RECYCLED POSTS WEEK: What I have learned about addressing inequality in schooling and life chances | @RosMcM

RecycledIn Recycled Posts Week we are representing posts that have appeared elsewhere. This post first appeared on the “Ros McMullen: Things I’ve learned and things I’m learning” blog on January 17 2015.

There is a link between poverty and educational underachievement and this is a causal link.  The fact that some children from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds have remarkable achievements should not disguise this. This is so well researched and so well documented that it is completely beyond dispute.

The traditional response from the left to this is to attempt to create a level playing field and each decade has seen new initiatives for education which aim to spend more money on the education of the most disadvantaged. Statistics show us, however, that very little has changed and this is largely because the children who are brought up in families who value education have home and school working together and those who are brought up in families where schooling is not valued have home and school working in opposition. Traditionally the professionals who have educated the poor have either chosen to do so from a sense of social justice and service, a commitment to make a difference, or because they have not been terribly good educators or not terribly well qualified themselves and have “ended up in the worst schools”. Hence a culture often emerged in schools serving disadvantaged communities of “cuddle and muddle”, typified by the phrase “we are very good pastorally”, and very often by “our kind of children”. The resistance to the standards agenda comes very strongly from this culture.

Thankfully over the last 20 years or so this traditional response from the left has changed and we have seen the standards agenda embraced by the Labour Party and by the profession. We saw the new response in the early academies agenda: spend more money on the education of the most disadvantaged, set committed professionals free from interference and set challenging targets. It was a ‘preferential option for the poor’ and frankly an exciting time. Leading one of those early academies was a great privilege. However, I quickly came to realise that far from regenerating the area I was working in I was doing no more than providing an escape tunnel out of it. The academy I lead demonstrably narrows the gap: from no children going to university to over 90% of sixth formers doing so and from 9% achieving a pass in both English and Maths at GCSE to 55%, but poverty in the area is worsening. And of course not all the early academies were successful and the response to this has been less freedom, less money, more restriction.

Turning to the traditional response from the right to the underachievement of the poor we can see that until recently it was nowhere near their agenda. Apart from a strong attachment to grammar schools as a way of providing a ladder out of poverty for a few they had no response.

It was initially heartening to see the right taking a interest in the quality of schooling for poor children but, oh dear, what a mess. Challenging a culture of an under aspiration amongst teachers – a good thing, but the blame culture, the punitive approach, the failure to listen to committed experts in the field together with the savage cuts is a disaster. We are left with a serious crisis in teacher supply at a time when we have never had a more skilled and committed bunch of teachers, and with a system which actively penalises the best teachers and school leaders for working in the most challenging schools. Leading my academy precludes the possibility of being an outstanding leader, and all the expertise in the system at what works in raising standards is discounted with punitive targets driving inappropriate curriculum. The joy has been gradually sucked out of the system. (If we succumb to it, of course, and many of us don’t)

Nothing typifies the current muddled thinking more than pupil premium. I lead an academy with 67% pupil premium. This is pretty staggering for a secondary school; however I have less budget, not more. Pupil premium is not new money. It also comes with punitive targets around closing the gap. For us pupil premium means desperately trying to continue addressing disadvantage with less money than we used to have, while justifying how we spend pupil premium. It is a nonsense, but here is the bigger nonsense: we know there is a causal relationship between poverty and underachievement and the poor are getting poorer. Think of it like this – setting targets around healing a wound, giving the ‘wound-healer’ less money but making them justify that a portion of it is spent specifically on healing the wound, while giving the patient less food and increasing the bacteria in their whole environment. The national figures show pupil premium is apparently not closing the gap. Are we surprised?

So here’s a radical idea – if we are serious about creating the opportunities for equality (which is a much more sensible approach the talking about equal opportunities) how about addressing seriously the causes of disadvantage. Worklessness needs to be tackled and so does benefit culture and the under aspiration that results from it, but in so doing we have to take the children out of the culture of poverty – all I see happening at the moment is the situation being worsened. New thinking is required or once again we will only be tinkering at the edges and the cycle of disadvantage will continue.

