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Michaela School Wembley London
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Posted on May 8, 2016 by Katie Ashford

CPD for Knowledge Fans

CPD has the potential to be the stuff of nightmares. At the end of a long day, the last thing I would choose to do is spend an hour sitting around discussing questioning strategies for closing the pupil premium gap, or messing about with Bloom’s Taxonomy card sorts, or worse– trawling through reams of data. Utterly soul-destroying stuff.

Since joining Michaela, I have not had to sit through anything close to this. In the English department, our CPD is focused around improving our subject knowledge. Under the guidance of our exceptional Head of English, Jo Facer, I have learned lots about the texts we teach, which has dramatically improved my teaching. Here are three things we do as a department to improve our subject knowledge.

Annotation

We meet each week for an hour to discuss our upcoming lessons (which have been planned and resourced in advance). We all arrive to the meeting with the lesson content (poems/ book chapters/ grammar exercises, etc.) pre-annotated so that we have lots to discuss. Jo leads the meeting, and she goes through a few key points that need to be drawn out, focused on or developed in the lesson. We then branch out into a discussion about some of the texts, sometimes driven by our particular specialisms or interests. The aim is to deepen our understanding of the content. We all add to our annotations as the discussion progresses, building on each other’s points. Another aim is to consider possible misconceptions and alert our attention to things that pupils may struggle with. For example, Jo might point out some ambiguous vocabulary, or clarify, ‘make sure they don’t get x confused with y here’. It’s really, really useful, and it means that every teacher in the department spends a lot of time thinking deeply about the content.

Memorisation

At Michaela, pupils carry out memorisation for homework every night. The aim of this is for every child to learn the most crucial knowledge to automaticity. Teachers at Michaela also work hard to memorise the same knowledge by heart. I’ve found this tremendously useful. If I find my class packed up, standing behind their chairs a few minutes before the bell, I can quickly quiz them on a few things without having to scramble around and look for a sheet of paper. It also means that I know what they know, down to the precise definition they have been taught for each concept. I have found that having a shared language for such things to be invaluable.

We also learn quotations and poetry off by heart. Again, it’s lovely to be able to refer to this shared language regularly with kids. For example, I often say things like ‘Come on, team, we need to fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run!’ or ‘You are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul! Don’t let yourself down!’

We sometimes have knowledge tests in our weekly English meetings, which is good because it holds me to account! When there are a million things to do, learning Macbeth quotes might slip down the priority list; knowing you’ll be tested on it in a week’s time is a good motivator!

Reading

Of course, relying on the above is not enough. Teachers should always be a long way ahead of their pupils in terms of subject knowledge. As a non-English graduate, I feel particularly paranoid about this from time to time. This is another area in which Jo Facer and Joe Kirby have been brilliantly supportive and helpful: they have recommended various books and articles for each unit we teach, and in some cases, have furnished us with helpful abridgements! All of this has really helped to enrich my understanding of the curriculum.

If you want teachers to teach knowledge, then shaping CPD around the content they will be teaching is a good place to start. Of course, this isn’t going to help teachers get better at managing behaviour, nor will it directly improve their pedagogy, but it does help to focus their minds on their subjects. Sadly, subject knowledge gets pushed to the sidelines in many schools, often because of pressures surrounding data or exams or moderation, etc., and whilst those things are important, they shouldn’t eclipse our subjects, because our subjects, after all, are what we are here to teach.

Posted on May 2, 2016 by Jonathan Porter

Michaela Summer Projects

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Michaela is a free school, which opened in September 2014. It is a mixed community secondary school in Brent for pupils aged 11-18 of all backgrounds. We believe that an elite education based upon traditional values should be within the reach of every child. Our school motto is ‘knowledge is power’. Pupils joining us promise to ‘work hard, be kind’. Lots of our teachers are bloggers and take an active interest in debating educational practice. Watch a video of the school or read some of our blogsto get a better sense of the things that we talk about.

What is the project?

This summer, we would like to offer teachers the opportunity to assist in the design of our innovative curriculum. The curriculum will recognise the central role of knowledge and memory for learning, and will draw on insights from cognitive science and educational research. In the project, you will help plan, create and evaluate lessons and resources for our key stage 3 curriculum. At the top of this page, you can see one of the booklets we’ve made to improve our pupils’ location knowledge. You will be working with our team to help make curriculum resources like this. We welcome applications from anyone with interests in maths, English, science, languages, history, geography, religion, philosophy and the arts.

What experience do I need for the role?

The ideal candidate for this role will:
-have experience of teaching in schools in challenging circumstances;
-believe that all pupils, regardless of prior attainment or socioeconomic background, can achieve excellence.
-be aware of the implications of the research around explicit instruction and memory on classroom practice
-be eager to find out more about Direct Instruction and Core Knowledge;
-be organised, detail-orientated and a clear communicator

How much will I be paid?

Unfortunately, we are not in a position to be able to pay people for their time, although we will cover reasonable travel expenses. The real benefit of the project, however, is the opportunity to work with like-minded teachers who believe in a knowledge-rich curriculum for all. Those who have completed a Summer Project with us are also guaranteed to get an interview if they later apply to teach at Michaela. This is an ideal opportunity to get to know the School and the staff in advance of an application.

When can I take part?

The projects run throughout the summer, although the first two weeks of the standard school holiday are preferred. Most teachers will be working at our school in Wembley, although some teachers may be able to work remotely.

If this sounds like something you’d be interested in contact Katie Ashford: kashford@mcsbrent.co.uk, Tel: 07545274090

Posted on April 30, 2016 by Bodil Isaksen

Nature abhors a vacuum

Nature abhors a vacuum. Human nature abhors a power vacuum.

Idealistic teachers often propose a classroom set up where co-operation reigns over command and control. Whilst lovely in theory, in practice we end up with more of a dystopia than utopia.

A teacher’s decision not to assert their authority won’t result in a classroom of equals. There will be a leader. It just won’t be the adult.

Instead, it will be your most bolshy pupil.

It’s true of adults, too. Think of any group you’ve worked in. Everyone hates being over-managed. But a vacuum of leadership is worse. It sounds seductive, not being told what to do. But even in a group of well-intentioned, motivated adults, the frustrations of decision making by committee soon lead to collapse – unless, of course, a natural, unofficial leader emerges. Lack of certainty is uncomfortable, unsafe and unenjoyable.

So it’s no wonder it’s a calamity when applied to a group of children with less maturity, more competing motivations, and a more acute sense of peer approval.

Humans intrinsically seek belonging and will impress whomever necessary to make that a reality. Make that the most fearsome member of year 9 set 3, and the results are predictable.

