Pawns? Nah pawns are important – guest post adapted from email received

This email was received by DeputyJohn from a teacher frustrated by the dominance of progressive ideology amongst the commentariat and worried about expressing these views publicly as some individuals attack people personally.

Apart from the addition in the middle of the piece in italics, DeputyJohn simply amended it stylistically to maintain anonymity.

I publish it because I agree with the thrust, even though I would not have been able to write this well myself:


Pawns? Nah, pawns are important

Since it happened, I have wondered what the point was of the primary dominated visit to the DfE on the 8th April. The first and most glaring issue was the fact that only two full-time teachers were present. The second was that as a whole those attending have a certain educational ideology they subscribe to. To spell it out, they’re progressives. I would have been far more comfortable had Michael Tidd or Mr Chadwick been able to attend. Not only would that have bumped up the teacher count, but it would also have concentrated the discussion on the curriculum, which I understand was ostensibly the point of the meeting in the first place.

As a record for what was discussed I am using Tim Taylor’s notes, which he helpfully published.

As if a sign of things to come, Liz Truss appeared to not be present at the start and left halfway through, only to return. If anything, that was an indication of how important this meeting was. As an avid viewer of “the Thick of It” I imagine there is a sole person in the DfE bureaucracy that reads educational blogs. I expect that person got all excited after the other lot got invited to OFSTED and decided to ‘do a primary one’. I can imagine the morning briefing going something like this:

Truss (ET hereafter): Ok what’s on the agenda today?

Civil Servant (CS hereafter): You have a meeting with that weird bloke from OFSTED this morning, and this afternoon I have invited some teachers to speak to you about primary school stuff.

ET: Primary? Are all my jabs up to date?

CS: It’s the holidays Liz, don’t worry.

ET: So who are these people who are coming then?

CS: Bloggers from twitter mainly

ET: Twitter? Blogging? For fucks sake, these people could be anything! Probably a bunch of glitter and glue merchants who spend their precious hours typing into a keyboard while downing Chardonnay.

CS: Don’t be silly Liz, they are the sharpest minds we can find from the primary sector.

ET: (scans list of names) Thought Weavers? Imagine Inquiry? Education Bear? (rolls eyes) Are these people smoking something?

CS: Look – just be nice, you can pop out whenever you like and if you turn up late then you will only have to be there for about half of it.

ET: Noted. Try not to keep them talking for long. They are probably a bunch of trots anyway and want to whinge about pensions and all that other bollocks. They will never vote for us anyway. Teachers hate the Tories.

And they do. They certainly showed it during the meeting. They managed to elevate tests above APP (FFS!)  in a list of problems. Why? Because the agenda of the government elevates testing, and they knew Truss thinks APP is and was stupid. They managed to defend national curriculum levels (FFS!! x2). They expressed that schools are still keeping them, at which point ‘Caroline’ rightly asked for clarification that people weren’t still using the old national curriculum, for which levels were devised. They criticised a more sensible grass roots assessment model that every school can implement for the benefit of their pupils. One managed to moan that they couldn’t cope without LA support – (read: being told what to do). It is a shameful read.

This is not the fault of these people. (DeputyJohn: One of them has been central to promoting the deputyjohn blog at its inception, and I like some of these people.) They had their agenda and they stuck to it. But it was irrelevant.

So what was their agenda? As far as I can see it started and ended at tests. That was the crux of the matter. They went on and on about them.

Tests stifle creativity. What? Who wants an illiterate creative fool at the end of year 6? And in any case, didn’t Ken Robinson show us that 2 years olds are super creative, so we don’t need to develop creativity anyway.

Tests are ruining education in primary because all kids learn is maths and English. Have these people ever thought of teaching literacy through their topic? And grammar/spelling/reading also?

Tests are destroying our profession. What? Like GCSEs have destroyed secondary education? – Get a grip.

The solution? Get rid of all tests. Truss must have spat her tea out at this point in exasperation.

What a waste of an opportunity! They came, they saw, they did exactly as expected and they left. They had zero impact, to go with the apparent zero credibility they had in being there in the first place.

So were they pawns in a wider game? I don’t think so. Pawns are important pieces in chess. They defend the King/other pieces and determine the area of the board the battle takes place in. They dictate the direction of the game. This changed nothing and influenced no one.

