Category Archives: Uncategorized

So, I bought a bluetooth keyboard for my phone

A couple of years ago I contributed a chapter to a book, and despite my best intentions, and the best and kind attentions of my editor, I totally misunderstood the brief. In short, dear reader, I had to do it all again.

That would have been fine, once I’d gone through the three stages of writing grief (“It’s all their fault”, “It’s all my fault”, “I can’t do any better”). However, I was on holiday in Lyme Regis when the news came through on my phone. I was starting the reading for a textbook I was writing, and had in mind a largely ICT-free holiday of good old fashioned reading and noting. So, several thousand words to write, no laptop.

This led to me trying to write coherent things on my mobile, at the time a perfetly servicable samsung of some sort. Reading academic texts and editor’s notes on a phone is not really as hard as it sounds I told myself. I convinced myself that writing with only my thumbs couldn’t be that hard either.

I lasted two days. Then I went looking for an internet cafe, finding one in the Lyme Regis business support centre. This is a nice place, but a bit austere, on the edge of the town centre. In terms of the cost of parking, of the use of the cafe, and of my marriage at having ruined four days of our holiday I think I spent several times the value of the free copy of the book that I received almost a year later.

In the end I could see that my editor was right, I could do a better job. I learned to read the brief, and to read in between the lines of my feedback better. I also yearned from that moment on to own a cheap bluetooth keyboard that I could pack in a suitcase, just in case. Now I do own one, and by way of a test I used it to type this blog, which has no other purpose than to see if it works well.

Ed, the christmas survivalist

All I’m saying is that we should buy a frozen chicken and put it in the freezer, just in case it snows and we can’t get out of the house. That’s all. I don’t want to dig a bunker under the dining room, or buy a gun to ward off frozen zombie hordes. I just want to buy a chicken. Does that make me an urban survivalist?

The Voices of Newbury

The acceleration of time continues. I’ll be 36 in January, (I think, can’t actually remember it it’s that or 37). Anyway, I’m hurtling towards 40 at an increasing rate of knots.

In keeping with this I seemed to have joined a choir for Christmas, and have recently spent two brilliant evenings meeting people and singing with them at St. Nicholas Church in Newbury. I can’t help thinking of the sense of continuity, and of course of continuation when singing in a church.

As we were singing there were people ordering the church for Christmas, putting up a tree and decorations, setting up displays.  It reminded me powerfully of the activities of the people of Morebath as recorded in Sr Christopher Trychay’s parish journal and set out in The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village

Looking on Wikipedia this morning I see that my feelings weren’t a co-incidence. The present building was started in the year (1509) that Henry VIII came to the throne, and probably completed around the year (1533) that he was excommunicated by Pope Clement VII. It would be really interesting to find out how the swings of reformation, counter-reformation and Elizabethan settlement affected the church in the years after its completion. I wonder if there’s a book?

It seems there is! The Story of Newbury (Local History).

Leading in School (2)

The last post about this was quite directly focused on the administration of OCR Nationals exams. This time, inspired by a comment on the last post from Andrew Field (of the excellent and venerable, I’d like to think about the more generally applicable things I’ve learned from leading this team out of a bit of a hole.

Find out who gets things done, and how to ask them to do it.

This is mainly about working out where the real power in the school is for day to day getting things done. Examples might be the photocopy room, the caretakers’ room, school secretaries’ offices, bursar’s office. These people are really important – they work very hard and, through this hard work, can make things much easier for you.

Work with office systems, give them plenty of warning when you want something done, say thanks when things are done and make sure that if any of these people need you do do something, that you do it as soon as they ask. I’m not being machiavellian about this, nor, I hope, creepy or patronising. You can have all the plans in the world, they’re not going to work if you don’t have the support of the people who actually get things done in your school.

Ask for help

People will help you, if you ask. Chances are that there’s someone out there who can do part of what you’re doing much better and quicker than you, especially sending letters (thank you Jules!), exams administration (thank you Sarah!), or calling parents (thank you SLT!).

My team were also prepared to pull together, to take several hits for the team, so that we got closer to putting things right.

Ask for advice

Ask for advice – not to follow slavishly, but because other people will have thought of things that you haven’t – and their insight will be invaluable. This is one of the biggest things that I’ve learned – and the thing that has changed me the most in the last couple of years. Learning that I don’t have all the answers, that experience and insight from others is just as valuable (and in many cases much more valuable) than my own opinions has been an important lesson.

Serve your team

Make sure there’s paper in the printers, tea in the caddy, ice-lollies in the freezer, milk in the fridge, marksheets on the intranet, clear instructions and deadlines in emails. If your team is working twice as hard as usual, they won’t want to be confused about expectations, looking for treasury tags or bitching about their milk being stolen when they want a drink.