Being a leader, telling children what to do, and keeping clear, tight boundaries is the kindest thing to do. It keeps our children safe and allows them to learn. Us teachers should never feel we have to apologise for being the one calling the shots. Anything else is an abdication of our responsibility to keep our children safe, happy, and learning.

Posted on April 30, 2016 by Katie Ashford

How to Overcome The Curse of Knowledge

On a recent trip to my Nan’s, I was asked once again to fix her iPad. She was unable to watch something on “that BBC button” and was quite distressed about it. In exchange for several cups of milky tea and a Tunnock’s Teacake, I did my best to solve the problem.

“Well what’s wrong wit’ bloody thing then?”

“Right. Looks like your wifi’s stopped working and the app hasn’t downloaded properly.”

Befuddlement ensued. I did my best to explain what ‘wifi’, ‘app’ and ‘downloaded’ meant before trying to explain what had gone wrong without using those terms. My Nan was still confused, so she just left me to it in a sort of “I don’t care as long as it’s fixed” way.

It struck me that I possess a lot of knowledge about the internet, apps, etc. that my Nan does not. It was very difficult for her to understand exactly what I meant, never mind attempt to resolve the issue herself, because she lacks the basic knowledge that I have.

This often happens in classrooms and is a phenomenon Steven Pinker terms ‘The Curse of Knowledge’. It means that experts often underestimate the amount of knowledge required to access new information. As has oft been said before, teachers can underestimate their own knowledge, and overestimate their pupils’ knowledge.

For example, when teaching something as seemingly straightforward as the humble apostrophe, we can underestimate the amount of knowledge required to really understand it. In order to use an apostrophe correctly, pupils need to understand five complex, overlapping rules:

  1. Singular and plural nouns not ending in ‘s’: show possession by adding apostrophe s.

E.g. Tom’s book, Ali’s table, the children’s room.

  1. Singular and plural nouns ending in ‘s’: show possession by adding an apostrophe (and sometimes an extra ‘s’ at the end).

E.g. Ross’s house, The foxes’ den, Elephants’ tusks. In order to understand this, pupils need to know the difference between singular and plural, and how to form plurals from singular nouns.

  1. Plural nouns that don’t possess anything do not require an apostrophe.

Sometimes pupils write things like this: ‘I have two apple’s’ because they have misunderstood the relationship between subjects, verbs and objects, and have formed a misconception about how possession works. This is something that needs to be addressed when teaching the apostrophe, either through teaching it correctly in the first place, or confronting embedded misconceptions.

  1. Pronouns of possession do not require an apostrophe.

Common mistakes with this one include: Our’s is really nice, I want her’s, the pencil is your’s. This happens because, again, pupils have formed a misconception about possession. This usually also indicates that they don’t really understand that pronouns replace nouns, but not always.

  1. Contracted verbs/nouns: show omission by adding an apostrophe in place of the missing letters.

E.g. I don’t know, we won’t go, they’re out ‘n’ about.

 

And don’t even get me started on the difference between ‘its’ and ‘it’s’….!

 

The knowledge required to understand these rules is vast, and because experts are susceptible to the curse of their own knowledge, underestimating what they know and overestimating what pupils know, they sometimes fail to recognise just how hard it is to learn new, complex things. As a result, pupils end up confused and unable to understand and apply the thing you want them to learn.

Possible ways to overcome The Curse of Knowledge

At Michaela, we are working hard to overcome this. Here are some strategies for getting past the curse of our knowledge.

  1. Curriculum Sequencing

Joe Kirby’s post on curriculum design is well worth revisiting. A good curriculum takes knowledge into account, and prioritises teaching the concepts that pupils need to know in order to access new information. For example, it is far easier to learn how to subtract if you can count, so you wouldn’t teach subtraction before counting. The same applies for complex processes such as literary analysis. You can’t analyse a text unless you know things about it. You can’t write an essay until you know how to write a sentence, and so on.

  1. Knowledge Organisers

Looking at a unit as a whole, identify the 20% of content that will have 80% impact on pupils’ understanding. In an English literature unit on Shakespeare, for example, that might be key quotations, poetic and rhetorical techniques, plot, themes and a list of characters. If pupils learn this knowledge to automaticity, it will help them with more complex tasks later. Prioritise this knowledge at the start of the unit and refer back to it again and again until they have mastered it and are able to apply it flexibly.

 

  1. Drilling

Drilling the basics helps to free up space in working memory for more complex processes. For example, when writing an essay, pupils have got a lot to hold in their minds at once: grammar, spelling, punctuation, plot, themes, characters, quotations, links, paragraph structure, vocabulary, and so on. It’s overwhelming at the best of times, but helping pupils to automate many of the underpinning basics frees up thinking space. Experts can write grammatically accurate sentences without even thinking, weaving in interesting ideas and vocabulary with little thought. This is incredibly hard work for someone who has not automated the underpinning basics. At Michaela, we support pupils to automate the fundamentals by drilling them daily in quotations, grammar and knowledge. When it comes to essay writing time, they stand a much better chance of being able to get to grips with the complex ideas they want to express.

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If Michaela sounds like somewhere you’d like to work, get in touch! We are currently looking for teachers of History and Science. More information here:http://mcsbrent.co.uk/teacher-vacancies/

Posted on April 30, 2016 by Jo Facer

Teacher Instruction

While moving my blog from Squarespace to WordPress, I witnessed some worrying things. I was horrified to see the extent to which I had relied upon group work, philosophy circles and multimedia to engage pupils. I considered, briefly, expunging these articles from my blog. But I decided, ultimately, that it was more honest to leave them. I have, you see, been on a journey.

When I first met Joe Kirby, Katie Ashford, Bodil Isaksen and Kris Boulton in 2013 to write an e-book for Teach First starters, I was their polar opposite. While they talked about knowledge and instruction, I raved about student-led lessons and pupils’ personal interpretations. We had common ground only on curriculum choice: the one thing that united us was the idea that kids should be taught great literature. We were desperately divided on how to teach it.

By September 2014, Michaela Community School had opened, and I was still nay-saying in the corner. It wasn’t until Katie Ashford shared her pupils’ essays with me that I had the profound realisation: their way worked. My way did not work. With my way, some children thrived, and others were left hopelessly far behind. With their approach, Katie’s set 4 (of 4) year 7s were outperforming my set 3 (of five) year 10s.

Teacher instruction sounded terrifying. For one thing, I’d never done it or been trained to do it. What would I say? How on earth could I fill 60 minutes of learning time with… Me? In my head, teacher instruction was like a lecture, and in my experience lecturers would speak once a week, and have a whole week to prepare it. How could you possibly lecture six times a day?

But that isn’t at all what it is. When I first visited Michaela, I accepted the theory, but had no idea what to do in practice. Seeing it, I saw there was a lot more common ground than I had thought. In fact, even in the dark days of 2013, I might even have done a bit of teacher instruction myself.