RECYCLED POSTS WEEK: Outstanding | @srcav

RecycledIn Recycled Posts Week we are representing posts that have appeared elsewhere. This post first appeared on the “cavmaths” blog on 12th July 2015.

It used to be one of my favourite adjectives. I thought it was the perfect way to describe something so good it stood out from the crowd, but now I hate the word. I die a little inside everytime I read or hear it. The reason this is is that in the majority of contexts I hear it in it no longer means outstanding. It means ‘ticked a lot of boxes that often have no bearing on learning.”

I was once told by a senior leader that one NQT was outstanding and one required improvement. The outstanding one had made less than expected progress over the course of the year with the class in quest and the requires improvement one had made more progress in his class than any other class in the year group. It was this experience that led me to really believe that the criteria people were using to judge teaching was fundamentally flawed.

A colleague told me a few weeks ago that he’d “never be outstanding” but would get his classes to make excellent progress. I told him that this made him outstanding and that finally, since the Sutton trust report and reviewed ofsted guidance, this was being recognised by the inspectorate. The colleague then raised this idea in a training course with a lead ofsted inspector who told him he “vehemently disagreed” with this idea and that engagement and gimmicks were required to be outstanding. He apparently spoke highly of use of mini whiteboards but then said their use needed to be evidenced in books, which kinda defeats the point,  in my opinion.

I was disheartened by this news, because it seemed that despite ofsted making progress at an institutional level that lead inspectors weren’t paying the blindest bit of attention. But then I found myself in a meeting with a different lead HMI inspector who spoke of teaching and learning judgments being intrinsically linked to outcomes. This gave me hope that the first guy had been a rogue.

The weirdest thing with the tick box brigade is that they all have their own, seemingly different, checklist that needs to be followed. Here are some of the oddest:

Success criteria on every slide

This comes from the idea that meta cognition is something that has a positive effect on learning. I can believe this. But meta cognition is sharing the destination and how to get there with the student. Writing success criteria on every slide isn’t meta cognition, it’s ticking a box, especially given that some people don’t even discuss them.

Lolly sticks

And other random name selection devices. I’m not massively against their use, if a teacher struggles to include all students in their own questioning then by all means use them. But there are many occasions where targeted, differentiated, questioning is more relevant. I know one teacher who was applauded for his use of them, but actually he’d used blank ones and targeted the questions, using them purely because he knew the observer liked them.

Verbal feedback stamps

The idea that verbal feedback needs written evidence seems silly. A former colleague asked me recently I’d I had any ideas of how he could evidence verbal feedback. Student notes weren’t good enough at his school and he needed a way to evidence it better from a teachers perspective. The only way I can see is to type or write it out, but then it ceases to be verbal feedback and becomes written feedback. Surely the improvement in the quality of the work is evidence itself?

There are many other ideas like this, some based on solid foundations but losing their meaning through the mandatory nature they are imposed and the relentless need for evidence. I’ve even heard of schools where teachers have their entire lessons prescribed for them. Surely this is not what it should be about? Surely, as teachers, we need to be in charge of our classrooms, and using our knowledge of our subject and our students to plan the best lessons for each of them to progress?

RECYCLED POSTS WEEK: The bearable discomfort of being a teacher | @JamesTheo

RecycledIn Recycled Posts Week we are representing posts that have appeared elsewhere. This post first appeared on the “Othmar’s Trombone” blog on 1st April 2015.

“The aim of this project is to avoid as much as possible stationary postures and promote mobility. My will is to introduce a “bearable discomfort” for our well-being.”

Benoit Malta

The above quote could very easily be a mission statement for a school. Certainly it would fit any school that follows what Keven Bartle calls a ‘deficit model’.

