Friday, June 12, 2020


Labels can be used to navigate to parts of the blog. To get just book reviews click on "books"

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Work related stress

There is a reluctance to attribute absences from work to "work-related stress". People feel that employers do not need to know about mental health problems when they are considering who to promote in the future!

However, as John Illingworth pointed out at the West Sussex Teachers' Association Reps training course. "If employees put work related stress as a reason for absence, employers are bound by law to seek ways of reducing that stress." A recent court case saw a Leicestershire teacher receiving a six figure sum in compensation because the employer had failed in the "duty of care" by ignoring stress in the workplace.

We say this not to encourage the "compensation culture" but to warn employers that they need to change their ways. Piling more and more stress on teachers as a short term fix to problems like OFSTED will have long term consequences for the morale of the teachers and the number of teachers leaving the profession.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Supply teachers

Supply teachers have always seemed to me to be the SAS of the teaching profession, parachuted in when there are gaps in the front line, taking classes where the teacher is over-stressed and finding out in five minutes *why* the teacher is over-stressed!

Conference Motions should have gone out last term and should be available on the website soon.

There is a resolution on supply and agency teachers on the agenda in the name of the executive. It has some pious objectives:
"1) Mount a campaign to build awareness of routes to permanent status for casually employed teachers.
2) Develop campaigning and negotiating strategies to encourage the re-establishment of local authority-wide supply pools.
3) Develop strategies to protect teachers who are not directly employed by local authorities or schools in order that they may access equal rights to pay, pension and other benefits.
4) Build a campaign to promote the employment of supply teachers to provide cover in schools.
We need to find ways of translating these fine sentiments into positive help for our supply and agency colleagues here and now.

Parents must be concerned that their children are not being taught by qualified teachers and their support could be very useful in putting on pressure to ensure "a qualified teacher for every child".


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Letters to Lara

There is some renewed interest in the Letters to Lara project. Of course teachers can choose another iconic computer game hero in place of Lara and get the same interesting response.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Linda Taaffe speaks out

Linda Taaffe writes in classroom teacher Linda was on the National Executive for years but the tired old left thought she was a bit too outspoken. To use a suspect sexist term, she had more balls than the lot of them put together!

In Central Hall Westminster at the April 24th strike rally in front of two thousand teachers, with many more thousands locked outside, wild cheering and applause greeted any platform speaker even hinting at further joint action.

It seemed that the NUT was on a roll. After years of trying, the Left on the NUT National Executive apparently had won a small majority in the elections. Also by a quirk of fate a left general secretary took the helm, joining an already established left treasurer. We then got the news that UNISON were going to ballot, and others were lining up to join those that had already shown willing.

At the same time discontent is being fuelled by more rising prices. Our case is strengthened daily. And to cap it all the government has come under real pressure. With the massacre in the local elections, now Nantwich & Crewe, and Gordon Brown's poll ratings at absolute rock bottom what a chance to extract another u-turn on public sector pay to add to the 10p tax fiasco.

Trade unions rarely get a favourable combination of circumstances to pursue a strike. It is never the right moment. But given some other situations this was a golden opportunity. Incredibly some, or rather quite a few, including those calling themselves Left, have voted against calling action now. They have let teachers down. They have let the government off the hook. They have quite possibly caused a negative impact on the rank and file of other unions.

We recognise that there might be complicating factors, but the overriding factor here was a chance for the coordinated action that the whole of the trade union movement has been campaigning on for such a long time. Shame on those who have shown such a lack of judgment that they voted against a strike in July.

Leadership is all about judgment. Of course we all want the same thing in the end, but timing is everything in politics. Now it seems we have a situation where some 'on the left' have joined with others on the right with similar 'honestly held views' to effectively kick our pay battle into the long grass for now.