Teacher instruction is highly active, not passive. We explain, read, expand, yes; we also probe, question and test. We spend time writing out explanations and printing them up for pupil and teacher to read together. We spend time in department meetings discussing what we will teach and the key learning points we will be drawing out as we teach. The result is powerful: a highly engaging and dynamic classroom, full of pupils learning, answering questions, and recapping their prior knowledge. Visit Michaela and you see one thing very clearly: pupils love learning. They aren’t sitting in lessons bored, waiting for the next video clip or poster activity to engage them. They are answering questions, positing ideas, listening and annotating or taking notes, reading, reading reading; writing, writing, writing.

For a flavour of what teacher instruction looks like, watch year 8 annotating as Joe Kirby talks. Notice how he recaps on their prior knowledge throughout instruction – picking up on vocabulary they have learned, along with their prior knowledge:

Watch Olivia Dyer questioning year 8 in science. This is the start of a lesson, where she is recapping their prior knowledge. Look how many pupils have their hands up wanting to contribute! I always love visiting Olivia’s classroom – her manner is extraordinary: she is patient, quiet, calm and encouraging.

I love Naveen Rizvi’s excitement about the Maths as she carefully models for year 7, and engages the pupils every step of the way:

And finally, Jonny Porter’s expert use of a pupil demonstration to explain jousting to year 8, again recapping on their prior knowledge all the way:

Posted on April 24, 2016 by Naveen Rizvi

Right is Right: Why it is very challenging?

Whilst teaching, I asked a question to my  class after delivering a worked example listing all the factors of a number. Specifically, I was demonstrating that the number of factors of a square number will be odd because we have a repeated root, and therefore that we don’t write it twice. For example, 16 has the following factors 1, 2, 4, 8 and 16, whilst 36 has the following factors 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 12, 18 and 36. Also mentioning a non-example such as 15 having an even number of factors, because it is not a square number with a repeated root, and so 15 has the following number of factors 1, 3, 5 and 15 etc.

After the worked examples were delivered and pupils had completed a selection of questions in the practice set, I posed the question to check if pupils had remembered the fact taught: “Why do 16, 36, 81 and 144 have an odd number of factors?”

Pupils were given 20 seconds thinking time, and I could see hands all going up in anticipation to answer the question. I selected a pupil and this was her response:

“When you square root a square number you get the root number twice, so the root number is repeated, and that is why a square number will always have an odd number of factors when you write a list of factors.”

I responded “Incorrect,” and all the pupils in the class looked at me stunned, not because I said Incorrect, but because they thought that what *Sally had said was correct. Now, I know what Sally meant but that is not what was said. I then corrected her: “Let’s clarify that when we find the square root of a square number we get one value which is the root number. Therefore, √16 = 4. What *Sally is trying to say is that when you list the factors of a square number, like 16, you get a repeated root because within that list of calculations we have 4 x 4, and because it is repeated we only state one 4 as one factor out of many.”

As written in Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion:

Right is Right starts with a reflection that it’s our job to set a high standard for answers in our classrooms and that we should strive to only call ‘right’ or ‘correct’ that which is really and truly worth those terms.

Many readers may be thinking well actually that is pretty obvious. However, it has its challenges. If I said to Sally “Well, you are nearly there, or halfway” then I would be doing her a disservice. Why? Because what she said was incorrect. It was not mathematically accurate, and I know that if I let that misinterpretation hang around in the air then all pupils in the room will develop a misconception around it. As a teacher, children believe that everything we teach them is correct, and if I allow slightly incorrect answers to seem ok, even though I knew what Sally meant, then my standards of Sally and her peers would not be high enough. As Lemov states in his field notes, “teachers are not neutral observers of our own classrooms,”— it is simply the thought that I know what the pupil means when they say something inaccurately that resonates the most with me.

For example, whilst marking an assessment a pupil wrote the unit for a compound area question in cm2 instead of m2 where metres was the unit used in the question for each length: I marked her answer incorrect. There are many debates on this and I do understand that this is not a calculation error but maybe an error in reading the question, or in stating the correct units, but nonetheless she did not write the correct units for the question. It is not right. By holding pupils to account, you are striving to equate the term ‘right’ with ‘correct’.

As Lemov has stated in his field notes, there are many caveats posed in implementing the strategy of ‘Right is Right’ in the classroom. He mentions the problem of time. That to fix *Sally’s mistake I needed to spend more time than planned in my lesson to correct her, but this is an investment that will be appreciated later on when a question such as this arises in a high stake exam.

Secondly, pupils who are shy or timid may become discouraged in putting their hand ups ever again because they made a mistake. However, I think that comes down to the culture you have in your classroom. Lemov talks about having back pocket phrases for moments like this, and here is the one I use frequently: “Thank you Sally for letting us all learn from your contribution, because of you, you have learnt so much more and so has everybody else.” Then at Michaela, we would give an appreciation with two claps to follow for Sally.

Right is Right is a challenging strategy to implement in the classroom. However, I wholeheartedly believe that it enables pupils to raise the standards of what they can achieve, and, for teachers, it ensures that expectations of what pupils can achieve also remain high.

*The child who I am referring to has been referred to as Sally, and not by her real name.

 

Posted on April 24, 2016 by Jonathan Porter

No excuses discipline works

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People bandy around the term ‘no excuses discipline’ in a way that I think is often highly misleading and, ultimately, very unhelpful. ‘No excuses discipline’ is parodied as a cruel and heartless system administered by Gradgrindian monsters such as myself who clearly do not care about children at all. As I’m going show today, nothing could be further from the truth. If you truly care for your pupils ‘no excuses discipline’ is, in fact, the best option available to you.

‘No excuses discipline’ is like Ronseal: it does exactly what is says on the tin. It is a warm but unapologetically strict school-wide system, which sanctions pupils for poor behaviour. More than that, though, it says that as long as the school has set the expectations clearly, and supported the pupils to reach them, there can be ‘no excuses’. Pupils should all wear correct uniform, pupils should all turn up to school on time and pupils should all bring the correct equipment to lessons. Failure to do so will result in some form of sanction.

Now, I don’t for a second think that those who oppose ‘no excuses’ discipline dislike children or have anything but the best intentions. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some immensely diligent and caring teachers who I believe are nonetheless wrong on this particular question of school discipline.

And that is because I believe that the alternative to a ‘no excuses’ school is ‘some excuses’ school: where we accept different standards for different pupils. And I believe that that is profoundly wrong.

Context 

So let me start with a proposition that probably won’t be that controversial. The ambient level of behaviour in Britain’s schools is poor.

