Ed Miliband: The best Prime Minister we never had | @EmmaKennedy123

EmmaEmma Kennedy is a teacher of English and literacy leader since 2004.

After reading this article from The Guardian  and seeing comments on Twitter written by teachers and teacher bloggers about what a great Prime Minister Ed Miliband would have made, I decided to re-watch”Cameron and Miliband Live:  The Battle for Number 10″ which was live on Sky News and Channel 4 on March 26, 2015 and a key point in which the majority of viewers felt that David Cameron performed better in a “grilling” by both Jeremy Paxman and a studio audience, one month before the General Election.

The Battle for Number Ten was introduced by Paxman:

“Tonight sees the first big election test for two men:  one of whom will be the next Prime Minister.  David Cameron and Ed Miliband are the only people with a genuine chance of forming the next government.  Tonight, we’ll see what they’re made of.”

I’m about to talk you through the most unprofessional, disgusting, degrading to everyone and biased interview of the decade played out by Paxman, presenter Kay Burley and some members of the audience.  I’m going to explain why the former Labour Leader did an unbelievable job under the circumstances but was bullied so badly by the ignorant and malicious that he never stood a chance.

The performance begins with a short interview between Paxman and Cameron in which the Prime Minister is questioned on why 900,000 people in the UK have become dependent on food banks and the number of food banks has increased from 66 to 421 in one year.  He is then challenged on his response that unemployment has decreased with the notion that 700,000 of those people are on zero hours contracts.  He is reminded of his own phrase “Broken Britain” where it is suggested that we are now more broken as a country and poorer than before.  The interview moves on to why Cameron has chosen to appoint those involved in overseas tax avoidance into key government roles, why he supports a rich newspaper owner who was involved in phone hacking and a rich TV presenter who thumped a colleague.  It is stated when discussing the deficit that the government has borrowed £500 bn so far and that in terms of immigration he “said one thing and then did another.”

The questions put to Cameron were:

  • What do you think are Miliband’s best qualities?  (Cameron responded to this question by laughing and replied “That’s a very difficult question to start with.”  The audience largely laughed with him.)
  • Would you appoint a cabinet minister for older people?
  • What cuts will you be making to public funding?

He was asked several other questions relating to his policies.

It was then Ed Miliband’s turn to face the studio audience which interestingly was in the opposite order to Cameron.  The questions he had to answer were often much more insulting and personal such as:

  • Why are you so gloomy?  (Ed talked about zero hours contracts and unemployment).
  •  Would David Miliband have done a better job as Labour Leader?

The audience were encouraged to laugh at him and be rude to him by an often abrupt and quite frankly vile Kate Burley who I would argue was inappropriate and unprofessional throughout.  Miliband’s answers were open and honest explaining that the Labour Party had been too relaxed about inequality, he addressed the awful mistake of the Iraq war and very nobly accepted the responsibility for decisions made by the party that were not his own.

Kate Burley brought the focus back to his family asking about “the division” and whether there was a “fall out.”  As an aside I think its worth reminding ourselves that we’re talking about two grown men here that worked in the same profession, in the same party, in the same cabinet and I find it unbelievable that the public would criticize an MP for running against his brother so openly because he “cares deeply about this country.”  And states: ” I have strong convictions of how we need to change Britain” to which the manipulative Burley dares to respond “Your poor mum.”  Really?  Having two sons graduate Oxbridge and win places in cabinet?  I always felt he had nothing to explain to anyone here and this was an MP with nothing to hide.

The best question from audience member Harry was the only one not visually displayed on the screen.  Please do not treat us as if we are stupid Channel 4/Sky News.  He asked:  “How are you going to be different to Cameron and Clegg and their broken promises?”

Ed’s responses sung of integrity and openness:  “Trust in politics is so important.  I want to be the first PM to under promise and over deliver.”  It was when Ed Miliband was asked the same question Cameron was asked first that Burley was at her most offensive.  To the audience question of “What do you think are Cameron’s best qualities?”  she added “Would you have a pint with him?”