Experience in the Left Caucus on the National Executive has shown me that there are some whose views are barely 'Left' at all. There are others on the Left like myself, Martin Powell Davies and others especially in the Socialist Party, who faced a somewhat different, quite unsympathetic reaction to our 'honestly held views'. Martin stood for General Secretary because we reckoned that the views of the candidate backed by others on the Left would fall short. Were we right? As an Executive member I spoke out against some of the methods of many in the Left Caucus who believed that those in the then majority of the Executive really wanted the same thing as us and would see the error of their lackadaisical ways and be won over by our more energetic campaigning.

Unfortunately, the result of this vote could demobilise teachers. It certainly gives the government time to re-group. It may well be that the relentless pressure of events can bring action to the fore again. I certainly hope so. The Div. Secs on June 17th might have much to say. Hopefully Divisonal Secretaries who wanted to see united action in July will not go shy in taking up the arguments of those on the left as well as those on the right.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Scrap SATS

There is a petition to scrap SATS on the Downing Street website

Click here

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Early Years News

From Early Year News

Angela Ahern writes:

I attended Early Education's Annual Conference in Sheffield at the weekend. The theme was "Trusting children's thinking: reflecting on Dispositions for Learning". The keynote speakers were Professor Cathy Nutbrown : School of Education, University of Sheffield and Mick Waters : Director of Curriculum, QCA.
Cathy Nutbrown's talk was entitled "Respectful educators, capable learners". Cathy is an interesting and stimulating speaker, quoting Christian Schiller, Alec Clegg and Robin Tanner, amongst others. She expressed her view that education should be through the Arts, encouraging creativity and expression. Art - in terms of music, dancing, painting should be seen as a pedagogy. "Creative children need creative adults with wide eyes and open minds". Creative education in this sense is an "orienteering expedition, not a route march", with adults as "orienteering guides", providing tools and resources for the journey and opportunities to be a pioneer. Creative assessment is seen as a series of checkpoints on the learning journey.
Cathy quoted from an essay by Fulgham (1990) entitled "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten", "live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance - every day -some". Put things back where you found them and clean up your own mess - have milk and cookies at 3.00pm followed by a nap - hold hands and watch out for traffic - what else do we need to know?

Mick Waters from QCA has been described as the "Mick Jagger of the education world", so the audience weren't too sure what to expect, and he did not disappoint. Mick had separately also decided to quote Fulgham, so had to find another poem to illustrate his point, which was essentially that it is vital that educators do not lose their playful joyful spirit! Mick advocated applying the principles of early years education in secondary schools. He commented that to some "education is seen as a cold shower - unpleasant and hateful but good for you". He made the point that the curriculum should fit the learners, not the other way around.
Mick had helpfully made a list of childhood essentials, "make, do and mend........
*a collection
*tending plants
*taking things to bits
*caring for creatures
*enjoying the weather
*an adventure
*being in a club
*making something to use at home or at school
He posed the question, "is there anything living in your classroom?"
For further information on Mick's view of the early years curriculum, see the QCA website.

The conference heard from Felicity Thomas and Stephanie Harding from Earlham Early Years Centre, Norfolk in the afternoon, who have developed their own way of planning and assessing young children through focusing on their dispositions for learning, such as curiosity, persistence, co-operation, being rich and flexible in communication and playfulness.

The conference closing address was given by Margaret Edgington, who is the Vice President of Early Education. She stressed that those of us who work in the early years need to be firm about what are our non-negotiables, such as a curriculum that encourages an orienteering approach rather than a route march through targets, and to stand by and defend these - to both the Government and Ofsted - where applicable. She urged us to trust our own thinking - we are the connoisseurs of young children's learning and we need to exert our spirit strongly!

Next years conference will be held in Swansea and is entitled "Childhood Regained".
Look forward to seeing you there!


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Supply Teachers - shock troops of education

I received a letter from my MP the other day in which he put forward the basic argument that allowing “flexibility” in the employment of agency staff made it possible for agencies to provide employment and any restriction of their “flexibility” would lead to a reduction in employment prospects.