On one hand, you have what we might call the ‘big ticket’ behaviour. This is the really serious physical, verbal and emotional abuse which is much more common than many are prepared to admit. NASUWT who surveyed 5000 members in March found that nearly half of teachers had been subjected to some form of verbal abuse. More than 1 in 10 said a pupil had physically assaulted them. And, as ever, the thoughts and feelings of the invisible children in these classes, whose learning is consistently disrupted by such incidents, go unrecorded.

But it’s not just the ‘big ticket’ behaviour that we should be concerned about. For many teachers it’s the low-level disruption that really sticks in the craw: the shouting out, the answering back and now the constant fear that the next time you tell off little Jonny little Gemma will record you getting all hot and flustered and post it all over Facebook.

And behaviour is so bad even Ofsted can see it. In its report on low-level disruption in England it found that up to an hour of learning was being lost each day. That’s a staggering 38 days per pupil per year. It says that this is ‘deeply worrying… not because pupils’ safety is at risk where low-level disruption is prevalent, but because this has a detrimental impact on the life chances of too many pupils.’

And that’s the crux of it, right there at the end; ‘the life chances of too many pupils.’ It is why I maintain that this is a moral issue and one that should shame us much more than it does already.

This is because the effects of poor behaviour are particularly damaging on the margins of our society. In schools where the pupils are poor or are in care. These children always get the double-whammy: not only are they more likely to come from turbulent or unstable homes where consistency, routine or even high expectations may be in short supply. But they are often then served by teachers who will not preach what they would practise with their own children. Some teachers expect their own children to do their homework. They expect their own children to bring a pen to school. They expect their own children to put their hand up before speaking in class. But hold other people’schildren to different standards. They believe in different standards for different pupils.

This is the specific context in which ‘no excuses’ discipline must be situated:

  1. A system where the ambient level of behaviour is poor.
  2. A system where poor behaviour disproportionately damages those pupils on the margins of our society.

I think it is a shameful state of affairs and one that I believe it is in our power to change. With that in mind, I have two propositions.

Proposition 1: No excuses discipline means all teachers can teach.

It will have escaped nobody in this room that there is a recruitment and retention crisis in teaching. There reasons for this are complex. But one thing that drives teachers away from schools, and particularly schools in the most challenging areas is the anxiety and the waste that come with poor behaviour. In my training we used to call it ‘the Dread’: that feeling when you wake on a Sunday when you know that, not only are you going to spend most of the day creating a card sort, but that the next day Year 8 will spend all day ripping it up.

Now there are those who will tell you that the reason for bad behaviour in classrooms is because of the teacher’s poor planning, their inexperience or their lack of charisma. There is some truth in this. Pupils do behave better with teachers who set work that is pitched to the right ability. Pupils do behave better with teachers that make them laugh (and who they can laugh at!) And pupils do behave better when they know that their teacher, deep down, really loves them. We all know teachers like this. They are the staffroom legends that can always be relied upon to bring even the naughtiest Year 11s to heal.

But you can’t design a system around Tom Bennett. You can’t design a system based on all of your teachers being exceptionally well-planned, exceptionally humorous or teachers who all have exceptional relationships with their classes. Not everyone can be exceptional.

No excuses discipline means that all teachers can teach, not just the exceptional because it creates a consistent culture of sky-high expectations throughout the school.All teachers and all pupils know where they stand. Every pupil knows they have to wear their uniform correctly. Every pupil knows they have to complete their homework. And every pupil knows they have to put their hand up before speaking. Of course there will always be teachers within these systems who are exceptional – teachers like Tom Bennett and John Tomsett will always stand out because of the relationships that they build with their pupils. But the success of our systems should not be judged on how they help the strongest but on how they help the weakest. No excuses discipline means that all our teachers can teach – even the nervous, the inexperienced and the least charismatic.

Proposition 2: No excuses discipline means all pupils can learn.

I want to tell you about one of our Year 7s who, for the purposes of this debate, I’ll call Tom. This is a shortened version of a conversation we had with his teacher in Year 6 before he joined us:

‘Tom is a nice boy but he has a problem with authority. He has had this problem since Reception, but it has worsened since the beginning of year 6. His problems are emotional. He has no father figure and this affects his self-esteem and how he reacts to authoritarian figures. He’s typical of boys round here. He dislikes time outs and detentions. He attends the Behavioural Unit 2 days per week. The other 3 days, he is in school until 1.30pm because he simply cannot cope with the full school day. On a regular basis, he has tantrums after lunch. He cries and throws himself into the walls. On some occasions, he throws chairs. Situations often escalate to violence and he often hits other children. In my opinion, Tom will need to be given time to adjust to secondary school and I think a full timetable from September would be very damaging.”

A ‘some excuses’ school would have taken that teacher at her word. They would haveexcused Tom’s behaviour on account of him having no father figure at home. They would have excused Tom’s behaviour because he was ‘typical’ [her words not mine] of boys in Wembley. And they would have excused Tom from a full school timetable and a full education because ‘he occasionally cries and throws himself into walls’.

We chose not to do that. We didn’t excuse Tom. We didn’t excuse him because he had no father figure at home. We didn’t excuse his behaviour. And we didn’t excuse him from lessons. And that’s a difficult thing for any adult to do: to use your authority over a child in a way that you know, at least temporarily, is going to upset them. For people who go in to teaching because they care about children it’s completely counter-intuitive. It’s not what we thought we signed up to do.

But it is something that we must do because the alternative is so much worse. If we cannot change Tom’s behaviour we allow who he is now to define who he will be.

And Tom found it tricky at first. He spent the first three weeks in and out of detention like a yoyo. He cried a bit and, even now, he turns around from time to time. But he’s on a full timetable rather than leaving at 1.30. He is polite and well mannered to teachers and pupils. And, and most importantly, and because of this, he’s really happy. Because now he can learn. 

Summary

And that’s what this really comes down to: the alternative to a ‘no excuses’ culture is a ‘some excuses’ culture – where we allow children’s circumstances to define who they are and what they can be.

Every teacher in this room will have taught a pupil like Tom. And every school and every teacher has a choice. They can make excuses for Tom and say that kids like him are incapable of a full timetable. Kids like Tom will never bring the correct equipment to schools. And kids like Tom will never be able to put their hands up without first shouting out. I’ve said today that this is the ‘some excuses’ school: a school that presumes that because he always was he always will.

‘No excuses’ discipline rejects this. It says that teachers should be able to teach: allteachers, not just those whose planning is perfect, or are charismatic or who’ve established their reputation over 30 years. And, most importantly, no excuses discipline works for pupils. It means our country’s pupils – all our pupils – can go beyond the circumstances of their birth to be whatever they want to be.

