Tag Archives: Ofsted


Breaking Mad


This weekend as is the time of year I went to a party,  mince pies , mulled wine and good company. I met with friends and came across an older acquaintance who I had not seen for some time. The wine flowed, the mince pies mulled and I made the mistake of asking my old acquaintance what it was she did now. ‘Oh” she said, in all innocence. ‘ I teach a PGCE course, I teach young people how to be teachers.’ I’m afraid to say, that somewhat to my own surprise, I greeted her with incandescent rage!  How could she tempt innocent young people into a career so devoid of reward or prospects, a career to span decades of their life at the mercy of political criticism for the whole their working life? I reiterated my dearly held view that under no circumstances do I want my children to enter teaching.

‘Why?’ said my new friend, not without understanding. The answer was not unexpected.


Setting aside government (temporarily) it seems that there is an increasing lack of respect for teachers as individuals and professionals,whether this is just a reflection of my age and gender, I don’t know, but increasingly teachers are used as timetable fillers, increasingly non-contact time, remission for skills development or other contributions is being destroyed, such that some colleagues who are part time are paid only for the time they spend in the classroom, not for their preparation or marking, all that is done in their own time. Is this the ‘extra mile’ that Sir Michael Wilshaw was so keen to impose on teachers, if it is, it is a guise for exploitation and protests to managers are met with the response that if you fail to produce individualised lesson plans (one for every student) if you don’t set and mark that homework, if you don’t improve your results and if you don’t do it in the time that they consider appropriate you are not only a failure, but you are letting down the institution, you may find yourself responsible for the failure of the institution at Ofsted.


In this now non existent, non contact time, teachers now must not only plan, prepare, make resources and mark, they must also break down the data, make Excel documents on results, find funding codes, get data on gender, trends, find out what students do when they leave the institution. Apparently, now Ofsted requires secondary schools to have data not just on where school leavers go when they leave – university or a job, but which student took what subject at university and if they did no take your subject why not? Not only that where do they go after they have graduated from university, do they pursue your subject as a career? This is data-mining worthy of GCHQ and big institutions have information serivces who are supposed to provide this data, but increasingly they regard teachers as having nothing better to do than find and assess data and if they don’t, if they are not familiar with every nuance of their data and the institution’s data then Ofsted will know. FAIL!

breakingbadOne of the reasons that I think that the character of Walter White of the hit US series Breaking Bad, has become so iconic in the US and then by stealth here, is that he gives the lie to that old adage ‘Those who can’t do teach’. Because hell! Walter White can do! He knows his subject, he knows his subject so well he can cook crystal meth with a purity that dominates the world and he can back that up with a bad guy strategy worthy of Keyser Sose. He can cook the best of the best and be the best of the worst and why does he do it? At one point in the series he just says ‘I won’ and he won because he could, it was just up until that time he chose not to, so why does he break bad? Because after years of sharing that knowledge to bored, unappreciative, incapable students, after working faithfully, and effectively as a teacher, changing people’s lives, qualifying them for life and work and a good future, better than his, he earns so little money that he can’t even give himself a chance against cancer. While we do have the NHS, our government press, parents and students all think that teachers are bad in the first place, teachers are considered failures both at life and at teaching, – why wouldn’t you break bad?

While teaching might have been Walter White’s career of necessity, millions of people work in public service or in the ranks of the private sector and everyone of them is treated as if “they should do better” and yet they do their best and without them society would collapse, just ask anyone who lives in a society with no education, buses, rubbish collection, health care, firemen even good bureaucracy, ask them how well they manage without public servants how easy is it to go shopping in sniper alley. And yet generations of teachers and public servants don’t win, no wonder so many break mad!

That being said Walter White didn’t give up teaching, Jesse Pinkman was his best student!

The Tablets Must Be Crazy!

Click on the image to go to OLPC Flickr photo stream

Anyone remember The God’s Must Be Crazy? It was a fabulous film which started almost as a travelogue, describing urban Johannesburg and then juxtaposing that against the tribesman of the Kalahari desert. One tribesman receives an empty Coca Cola bottle that falls at his feet, as if given by the gods, in fact it was chucked out of a plane. The film describes how he and his tribe try to work out what to do with it,  but so divisive is this new toy that the tribesman decides the gods must be crazy and so he goes on a journey to the edge of the world to return the offending bottle – not so with tablet computers!

In a recent experiment the organisation One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), decided to do precisely that (well not chuck tablet computers out of a plane) but take them, leave them and come back later to see what the children had done with them

“I thought the kids would play with the boxes.” (Hell, what parent hasn’t watched their small child discard the expensive toy and gather hours of entertainment out of the box.)  “Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day.” so said Nicholas Negraponte founder of OLPC.  Not only did they start using the tablets, they started to recite the alphabet (these tablets were programmed in English, which does beg the question of technological imperialism – but that’s another blog) anyway the users got round the camera blocking lock and hacked Android – nice!

“The meteoric rise of modern instructionism, including the misguided belief that there is a perfect way to teach something, is alarming because of the unlimited support it is getting from Bill Gates, Google, and my own institution, MIT. “ Nicholas Negraponte in his own article on this process.

That phrase “the meteoric rise of modern instruction, including the misguided that there is a perfect way to teach something” must have resonance with every teacher in this country who has ever been inspected. The constant contortionist revisions conducted by teachers attempting to adapt their style in the classroom to the latest fad from Ofsted, or senior management, is an attempt to fit into this idea that there is a perfect way to teach. The problem is, that in our effort to pursue this pseudo perfection we may very well find ourselves out of a job.

On the one hand the vision of OLPC which I have always admired, combined with the vision of organisations such as the Khan Academy even the elite iTunes U (see this blog for more – onlinelearninginsights) suggest a new world of learning cheaply,  resources readliy accessible to all without, as Negraponte puts it, the industrialisation of teaching that has confined it to measuring progress and target setting that measures the teacher rather than the creativity, imagination and curiosity of the pupils. Un-programmed learning, he states is similar to the process of creating software, the trial and error mechanism is the way children learn, pretty much from the moment they are born and the tablet and computer are compatible with that process. This then is the way of the future, bye bye teacher hello tablet, Skype and an archive of online tutorials updated by a shrinking number of experts.

“Ah but what about personal contact?” Thus says the old fashioned complacent teacher, book in hand, powerpoint just about replacing chalk and talk, still wielding the red pen and the paper mark book. “Students will always need personal contact.” Yep that’s what the music business said about vinyl and now the album compilation barely exists!

Of course when print on demand became a real prospect people said that this would be the death of the book and in some ways it has been – just check the remainders shops, but in other ways reading has never been more popular. I don’t think J K Rowling, (Harry Potter) Stephanie Meyer (Twlight) or Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games) are suffering to much from the death of the book, or for that matter Ian Rankin (Rebus). Book publishing has gone through a massive change, the author can get access to the reader directly, but books still exist.

There is still a need for the real, the communal and the personal: in music, stadium rock and gigging are still a massive part of the industry; why else do people go to the cinema in droves, to watch a movie they could see at home in greater comfort? So yes there is still room for personal contact, but how much do they really need? In music, books and journalism a lot more is being done for  a lot less. Journalists barely get paid any more, musicians gig for peanuts, authors publish and be damned or at least they don’t get paid, some get famous via the wire, the rest do it for the joy of it, most of them didn’t see it coming and teachers may well be on the cusp of the same fate – if the industry of teaching breaks down, how many will be left and how many will do it for the joy of it?