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Category archive: Primary schools

Sunday July 06 2008

Here’s another of those it sounds good but please don’t make it compulsory for all schools ideas.  This time, it’s about children teaching other children lots of different languages.

Monday March 31 2008

"Are schools being inspected to death?” I saw that title on the right, while reading this implausible piece, and thought, hm, another piece about too many inspections and not much improvement.  Worth a look.  I never expected it to be about an actual death:


The death of Irene Hogg was, in the normal run of things, a very local tragedy. The popular and apparently devoted head teacher of a small rural primary school was found dead in a remote area, in an apparent act of suicide. The shock resonated within the families of her 81 pupils; flowers were left at the school and her local authority chief spoke of losing one of his most experienced and valuable staff. “The word ‘love’ keeps coming though,” he said. “She was so highly regarded.”

More condolences here.

And there, frankly, the story would usually have ended. The passing of a 54-year-old unmarried woman - a dedicated professional who lived for her job and a round of golf at the weekend - could easily be put down at the door of secret sadness, hidden depression: the myriad private disappointments and inner conflicts that can overcome people at a certain point in their lives. Very sad, of course, but none of our business, and of no larger significance.

But the ripples from Irene Hogg’s death, which would ordinarily have stopped at the borders of her community, have spread. Because in the week preceding her death, two school inspectors came to visit for five days. The head had spent weeks beforehand in preparation, ensuring the school, which she had run for ten years, was at its best. It seems her best was not enough. At the end of their visit, the inspectors told her verbally of their criticisms. No one knows officially what they are, for the report on the school, in the Scottish Borders, will not be published until June.

I wouldn’t like to be writing that report now.

A friend, however, has claimed that the criticisms were “silly”. They are believed to include that a wooded area at the back of the school was not used (when locals knew it was contaminated by dog dirt); and that Ms Hogg was to be reported to the council for not filling in a complaint form. Ms Hogg was apparently angered and “very disillusioned” by what was said to her, and she failed to reappear after the Easter weekend. Her body was found the next night in a lonely part of the hills.

At Kings Cross Supplementary we are constantly inspected, by the parents.  You can see them looking around when they arrive, at the beginning to deliver their progeny, and at the end to collect them.  They listen carefully to what we say about whatever progress we are able to report, and no doubt compare it equally carefully with what the teachers at their regular schools are saying, and with what the children themselves say about it all.

If their conclusions about us are negative, they can cease paying for the service, and cease receiving it.  This means that if there is bad news about KCS, it will come in a trickle, and none of us teachers will be so discouraged that we will contemplate suicide.  If, on the other hand, they decide that their regular schools are not up to their mark, whatever that may be, their only recourse is to purchase help, from the likes of us.

If the parents are satisfied with our efforts, no second guessing inspectors have the power to make us miserable, or if they have I have not been told about it.  “OFSTED” is not a word I have heard mentioned in all my times at KCS.

Tuesday January 15 2008

At the Supplementary School I now teach at one evening a week, I have mostly been doing one-to-one teaching.  But last Saturday, at that training session I attended, I got a chance to talk with the two main teachers at my school, without there being children present to whom they needed to attend.  And it turned out that they were a bit bothered about me doing only one-to-one teaching, because this has the effect of individual children being lead off in different directions and then maybe losing touch with the flock, so to speak.  With one Small Boy in particular, one-to-one is best, because he is way behind the rest, but my colleagues feel that if a child can make reasonable sense of what’s being taught in the big class, that’s where the child ought to be.  And my best way of helping would be to be a classroom assistant.  Fine by me.  I just want to assist and to learn.

So, this evening, back for the new year, I spent the first half of the evening with Small Boy, who does need special attention, and I duly did my best.  But, I spent the second half assisting Mr Vora with his maths class.  I helped individual children either because they were struggling or because they were not struggling and needed further related tasks to keep them usefully occupied.  And generally, I tried to make myself useful.  I’m no great shakes as a maths teacher, but maths, at the level being taught here, I can do.

