Myths, Lies, Research and Vested Interests

Seems pertinent at this juncture…we have some choices to make.

Ian Gilbert Thinks What?

It seems that Newton’s Third Law rings true for more than just billiard balls. For every bit of research telling you ‘It’s like this’ there is an equal and opposite piece of research telling you, well, maybe it isn’t that simple.

Which suggests the question, why are certain people propagating certain messages about the nature of teaching, teachers, schools and children? What’s in it for them that the rest of the world should think like this? But that’s a whole other can of worms…

Anyhoo, here are the edited highlights (i.e. the bits that aren’t specifically US related although the myth, ‘International tests show that the United States has a second rate education system’ might ring true in the UK, Australia and everywhere else that isn’t Shanghai or Korea) from a book called the 50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education. It…

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Why do we allow this to happen?


My dad was a teacher for 35 years, never having a day off, relentlessly optimistic whether it be in the classroom, with his beloved soccer and athletics teams or on the damp and desolate hills of the Peak District on ‘summer’ camp with all of year 7 [1 as was!] During exam season, he was a bundle of nerves and I can recall mum calling the doctor because he was having palpitations and cold sweats. He bunged a few beta-blockers in and was in work in the morning-I couldn’t understand why this bloke who pumped weights in our back yard and walked 6 miles back and fro to his school each day could become so worried sick each year about his A level results. When the day of publication arrived, the results became toilet reading for the next month-I knew them off by heart myself-and if the results were good, the relief was…

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No excuses…

Ok, I know that I am leaving myself open to people feeling offended by my views or who have personal issues with what I am about to blog, but I feel that this is a good time to think about schools, learning and as such teaching…oh and the BLAME GAME…

What? BLAME GAME? Yes, the blame game. I’m tempted to wince and run, but I’m too irritated and generally too much of an awkward sod to do so.

We are as a profession often perceived as a whining left wing bunch of liberalists who feel that the world is against us, that children are unteachable,. their backgrounds toxic – allegedly,  systems are against us, that government dictates what we, the enlightened few should be directing in terms of curriculum, assessment etc…and sometimes, this is fair….(this is one of the points that I wonder about the wisdom of the blog!)

However. I too, feel that we are the triage nurses placing a sticking plaster on the broken limbs of society…so I don’t feel too bad about this…but I don’t see this to be a good enough reason to limit our expectations of children within our care…and I do understand that sometimes there is a concern that this is what happens within school…when I travel to my father’s house in Norfolk and see a banner proclaiming; “another fantastic year -36% 5 GCSEs “, I am not sure what to think; as a primary teacher, I wonder what happened to the other 40% or so who got level 4+ at Literacy or Maths Nationally – or extra 60+%at our school…and yes, I do realise there are issues there…in how we assess and the accuracy, the pressures on teachers and schools,   how we teach and expectations of KS2 children. As a parent I despair at the thought that my child might go to a school where there is such paucity of aspiration and I am aware that this is a big step in assumptions, but many parents will think the same.

So, firstly…we can be a bit precious about our practice. Don’t pretend this isn’t so – we care so deeply about what we do that we internalise a lot of what we do and it becomes personal if someone criticises or suggests a better way of how to go about it. This is especially true of behaviour management. And, it particularly stings if issued by the classes’ previous teacher. Particularly if you know that they weren’t terribly effective.We can still learn from it though. So yes, we blame other people, namely other teachers…the behaviour or skills are just not developed to the level we would expect! We might be correct…or we might be making excuses. Similarly, we have a tendency to jump on bandwagons if they offer us a panacea – VAK or braingym anyone? and that is one of the reasons why Twitter is so valuable alongside decent CPD/coaching and events such as ResearchEd.