This was confirmed to me when Truss spoke the following day. You only have to read this to realise that.

Well thank God for that (good speech by the way).

Cant wait for the EYFS visit…….



Excuses for kids failing

Usually invalid excuses I’ve heard for when a class gets poor examination results:

  • the parents don’t support the school
  • the child doesn’t do homework
  • the Key Stage 2 data was wrong/ made up by the junior school
  • the data from last year was made up by the previous teacher
  • a C grade/ D grade is ‘not that bad’ for a kid like him/ her
  • it’s not all about results
  • the course is hard
  • the kid was too focussed on his English coursework to succeed in my lesson
  • the school puts pressure on them to pass English and maths so my subject isn’t given a look in and they don’t take it seriously
  • the kids have too much humanities controlled conditions to focus on maths
  • we only get 2.5 hours a week to teach them
  • we only get 3 hours a week to teach them
  • we only get 4 hours a week to teach them
  • they only had an hour a week in key stage 3
  • how can they focus on achievement when they’re worried about where the next meal comes from?
  • the exam board put the pass marks up by 10 marks
  • we guessed the wrong questions on the exam
  • the exam board changed question 3
  • the exam/ coursework marking was harsh
  • the coursework was marked down
  • the cohort just wasn’t very good
  • they’re great speaking, but can’t write it
  • they freeze in exams
  • it was the best they could have done
  • the parents have no history of achievement
  • the parents are on drugs
  • they didn’t buy the book
  • they didn’t come to enough ‘intervention’
  • they came to too much ‘intervention’ and didn’t think they had to work for it
  • I used to get great results
  • the kid only came to us in year 10
  • Michael Gove

Usually valid excuses (but you should still be able to do something about this):

  • SMT do not support teachers with behaviour

Valid excuses I’ve heard:

  • they were in prison for the whole of year 11

Stupid management response to Pupil Premium accountability

I’ve received this comment on my blog from a desperate parent who found me via a search.

It reflects stupid reaction to schools being correctly accountable for the pupil premium money they receive. I’ve blogged about this before here and here.

In this case, expectations of pupil premium kids appear to be being lowered because they are entitled to the pupil premium, and the ‘interventions’ are an example of lower expectations. While low expectations of poorer kids is prevalent across the UK, I’ve rarely seen it as explicit as this:

Hello. I’m in a predicament about Free School Meals and the Pupil Premium and wondered if you may know a solution to this.

I have 3 primary aged children. I’m divorced and single. All 3 of my children are very academic. We are a typical middle class family whose main income comes in the form of maintenance from my ex husband and with him paying the mortgage directly. As all maintenance is ignored as it’s not a taxable income, it means I qualify for child tax credit. The combination of maintenance and child tax credit (with my ex also paying the mortgage), leaves us very comfortable – but not rich! I did not claim free school meals as I didn’t need to.

All parents received a letter from school asking those of us who were entitled to claim to please do so as the school got a significant amount of money. After thinking about it, I decided that the saving of school meals for 3 children was worthwhile, even although I was managing quite comfortably. The fact that the school and those who needed the extra attention would also benefit was a win win, so I claimed.

Now, I’m really annoyed. I find my children are being pulled out of lessons (often with children in their class who they have nothing in common with and some who are know to have social/behavioural problems. My children’s names now appear separate on registers from the rest of class and written in red ink to identify them as requiring extra attention. My boy has been prioritised to read every single day despite being an excellent reader whilst others who are not on free meals could benefit from reading in his place. My youngest girl was pulled out of class to build Lego and make paper aeroplanes! With 2 boys, none of her friends, no girls and one boy being known for being a handful. My eldest ( due to go to grammar) has noticed that only she and certain individuals she has nothing in common with mentally or otherwise are the only ones getting letters which leaves her curious and asks me what the letters are about. My children don’t know they get free meals or that anyone gets free meals and I’m concerned that this ‘special attention’ which is not required and giving the assumption that they are on par with less able children which isn’t true.

I now want to cancel my claim as I’m fed up of my children being singled out for no reason, missing classes which are important and because my claim doesn’t appear to be going to the children who need it more.