In schools up and down the country, a combination of the weight of accountability with the relentless and endless stream of (what we are told are) education’s aims and objectives means that teachers are in a permanent state of motion.

We are unable to adopt “stationary postures” –  the essential states for completing many staples of teaching, such as reflection and planning. As such, we are in a constant state of “bearable discomfort”: as a collective entity, we just about endure despite the crippling workload, constant changes, regularly updated directives,scope creep, regenerating to-do-lists and time theft; however, as individuals many of us don’t survive: this is when the bearable discomfort becomes unbearable and teachers become headline-grabbing statistics.

In the quote that opens this post, however, Benoit Malta isn’t talking about teaching. As far as I know, he doesn’t have any influence on education policy. He is actually a designer from France. The quote is actually about this:

As you can see, the Inactivité is a two-legged chair. The thinking behind the design is that it forces the user to constantly make slight movements in order to maintain balance. One cannot simply sit back for a moment and relax in this chair – it is necessary to be in a perpetual state of response to external forces in order not to fall. This is the bearable discomfort of which Malta speaks.

I think the chair seems perfectly symbolic of what it is to be a teacher today.

The principles of the Inactivité are like the lot of the teacher: we must constantly respond to the forces around us to achieve stability. Of course, some of the forces we face are to be expected: those that come from direction of the students. This is because learning and behaviour are often unpredictable and so cause a disequilibrium that it is our job to stabilise.

However, I’d argue that the majority of the forces that cause teachers bearable discomfort come from other sources. This is a result of the endless accountability measures and extensive managerialism of the education sector.

What is the answer to this? Well, to continue the analogy of Benoit Malta’s chair… in order to be balanced, teachers need to be supported. To resist the forces from above, we need more stability at ground level. Teachers need to feel bearable comfort in the shape of a genuine focus on teacher wellbeing.

Nicky Morgan, Nick Clegg and Tristram Hunt have all taken up the issue of teacher workload in the run-in to May’s General Election. However, whilst this issue is in the hands of politicians, it is conveniently taken out of the hands of schools. Politicians aren’t going to provide the stability that teachers need for bearable comfort. That stability comes from the schools themselves. The best thing that politicians can do is to incentivise teacher wellbeing and retention and put the responsibility into the hands of schools. From here, we might begin to see some change in the manner in which schools respond to directives and trends.

Like many of these directives and trends in education from recent years, the two-legged chair seems eye-catching and innovative. But, of course, like many of those directives it could equally turn out to be counterproductive and harmful.

One of the questions we often ask when considering introducing something new into schools is: “Has this idea got legs?”

But perhaps we should be asking, “How many legs has this idea got?”

Now, how many times do I need to tell you – sit on that chair properly or there’s going to be an accident.

RECYCLED POSTS WEEK: Showing Gratitude | @DoWise

RecycledIn Recycled Posts Week we are representing posts that have appeared elsewhere. This post first appeared on the Douglas Wise blog on 20 December, 2015.

Recently, @Joe_Kirby wrote a blog post about the value of teaching students the habit of gratitude – you can read it here.  I think he’s absolutely right: it’s important for students to be grateful and to show gratitude. It makes a huge difference.  And he got me thinking about how poor (really poor) I’ve been at showing gratitude myself.

I’m fortunate to work with a group of teachers and support staff who are generous with their time and who, quite remarkably, have been willing to go above and beyond all reasonable expectations to get me out of a number of tricky situations.  A quick example… The EAL Co-ordinator at my school agreed, during the final days of the final week of term, to help run two hours of literacy CPD with me on the first day back in January.  She didn’t need to agree and, of course, she could’ve declined most honourably: I’ve actually got a meeting booked during that slot – I can’t really rearrange it – but I’d love to help out at some other point.  I thanked her (of course), told her how grateful I was, said I’d email her with the details (of course), and then quickly scuttled away to teach my next lesson.  And that was it.  Job done.  Unimpressive, right?