Ed talked about “Ideas.  Principles.  Decency.  Reaching out to people who are the most vulnerable in our society.”  Something I have always admired most in teachers and educational management I work with is the integrity to admit when they have made a mistake.  Even more so to shoulder the blame for the mistakes of their organisation as a representative for it even if those mistakes were not their own.

“We were wrong on the regulations of the banks.  I am sorry we got it wrong.  They were under regulated in my 5 years as leader of the opposition and I’ve learned they’ve got to work better for our businesses.”

Paxman exposed himself as a real bully during the interview.  Awful character.  He really went out of his way to insult, degrade and publicly humiliate him in the most personal and unnecessary way for his own satisfaction when Ed Miliband stood up to him with “You asked me a question; let me answer it.”  Again, Ed was full of integrity and completely trustworthy:  “We got it wrong on immigration.  We got it wrong.”   If anything he was too open, accepting Blair’s mistakes as if they were very much his own. The audience had been encouraged to laugh at him in a way they had not dared to the Prime Minister.

Paxman continued:

“You know what people say about you?  People think you’re not tough enough.  Your own MPs consider you a liability.  They see you as a North London geek.  They look at you and they think “What a shame its not his brother.  Are you OK Ed?  Are you?”

Miliband responded:

“Hell, yes I’m tough enough.  It is water off a duck’s back.  They are entitled to their views.  I’ve learned to be myself.  Do they want my ideas?  Do they want my principles?  I don’t care what they write about me.  I’m a resilient guy.  They can say what they like because I care about the British people.  People have thrown a lot at me!  Let them under estimate me.  I think I can change it.  That’s why I’m sitting here and that’s why I think I’m the best choice to be Prime Minister.”

The best Prime Minister we never had.  He would have made a brilliant role model to the kids we teach.

Why we need maths teachers | @aspiedelazouch

AvatarBarney Angliss has been SEN & Disability Co-ordinator in a mainstream secondary school for 14 years and was previously Deputy Head in a Pupil Referral Unit. A Labour voter, he works with the Council for Disabled Children and is a member of the SEN Policy Research Forum.

I’ve been teaching maths. If you’ve rolled out of bed, scanned your timeline and tapped the Labour Teachers blog only to learn that a nobody from nowhere has been teaching maths, I apologise. Not the most remarkable thing you’ll read this year, nor the most reassuring: aged 7, I was kept from moving up to middle school for two reasons: a real problem with social skills (I have Asperger’s Syndrome) and the fact that I was so poor with numbers. I was a natural reader and speller, wrote the school play aged 6; but numbers meant nothing to me. I couldn’t picture them, remember them or talk about them. I have almost no imagination (the school play was a laborious pastiche of war movies), which may have played a part. I’m slow at subitising, incredibly slow at stroop tests. But I do mental maths pretty well now and I’m not truly dyscalculic.

Several times I’ve covered in Maths for a month or more (the familiar shortage of teachers…) and lately I’ve been teaching middle-set Year 9. I’m enjoying it: lesson planning has become less of a chore, more like taking a part-time post-grad course, the one you’ve promised yourself for years, the one that scares you a little but inflates your ego at the same time. I’ve absolutely no intention of sticking at it for long: there’s a plan in place to strengthen teaching across the department and I won’t be part of it because (a) I scraped a C at O Level and (b) I already have a full-time job as SENCO in a school with a very high intake of SEND and among the highest deprivation levels in the county.