I was inclined to ask this Tory MP, “what are you, New Labour?” because you couldn’t put a Rizla between the policies of the bosses’ parties on this issue.

It is of course a downright lie that paying people less and taking away their entitlement to pension benefits leads to more employment. What it does do is to keep the private agencies afloat. Without them schools would need some system of Local Authority supply lists. This is a system that was sacrificed on the altar of privatisation.

The conference motion on supply teachers contains the line “calls on the executive to campaign vigorously”. Yet this motion stands in the name of the executive! On those grounds alone it deserves your full support. The prospect of the executive trying to galvanise themselves is to be welcomed.

For many teachers supply teaching has been a way of reducing their timetable prior to retirement now that early retirement has become virtually unobtainable and retirement on the grounds of ill health is virtually impossible unless you are actually dead.

Paradoxically, supply teachers are often the shock troops of education, sent in to hold the line when nobody else can. Have you ever covered a class and found out within five minutes exactly why the usual teacher is off with stress-related illness? Supply teachers do this all the time.

And yet they are criminally underpaid and denied their pension rights in the name of “flexibility”. If they are not directly employed by a school the agencies will not pay a penny towards their CPD and they have to rely on their own resources to keep abreast of developments in education. The only people who provide free CPD for supply teachers are the NUT.

Whether the National Executive campaigns “vigorously” or in their more usual
less-than-vigorous manner, we need to fight for supply teachers. School reps can make their colleagues aware of the injustice affecting people who work at their side. The fat cats in agencies pay them less, rob them of pensions and pocket the difference.

It will help all of us in the fight against the creeping privatisation of education

If you want to help galvanise the executive contact


Sunday, February 03, 2008

Teach boys to stab?

I see Norman Tebbitt has done it again - this time saying all boys should be taught to shoot. He always was barking but he seems to have become worse. Obviously what we should do is teach them to stab while we are at it

I wonder if he does it so that Boris will look sane by comparison. He has got a job on his hands if so.

It is on a par with the other Tory policy of paying members of your family to do nothing. I know a lot of teenage boys who need no incentives to do nothing.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

McDonalds A levels

From the WSTA weblog
We have news that McDonalds are introducing their own A levels and we have an exclusive preview of the paper:

Is McDonalds?

a) a vicious anti-union low wage employer?
b) a fast track to a heart attack?
c) fun in a bun?
d) animal cruelty incarnate

If your answer was (c) congratulations you now have a Mc A

(before the Millionaire McLawyers get on the McPhone this is
a joke of course)

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Woodard Corporation takeover of schools

Teachers are up in arms about the transfer of three schools to the Woodard Corporation. this is the press release I was busy with yesterday:

Teachers in West Sussex are planning a campaign against proposals to turn three of the County's secondary schools into Academies, starting with a Public Meeting on Thursday 7 February at 7.30pm in the Assembly Rooms, Worthing.

Dave Thomas, local Secretary for the National Union of Teachers, said:
We are opposed to Academies in West Sussex because:
they undermine democratically controlled Local Authorities,
they put schools in the hands of unaccountable sponsors,
they threaten teachers' pay and working conditions,
they will introduce three more schools of a faith character, with minimal consultation and a reduction in parents' choice.
At a meeting of West Sussex NUT held on Wed 16th Jan, the following motion was passed unanimously:
'WSTA is opposed to the establishment of Academies in West Sussex. It further deplores the lack of consultation by the Woodard Corporation and WSCC with the staff and their representatives in the schools concerned, namely, Boundstone CC, Kings Manor CC and Littlehampton CC.'
The meeting was attended by NUT members from all three schools and from other schools throughout West Sussex.
The public meeting is open to parents, teachers, support staff and others with an interest in state education to allow them an opportunity to air their concerns.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Nasty one Cyril

Sir Cyril Taylor GBE, chair of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust has advised the government that there are 17,000 bad teachers who ought to be sacked. It is surprising that Chris Woodhead isn’t suing him for identity theft as he made the self-same spurious claim ten years ago.