So, what’s my point?  Nothing more than this, really: in schools, it’s easy for staff at all levels not to show gratitude in a way that’s meaningful.  And I’m far guiltier than most for not taking the time to show proper gratitude, despite frequently feeling incredibly grateful.  It’s something that, periodically, I promise myself I’ll get better at: I’ll make that announcement in briefing, write those Christmas cards, buy those bottles of wine…

Schools rely so heavily on good will.  It seems strange that, amidst all those headlines about staffing shortages and falling morale, we can all, at least occasionally, fail to say a proper thank you to those around us (and, actually, make ourselves feel better in the process by doing so).  In Joe’s school, students are encouraged to write praise postcards once every half-term; the same thing happens at my own school.  It’s a system that I believe works well.  So, teacher praise slips?  Nah. I’m not sure we need them quite yet.  However, I do believe that, in this profession, and particularly at this time, meaningfully showing gratitude, and being shown gratitude, really does matter because it’s all about feeling valued.

Nicky Morgan, take note…

A Dystopian Education | @ragazza_inglese

HeadshotSummer Turner is Head of Faculty, English and Languages and leads on Teaching and Learning at the East London Science School. She tweets @ragazza_inglese and blogs here.

I don’t really get BETT. Every time I go there, I feel like I just am missing out on a secret that everyone else knows about. I like BettFutures, the little corner of hope that I find myself in, speaking on a panel on the subject of ‘Teacherpreneurs’. I’m not much of a tech pioneer, but it’s come to my attention that there is something entrepreneurial about being involved in the leadership of a free school, particularly one that has a traditional curriculum but also embraces innovation. In this small hopeful, grass-covered corner of BETT – it is that story that I tell. I’m always surprised at the reaction, the shock at realising that so many teachers and leaders do not have this freedom that I speak of – the freedom to do what they believe is best for their pupils. I have to hang onto the idea that there are schools and individual teachers that are able or are brave enough to do this – I’ve met some of them, and I have to believe that there are many more. Yet the shock, the disbelief, the joy that I get in the reactions of those I tell about my school makes me think otherwise.

As does wandering into the BETT ‘megashow’, where I see endless sets of stalls about whiteboard projectors, about data systems and about technological resources that will help teachers ‘close the gap’. I see assessment tools designed around GCSE specifications, I see reading programmes based around the idea that we don’t like reading, I see resources that talk of differentiating so that you can create challenge for some and not for others. Maybe I’m not looking right, but what I see saddens me: is this what we in education have created? Maybe I’m overly swept up in the dystopian stories I’m currently teaching, but this seems to be technology for tracking, limiting and controlling.

I listened to Nicky Morgan, who delivered her speech with the enthusiasm of a cyborg. When she spoke about her excitement about technology, her tone made me wonder momentarily whether she was being ironic. What came across in her speech, in the vast corporate stalls that sucked away at my soul and in the hopeful faces of the BettFuture arenas, was the danger of what a lack of passion, imagination and freedom can do to our schools.

Schools which continue to be slaves to the specifications; to look for easy fixes in making lessons work for all the diverse set of pupils we teach; to obsess over the tracking and monitoring of data (which would not be such a problem, if it wasn’t that so much of it continues to be meaningless – based on assessment systems which no longer exist or have no formative impact on pupils), and to try to dumb down content are not the schools our children deserve.

It’s easy to level the blame at the technology – but that’s just a bad workman blaming their tools. It’s also easy to level the blame at the politicians, and indeed they do have some part to play, mostly in how they can enable schools to feel free. I was heartened to see that Jeremy Corbyn visited Highbury Grove School last week and we were honoured that Rushanara Ali (Labour MP for Bethnal Green) came to our school to discuss the vote on Syria with our pupils. It makes me hopeful that Labour can have the passion and imagination to back the best education.