But I’ve noticed some changes in these two months: I’m pleased to say the pupils have stopped running around and out of the classroom (which caused my predecessor to leave). They now walk in, ask how I am (yes, they do that first), ask what we’re doing. They take turns to give out the folders and organise me (I have poor spatial skills and I’m never in my own room, it’s always a strange place to me). Then they sit, they listen and they work; they work non-stop. It’s rare for them to stop work at all until about the 55th minute. In between tasks, we talk about culture (at the start of this term I showed a very short documentary about the designs of the late Zaha Hadid DBE, the extraordinary Iraqi-born architect who passed away just a few days earlier), we talk about racism, about why law would be a good career, about whether feminism is ‘a thing’, about whether my own children are more like me or them (the latter), about whether the new school building is just a vanity project (they had some interesting views), about whether government serves the people, about the Vietnam War. But mainly, we work. They don’t mind that I make mistakes, they don’t jump on my case, they’ve learned to take it in their stride. They absolutely love to get things correct, minor things or major. When, on occasion, I’ve under-estimated how far I needed to plan ahead and they’ve completed all the work before the bell, they’re frustrated. And that’s when my lack of mathematical knowledge is a problem: because I can’t extend and connect ideas without planning. So I won’t be applying for a move into that department; but I’m happy to keep learning and sharing what I learn for a little longer.

Is there such a thing as ‘presence’ among teachers? Is ‘the relationship’ key to teaching and learning? Trust, openness, listening? All, positive factors; “firm, fair and consistent” was the best advice I ever received about discipline (from the Head of a special school in the old EBD tradition). But all of these should be ‘givens’ in teaching. The reason why I am NOT the only teacher in the Maths corridor with happy pupils is because the others know the subject. They can throw in new vocabulary, turn on their heels, draw an example on the board, test the pupils’ understanding with a hinge question. Effective teaching is a rational thing: it’s not a surd.

Grammar | @JulesDaulby

unknownJules Daulby is an advisory teacher for SENSS (SEN Specialist Service) in Dorset. Originally a Secondary English and Drama teacher, she has also taught in Further Education, Higher Education and for Parent Partnership.

I emailed this to our Head of English the other day: Screenshot 2016-04-17 at 20.41.58

She remarked how teachers must find the grammar difficult and that she was glad of her English Language degree; knowledge of linguistics was useful. And this is the point here. The grammar being forced on primary schools by the DFE is pretty difficult stuff. It’s OK, teachers are getting their heads round frontal (snigger) adverbials and subjunctive clauses – we can work it out. Primary teachers will be, by now, experts in grammar and its uses. There is a palpable nervousness among some secondary school teachers and with the new 20% SPaG marks in GCSEs, a few more INSET days dedicated to literacy will be on the cards no doubt.

Of course teachers know it, know how to use it and the impact it should make on the written word. They just might not be aware of the technical term given to it by the DFE. The changing of the word connectives is maddening because that’s exactly what it does on the tin, connects stuff. But oh no, that’s too easy or too American or whatever absurd rule they’ve come up with lately; ‘we must use conjunction, it’s more British and suits my bowler hat’ says someone in the DFE towers. Similarly, speech marks; that’s way too obvious, let’s call them inverted commas, this is the word given to them in the 18th century, let’s get back to the good old days, none of these 20th century modern terms will do.

Teachers know don’t we? Our little 7 yr olds are different. They can say these words but can’t place any meaning upon them. My twins say split ‘dia-graf’ (digraph) and can generally do them (these were once called magic e but has been banned because magic is intangible and can’t be measured) but they need reminding. For timed adverbs they’ll look quizzically at me until I prompt them with ‘Next I…’ or something and they’re off sticking to the grammatical rules for precisely 2.4 seconds until continuing with their beautiful, grammatically incorrect but very creative writing.

When I began teaching it was Knowledge about Language (KAL) and Oracy; explicit grammar is now returning and I’ve noticed Oracy is now replacing speaking and listening as the preferred term.

Things come full circle and Gibb will soon be sitting in some Old People’s home with Gove and me while I try to whack them round the head with my walking stick and a new tribe will arrive likely to be reinventing the wheel again. ‘Our children can name an adjective but they don’t understand what to do with it’ they’ll cry. Grammar will be banned and creative writing in the form of stream of consciousness with no punctuation hailed as the new way to teach writing.