The figure is based on OFSTED assessments of teachers. This scientific evaluation is based on a ten minute glance at the work of a teacher who may have been teaching for ten or twenty years. Moreover OFSTED inspectors define lessons as “satisfactory” and by sleight of hand unelected individuals like Cyril translate that as “bad”. A few elementary lessons in the English language would not do him any harm.

I run a helpline for stressed teachers in West Sussex and half of the time the source of their difficulties is senior management who are themselves being bullied by “advisers” and politicians like Cyril demanding impossible targets.

His solution, to sack bad teachers and “go out and recruit fantastic teachers” shows what a fantasy world he lives in. Spend a couple of hundred thousand pounds on training a teacher and as soon as he or she has difficulties you throw them on the scrap heap. Then you replace them with “fantastic” – ie fantasy, mythical – teachers…. from Hogwarts presumably.

All teachers will encounter professional difficulties at some stage in their career and if they get help and support they can overcome them. They get that help and support from other teachers as a rule. Certainly not from people like Cyril. What are they for?

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Cane

The late Chris Woodhead was wrong to think educational theory is pointless. Everybody has a theory of education. The taxi driver who took me from Moodlemoot to Milton Keynes station certainly did.

I won’t bore you with everything he said when he found out I was “one of those politically-correct nancy boys called teachers” but it would be no exaggeration to say he wants every classroom to be like a less pleasant version of Guantanamo “to teach the little c*nts to behave.”

I don’t know how many of his passengers get in his cab and tell him how to be a cabbie. Perhaps a lot of them do which would explain why he is so bitter and twisted.

I was not going to go into the detailed educational theory involved so I told him three things:

I went to a school where the school bully was caned every week, sometimes every day. He went in a bully and he came out a bully with a sore backside. It did not help his victims.

My brother went to a school where the cane was used much more often than it was in mine. The behaviour at his school was substantially worse than it was at mine by any measure. The opposite of his theory.

I was caned for drawing a cartoon. It did work. I have never drawn a cartoon since.

It was all anecdotal of course but better than nothing. The temptation after a tiring day was to let him have his say. If everybody does that he will assume everyone agrees with him, “even some ponce of a teacher I had in here the other day!”

(Yes I know Woodhead is still alive but a man can dream!)

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Friday, September 14, 2007

far flung request for the helpline

West Sussex helpline is for stressed teachers in West Sussex to contact the union and the teacher support network when they need help.

However we do get calls from other areas.

The furthest flung query to the WSTA helpline this week was from a teacher in Wales who had found our number on the internet. She wanted to know whether it was part of her job to chase up absences. It was rather flattering but perhaps more NUT branches should consider having a helpline of their own.

The reply to her query is here

In short of course schools follow up on pupils who are absent but the paperwork is not done by teachers so they can concentrate on teaching.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Filming bad behaviour does not make it go away

The suspension of Angela Mason for filming pupils without their consent in order to make money from a TV company has caused a lot of discussion on the TES website. On the whole posters expressed concern about the misbehaviour of pupils which is a serious issue for many of us.

However I think it is dishonest to brand everyone who criticises Angela Mason as "soft on misbehaving pupils." Come into my classroom and say that.

Filming people without their permission goes on too much as it is and certainly should not be going on in schools.

It has been suggested they could use "unedited footage" but this is naive. Pointing the camera is editing. I could film pupils quietly getting on with their work for an hour. What a riveting TV program that would make! Do you think the TV companies would give me a lot of money for it? And yet that could well be what you saw if you chose to point the camera in that direction.

And filming bad behaviour does not make it less likely. The evidence is all around us that people will film their own bad behaviour because they are proud of it.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007


WSTA delegates did a blog of conference. This is a new idea and makes it possible for the members we left behind to keep abreast of what it happening.