Bleedin' Torigraph manages to raise my blood pressure again…

in addition to which, it’s about to make me out myself as an occasional mumsneter.

I note from a twitter post that the Telegraph leader writers are peddling myths about the good ol days of British education, claiming that an incoming Tory government,

must implement reforms that rebuild the ladder of opportunity for gifted students from poor backgrounds, and so secure Britain’s place in a globalised, highly skilled and meritocratic world.

This ‘ladder of opportunity’ is surely a pretty clear reference to grammar schools, the 11+ etc. Funnily enough, there was a thread about this on Mumsnet last week, to which I responded as below:

Don’t know if anyone’s mentioned this data before, but I had to comment on the opinions that rammars somehow enabled greater social mobility that comprehensive education does.

Anyone really interested in this should read ‘state schools since the 1950s: the good news’ by Adrian Elliot. The book (albeit a polemic) counters much of the anecdotal stuff one reads in the press about the parlous state of our schools.

I should probably admit a bias too, before we go on – until this year I was a secondary teacher in a successful state school.

There’s a bit of data coming up, but I don’t think one can really understand this debate unless one is given a bit of perspective.

So, Elliot cites several studies, including Jackson and Marsdenn (1966) who found that social class B (lower professional) children were 4.5 times more likely to complete a full seven year grammar school course than children from those from skilled manual classes. These children were in turn than 3.5 times more likely to complete grammar education than unskilled, class E children.

When they looked at their data in more detail, some of those working class children in groups D and E who went to grammar school were ‘sunken middle class’ – their families had formerly been in the middle classes, had owned businesses or had close relatives in middle class occupations.

Zweig (1961) found that only 8% of semi and unskilled workers’ children passed the 11+. Coates and Silburn (1970) found that in St Annes, Nottingham only 1.5% of the children obtained a place in a grammar. shock They didn’t study how many completed their courses.

Right – there you go – Grammars were highly selective places, which served to maintain inequality in society. Discuss!

I suspect however that even if they were aware of such studies the leader writers at the TG would find a reason to discount the strong evidence that grammars merely helped maintain the status quo.

What stuck today…

People who have no clear idea what they mean by information or why they should want so much of it are nonetheless prepared to believe that we live in an Information age, which makes every computer around us what the relics of the True Cross were in the Age of Faith: emblems of salvation.

(Roszak 1988, The Cult of Information: The Folklore of Computers and the True Art of Thinking), quoted in Pupil Autonomy in Learning with Microcomputers: rhetoric or reality? An Action Research Study
Bridget Somekh
Cambridge Journal of Education, 1469-3577, Volume 21, Issue 1, 1991, Pages 47 – 64

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Imposter Syndrome

imposterThis probably belongs in the middle class (now middle aged too) angst category.  If there are any other anxious middle class professionals out there reading this stuff, you could let me know if you too sometimes feel ‘like an imposter’.

It’s the constant niggle, the background fear that you’re about to be outed as, essentially, a bit crap at what you do.  As a teacher it manifests itself especially when being ‘dropped in on’ by colleagues or Head of Department in the middle of teaching.  I’m terrified that they’ll criticise the quality or frequency of marking, that the lesson is dull, or too snazzy, or that the children look bored, or they’re talking too much.

As a manager it revolves around ticking the right boxes, sending off the right bits of paper, saying the right things in meetings.

Its at its worst when I’m you’re riding high, there’s the little fella on your shoulder saying ‘you’ll get found out’.

Anyway.  The photo is of a chinese papiermache doll I was once given on a ‘make it happen’ type course.  The course was OK.  On the last day they gave out these things and asked us to write our ambitions on the bottom, and then to colour in one eye.  We should then place the one-eyed doll somewhere we’d see it.   We get to colour in the other eye when we achieve our ambition. Mine’s been in my study ever since and I’ve often looked at it, though not what was written on the bottom. 

The bottom reads ‘ITT Lecturer’ – and the week before last I got a part time, one year contract as an History ITT Course Tutor at Oxford University. I’m soooo excited to be working with Anna Pendry, with new enthusiastic and talented teachers and seeing great things across Oxfordshire.  I’m going to wait before colouring in the eye though.

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Facebook panic!

The twitter-fuelled spread of the news of a research study that suggests that using facebook can lower your grades has inspired three types of response. The first – panic (and more panic), and the second – anecdotal (as can be seen from the ‘I use facebook and I’m alright comments to the panic responses), are both predictable.  The thid type is much harder to find, and because it’s subtle, considered and quietly spoken, will probably get lost in the debate.