The healthy plate is a nice analogy. Grammar and punctuation should be the size of grains; the fruit and vegetables are language and the protein, spelling and phonics. Currently grammar and phonics take up too much of the plate and like the advice on eggs or avocados, it keeps changing – one minute it’s good for you and the next it’s unhealthy, devil food.

I hope we keep some grammar teaching but not to the extent where we’re ruining the pleasure of experimenting and playing with language. We don’t need to test everything; teachers are good at assessing writing: it’s their job. Some of our best writers might be terrible at grammar but fill their stories with the most beautiful imagery and ideas. Another might write a functional, grammatically correct, informative leaflet and that’s OK too.

Let’s celebrate language, not kill it. And if we are going to use grammar can we stop changing the names? 7 is too young to be told ‘no that’s not a connective anymore, now we call it a conjunction’.

Does the government’s EU leaflet help the case for remaining in the EU? | @beejvee82

IMG_2688Briony Bowers is a part time Associate Senior Leader at a school in Oxfordshire. She has been an English teacher for 19 years and was a full time Senior Leader for 8 of those.  She is a Labour supporter and a supporter of the Remain campaign. 

Yesterday we received the Government’s leaflet setting out why we should remain in the EU.  Before I start grumbling, let me say I am very strongly in favour of Britain remaining as part of the EU and I will be voting to remain on 23rd June, but the leaflet annoyed me. Not the 9 million pounds spent on it, or the fact that it only presents one side of the argument, but the fact that it doesn’t present the argument very well.  I found it to be patronising and irritating and I found the wording on the back cover: “The Government believes that it in you and your family’s best interests that the UK remains in the European Union,” just a little big brother.

The first page is “a stronger economy”.  It’s probably right to start with this section as access to the 500 million consumers of the single market is vital to the UK, but whilst it may be true that EU countries buy 44% of everything we sell, this won’t necessarily change in the event of a UK exit.  Assertions that it would plays into the hands of the leave campaign.  It is undeniable that there are countries who have their own trade agreements with the EU and therefore we could too.

The second section is entitled: “Improving our lives”. In this section, economic factors are repeated and then it moves on to travel abroad, ‘Millions of UK citizens travel to Europe each year’. Leaving aside the pedantic point that we travel within Europe not to it, is this really the most important aspect of how the EU improves our lives: cheap flights and mobile phone roaming tariffs?  I searched for the point that EU membership protects workers’ rights – one of the factors that Jeremy Corbyn emphasised in his speech on Thursday – and found it tucked away in one sentence at the end of a paragraph almost an aside.

My own view about why we should remain a part of the EU is sort of covered, under the heading “The UK as a leading force in the world,” where it says, “our EU membership magnifies the UK’s ability to get its own way on the issues we care about.”  I find the language troubling here. I don’t want us to be a force; the world’s policeman getting involved in conflicts where our intervention makes things worse not better, and I think the phrase “get its own way” creates the impression of a playground argument not negotiated international agreements.

We should stay within the EU in order to have influence on how we address the huge challenges of our 21st Century World.  In the face of global capitalism, climate change, immigration and threats from international terrorism, we should be strengthening all of our international networks and alliances not leaving.   In my view all the other arguments are red herrings and scare mongering. For example: the economic risks are indeed unknown, but it is ridiculous to suggest that Germany will no longer buy our cars if we leave. An independent UK might be able to put tighter restrictions on immigration, but our moral obligations to help deal with the migrant crisis will not go away. I could go on.

I am worried about the referendum.  I am worried people will like the showbiz appeal of Boris, Gove and Farage and that it’s easier to muster up passion for a change than keeping the status quo.  I am worried that people will not turn out to vote. I am worried that the Government’s campaign leaflet will push people who feel patronised towards the leave campaign.   Ignore the leaflet, send it back, throw it away, whatever you like – but please vote to keep Britain in the EU.