Posted on April 24, 2016 by Katie Ashford

Personalised Learning Harms Children

Here is a transcript of the speech I gave at the Michaela Debate at City Hall yesterday. I was debating the brilliant Tom Sherrington on the subject of personalised learning. Here is where videos of the debates will be posted in a few weeks’ time.

 

 

I want to begin today by telling you a story about a boy called Jason.

About a year ago, a file landed on my desk. It was huge. About the size of a rucksack. It contained hundreds of pieces of paper about Jason: a boy who was due to start at Michaela that September. As I waded through all the documentation I thought: ‘crikey, we’re going to have our work cut out with this one!’

The list of needs was long and boggling. Weak social skills. Low reading and spelling scores. Low maths scores. Weak writing skills. Low confidence. Low self-esteem. Poor social awareness. Poor self-control. Poor concentration. Poor behaviour.

 

Poor Jason.

 

The list of support mechanisms was even longer: a personalised curriculum that was heavily differentiated, differentiated vocabulary, different methods of recording his learning, targeted questioning, an individually designed literacy and numeracy programme, speech and language support… the list seemed endless.

 

A few weeks later, I went to visit him at his primary school.

“Jason” his teacher said “is very different to other children. He is a very unique boy and therefore requires a very unique approach.”

She told me that Jason was not a happy boy and that his self-esteem was through the floor.

He struggled academically.

He was poorly behaved, lacked focus and concentration.

He struggled to remember things.

He was perpetually frustrated.

He lost his temper easily.

He had few friends.

 

The conversation went on. She explained how she gives him different tasks and delivers lessons in diverse ways to suit his needs. She needs to go at a slower pace, otherwise, he won’t stay focused. She needs to plan strategically to fill in the precise gaps in his knowledge. Everything had to be highly personalised in order to help him learn.

Jason requires a very unique approach because Jason is a very unique boy.

 

In my head I compared Jason briefly to some of the other kids I teach. Kids like Emily who didn’t know what a triangle was when she started. Kids like Tyson who couldn’t sit still at first. Kids like Mohammad who didn’t learn the alphabet until year 5. All of them have various issues, granted, but Jason was by no means ‘weaker’ than any of these kids, nor was he any less capable than they were of meeting our standards.

 

We don’t offer those children a ‘highly personalised’ approach because, even though they are unique people, they are not unique in terms of how they learn.

 

And I suspected that Jason was the same.

 

Personalised learning harms children like Jason because it is premised on the idea that every child learns differently. This leads to a multitude of different activities that aim to suit the child’s needs, but often overlook tasks that best suit the content being taught. For example, when teaching a novel, I might be tempted to give children different extracts according to their reading ability, or give the Jasons of the world a vocabulary bank to support them with the reading. I might ask them to read their extracts in groups or pairs and get them to look up words in the dictionary. But at Michaela, we choose not to do that. Instead, we choose to read the whole text together as a class, reading along line by line with a ruler, stopping to annotate new or unfamiliar vocabulary and practise new pronunciations as we go. In Michaela lessons, everybody reads and everybody writes. That’s it. This is guided by the teacher – the subject expert, and pupils are expected to keep up.

 

Personalised Learning harms children like Jason because it lowers our expectations and prevents us from really believing that they can achieve.

There’s no escaping the fact that personalised learning necessarily requires creating different resources and teaching children in different ways. Not only is this inefficient and a huge burden on teacher time, and the weakest children miss out on the benefits of quality whole class instruction, but it is a clear statement that children like Jason are unable to access the same work as other children.

Knowing that a child has a need of any variety subtly skews our view of them. Somewhere deep down, we think ‘well, that kid has x need, so he/she will struggle’. Some of you may be sitting here thinking ‘well I wouldn’t think that’, but we need to accept the fact that labels inevitably colour our view of the child. And our entire system is set up to encourage this. Ofsted inspectors and SLTs demand colour-coded, differentiated seating plans demonstrating exactly how we intend to personalise the lesson for the pupil premium kids, the dyslexic kids, the kids with behavioural issues, and so on. But this is harmful! It is harmful because it damages our expectations and prevents us from believing that every child really can achieve.

At Michaela, we believe that everyone can do it. We believe that all children can access the same content if the teacher’s explanations and examples are good. CPD revolves around building teacher knowledge and determining optimal teaching sequences and concept explanations. And it works! Last year, our year 7 cohort made an average of 20 months progress in reading in just 10 months. The average pupil made 5 sublevels of progress in English and Maths, and pupils with special needs made 6. I promise you- nothing was ever personalised for these kids. Not Jason, not Emily, not Tyson, not Mohammed, not anyone.

In fact, the reason we achieved those results is precisely because we didn’t personalise learning at all! Instead, we prioritised whole class instruction where everybody reads and everybody writes.

Finally, Personalised Learning harms children like Jason because it lowers the expectations they have of themselves.

After all, if we don’t believe that they can achieve the same as their peers, then why should they?

Giving children personalised targets puts a ceiling on their expectations of themselves. Whether it’s “I need to work on sitting still” or “I need to work on analysing language in more detail”, the kid thinks that that is what they should focus on that lesson. And learning targets, just like any targets in life, are damaging because they are all we end up aiming for. It puts a ceiling on children’s expectations of themselves.

 

Since joining us in September, Jason has flourished. In his lessons, his teachers do not personalise his targets, set him different tasks, or record his learning in different ways. Instead, he gets consistently high quality, well-planned and delivered whole class instruction in a highly-structured, focused environment. He works at the same pace as everyone else in the class.

He works at the same pace as everyone else in the class because actually, he isn’t that different to everyone else. Lots of his peers found the same things difficult that he found difficult. He made the same mistakes as everyone else and got confused when everyone else got confused. Because that’s how learning works: our minds aren’t so different, but if the content itself isn’t presented to us in the right way, we stand less chance of understanding it. Get the instruction right, and everyone can learn.

And Jason has learned a lot this year. His reading age has improved by over 2 years. His behaviour has transformed. Where he used to lose his temper easily and end up in trouble often, he is now calm, focused and polite. He has made friends and earns lots of merits each week. He proudly wears a merit badge on his blazer for landing in the top 20 in the year group.

 

Sure, some pupils may require a little extra time to really digest new stuff, but they don’t need different approaches because they are somehow more unique than other children, or learn in a different way to other children.

 

We have mistakenly premised our entire system around the idea that each child is unique, when in fact they are not unique in terms of how they think or learn. Jason was far behind his peers, but that does not necessarily mean that he needs a personalised approach in order to make progress.

 

And yes, it was hard for him at first. He did struggle from time to time. But isn’t struggle a good thing when you’re learning? Isn’t struggle something we should expose kids to from time to time, to help build their resilience? Isn’t that how we learn to persist when the going gets tough? Doesn’t it make us feel even more proud of our achievements if we have to struggle to reach them?