Yet ultimately it is about the responsibility that school leaders and teachers have to fight for what they believe is right for their pupils. It is not acceptable to be swayed by the mindless call of a device which will help you ‘close the gap’ to reach ‘high expectations’ and achieve the ‘excellent GCSE results’ which will make you an ‘outstanding’ school. We all have to be braver than that, we all have to be more intelligent than that. We all have to be a grass-covered, corner of hope.

Educhronology | @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.

Pop down to Dorset and visit Swanage.  Not only has it got the most stunning coastline, it has a lot of old and new school buildings. There is a residential school for children with severe autism called Purbeck View, run by Cambian Education. Above it, on top of the hill, there’s Harrow House, a large (and rather lovely) old school building, housing foreign students coming here to learn English.  Below these schools are four primary schools and an asbestos-ridden, derelict grammar school. Driving out of Swanage, towards Wareham, there’s the local secondary school, built on the old secondary modern site with new free school money.

This came about after a lengthy disagreement between parents in Swanage and the Local Authority.  The decision had been made to change the area’s three-tier system to a two-tier one.  The parents believed Wareham was too far to bus their children daily from year 7 and the Local Authority claimed they couldn’t achieve economies of scale or breadth of curriculum with a small secondary school in Swanage. The then Labour MP for South Dorset, Sir Jim Knight, told me that he had initially proposed a satellite centre in Swanage, staffed by Wareham’s larger comprehensive but that this had been rejected by both sides, ‘When the Free School proposal emerged, I was supportive, despite ideological opposition from the local Labour Party’.

Consequently, Swanage has experienced a secondary modern and grammar school system, a three-tier, lower, middle and upper school system, then a two-tier, with the local authority upsetting the locals as they refused to consider a local secondary school, and now a free school. It’s had the lot. The town is a palimpsest of educational reform: relics of the past’s central and local governmental bodies; all thinking that they made the right decision.

You’d hope enough would be enough now. The primary schools feed into the town’s secondary school  and the larger comprehensive in neighbouring Wareham.  This incidentally was partly expanded as it was lucky enough to have kept the schools’ building programme funding tragically lost by so many other schools nationally.

There are surplus places in both schools; some parents still choose for their children to take the 11+ and send them to Poole Grammar school, 20 miles away, should they pass. The spare spaces may change however considering a recent ruling by OFSTED that the grammar school ‘requires improvement’ yet the two local schools are both ‘good with outstanding features’.

This no longer surprises me however and, unless private schools are abolished and parents begin sending their children to the local, non-selective school down the road, I can no longer be surprised. I am educationally desensitised to surprise and change; a bit like Swanage itself really.

EBacc for all, or not at all?! | @kevbartle

SubstandardFullSizeRender (1)Keven Bartle is the Headteacher of Canons High School in Edgware, NW London, which is a Teaching School as part of the Canons Park Alliance. He is a lifelong Labour supporter from one of the few remaining bastions of Labour support, the North East. He tweets as @kevbartle, blogs here and does so in very much a personal capacity.

The government’s EBacc consultation has been on my mind for some time now. At our last SLT meeting we considered the drafted comments by our Curriculum Deputy Head so that she could draft up a response on behalf of the school. It’s a key feature of our team that we don’t let a major education consultation go by without a response from Canons: I simply don’t believe that you should moan about a policy without at least attempting to make a contribution to its shape and structure.

Of course, this is no guarantee that anyone will listen, and the usual complaint about government consultations holds in this instance: that the questions are so artfully constructed that they don’t allow you to genuinely oppose an intended policy. Instead, everything you write is directed towards how the policy might best work once implemented. Not that we let that stop us and many responses begin, “This is the wrong question. What you should be asking is…” prior to a response to the question being asked.