Intervention | @Bigkid4

board-812129_1280@Bigkid4 has taught maths well for 13 years. Prior to that he taught maths badly for about 5. Although his support for Labour waned while Labour was in government, he is now keen to support Labour’s efforts to remove the Tories from office.

Before I start writing about the impact of intervention I will write a little about my experience of the context. Initially “intervention” was done with exam classes only. It often took the form of Saturday, after school or holiday revision sessions. Over time, who “intervention” was offered to became more targeted and the sessions became less optional. “Intervention” expanded into the timetable with pupils being removed from lessons deemed less important to do extra maths or English.

Currently we have several different types of intervention running. Targeted pupils are being removed from certain lessons to do extra maths lessons across all year groups. Once every week a different, overlapping set of targeted pupils Year 11 pupils have a revision session after school. There will be revision at half term.

Most of the pupils in my Year 11 intervention group (bar 2) would be the last people I would choose. They are quite capable of getting good grades without any additional teacher input should they choose to. Their underperformance is largely a choice they have made rather than being due to a barrier of some description that extra maths sessions will help them overcome. Most of the people getting extra time from me in these sessions are the least deserving of that time. They don’t want it. They don’t need it. They don’t make the most of it. Meanwhile hard working kids that would love extra help and support are not allowed to come to the sessions because they are not in the target group. This means I feel obliged to run a session for them.

The kids in the intervention group have been chosen because they are not likely to meet their target grades. There are issues with this because their target grades are “aspirational” and because many of them are not enormously interested in achieving their target grades. They SAY they are but their unwillingness to do what is necessary to improve belies what they say.

What has the impact of all this intervention been? The results have gone up significantly. Workload has also gone up significantly. As there have been several new policies and systems of intervention it is difficult to quantify which have resulted in the improved grades. Consequently, all the new policies and systems appear to have been deemed a success.

One unintended impact of this has been a learned helplessness from a significant number of pupils. Pupils having intervention often do not revise in their own time. They are less likely to take responsibility for their learning or their progress. The knowledge that underperformance results in more attention, more lesson time, more resources etc. has been counterproductive for many students. I have had pupils say to me that they want intervention but they are not doing badly enough so they are going to do worse.

Another unintended impact of this has been a catastrophic decline in the ability and work ethic of year 12 students over time. There are more and more students, who having achieved a grade that is far more reflective of the quality and work ethic of their teacher than their own, choose maths as an A-Level. The entry requirements are set so that the course has sufficient numbers on it (as far as I can make out). We get students in our classes that we know are not capable of getting any grade much less a good one because their ability and/or work ethic are not up to A-Level. Through our numerous interventions we have opened the door to A-Level for them without first teaching them that academic success is something THEY have to work for. Thus their failure is assured. Intervention has delayed or deferred their failure but not averted it. As a result I have to do extra sessions in year 12 to try to ensure that these pupils get decent grades in Year 12.

In maths, everyone, of every ability, eventually reaches a point where they cannot get by on ability alone and they actually have to do some work if they are going to learn and succeed. The realisation that I would have to do some work if I wanted to pass hit me in Year 13. For other people it may be sooner or later than that. My teacher told me that if I didn’t work I would fail. He said that I was capable of brilliant grades but I wouldn’t get them unless I sorted my act out. I didn’t work hard enough. I didn’t get the best grades. I learned from that. I have had many failures since then but none of them have been down to a lack of effort. There was no intervention then. My teacher was available after school if students wanted help but we had to seek him out.

Intervention teaches pupils that if they don’t work someone else will pick up the pieces and do it for them. It teaches those pupils who are desperately want to do well but are not underperforming that they are less important and less entitled to help and support than a lazy underperformer. It gives pupils the message that their progress is not their responsibility but ours.

In my experience intervention papers over the cracks and almost without exception the introduction of intervention has necessitated more intervention. We will be firefighting forever until we make pupils take ownership of their results and learning. This will never happen because in order for pupils to fully own their learning and results some must be allowed to fail.