Now I’m being told by staff that even if I cancel, my children will still be treated as premium children for another 6 years and with my eldest due to go to grammar soon, I was hoping for a fresh start.

Is there anything I can do to stop this?



Please offer advice in the comments. My advice would be to go and discuss this with colleagues in the school as high as possible, asking for proposed impact on your child, and pointing out that PP kids don’t all need the same thing because they are entitled to benefits.

How to treat staff… (crap behaviour by Academy Chains)

How to treat your staff – academy chains

I am not a fan of Local Authority consultants and I believe that Local Authorities themselves are inefficient. However, I’m also aware that Academies have their issues, and in particular, Academy Chains appear to have no direct inspection in the way Local Authorities do.

I have decided to reprint something I received by email. I have changed names and details of schools and individuals, though I’m well aware it’s possible to guess who they are.

I recognise the stories are one side of the story, but they represent the worst of schools – one of bullying and harassment and the reason so many teachers suffer from stress and leave the profession. It sounds to me that problems of management are too often transferred onto the teaching staff – those often holding the school together.

I don’t agree with all of the points Denise makes, but I’ve chosen to leave them in.

Taken from an email received from Denise by


Prior to joining the academy chain, the school was not in Special Measures, though results were poor. We were hence told we are becoming a WILTON ACADEMIES Academy. Some big bods from the ‘flagship’ academy were in our school regularly. They told us all staff were safe in their jobs, especially SMT.

However, the Head was ousted incredibly quickly – (allegedly a fair process, given interview, etc!) in favour of SLT from the ‘flagship’ academy.

We had opportunity to visit the flagship WILTON ACADEMIES academy and be shown how wonderful our lives will be. The flagship WILTON ACADEMIES academy is not a true comprehensive, even though they say they are – selection by banding can be skewed to only consider those at the top of each band, and in an over-subscribed school, often only the more able apply, as the rest know they have little chance of getting in!

A couple of staff left over the summer of conversion, but most stayed.

Apart from the resistance from most serving staff of going over to new systems (which on reflection was our fault), I didn’t have too bad a time personally. I was a good teacher, and kept my head down (for that read ‘do as you’re told!’).

I had a couple of run-ins, but I again, did as I was told (covering up a tattoo on my wrist, taking out my nose stud, etc).

We were told we had to do ‘enrichment’ EVERY NIGHT until 4.30pm. I totted up the hours and this came to well over 1265. I questioned it with DHT and was told that my free periods throughout the day were NOT directed time, so therefore couldn’t include them in the 1265! I have never heard anything so ridiculous in my career!

All people in positions of power were extremely young, and inexperienced. For some strange reason a large cohort of them came from a school called Barca High in another authority – I still can’t figure the connection, but maybe WILTON ACADEMIES actively recruited from there?

The method of getting things done was one of pure nastiness. Every conversation I had with my Head of Faculty (above Heads of Department) began with “With respect Denise….” Then a sentence that was far less than respectful. God, I hate that phrase.
The Headteacher had a poster in her office that said “Get the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus” or something like that. She was and is a very dominant and powerful woman!

The first thing that really happened to make us worry was all the Heads of Department suddenly had a target on their backs. They were all told (one by one, not all at once, over that first term), that they would be placed on capability procedures. Not for anything specific, but a generic ‘not performing…’ Of course none of them knew anything about capability procedures. They were great Heads of Department at the predecessor school. One by one, every one of them handed in their notice. My own Head of Department was one of the last, and I’d gone before she did. She was old enough to take early retirement rather than look for something else, but I stay in touch with all of them (we were a VERY close bunch before WILTON ACADEMIES) and many found it impossible to find new jobs. Many of the Heads of Department were signed off with stress, as were other staff. It was so tough because we were running on loads of supply staff as well as keeping things ‘normal’ for the kids we knew and cared for.

One thing that really stood out for me was the WILTON ACADEMIES inaugural CPD event. They had hired some huge buildings and every member of WILTON ACADEMIES was there from every school.

Looking back (again) it was probably a really great event, ahead of its time, but for me it was frightening! It felt like something from the Nuremburg Rallies – speakers just applauding themselves, talking about (metaphorically) taking over the world! There was a (propaganda) promotional video played to all the hundreds of staff.