Off on my own, my basic problems have been: what do they want me to do?  And: how well am I doing it?  By being Mr Vora’s classroom assistant, I got to see him in action, and he got to see me in action.  I could see what he was trying to teach, and could help with that.  He got to see me at work, and could tell me afterwards what was most helpful.  He seemed content.

I also got a clearer idea than hitherto of what I need to be teaching Small Boy.

The usual arguments about how to organise teaching rather assume that the only question is: what teaches the pupils best?  But there is another question worth asking: what teaches the teachers best?

Monday January 14 2008

I like to Vista bash everywhere else I write, but I wasn’t expecting to be doing it here.  But read this:

A year of lobbying from the men in black has failed to move the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) away from its early decision to kick Microsoft Vista and Office 2007 out of schools.

The agency kicked up a right stink when it said, in its interim report, that schools should not touch Vista of [or? - BM] Office 2007 with with a barge poll.

Now in the agency’s final report, which can be found here, it seems that Becta has decided to stick to its guns.

Becta says that deploying Vista in current setups isn’t worth the cash. Only 22 per cent of school PCs in the UK are capable of running Vista “effectively.” This is despite the fact that 66 per cent of machines fall under the under Microsoft’s definition of “Vista capable.”

Becta claims that it will cost each primary school £125 to upgrade a PC and £75 for secondary schools. Costs will therefore run to £175 million to upgrade schools in England and Wales and Becta said that there was no evidence to support the argument that the costs of upgrading to Vista in educational establishments would be offset by appropriate benefits.

Provide it sticks to making recommendations and refrains from giving orders, setting targets, etc., then BECTA (which I’d never heard of until now) actually sounds like a moderately intelligent way to waste public money, compared to a lot of the government’s educational activities.

As for Vista, it seems uniquely ill-suited to being used effectively by young people, especially very young ones.  It is apparently horribly large, and slow, and it won’t work on the kind of small, cheap, mobile computers that are now being announced, and which a lot of families will surely soon be getting for their kids.

Saturday January 05 2008

Snapped today, as I wandered about London SW1:


It’s above this.

Michael Gove, the Conservative opposition spokesman on education, is getting acres of space in the newspapers these days.  It seems to have been decided by whoever decides these things that he is to be the next Education Minister.  He gets to say his thing:


Michael Gove, the Tory shadow schools secretary, said: “It is still the case that performance in the core subjects is not improving at anything like the pace it should be. If you look at international comparisons, England is still lagging far behind.”

This week, ministers admitted that schools were failing to narrow the gap between children from rich and poor backgrounds - particularly among white teenagers. Those eligible for free school meals lag far behind their classmates, with 28 percentage points fewer gaining five good GCSEs.

And then the government reacts with its usual bromides about how things are getting better, but that the government is making things even better than that.

Gove (that’s him on the right) looks like the school swot, doesn’t he?

Sunday December 30 2007

According to this, I’m wrong about those laptops for poor people with green sticking up bits, which are doing very well in Peru:

Doubts about whether poor, rural children really can benefit from quirky little computers evaporate as quickly as the morning dew in this hilltop Andean village, where 50 primary school children got machines from the One Laptop Per Child project six months ago.

A group of children have breakfast at a public dining room reading information on their laptop in Peru.

These offspring of peasant families whose monthly earnings rarely exceed the cost of one of the $188 laptops - people who can ill afford pencil and paper much less books - can’t get enough of their “XO” laptops.

At breakfast, they’re already powering up the combination library/videocam/audio recorder/music maker/drawing kits.

At night, they’re dozing off in front of them - if they’ve managed to keep older siblings from waylaying the coveted machines.

I hope (a) that this is true, and (b) that the excitement lasts.

If it is and if it does, then what we may be witnessing here is the coming together of high technology and people who, if they don’t work hard, get educated, etc., will live lives of grinding poverty and who all know this.

My doubts about computers in education are the result of watching what happens when they are thrown at relatively unmotivated children here in Britain, where I think they make rather little difference.  It would appear to be different among seriously poor people, or at any rate among some of them.  Motivation is everything, with computers.

I will remain alert for more news about such schemes.  Meanwhile, thanks to Adriana for the link.

Tuesday December 11 2007