And indeed there is plenty of scope to have ‘fun’ with this specific consultation by ignoring the carefully placed fences around your responses. One is to talk about the possibility of a genuine EBacc, one which includes a broad span of different curriculum areas so that the arts are not left out and the humanities are widened. Another is to point out that the English Baccalaureate, unlike any other in the world (thanks Wikipedia), is merely an accountability measure, where others are specific qualifications for students or encompassing programmes of study. A third area to bang on about is the failure of politicians in this government and the last to make headway on a 14-19 curriculum that could have been a genuine baccalaureate had the Tomlinson report not been kicked into the long grass to die there.

But there was one question to which an answer can be given that genuinely conveys my feelings about the problems with the EBacc and this government’s latest ruse to secure some form of support for it: the idea that only 90% of students nationally might be forced through it. This is the part of the consultation that I suspect ministers feel will play well with school leaders and teachers, but I think it is the part that is most problematic. My concern is that by allowing 10% to not take it, we will be condemning a certain type of student to be withdrawn from it pretty much en masse.

In fact, the consultation itself rather gives the game away by suggesting the kinds of students for whom it might not be appropriate. If you haven’t already perused it, there will be no spoilers here but I think you could probably hazard a guess at who they might be. And so the one question not meant to elicit much response, the standard equalities question, is if crucial importance.

If the EBacc is only going to be mandatory for 90% of the school population then I would suggest that all the rhetoric on ‘closing the gap’ is for naught, because it is disadvantaged kids (including, but not solely, the ones in the narrow governmental definition of disadvantaged) that will be withdrawn from the EBacc. And so, although it will be asking for something that perhaps we wouldn’t wish for, my belief is that we should all respond “EBacc for all, or not at all!”

Ultimately, since its inception, the whole thing is a sham or a shambles. Back in 2010 we were promised that there would be something in the EBacc for students themselves; a certificate or some form of value from Russell Group universities. Neither has materialised and so the EBacc is now solely a measure of a school to be used as a stick with which to beat us. If that stick keeps getting bigger and becomes more streamlined then it will hurt us a lot more. This won’t win hearts and minds to it, however much we may be able to see something of value in the EBacc itself.  As it currently stands, if given that choice of “EBacc for all, or not at all” I know where I’d cast my vote.  Not that it is a vote, of course.

Would you go to parenting classes? | @lisaharford1

IMG_0375Lisa is a primary teacher and former deputy head teacher in Cambridgeshire. She has particular education interests in mentoring and coaching, EYFS and gender.

The Prime Minister recently announced that this government thinks it’s a good idea for everyone to sign up for parenting classes.

“In the end, getting parenting and the early years right isn’t just about the hardest-to -reach families; it’s about everyone.”

State intervention in families has a long and difficult history and is littered with abandoned policies and partially fulfilled promises. There has also been a great deal of investment in such initiatives. Successive governments have seen the delivery of family intervention policies as key to redressing the inequalities in both the education system and as a way of dealing with elements in society deemed disadvantaged and problematic. Mr Cameron believes that

“Families are the best anti-poverty measure ever invented. They are welfare, education and counselling system all wrapped up into one. Children in families that break apart are more than twice as likely to experience poverty as those whose families stay together. That’s why strengthening families is at the heart of our agenda.”

This sentiment is not original. When you look at the history of government intervention in this area, having families as a focus of the political agenda has been the aim of successive governments. New Labour governments from 1997-2010 boosted state support for parenting education with the Every Child Matters agenda (2003); The Children’s Act (2004) and the Children’s Plan (2007). The Respect Action Plan published in 2006 was a declaration of reform and improvement in parenting programmes nationally. The Parenting Early Intervention Programme PEIP (2006-2011) offered parenting programmes via LAs for parents of children aged 8-13 with a particular focus on those families and children who were at risk of anti-social behaviour. In 2010, the Coalition kept parenting firmly in its sights with the CANParent programme and the 2012 Troubled Families Initiative was aimed at the hardest to reach families by helping parents get into work, ending truancy and cutting down anti-social behaviour. This government’s Life Chances Strategy is therefore, the latest in a long line of policies aimed at dealing with a deficit model of parenting.