Click Here

Mr Read emailed and asked me to mention his blog

Consider yourself mentioned!

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Online quizzes for pupils doing ICT

Here are some quizzes for pupils doing ICT: They are self-marking and use the *free* hot potatoes software

And for anyone who is interested, I have posted the one I wrote for West Sussex Teachers' Association about the benefits of NUT membership.

Which also works.

People on the TES website were very complimentary about them.


Thursday, January 11, 2007


I am taking the plunge and using

I started using email exhanges with a Canadian teacher and his class about 15 years ago when I had to take home text files of my pupils' emails and send them from there. I still like using email interchange although I have fought shy of using epals because it does not integrate well with our email system. You have to use theirs. They have a premium rate system which costs an arm and a leg (and I have a budget of 0) but I have started this year to experiment with using their system with my year 7 class. I have set up 27 accounts (the maximum number of free accounts is 35) and we will see how it goes.

I have found email exchanges with pupils overseas to be a "consciousness-raising" experience for pupils and it also raises enthusiasm and excitement. They find out a lot about the globalisation of culture (the Japanese pupils watching "The Simpsons") as well as finding about the many differences in culture. (The school I have linked up with is a strongly Catholic school in America)

I have used but on the whole I had a lot of frustration with schools not following up so pupils spend a lot of time writing emails and then get no replies.

Does anyone else who has used email exchange have any comments?


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Paranoia Paedophilia and other things beginning with P

I do have a concern about behaviour which my father or his would have regarded as innocent sending parents into a panic which they blatantly enjoy.

A pupil was leaving a football match at our local park. I asked him what the score was and got a mouthful of abuse from his mother. Then they left. Then they came back and she said that her poor son had told her that I was his teacher and she apologised. She still didn't see anything wrong with abusing - with glee - any adult who so much as spoke to her son.

And this wasn't one of those Sun readers who attack paediatricians because of limited reading ability. This was an articulate, concerned but just a bit paranoid parent.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

In the Moodle

In the past “Virtual Learning Environments” were regarded with suspicion by teachers as a sci fi concept in which teachers are replaced with computers. After attending Moodlemoot ’06 at the Open University, I can honestly say that Moodle, the open source course management system, is actually whatever the teacher wants it to be.

The course seminars included teachers from diverse disciplines from Science to English to Music and of course ICT who all used Moodle to teach in the way which suited them.

Although the system is based on a social constructivist model of education, teachers frequently start out using it to replicate traditional classroom activities like essay-writing, feedback and redrafting or quizzes/tests with the slight difference that these are self-marking and pupils get instant feedback. Teachers only then go on to some of the more unusual features of Moodle like Wikis, blogs, asynchronous discussion groups and podcasting.

And because it is Open Source free software, teachers can contribute to the future design of Moodle without some acquisitive corporations we could mention seeking to block them under the pretext of “business secrets”.

Moodle is now used by over 100000 registered users, including the Open University. It is free to download and use and many schools and local authorities who have poured hundreds of thousands of pounds into the coffers of Microsoft are keen to find free software.

If you want to find out more there is a website which talks about the conference and demonstrates the program at the same time. It is called and all of the conference is available as audio or video files. I recommend the audio file because the video quality will depend on the quality of your computer.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Well you know what they say.

As a friend of mine put it, "Who are 'they' and how come they know so much?"

I have come in for the usual obloquy from English teachers over my use of "they" in place of the more correct "he or she". Comments have been roughly evenly divided for and against. I can honestly say that I don't use it to excess but here is the OED website on the topic:

"The English language unfortunately lacks a simple singular pronoun which does not specify gender. Various people have suggested new words to fill this gap, but none of them have caught on, or (frankly) are ever likely to: it is not practical to try to change such a basic element of the language by sheer will.

"However, children and adults alike naturally find the obvious solution to this conundrum: rather than using the formal and awkward formula 'he or she', they simply use they, especially after words such as anyone and no one which are strictly singular but often imply a reference to more than one person.

