Rigour (funny title isn’t it?)

The questionnaire

I was at a Heads’ meeting the other day and we were discussing last year’s moderation process. There were several schools that had been moderated in writing and they shared their experiences. The over-arching theme was that the moderators had been rigorous in their use of the writing framework’s tick list. The DfE would be proud. Best fits were out. Triple evidenced tick boxes were in.

We began to talk about the rigour of the new curriculum. It’s really rigorous. Teachers need to rigorously teach it. The rigorousness of the children’s ability to write proper depends on it. Teachers being unable to talk to children without commenting that the last child who answered a question did so whilst using a cracking modal verb followed by a coordinating conjunction is the current educational de rigueur.

Primary English education is very, VERY rigorous.

Except it isn’t.

It’s tedious.

Churning out lessons like they’re literary shopping lists is not the way to create a literate society. Parroting the exemplification framework, rather than talking like a human, is neither good nor rigorous teaching.

Rigorous English teaching is a holistic art. It requires you to blend the technicalities of the English language with the much harder job of capturing imaginations. You have to ignite passions, acknowledge tentative attempts, unpick glorious failures and celebrate style.

You can’t do this if you are an assessment framework slave. Sometimes you have to feel success, not identify it. That’s the magic of teaching. Reading a child’s work and not quite being able to put your finger on why it’s astounding. How often has a slightly misplaced word, or even an incorrectly spelt one, actually got across an idea or a feeling better than anything else you’ve ever read? I’ve lost count of the number of times the ‘teacher’ in me thought he hasn’t quite used that right while the ‘human’ in me has countered that with but my word, he’s nailed it; I know exactly what he means. Being able to appreciate when wrongs make a right and then sharing that with the child is how you evolve writers.

Of course you need to teach punctuation, grammar and spelling. You can’t be a consciously good writer if you don’t have an understanding of the basic rudiments of how the written word works. Teachers’ subject knowledge has to be exceptional. But not at the expense of their instincts.

I know there will be many teachers who read this and think: alright mate, we’re not stupid; we get it. There will also be many people who may think that this is something that should have been published when the interim assessment framework was first released.

But I think it is more pertinent now that last year is over. Because we’ve survived the first year. We’ve got the hindsight of what happened as well as the foresight of what’s coming. We know what the moderators are after. We know that children were not allowed to be judged ‘expected’ because a tick list, not a professional teacher who knows their class inside out, deemed it so. Professional teachers will now be in danger of being reduced to teach to the tick-list more than ever because, at the end of the year, we’ve all got to show progress. And that progress will be linked to how many more children ticked more boxes than last year.

The potential for dry evidence creating is greater than ever. Children could spend more time copying out final drafts of old (and corrected) writing in order to show that now, and in this book, they can use the progressive form appropriately. Teachers may be told to abandon creative ideas in order to churn out standards baiting paragraph openers – or whatever openers are called nowadays. Literary sparks, that fly off the page, could be snuffed out as teachers shine a light on a mixed tense malfunction. This could be the landscape of teaching English this year.

Why?

Because the framework is rigorous and the moderators use it rigorously.

Told you the title was a joke.

Craze-y Times

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If you look up ‘craze’ in the dictionary it is defined as ‘something completely irrelevant that other people are into, which you reluctantly try to understand just as it starts to go out of fashion’. From 3D movies in the fifties to, well, 3D movies in the noughties, there is always something that you simply MUST be aware of if you are to be accepted as part of the human race. How many of us, for example, have felt compelled to hum crazy frog whilst bay-blading in crocs as we upload photos of ourselves planking, that we took with a selfie stick, but not before we turn it into a gif and upload it to prism on our way to a gangnam style flash mob outside the local hipster pop-up cronut café?

Adopting crazes is just what we do, and, what with the internet not ever being switched off, we are never more than one swipe, or notification, away from the new number one craze.

The saving grace of all this is, in fact, the actual technology that spews it into our eyeball in the first place. So rapid is the delivery of the next craze, and the next craze, and the next craze, that any particular hatred, towards the current fad, will quickly be replaced by the familiar feeling of bewilderment, as you spot everyone around you doing something you just don’t understand. However, this technological ‘saving grace’ is a double edged sword as it also serves as an indication of how pathetic our 21st century attention span has become. It seems that we have lost, or at the very least devolved, our patience.

There is still one place on earth however, where longer lasting crazes can still be found: the school playground. Children, it seems, for all their faults, still exhibit some resilience when it comes to adopting a new craze. And, what’s more, they’ve been doing it for years.

Now, obviously some of these crazes were commercially driven: Pogs, Tamagotchi, Pokémon, football stickers, marbles, spokey dokes, push pops and clackers were all handed to children on an ad man’s pay check, but, self-manufactured crazes have always been a key staple of playground trends. Take, for example, the paper fortune teller, bonsai ties, playing slaps, giving yourself a 99er, seeing who could say ‘jobby’ the loudest in class, and taking part in the Vicks challenge.

All of these could only come from the imagination of a bored child and, as a result, these crazes spread more rapidly than the goo from an alien birth pod on a hot summer’s day.

The wonderful thing about playground crazes is that, as far as teachers are concerned, they come from nowhere. One break duty you’re busy trying to settle the usual arguments on the football pitch, and the next, you’re wondering why there are all these miniature elastic bands clogging up the drains. Take the current trend of flipping water. Who would have predicted that, in September 2016, the majority of children across the country would be spending their time trying to get partially full bottles of water to land upright?

As usual it is up to the adults in the school to deal with this latest craze and there are several approaches that teachers up and down the land will be trying.