It is clear that the main aim of such policies has been to deal with those families considered to be problems in the system. Setting aside questions about how such families are identified and the point at which they are compelled to accept help, I am intrigued by questions around what is held to be ‘good parenting’. The government clearly has in mind that being able to discipline children effectively is central to good parenting, but they also mention giving parents guidance on play, communication and behaviour. I am sure these things are possible and reasonable to have as areas for instruction and advice. There will be bodies of expertise which will be able to deliver such programmes and effective small scale work which will supply valuable structure at an individual level.

There is however, an interesting departure from past aims for such programmes. In The Observer of 10th January a Downing Street source is quoted as saying that the idea for the parenting classes

“…would be for them to have the same popularity among the ‘middle classes’ as National Childbirth Trust antenatal classes.”

The hope is that by positioning these classes as being for everyone, with the programme directed at all parents and giving general parenting advice, the middle classes might be mobilised. Evaluations of previous initiatives carried out by Warwick University on PEIP, found that although PEIP was a targeted intervention, take up was wider and included the participation of many middle class families. Similarly, the evaluation of the CANParent programme found evidence of success. Parents who attended reported that they felt overwhelmingly positive about the experience and that their participation led to changes in their own behaviour with a positive impact on their relationships with children. Parents went further and also specified that the programme improved their satisfaction of being a parent. These findings suggest that programmes which attempt to foster wider social participation in improving parenting skills instead of simply identifying ‘problem families’ may have the desired effect in raising and addressing issues in parenting.

So the question is, given those findings, will there be widespread take-up of the government’s offer? Will there be a rush to claim the vouchers and access the programme? Do parents feel sufficiently persuaded that this initiative is for every parent?Generous people on Twitter kindly shared their views with me recently, on what parenting meant to them and whether they would be prepared to attend such classes. Some contributions described parenting skills which went far beyond those that deal with how to discipline children, communicate with them and help with their play activities. These contributions did not fit neatly into teachable parenting skills. Some contributions questioned the investment in parenting programmes generally and argued that effective advice was best offered by existing structure involving GPs, social workers and health visitors. Some questioned the format of such classes, suggesting a more acceptable model involving mutually offered and supportive parenting groups. All responses I am guessing were from professional people, involved in either education or health care. Responses were generally negative towards the parenting classes and cited a dislike for being ‘told what to do’. It was a small scale response to the question of parenting classes but it may indicate the government is going to have a difficult time selling its parenting programme to the very class of people it is hoping to attract. There were two people who indicated they would be interested in going along to the classes, but admitted that this was largely to see what advice was being given. One of those responses was my own. I’m not sure participation on those terms is quite what the government is after.

Now it’s our turn | @MikeBerkoff

IMG_20150721_173141Mike Berkoff began his career in 1974, teaching in a comprehensive for three years. He was a lecturer/course organiser in Further Education for twenty three years and a senior manager in Adult Education for nine years. His main teaching was in mathematics and computer science. He is now happily retired.

Just outside Liverpool Street station in London is a memorial to the arrival of the kindertransport children sent by their parents to the safety of Britain just before the outbreak of the second world war. Tragically many were never to see their family and friends again. The opening of our boarders to those refugees at that time is still seen with pride in our country. Yes, pride in our country is nothing to be dismissed if it is based on fine actions such as that.

The Labour peer Alf Dubs, himself a kindertransport child who came here in 1939, has called on the country to emulate that action by granting sanctuary to refugee children fleeing the horrors of today’s wars in the middle east. In the late 1930s we forget the large numbers of voices raised against letting those children in. We can all guess the arguments used at the time. ‘What about our own?’, ‘It’s nothing to do with us’, ‘They will be a burden on the state’. The same arguments are used now with reference to these victims of war and bigotry.  It is not strange that those who argue loudest against simple humanitarian actions for others are often the same as those who oppose fair actions for our own population.