 

Jason struggled at first, but he persisted, and consequently flourished.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, I know that before today, many of you voted against this motion, thinking that personalised learning doesn’t harm children. And intuitively it does seem like it’s a bit unreasonable to suggest that personalised learning is ‘harmful’. But I ask you to think again and in particular, to think of Jason. Is it unreasonable to ask that every child is given the same access to the same curriculum at the same pace with the same high quality teaching? Is it unreasonable to ask that every child is pushed as far as possible every single lesson, every single day? Is it unreasonable to want the best for every child, to believe that every child can achieve?

 

Every child can achieve, but it is precisely because we personalise learning that many in fact don’t.

Every child can achieve, but the cult of personalised learning tricks us into believing that some children are less capable than they really are.

Every child can achieve, and it is precisely because the system says that personalising learning makes things better that we actually make things worse.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, personalised learning harms children because it reduces our expectations, it reduces their expectations, and most importantly, it reduces their outcomes.

Posted on April 19, 2016 by Naveen Rizvi

Assessment: Marking…not of books but of weekly formative quizzes.

I remember marking books; I didn’t find it very useful. However, I found marking exit tickets incredibly informative because I was able to act on the assessment of pupils’ learning the very next day. Compare this to marking books every two weeks on work that I would be giving feedback to pupils who completed this work two weeks ago…and I am giving them feedback too late. Does anybody else see the elephant in the room?

I do think that marking books is a time consuming task which requires a great deal of input from teachers for a nominal amount of benefit for pupils. For this reason, we have a no marking policy at Michaela. What we do is mark our weekly quizzes. For each subject, let’s say pupils are given their maths homework on Friday, they will have a quiz on content that has been taught in the past week, and that has been given as homework on the following Monday. This is a whole school policy. It works in science, as I have observed as a teacher. Similarly, it works with all our other subjects. It is incredibly effective. It gives me an idea of how much pupils have learnt, and how much knowledge they have retained. More importantly, I can act on the feedback within my teaching in a timely fashion, and not two weeks later.  

On several occasions, I have been asked how pupils are assessed at Michaela. This post will go into how we assess pupils using low stake weekly quizzes; we then have bi-annual assessments which measure how much pupils have learned and retained over a large period of time.

Every week, pupils are given a low-stake quiz testing how much of what has been taught in the week before it has been mastered and committed to memory. At Michaela, we believe that if it hasn’t been committed to memory then it hasn’t been learned. I cannot reiterate how much I believe in this, and indeed even more so after starting at Michaela from September 2015.

On Friday, pupils will be given their maths self quizzing homework. Joe Kirby goes into detail here about self quizzing in a previous post of his. Pupils will then have a quiz on Monday testing them on how much of their self-quizzing on maths definitions has been committed to memory, and whether the procedural calculations learned the week prior have been mastered.

Before I go into how the quiz is made it is really important to decide as a faculty what the purpose behind the assessment is. Is there any benefit in the quiz that I have made? What is the intention behind this low stake quiz? Our low-stake quizzes are testing whether pupils have committed the knowledge from their self quizzing to memory, and whether the procedural calculations have been mastered. Knowing such a purpose, this guides the structure and content of the quiz.

Each quiz has 8 – 12 questions testing pupils on procedures that have been taught in the previous week. We do not test pupils on content that has not been taught. I repeat, we do not test pupils on content that has not been taught. Why? This is because we are testing whether pupils have mastered the content that has been taught, and that means that the sample of knowledge that is being tested is small, rather than large.

Quiz 1:

Here is a year 7 quiz testing pupils on their week’s worth of teaching on short division. Each question selected is testing pupils on a specific skill:

Quiz 1 copy

1) Short division where there is no remainder – but with one digit where it is smaller than the divisor. For example, when dividing 8420 by 4, 2 is too small therefore the digit will be 0, and then carry the 2 as the remainder to the next digit to become 20.

2) Short division where there are no remainders, and each digit in the dividend is greater than the divisor.

3) and

4) The first digit in the dividend is smaller than the divisor. Also, stating the remainder as a fraction, where the remainder is the numerator and the divisor is the denominator. Also writing the answer where the remainder is a fraction and a decimal.

5) Short division where there are remainders that need to be carried to the next digit. The answer is perfectly divisible by the divisor.

6) Short division where there are remainders that need to be carried to the next digit. The answer has a remainder which needs to be displayed as a fraction as well as a decimal.

7) Short division of a decimal (less than 1) where there is no remainder

8) Short division of a decimal (integer and decimal) where there is no remainder

9) Short division of a decimal where pupils must write their answer in decimal format. They have to put additional zeros to continue the decimal to allow the remainder to be carried.

10) Short division of a decimal where pupils have to put several zeros to continue the decimal to complete the division.

11) Question where pupils have to identify the closest square number to the dividend and identify that the divisor and the integer as a result will be the same.

Quiz 2:

Here is a year 7 quiz testing pupils on their week’s worth of teaching on GEMS (Groups, Exponents, Multiplication (and division) and Subtraction (and addition). We teach GEMS as opposed to BIDMAS or BODMAS. Each question selected is testing pupils on a specific skill:

quiz 2 copy

1) evaluate exponents before addition (GEMS)

2) multiplication comes before addition where addition is visually first in the question (GEMS)

3) two groups of multiplication and division where they come before addition. Must identify both and then add. (GEMS)

4) multiplication comes before addition where division is visually first in the question (GEMS)

5) Another group similar to Q3 – additional but not necessary

6) Multiplication comes before addition but can they identify that the division will result in a fraction which can be added to 21. (GEMS)

7) Practise left to right when we only have addition and subtraction operations because they are equal in GEMS.

8) More complex GEMS question because of a mixture of operations (GEMS)

9) Can pupils identify whether they can apply GEMS correctly where we have exponents, and then go left to right because of multiplication and division being equal in GEMS.

Quiz 3:

Here is a year 8 quiz testing pupils on their week’s worth of teaching on the topics: formulae, rearranging equations to change the subject of an equation.

quiz 3 detailed

Q1 + 2) Mastery on deciphering whether the length given is the radius/diameter, and identifying whether we must substitute into the formulae for area or circumference, and whether they can recall the correct formulae for either concept.

3) Calculate the area of a trapezium given the slant height and perpendicular height. Shape is also orientated. Can they distinguish which is which, and which length must be substituted into the formulae? Furthermore, can they recall the formulae memorised?

4) Mastery of understanding how to substitute into the formula for the volume of a cone, and recall the formula too. Deliberately radius is given to ensure that pupils are being tested on whether they can correctly substitute into the formula.