Oh flip

This nonsense needs to stop before it gets out of hand. Oh sure, today it’s some children throwing plastic bottles onto a table, but what about tomorrow? What happens when everyone is doing it all the time? What happens when they start using glass bottles? Or start filling the bottles with acid, or wee? It will be conker-gate all over again. All it will take is a parent to get a bottle land on their foot and they’ll go to the press. Or the ‘gangs’ will start snap-chatting the failed attempts of their rivals and in retaliation one of them will squeeze their enemy into a massive bottle and throw them into the canal. I can’t have that. The next 7-year-old seen with a water bottle: put them in detention. This is going to be a flipping terrible year.

It’s hip to flip

I don’t know where this has come from but I love it. There must be some YouTube video tutorials out there so I can practise at the weekend. Imagine their faces when I rock up on Monday and, BOOM, double flip a bottle in one. And not just any old bottle, an Evian sports cap, the most challenging bottle flip known to man. Maybe I’ll start an after school club and we can have an end of year tournament. This is going to be a flipping great year.

Flipping Exploitative

I don’t understand it. I have no interest in seeing anybody flip a bottle or in learning how to do it myself. But, I didn’t understand Tech Decks either; didn’t stop me from creating a whole class reward system around them. All I need to do is an assembly on Monday, carping on about how it shows resilience, put up a flip chart, as in a chart to record bottle flips not an actual flip chart, and link it to achieving their literacy targets, change golden time to ‘flipping golden time’ and we’re halfway to having the best behaved class in the school. This is going to be a flipping easy year.

Flip centered learning

The kids love it but they don’t realise the incredible amount of maths behind it. They’re not even aware of how the level of water, crossed with the starting angle of the flip motion, affects the bottle’s trajectory. I mean it’s simple! Well, they’re going to learn and I’m going to teach them. I just need to rewrite the entire syllabus – scrap the Pokémon Go lesson plan – and buy eight sets of thirty different bottles so that we can explore how the plastic density impacts on the bottle’s revolution once it’s in the air. This is going to be a flipping educational year.

Give a flip

Oh look, some children are flipping bottles. Wonder how long that will last – oh, they’ve stopped.

The sorcerer’s apprentice

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The government is set to outline its plans to revolutionize the recruitment crisis in teaching later today. A new apprenticeship scheme, aimed at eleven-year-olds, will allow them to train as teachers in the very schools they left six weeks previously. This exciting new development seeks to bolster the teaching profession that has been in decline ever since additional routes into the education profession were established several years ago.

The details of the scheme will be published on the Department for Education’s Pinterest account and will be available as a series of downloadable 6 second video vines that the trainees can access on their mobile devices as they progress through the course.

The reason behind the new apprentice scheme has been described by its designers as ‘ingenious’. What better way to create new teachers, in a manner that is economically viable, than to entrust the profession to the very people it aims to serve: children. For too long the profession has been populated by adults who, with their degrees and qualified teacher status, have low level relatability to the children in their classes. This new generation of teachers will be able to reach out and touch the hearts and minds of their pupils whilst simultaneously being unable to touch the floor with their feet when sitting on big chairs.

This scheme will also help the DfE overhaul the Key Stage 3 curriculum, again. As more and more eleven–year-olds are selected to remain in primary schools to teach, so will the number of children achieving GCSEs fall. To counteract this, a new set of GCSE subjects are to be introduced which the apprentices will work towards whilst completing their training. These new subjects will include traditionalism, progressivism, photocopier engineering and twitter etiquette. Critics have argued that traditional subjects, such as literacy and mathematics, will suffer as a result of these new GCSEs but, considering the ridiculously high level of the primary curriculum, nobody needs to know anything beyond Year 5 maths, spelling, punctuation and grammar, so, it doesn’t really matter.

This new generation of teachers will be automatically selected based on their standardized score at the end of Year 6 and the quality of their teachers’ personal comments in their end of year report. Children who do not meet the grade will either continue to secondary school or be used as teaching assistants. This scheme is particularly aimed at pupils who may not take seriously the possibility of a degree, putting a fresh spin on an old saying: Those that could do, but can’t be arsed, teach.  A spokesperson from the DfE said that ‘this is exactly the shot in the head the teaching profession needs right now.’

Current teachers, who have repeatedly complained about their workload, will now benefit from having less time in class as they concentrate on writing training materials, producing assessment modules, delivering after-school-club seminars, completing the trainees’ induction programme, organizing the graduation ceremony and building a new staff room. To enable this, all teachers will now work an eight-day week, with the exception of the apprentices who will need to be home by 5:30pm for their tea and keep Saturdays free for chasing Pokémons.

It is expected that behaviour in schools will also improve. Some critics have said that this is absurd as it is impossible to think that an eleven-year-old could effectively sanction another eleven-year-old. The DfE, however, is giving these teachers new social media powers to combat this problem. With each new apprentice, a school Yik-Yak account will be created, allowing the trainee teachers to unleash a series of new and inventive online discipline opportunities, the likes of which qualified teachers would never even have the techno-sense to consider, or find morally and ethically viable.

One thing is for certain and that’s that this new breed of teachers won’t be hampered by an extensive knowledge of pedagogy or understanding of teaching and learning. Instead they will be free to condense the unwieldly national curriculum into bitesize and snapchattable nuggets of information that their classes will be able to download using the newly designed DfE-Edu-App. And all at a reduced cost to the tax-payer and a lowered public opinion of teachers. How could it possibly go wrong? Click here to register your interest.

Image courtesy of @SDupp