Secondly, “their home is toxic!”- it’s not just the Daily Mail that utters this…”They are exposed to x y, z…they are never heard read, they never do their homework, they just want to famous and want it all handed on a plate!”….ok, stop there…homework is crap. There. I’ve said it. I wince as some parents at my school read this – it should be limited to reading, times tables, spellings and topic work. Research to back this up? erm nil – sorry! But I do know that even highly skilled teachers who care deeply about their charges often struggle to give good homework that is completed to a standard expected in class and then marked to the same standard.  Home may be poor,(not necessarily in a financial sense – there are many issues here and cash is only a small part of it) but should we expect less of our charges? I suspect the vast majority of teachers feels as I do. Not one iota. So let’s not give into this weak argument and challenge it when we hear it, even if the person is just tired and fed up of struggling against what seems insurmountable odds – listen, talk it through and help.

Thirdly – we can sometimes blame SLT/Management – I hate the term, “the management”, it is often a cop out. The worst culprit being the middle manager who passes on the “bad news”in terms of expectations from the SLT, who despite being involved in the discussion still says, “Kit & X want…    …I know it’s annoying, but …” COWARDICE AHOY!!! Sometimes this blame is valid – I’m not hiding from that, but too often the issue will have come from the person dodging the bullet.

Finally, we often hear, “Ofsted will want to see….” This is weak leadership. Yes, I know there are flaws with Ofsted, the inspection process, the inspectors themselves…I refuse to mitigate this. However, there are myths abounding that an evening reading the handbook, guidance and subsidiary guidance could disperse. An example of the blame culture that we sometimes indulge is evident here There is no doubt that Ofsted needs to improve in all areas, but it has become an easy get out for some people. I have worked in enough schools that I know what good teaching and good leadership looks like…it doesn’t blame. or look for excuses. It looks for improving individuals constantly and encourages, even when things go wrong. Unless it goes wrong repeatedly…then we need to deal with the reality, not blame. Or the politicians – we were particularly guilty with Mr Gove of playing the man, not the ball with him, because it was so bloody easy…and did nothing to address the real issues of some of the damaging policies. I mean, how many of us actually took the time to respond to the online consultation over the new curriculum? I did, personally and on behalf of my staff/school.  Shall I tell you? It’s a little bit embarrassing given how much we all wailed and gnashed our teeth…Teacher 1,145
Primary school 832
Individual 757
Secondary school 440
Parent 282
Higher education 202
Local authority 138
Employer/Business sector 82
Subject association 82
Consultants 68
Heritage/museum/cultural 59
Academy 54
Young person 50
Further education 45
Organisation representing school teachers 43
Special school 27
Total respondents (non-campaign) 4,576

Teaching is brilliant. It really is. I cannot conceive of a job that I would rather do. No, really. But, you really have to want to do it, it is too bloody hard and too all consuming and too important to do a half arsed job…and that is the reality of it! Sometimes our concerns are valid as are reasons for not succeeding as well as we might like, but we must guard against making excuses and moaning – that doesn’t help anyone.

Oh, I have a bee in my bonnet about class sizes. If you know of any decent or rubbish studies on this I would love to see it!












School leaders, take note… (In light of the updated handbook for Ofsted Inspectors.)

Thought provoking and cuts to the main point of impact upon teachers.


‘Leadership is key in any school. We need to look at what’s being asked of teachers and assess the effectiveness.’
(Sean Harford – Ofsted’s National Director for Schools Policy and ITE, and Regional Director, East of England)

Tomorrow, (31st July 2014) Ofsted HQ are due to release an updated version of their handbook for inspectors. I imagine this is partly because of ambiguities in earlier editions that led to the unfortunate proliferation of out-dated (sometimes damaging) ideals. Hopefully, the clarity of this new guidance should halt such bad practice among inspectors. I think the clued-up school leader needs to pay heed to this new handbook, as the ramifications could prove significant for us all.

Sean Harford (@HarfordSean) the new National Director for Schools Policy, has shared some key quotes and information from the updated handbook on Twitter. It is this information that has enabled me to put this post together.

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