Then a gospel choir came out from behind us singing “Lean on me”. People were swaying, people were crying, I was absolutely terrified and was convinced that this was some re-run of Germany 1936 (ok – Godwin’s Law states that as soon as you mention the Nazis you lose any argument outright!)

The big boss himself did a turn on the stage – I genuinely think he does think he is making lives better, but does he know the means by which he gets it?

Another big cheese is certainly very frightening. He made those Heads of Department crumble in meetings, made their lives hell, made them sick, made them cry.

He was head of a local school in the past and we used to see him in our ‘Friday pub’ all the time with different young hot blondes!

This is the man who is rumoured to be in line for huge things in the world of education!

Anyway – I got to Christmas and as usual, we all went to the local to let off steam. Instead of “what you doing over Christmas?, how are the kids?, anyone travelling home for new year?”, type conversations, EVERYONE was miserable, moaning, upset, tired, stressed.
I looked around that pub and said to myself “I want out.” I decided to get myself gone. First day back I went to the head and said “Out of courtesy, I would like to let you know that I shall be looking for another job”. Her only words were “OK”.

I was quite surprised – I was the best Science teacher they had, I did what I was told, they hated the Head of Department and I was second in charge, I think they thought I was going to step up when they got shot of Head of Department, but all I got was “ok”.
I got a job within a couple of weeks, (Physics teachers will always be gold dust) despite being told by WILTON ACADEMIES SLT that I wouldn’t find anything! I just had to work out my notice – miserably watching my friends suffering…….

Since leaving I have met endless supply teachers who refuse to work in an WILTON ACADEMIES academy! There are other WILTON ACADEMIES ex-staff who got pushed out. I have had two different colleagues ask my advice on whether to apply for jobs there – I have said that my experience was my experience and was tainted by 14 years of a school I adored being taken over, and they should make up their own minds.

Both these colleagues were young and dynamic, excellent members of staff. The most recent was a young history NQT at my current school – fantastic teacher, everything you would want an NQT to be. He left my place at Christmas for a Jan 2014 start. Heard a couple of weeks ago that he left within days (!) and is currently doing supply around London/Kent! I was so shocked as I really thought he was ‘WILTON ACADEMIES Academy Material’. The other guy left pretty damn quick as well! It was the relentless obs that he hated. Left to go to one of the local grammars and is loving it!

I think the model for an WILTON ACADEMIES Academy is “get ‘em young, chew ‘em up, spit ‘em out”.

It would be very interesting to compare schools by turnover of staff!


Anyway life after WILTON ACADEMIES, I went to a school that was to go on to be an DOVE ACADEMY. They didn’t quite have this crazy model, but they do ‘celebrate’ the wrong people. The give enormous power to people who don’t really have the experience – if you talk the talk, you’re golden, but you probably can’t walk the walk! It’s a very ‘cliquey’ organisation – you just have to get ‘in’ with the right people (crawl up the right arses I think!)

Their ‘science advisor’ who is celebrated EVERYWHERE and whose remit has gone far beyond DOVE ACADEMY was someone who taught for less than a year, had ONE outstanding observation, and is now being touted as ‘the be all and end all of science teaching’. I don’t think he paid his dues – and tbh he never came near me in all the time I was at DOVE ACADEMY. I don’t know if I was considered ok enough not to need support, or if he sensed I wouldn’t have respected his opinion, but nothing! He was asked by the Head of Department to give a ‘model’ lesson but he wouldn’t. Says it all really…..

I left DOVE ACADEMY to become Head of Department in a school very nearby. My then Head of Department left to join a successful school in Shropshire (he hated the ‘regime’) and the school promoted my equivalent to Head of Department, despite her own lack of any qualification in science (and I mean not even a GCSE!)

My view of academy chains is they are very ideological and know what they want, but don’t care how they get it. “By any means necessary”.

But when you see the personal cost, the effect on people’s lives, it is truly terrifying!

Other conversations that show dodgy practice and attitudes towards staff (either Academy Chain):
• Being directed by the head (oops principal) to wear a jacket to assembly ( in that roasting hot hall). It was OK to take it off and put it on the back of the chair, but not OK to not wear it to the assembly
• Being told by a senior teacher that we are a very multicultural school and that ‘we must get that little HALFCAST boy in the picture to prove it!!!!’ Thought I was in the 80s!!! I think the rest of us have been using mixed race for about 20 years!!
• WILTON ACADEMIES had no union representation and three months notice either side i.e. almost impossible to move, able to be sacked, no reason required.