The Importance of exam markers | @ashleypearce84

AshleyAshley Pearce is a secondary school economics teacher in a comprehensive school just outside of Reading.  Last year he was elected as a councillor for the Labour party for an area in South Reading.  He is also a Reading FC fan and keen reader of educational literature.

I am sure we all believe in holistic education, good pastoral systems and children who enjoy going to school and go on to have a lifelong love of learning. However, I don’t ever remember seeing any of these things as a SMART target on any appraisal I have ever had. “75% or over of GCSE students to have enjoyed your lessons by the end of 2016”. No wait, the target was more like 75% of GCSE students to achieve an A*-C grade in 2016. So basically exams matter, matter above all else for us as teachers and for students’ futures. So if exams matter, the people that mark the exams really matter.

I want to start with some numbers. Fifty thousand teachers (assuming teachers, although I did undertake exam marking as a Teaching assistant, don’t tell the Daily Mail) mark 15 million exam papers a year. Last year, 400,000 exam marks were challenged, which was a 48% increase from the previous year. Of these, 77,000 were changed, an increase of 42% on the previous year. Remember exam boards charge for these, money is refunded if a mistake has been made but the charges can be high, especially as the fee is for essentially quality checking a company’s own work. AQA raised £4.7m from these fees last year with all exam boards raising £10m a year in total. Edexcel is owned by Pearson who are part owned by Rupert Murdoch, therefore parent and taxpayer money being funnelled into his pocket to ensure an exam board does its job properly doesn’t seem right.

At this time of year, I probably get an average of three emails a week from the different exam boards to advertise examiner vacancies. I was an examiner for about 4 or 5 exam series a few years back, both A level and GCSE. It is a dying art. OCR have recently said that they are looking abroad for examiners on some of their GCSE papers as there is such a shortage at home. Part of this is down to pay. Fees are paid per paper and can range from just over £2 per paper to around £10 per paper. Most analysis comes out with a figure of around £20 per hour for marking. Not terrible pay but not a great incentive either. There is also the perverse incentive to not take your time and to rush them. The more papers you mark in an hour, the more you can mark. Basically there is an incentive to rush the work and lower the quality. Educationalists rarely understand incentives.

Other issues are undoubtedly around workload. Teachers’ rising workloads are an open secret, so fitting in another job is very difficult. On average each exam marker marks around 300 papers per session, let’s say they take an average of 6 minutes per paper (I read that was an average somewhere), that is 1800 minutes or 30 hours of time. Again, like the pay this does not seem too burdensome. However, this time is squeezed into a small space of time, usually just over a month. If we are expecting time to be taken over these papers and for current teachers to undertake exam marking, you are looking at hours of time being dumped on already over worked teachers.

As well as the time and pay issues around examining, there are a few others. The abolishing of January exams has meant a pressure point of one time a year rather than being spread over two. The fracturing of schools and curriculum types has meant a wider variety of exams, which means a greater demand for different examiners. The examiner pool is getting smaller and on average older. Standardisation meetings in person are now less frequent, as are the marking of whole papers, with individual question marking now the norm. Many examiners are unfamiliar with this and do not like it. The paperwork, software downloads, and admin are also a factor in putting teachers off.

But examining is still a worthwhile exercise for a teacher. It helps our practice and improves students’ results. Schools and governments should be encouraging them. There are ways to do this.

Government and exam boards need to raise pay and find a different way than paying per paper. Training and standardisation should  be in person, the admin made easier and the timescale wider (bringing back January exams seems unlikely however). Schools could help by providing examiner training, encouraging staff to partake and allowing time off in the summer term to undertake marking. It is more worthwhile than almost any other form of CPD and is free to schools. Schools are now allocating part of their stretched budgets to exam re-marking, whilst definitely worthwhile this just seems wrong. A better plan on exam marking is needed.