This is not a party political issue. I hope that by the time you read this the current government may have done what I consider the right thing and allowed this emergency action to be taken. More could and should have been done in the late 1930s but remember: there was hardly a country on the planet that stepped up to the plate.

Teachers as a group see the recipients of hardship visited on children first hand. As a result as a profession we have often been at the forefront of forwarding actions that help tackle this. We are a powerful voice let’s be open in expressing our views.

This blog is not a commentary on the position we should take in respect of the human made disaster unfolding throughout Syria, Iraq etc. Like many of you I will have my views on these issues but there are times when specific policies need to be enacted and the wider story is not the main point.

Labour’s Divine Right to Exist? | @teach_well

tgillTarjinder has worked as a class teacher in challenging inner-city primary schools in Birmingham, London and Leicester. Described once as ‘Old School but New School’ and liked it. Any view or opinions presented are solely those of the author.

Deborah Mattinson’s article on the report she was asked to undertake by Harriet Harman after Labour’s defeat in the May 2015 elections, is illuminating. It goes to the heart of the matter and as she concludes, no party has the divine right to exist. Yet this is precisely what the current leadership is counting on. Despite our losses in Scotland, and being squeezed by UKIP, there is a tendency to assume that Labour will always be an electoral force because, in our living memory, it has been.

Yet our own history and success was built on the demise of the Liberals in the early 20th Century. To forget this is navel gazing in the extreme. That we would rather ignore the people who didn’t vote for us but did vote in favour of those who did not vote at all, even to spoil their ballot paper, is going to cost us.

In yesterday’s Guardian, there appeared an article stating that Labour faces losing all of its seats in the Scottish Parliament and faces losses in the local elections. This is a profoundly disturbing situation, especially as this is not a stance external to the leadership but resulting from it.

The Labour leadership need to get real. Usually opposition parties do well, not badly, in local elections, even if that is not then translated into national elections. What is happening if as an opposition party we are losing seats? When in government, this is put down to the unpopularity of policies. When in opposition, it is due to the public perception of the party, and it shows we are held in lower and lower regard by some of our traditional voters and by centrist voters.

Mattinson quotes one voter from Croydon, who states:

‘Labour talk with more empathy but it’s hard to tell if that is what they really think. They aim to do good, but I’m not sure if their policies will work out in the long run.’

This is actually the kind of voter who we should be able to bring onside with clear, well thought out policy stances. It is also the kind of voter who, while impressed by John McDonnell’s call on the government tax deal with Google, will nevertheless remember him brandishing the little red book.

We need to stop thinking that in 4 years’ time there will be a conversion of the masses to the Labour Party due to Corbyn, et al, which short term losses won’t affect. The fact is that we have no evidence to support such a claim and the idealistic stances taken by Corbyn do not have a wide appeal beyond equally idealistic non-voters who may wish to choose to vote in 2020. And it is a choice. If the numbers were so great, then there would be a surge for Labour in England, not a predicted 7% loss in seats.

I also think we need to have realistic policies that people can get behind rather than vague principles. Corbyn has tied his own hands on this one though. By insisting that the members and NEC sign off on policies, it makes it harder for him to say what he is behind. It could be that this year’s party conference clarifies this, but it will be too late for the local elections.

We do not have a right to be a political force in the Britain, we do not have the right to remain as one of the two major political parties, we do not have the right to even be the main opposition party. As the Liberals learnt to their cost, there are some political realities that have to be acknowledged, understood and acted upon in order to ensure the political survival of a party.

After 4 successive defeats in the 1980s, it seemed that we had learnt this lesson, which makes the current situation all the more ludicrous. History is revised to such an extent that Michael Foot’s defeat is seen as a success in contrast to Blair’s success which is seen as a failure.

The question is: Will the lessons of losses in the local elections be heeded any more than the lessons of electoral failure last year?