Conversation with ex-colleague regarding WILTON ACADEMIES (same academy chain, different school)

Colleague: Hi Denise, too many to mention in the years I endured. However, constant observation being the least of the sins, with no constructive development. They ensured they ticked all the boxes. In fact, after 4 and a bit years there, I can feel a rant coming on…

Colleague: The ridiculous pressure to achieve unrealistic targets causing teachers to feel that their job is on the line if they don’t deliver…etc I need to calm down. Reading the link you posted about WILTON ACADEMIES it could have been written about Rainbow John School word for word, all the comments made by those who signed the petition. A bullying ethic and no remorse culture.

Colleague: Seemed to me that they had an attitude of “break you and remake you in our image” they crushed any individuality out of both pupils and teachers. GOD I HATED IT… sorry, had to get that off my chest. I recently went back in a purely professional capacity ( I run primary PE outreach now from (another local school) bumped into an SMT who barked questions at me about why I was there (even though it had been arranged) talked to me like a back street piece of crap… most surprising and unprofessional

Questioner: Was going to ask if you’re still there! So do you teach at (another local school) too, or is the outreach your main job?

Colleague: I teach PE at (local school) but took over (other teacher’s) role as PE primary cpd provider for the LEA as a TLR and took that with me from WILTON ACADEMIES to (local school)

Questioner: Were WILTON ACADEMIES spitting chips?

Colleague: I don’t think so, I was a trouble maker, constantly questioning why we had to do the things we were told to
I had a radical hairstyle during  half term. The Head went totally beserk and told me I had a week to reshape it. The average turnover was 31 staff lost per year.
My poor year 12 A level class, I left them in Jan (could not take another day without going crazy) they have had 8 teachers in eleven months. I bumped into them in the half term, they are failing and should not be. No I had to leave, or my marriage and even my health would have gone, no kidding it made me so unhappy. I saw two teachers have nervous breakdowns while actually at the school and were escorted off the premises.

Question: Did you know about the malpractice in exam entries?

Colleague: I knew everything about it Denise, why do you think I left?

Colleague: it was in my department … hmm, that’s what happens when you make an NQT Head of Department in a year and tell her she has to get 100% pass… she has no experience to realise its unachieveable.

No external support, all from within.

It’s a weird structure.

There is no Head of Department, it’s just co-ordinator and then Head of Faculty. I had three Heads of Faculty. As for co-ordinators, after James we got some fella who did not last a year, and then the second in charge had to step in as he got booted out in an emergency scandal one and a half terms in.

Questioner: Oh yes, Head of Faculty. I only had Stephen Pressley. What happened to him?

Colleague: blazing a trail of ambition I am sure. The second in charge became “acting” then got the job

Questioner: I know, that was (HoD name) . Am assuming she was thrown under the proverbial bus. More lives destroyed…

Colleague: totally thrown under a bus but she did do all the things she is accused of. But to be honest Denise, she had just got QTS when she was made second in charge and although they had “support” from a federation advisor, it was all internal and no-one who could help take some of the pressure that the (HT) was putting on her

Colleague: I know that I would not be able to be Head of Department or suchlike with only a year;s experience of teaching behind me

Questioner: I always said you need to ‘pay your dues’ before Head of Department. Took me 16/17 years to decide I was ready!

Colleague: Massive staff turnover within the school gave her no stable and experienced teachers, each time we hired one, they left within a year and one left within a term.


The Need For Knowledge

Lots of stuff here that should be obvious.

The Cart Before the Horse

Prior knowledge improves reading comprehension and facilitates new learning. Chris Benson asks if it is time for the explicit teaching of knowledge to return to the classroom?

After 15 years of teaching (six years in the UK and nine years overseas), I have been exposed to a fairly extensive list of panaceas for improving learning, and the chances are that you too are already fully conversant with this ever-changing list of acronyms and terms largely centred around the word ‘learning. And yet, one word that I rarely hear mentioned is ‘knowledge’.