5) Substituting into the equation M = DxV but must identify that the volume is not given. Can they calculate the volume of a cube first, and then find the mass?

6) Substituting into the equation D = SxT but must identify that time is given in minutes and must be converted into hours. Also, that the speed is given in kilometres instead of miles.

7) Calculate the volume of half a sphere given the radius. Can pupils identify that they must half the result after using the formula or use the formula 4/6pi(r) ^3 or 2/3pi(r)3?

8) Rearrange the subject of the equation where we must expand the brackets. Implied in the question by stating “simplify your answer fully” hoping to see the result b2 + 32b + 256.

9) Rearrange the subject where the unknown is the denominator.

10) Rearrange the subject for basic one step rearrangements besides the last one where the unknown is negative. Can pupils spot that the we must multiply or divide both sides by -1 to get m as the subject of the equation.

The quizzes are testing whether pupils have mastered the procedural questions. To make questions challenging we have given the diameter instead of the radius when calculating the area. We have orientated the trapezium, and given both the perpendicular and slant height. We have made it more challenging because we are testing mastery. The rigour in the assessment allows for the rigour in the teaching, and pupils do indeed perform. We spend a significant amount of time at Michaela talking about how the only score to celebrate is 100%. I write postcards for the pupils that get 100% in their quizzes and make a huge deal out of it. Pupils love the feeling of success, and appreciate the admiration from their teachers who recognise the success in scoring 100%.

Low stake quizzes are incredibly powerful because they inform your teaching and planning. If lots of pupils have made a mistake on the same question, this informs me that either they have all missed the point, that I have to reevaluate how I teach the concept in the first place, or both of these points. I hope you find this useful.

Posted on April 16, 2016 by Joe Kirby

It’s your time you’re wasting

This book, by Frank Chalk, is about his experiences of teaching in a difficult school in England, and the consequences of low standards for some of our worst-off children in the country.

FrankChalk.png

“All these stories are true. Writing them was born out of my frustration, even despair, at seeing the majority of those who’ve passed through my classroom let down, day in, day out. A major cause of our problems is that so much bad behaviour is simply swept under the carpet and ignored. It lets down kids who start life with little chance in the first place.

“The litter left lying inside and outside the school has to be seen to be believed. Crisp packets, sweet wrappers, empty fizzy drink cans, bits of food from the canteen and empty plastic bottles are everywhere. Many teachers are afraid to ask a pupil to pick rubbish up. To do so is to invite indignation, even anger. ‘F* ck off!’ is a typical response.

 

Lunch

“I put up daily with the chaos, disorder and ear-splitting racket that is lunch time at St Jude’s. The canteen is a complete mess; the floor is a mushy carpet of bits of food and drink and the odd recognisable item like a squashed sausage roll. Every table is covered in mess and piles of unreturned trays. The noise is deafening, as crockery and cutlery spills hither and thither. It really is complete and utter anarchy. There’s a heaving, pushing, jostling semi-queue. Pupils swig brightly-coloured drinks, making them completely hyper in the afternoon. I am doing nothing more than crowd control. ‘F* ck off, Chalk, yer w* nker!’ someone shouts.

 

The Head can walk straight past groups of fighting pupils and carry on a conversation whilst torrents of foul abuse are being shouted from all directions. The school always reminds me a bit of the Titanic, with the SMT sipping champagne in their room, assuring each other that all is going splendidly, whilst we sail straight towards an enormous iceberg. Far too many incidents are simply brushed under the carpet, as it is much easier to hold meetings and presentations rather than support those teachers below them who are trying to improve discipline. The phrase ‘Lions led by Donkeys’ was used of mulish generals in charge of British troops during World War I, but it applies equally to modern teaching. The lack of ability of those in charge to get a grip is one of the major problems in the state education system.

 

Lessons

After lunch, Year 9 have dosed themselves up with sugary snacks and fizzy drinks at lunchtime. They ignore my seating plan and sit together at the back. They are used to getting their own way, fighting over seats and enjoying the mayhem caused by not being made to sit in a fixed place each lesson. Five of them eventually do as they’re told. Unfortunately, I can’t shift Darren, the sixth reprobate. I’ve tried telling him quietly and I’ve tried telling him firmly. Both attempts have failed. He is now holding on to his desk, theatrically, and hysterically shouting, ‘Help! Rape!’ at the top of his voice. It is immensely frustrating, all of this. Actually, it’s more than frustrating: it’s heartbreaking. About a dozen of this class are behaving now; they have got their worksheets from the front and started them, following the instructions I’ve written on the board. I keep my voice calm, even though inside I am seething. I have seen this situation many times before and it annoys me greatly.

I quietly tell him that I will be making a phone call home.

‘Do you think I care?’ he screams back. ‘Phone me mother! I couldn’t give a f* ck.’

That last bit is said with a mocking smirk.

Dishing out the pens has taken another ten minutes, so 20 minutes gone.

Then, all of a sudden, the atmosphere is shattered by a screech. It’s Cherelle, and she’s furious with Spencer; she’s attempting to pull his hair out and cursing him in industrial terms. Now, Cherelle storms out, a handful of Spencer’s hair in her fist.

‘Come on, Darren, we’re going to sit at the front,’ I announce, removing his coat from the back of his chair. He grabs for it and furiously attempts to wrench it free, but there is a loud tearing sound. I am left holding one arm while Ashley tumbles back and falls to the ground holding the rest of it. Darren is now absolutely livid.

‘You f* cking tosser!’ he yells with rage. ‘I’m gonna get me Dad and he’ll batter you!’ He storms out of the room. ‘My dad’s gonna batter you!’ This is a phrase I must have heard a hundred times during my career.

Wayne, walks in (ridiculously late) with dog mess on his shoe. Because he is such a fool, he proceeds to wipe the shoe on another boy’s trousers. It’s a revolting thing to do, but the reaction is bizarre: the other boy immediately starts screaming (he is, after all, only 15) and running around like the proverbial headless chicken. Now the offending material is on his bag, on the stool he was sitting on, on his neighbour’s bag, on her chair, the work bench and so on. Half the class are join in with the screaming. It is utter chaos.

When the clock on the wall indicates that there are only ten minutes of the lesson left, everyone starts putting coats on and closing books. ‘Oi! Get back to work. We will pack up two minutes before the end of the lesson.’ There is uproar. They always pack up ten minutes before. Bearing in mind each lesson is 50 minutes long, and that the first and the final 10 minutes are wasted, this is depressing in the extreme. ‘The clock is slow.’ It isn’t. ‘We need at least ten minutes!’ At least half of them have already started to put their arms through their coat sleeves surreptitiously. I go round and take their books (asking them to pass them to the front is like asking for book-throwing mayhem). Every exercise book is covered with graffiti. Then the bell goes. I reckon we did fifteen minutes useful work out of a one-hour lesson. Five or six kids destroyed the lesson for all the others.

