 150 minutes of this, I am left with a stark conclusion. An expectation of 100% attendance is, frankly, discriminatory. Giving rewards for 100% attendance is, not to put too fine a point on it, plain wrong. And the worst of it is, that we are discriminating against children who are in an awful position to start with. None of these children are here by choice. Their absence from school is entirely unavoidable. And life has given them pain enough already, without us adding to the toll.

Posted in Accountability, Children | 10 Comments

The Nurture 14/15 Collection

This is a collection of #Nurture1415 blogs, a great idea from @ChocoTzar in which people review what they did in the current year, and talk about their hopes for the next one. If you’d like yours added, please tweet me the link. See also the #teacher5aday challenge and updates via @MartynReah, designed to promote teacher wellbeing. Thank you and happy reading!


































@aknill part one and part two















@nikable part one and part two















@chris_eyre part one and part two




































@jillberry102 part one and part two



@littlestobbsy part one and part two
























see also @5N_Afzal’s collation here

And not forgetting … Me :)




Posted in Writing | 14 Comments