On the few occasions it is used there are typically negative connotations attached, as though the ‘sage on the stage’ merely wishes to fill young minds with facts (in a return to the days of Dickens’s Mr Gradgrind) that will be of little relevance to the child growing up in the 21st century.

Advocates of 21st century skills tend…

View original post 660 more words

The start of a shift? Grades don’t matter… but grades matter

Some experiences over the last couple of months have led to me having some thoughts on accountability. I may disagree with myself next month, but for now, here it is.

To start with, please don’t get me wrong, education in the UK is still a progressive’s plaything.

I don’t think Performance Related Pay is a great idea.

I do agree with accountability for pupils’ life chances.

I think there are a far higher proportion of bad SMT than proportion of ineffective teachers.

And I have to be honest, one of the things that prompted this post was the resignation of a teacher who used to always get grade 1s in OFSTED observations, but has never got good results with “pupils like these”.

However, this is the first time in my career that it feels like we are moving towards a situation where teachers can’t get away with turning on an OFSTED observation lesson whenever SMT arrange to observe them but not do it at other times.

Such practice is no longer good enough. A school with crap grades is likely to get a 3 or a 4 during OFSTED (far moreso than in the past despite the continued problems), so academy chains and LAs are doing something about poor leadership quicker. A 4 will regularly mean the Head is removed – something that is now a policy in Kent if the Head has been in post 24 months or more.

I know this means that SMTs put more pressure on teachers. You can see elsewhere in my blog about my observations of the ridiculous and stupid stuff that happens in education as a result of that pressure.

However, there is now a bottom line. Heads can’t accept teachers who perform but achieve badly. Schools can’t run for years with results hovering at 10% or 20% as a few years ago with Contextual Value Added to create the excuses for them.

Bluntly, those teachers who have always got mediocre or worse grades, but could jump through hoops, are being exposed by schools being accountable for its pupil grades and less accountable for individual observation grades.

At the very least, schools are asking for teachers to jump through hoops AND get the results. This is the majority of schools. This is what results in the stupid practice much of my blog is about.

At the very best, schools are forgetting the hoops and focussing on the outcomes. They’re ditching lesson observation grades and getting much better at understanding their data. They’re realising that levels are palpable nonsense and coming up with assessment systems that aren’t as easy to cheat – and that are actually useful for teaching kids to know things.

The best measure of pupils’ life chances is the outcomes they take with them at school. There are exceptions – some pupils do badly at school and have brilliant careers, and some vice versa. But that’s why it’s life chances. So pupils’ grades matter.

There is all the other stuff that progressives point to – socialisation, relationships, creativity, and bollocks that they say you “can’t measure through exams”. That’s fine, but there’s no evidence that focussing on outcomes does damage to these things. Kids who are well taught to know lots still develop healthy relationships despite knowing lots. Kids who know lots are actually more capable of being creative, and so on… because schools can’t be measured on all these things, progressives like to pretend that schools that are crap at exams are good at these things that are not measurable.

Anyway, I’m detecting the start of a change, and it’s supported by another shift – it is becoming harder (but not hard enough) to game the system. We can’t shove kids through BTECs, pretending they count for 54 GCSE grades and get away with it, we can’t multi-enter, and the 2016 accountability measures are dominated by proper subjects so we can’t just give students 96 periods of Maths in a month. We won’t be able to get away with withdrawing kids from most subjects because less than 8 will mean negative effects, and less than 5 proper ones means negative effects on the school’s results. There is a shift towards us just having to teach proper subjects properly.

A teacher who doesn’t jump through hoops (ie used to get a 3 or a 4, and still does where lessons are graded) but gets great grades is like gold dust.  A teacher who can engage and entertain and jump through hoops (gets graded a 1 under OFSTED criteria when they graded lessons) but gets poor grades (often SMT will find this lack of correlation inexplicable) – well a school can’t afford passengers like this.

Loads of teachers don’t fit either mould, but it’s useful to look at the extremes to draw conclusions.

We’re not close to any of this being universal, but I detect there’s a shift towards it, and I’m in favour.

The former type of teacher is now preferable – something that never used to be the case. I hope the latter might find it permissable and tempting to be more like the former.

OFSTED grades don’t matter, but pupils’ grades matter.

I think that’s a good thing.