Those kids will destroy every lesson this week, this term and this school year, for the simple reason that they enjoy doing so and there is nothing to stop them. It’s no exaggeration to say that we are allowing them to destroy the lives of their fellow pupils. I end another school day bubbling with frustration and impotent rage. It’s been a day, once again, marked by a total absence of discipline and, as a result, effective teaching. If you work in one of these schools, you will know that such scenes are a daily occurrence.

 

Maths

In Maths, many of our pupils cannot do even the simplest sum. Some cannot do the simplest sum even with the aid of a calculator: for example, you will ask the question ‘What is 9 x 7?’ They will type it in wrongly as ‘9 x 77’ and claim that the answer is 693. They have no idea of the relative size of numbers and do not sense instinctively that this cannot be right. Instead, they accept whatever the display says.

 

Writing

Pupils’ writing is often absolute gibberish. Half are unable to read, write or spell properly when they leave. They cannot punctuate or structure a sentence. The country’s biggest exam board has reported that pupils use ‘text-speak’ like ‘m8’ [for ‘mate’], ‘u’ [for ‘you’] and ‘2’ [for ‘too’ or ‘to’] in GCSE papers which are also littered with swearing and slang contractions such as ‘gonna’, ‘wanna’ and ‘shoulda’. Apart from all the spelling mistakes and lack of punctuation – many a story is one, long two-page sentence – it simply doesn’t mean anything. The story jumps around from one thought to another without any continuity. This boy is 15 but his effort is worse than that which a decent nine-year-old could produce. It contains many of the usual horrors. ‘Dose’ instead of ’does’. ‘Is’nt’ instead of ‘isn’t’. ‘Their’, ‘there’ and ‘they’re’ all hopelessly intermingled. 12,000 hours of full-time education and we have not even managed to teach him to write. There’s something very sad about the waste of so many years of potential learning.

 

Behaviour

Our main problem is the behaviour of our children. When our pupils arrive at the age of eleven, their attention span is often very short. Many, perhaps most, are unable to sit still and keep quiet for more than a few seconds at a time when these are the basic prerequisites, surely, of successful learning. When we try to introduce them to the concept of listening, it is a whole new skill to learn. This may sound unbelievable but it is absolutely true. Many straightforward tasks become impossible. They cannot listen to a set of instructions or tackle a problem that has more than one stage. Instead of persevering with a question, if the answer is not obvious, they will immediately shout out ‘I don’t geddit!’ or ‘Can’t do it!’ Many of the children swear loudly throughout a lesson, partly to shock, partly because they hear these words so often that they have no idea that there is anything wrong with them and partly because they have never been taught any self-control. They react instinctively, by shouting or striking out at the source of an irritation.

 

Truancy is rife. In 2005, figures from Truancy Watch showed that 50,000 children skip school each day. We have a school uniform which the pupils are supposed to wear, but a visitor would be hard-pressed to say what it is. The Deputy Head in Charge of Discipline is reluctant to enforce it as he thinks it’s a good idea to allow the pupils to ‘express themselves in a way that reflects their different outlooks and cultures.’ Vandalism and graffiti have become commonplace. Simple things such as arriving for lessons on time, bringing a pen with you and doing your homework have become unimportant. Our pupils are late for school, time and time again, without any real punishment. As we so often do, we are taking the easy option but selling them short: punctuality is so important in the workplace and our touchy-feely slackness will count against them in a few short years.

Kids misbehave simply because it is more fun than behaving and, in many cases, there is nothing stopping them. After 12 years of full-time education, costing £72,000, we are not turning out youngsters who understand how to behave, who can listen to and follow instructions, who are basically literate and numerate and who are punctual, the entry-level requirements for 80% of the jobs on offer in this country.

Lewis is in Year 9. He has set off the fire alarm at least twice and openly boasts of the windows he has broken in the school. His vandalism runs into thousands of pounds. The behavioural problems take up so much time that there isn’t much left for actual teaching. Lessons are constantly disrupted by groups of kids arriving late for no real reason, not to mention the hordes of ne’er-do-wells who skip lessons and roam the school in packs, looking for trouble. For well-behaved pupils, who actually want to learn but who sit there quietly being ignored, with their hands up, their life-chances ebb away.

 

To bribe or to discipline?

In the staffroom, Miss Wade is giving the new student teacher some pearls of advice. She is telling her how to get a pupil to move if they do not want to. This is a fairly classic problem in the classroom. ‘You should always try to avoid a confrontation,’ she babbles. ‘So what I do is I move someone else at the same time so they don’t think that you are just picking on them, or I say something like ‘if you move, I’ll let you use the coloured pens.’ The business of negotiating with the kids, or bribing them. We’re told to change our ways of teaching to suit the kids. Shouldn’t it be the other way round?

 

Mr Blunt is a brilliant teacher. Mr Blunt is tall, strongly-built and exudes an air of authority like few others can. A no-nonsense disciplinarian, he has taught here for the last twelve years. He has a vast knowledge and interest in his subject, which is history. He is aware of everything that is going on in the classroom and exerts control constantly but effortlessly. He has zero tolerance for every form of poor behaviour and relentlessly pursues miscreants. He tries constantly to open the kids’ minds to how much better they can become.

 

Assault

Every day, around the UK, teachers are getting assaulted; I’ve been threatened myself and plenty of my colleagues have been attacked. Miss Keebles’ tyres were slashed while her car was left in the school car park overnight. Several teachers have been assaulted at St Jude’s, as they have at many schools.. Often these cases go unreported. In 2006, one pupil slapped a teacher and carried out the attack while another filmed it on his mobile phone. Last year, there were twelve assaults on teachers in four months. One boy, who injured a woman by barging her into a door and then threatened to kill her, was suspended for 15 days and then let back in. The level of violence in our schools is frightening, both in its frequency and its severity, and is getting worse on both counts. Jade, a 12-year-old; was attacked by another girl with a cigarette lighter. Her face was badly burned. Shanni was slashed across the face by another 12-year-old girl, who used the blade from a pencil sharpener in the attack. Shanni will probably be scarred for life. Natasha, aged 15, was attacked with a pair of scissors.

 

As I walk across the playground to the main doors, a small boy – I think it is Kyle from Year 9, but I can’t be sure, shouts ‘Chalk, you f* cking w* nker!’ before dodging round a corner, cackling.

 

I have left the world of education, and I’m not going back. The constant, low-level lapping of the waves, the rising tide of disillusionment, finally brought me to the realisation that I was wasting my time.”