"This is not a new problem, or a new solution. 'A person can't help their birth', wrote Thackeray in Vanity Fair (1848), and even Shakespeare produced the line 'Every one to rest themselves betake' (in Lucrece), which pedants would reject as logically ungrammatical.

"If you do not find this usage acceptable, there are alternatives. You could resort to the awkward 'he or she' formula, or to the practice of writing 'he' when you mean 'he or she' (which many people find objectionable), or to recasting all your sentences to avoid the problem!"

The OED website is a mine of information on this kind of issue.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Teacher Power! A report on the National Education Conference

The first session was a fascinating speech from Mick Waters of the QCA. Most teachers think of the QCA as a very top-downwards, authoritarian body producing highly prescriptive “advice.” Mick Waters brought an entirely different perspective. While recognising the tension between national testing and local autonomy he was perfectly clear that “people in schools need to set their understandings of their children alongside the learning they should meet to create learning which is irresistible.” Unlike the run-of-the-mill bureaucrats he prefers to spend his time in the classroom working with teachers.

This set the tone of a conference which was about (apologies for the jargon) empowering teachers. Teacher power! It has a certain ring to it!

This was continued with a discussion of “personalised learning” and the somewhat ambiguous definitions available from the government. It was felt that “personalised learning” could be used to promote teacher autonomy (teacher power again) and the concept that learning should be related to the needs, aptitude and ability of the pupils. There was also a warning that “personalised learning” could be misinterpreted as a system which involved pupils interacting with computers without any teacher intervention and the delivery of education could be in the hands of unqualified staff.

Paul Crisp is the managing director of CUREE and although his presentation was heavily focussed on the research methodology of his work on mentoring of teachers, it is clear that much useful material has come out of this research which will be of use to Union Learning Reps in the future. Much of it is now available online.
click here

Elizabeth Wood of the University of Exeter talked about research on the issue of the underachievement of boys. Although she was restating much of the existing knowledge on this subject it is clearly important to go on stating it in a climate where the underachievement of boys is misunderstood. In many ways it is an oversimplification to talk about boys’ underachievement and her research was firmly based on the observation of children and her insights into the role of play. “When girls performed less well than boys it was not called underachievement. It was because they were all dumb blondes.” She has some very interesting and provocative research.

The future of the National Education Conference was a wide-ranging discussion somewhat depleted by some football game taking place at the same time.  It is proposed to promote the National Education Conference to teachers who take part in NUT Continuing Professional Development. They may well include the future leadership.

Maurice Galton’s research on “The Cost of Inclusion” tackled one of the conflicts in education at the moment. How can inclusion be helping pupils when the resources are not being provided to support the pupils being included? It is unsual for speeches to be interrupted by applause at the NEC. His remark that “these pupils have a right to be taught by qualified teachers” did receive a spontaneous ovation.

The final session of conference was a speech by Peter Mortimore who is not only an accomplished orator but also a powerful voice in educational circles. He had done a comparison between the NUT’s “Bringing down the Barriers” and the government’s Education Bill. The NUT had no input as to what his final result would be. The results are available online.

As Bill Greenshields concluded, “We are involved in a battle for ideas, every school is a fortress,”


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The problem of teaching

A poster on TES website asked for teachers who enjoyed teaching to post to a thread and got a variety of responses.

After 26 years of teaching I still don't think the kids are the problem. (And believe me I teach some *charmers*!) I still think it is the perceived failure of SMT/SLT to back you up which is the problem.

It is their *job* to support staff *contra mundum*. Remind them today. Make a note to remind them tomorrow.

And if the SMT are a problem the government and the journalists are worse because they don't appear in the staffroom periodically so I can't give them a piece of my mind :)

SMT= Senior Management Team
SLT = Senior Leadership Team

If they spent half the time doing their m**********g job as they do on dreaming up fancy names for themselves, things would be better :)