Saturday, 30 April 2016

How much should they write?

Recently, our Year 8s sat an exam and it was a big disaster. And I mean big. We decided to use one of the suggested exam papers from AQA: students had to write a creative response to a picture. We were expecting students to write a nice little story about the picture, but no: at least, 50% of the year group decided they needed to analyse the picture. Students decided to explore each nuance of the picture. The colour suggests that it is… The gesture on his face implies that… The whole experience was embarrassing to mark and watch unfold. Half of the year group got it and the other half didn’t.

Like all teachers, I started searching for the problem and I revisited one thing I have had on my mind for a long time: how we teach students to write in secondary schools. Previously, our Year 8 students had been studying Macbeth, so they were obsessed with analysing all the time. Therefore, they felt that was what the exam was asking them to do. After all, this is what their teachers had been concentrating on in lessons.

Personally, I think there are two problems with writing in schools and I know that they are common to most, if not all schools.
Problem 1: We don’t make students write a lot in schools.
I made my daughter copy out some spellings this week and I had to laugh as they did the typical ‘shaking hand after writing’. According to them, they had clearly written too much. There are several things that stops teachers from making students write pages and pages. I feel there are two things affecting how students write: marking; and engagement. There is an unwritten assumption that if a student writes something, then a teacher must mark it. Based on that logic, it would be in the teacher’s best interest if they get students to write less often, then they would have less to mark and be able to cope with the demands of teaching  Wow, the marking in the book is great, but hang on there’s only two detailed pieces of writing here for the whole year.

Engagement has always been a stick to beat a teacher with. How many teachers in the past have avoided prolonged moments of writing because they were being observed? Even this week with Year 11s, I was about to apologise to students for making them do another practice question. I stopped myself and thought: no, they need it. There seems to be a lot of guilt over making students write and write for long periods. I’m sorry about this, but you are going to write. I’ll make it up to you next lesson when we can do something different. We have been conditioned to feel that getting students to write for long periods is bad teaching, when in reality it is good teaching. All the flashcards in the world are not going to improve a student’s performance if they can’t write at length for long periods.

The drawback of this fear of writing is that too much emphasis is placed on end of unit assessments. We are becoming slowly aware that some students selectively crank up the effort when it matters. Students will float through work lesson by lesson with a pinch of effort, but when we introduce the idea of assessment, students transform and work their hardest ever. Persistent hard work is much better than sporadic work, but am I part of the problem? Do I place too much emphasis on the assessments and not enough emphasis on the writing before the assessment?

I fear that our relationship with writing in schools makes it, either a thing to be feared, or a thing to be simplified. The more a student writes, the better the student’s writing will be. Therefore, we need more writing, fewer worksheets, and fewer tasks that replicate writing. Pen meet paper. Write.

Problem 2: How we teach writing
I have a lot of beef with how we structure the teaching of writing. We have reduced the writing process to blocks of understanding. And, there, for me, lies the problem. We have made the process of writing reductive. At the core of most English curriculums is a unit aimed at specific type of writing. It might be a unit on persuasive writing, or gothic writing. I should imagine that these topics will last weeks and will kill the enjoyment of writing. There might be some interesting texts chosen by the teacher, but I think the idea of teaching writing like this is so constricting and restricting the process of writing.

If I am honest, if I spent five weeks looking at persuasive writing and what other persuasive writers have done, the last thing I will want to do is write a piece of persuasive writing. I’d write anything but that. We treat teaching writing like the way we teach novels. We have an end point and the teacher feels duty bound to teaching everything about the genre of writing and then some.

Primary schools do a good job of teaching the genres. Students come to secondary schools able to adapt writing to a particular form. They might miss out on the subtleties of the form, but a five week unit will only serve to compartmentalise writing. Secondary school writing should focus on exploring different forms and exploring how students can copy and use of the grammatical structures and features of these types of writing.

Our insistence of text types and genre teaching has narrowed a curriculum that should be exploratory and diverse. Instead of teaching students about writing to advise, they should be just reading texts and attempting to recreate or make their own versions. Look at how we teach poetry to students. We tend to drop a poem into a lesson every so often. If I am at a loose end, I will dig out a poem. But, we never do this with non-fiction. Instead, we have a big song and dance about a topic on non-fiction and then kill enjoyment off with five weeks of studying it. I read non-fiction for pleasure, but only in short bursts. I read novels in longer bursts.

I want students to be good writers and I feel that the way we have taught writing has hindered this in the past. I always bemoan the lack of creativity from students when writing non-fiction, but I can’t blame them when we teach non-fiction writing in the most uncreative way possible. A student needs to read hundreds of different voices with a hundred different ways to structure a text and with a hundred different techniques and approaches to engage the reader. They will only experience that if they see different texts on a regular basis and not just a ten for a five week unit of work.

My attempt at resolving the problems:
Problem 1: We don’t make students write a lot in schools.

I have stopped making students stick things in books. I have stepped away from the photocopier and I am changing how I get students to do things. I want to place more emphasis on them writing. They are writing more than they have before and it shows in their books.

I started this several months with a class and they constantly write in lessons. They copy things out or write detailed pieces. In fact, every Friday they have a writing task, which is in addition to the normal topic. They have to write for thirty plus minutes on an aspect and they just write. They know they can’t ask me questions. They have a few pointers, but they have to write. At the end, they share mark each other’s work. If we have time, I read a few out and we comment on the effectiveness of each piece. One week they write a description. Another week a piece of non-fiction.

It surprised me how much they enjoyed the writing. But, what even surprised me even more was how creative their responses were. Spontaneous writing created effective writing. It allowed them to write without any constraints. Plus, it didn’t take me too long for me to spot problems and iron them out. More importantly, I was getting students to be independent writers, and they enjoyed it. I have yet to have a single moan. They like it.   

I want more writing in a week and I want it to be clear that the writing is work and thinking through ideas and concepts. I want students to see that writing is lessons is about providing food for the marking machine called a teacher. It is there to make them think, breathe and develop as writers.

Problem 2: How we teach writing
I am re-evaluating the units of work for next year, so that the writing skills are across units or in short chunks. I am saying good bye to the long topics on writing and building the writing across terms so that the skills are revisited often, but the duration of them is short.

In addition to this, my plan is to build up my bank of non-fiction texts. Non-fiction writing will be inspired by particular texts rather than genres. One text or a pair of texts will be the starting point for writing and we will avoid the death by non-fiction anthologies favoured by so many. We will explore and analyse a text and then write. Their text might be a reaction to the original one or an attempt to write a similar one on a different topic. But, what I am sure of, is that they will have lots of practice.

Finally, over the year students will have written a number of non-fiction texts, then at the end of the year I am going to get students to select their best. That one will be redrafted and submitted as their assessment for the year. Hopefully, over the year we will see a range of texts, styles and approaches.   

One thing I am determined to do: make students work harder than teachers. For too long, teachers have worked harder than students. I am determined to make students work hard and harder. To do that, I think they need to write more in lessons. Their books should show crafting and drafting.

I need to stop writing now as my hands hurt.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, 24 April 2016

Purple Praise: a spoon full of sugar helps the marking go down

A couple of months ago a new student in a year called me over to his desk. I had recently marked a piece of work. He said, ‘Where’s the nice comment?’ I looked at him dumbfound. He expected all marking to have something positive said about it. Does all marking have to start with a positive comment? Or does marking need an emphasis on positive praise?

When I take my car in for a service and MOT, I get a sheet of paper with some details about the car. It tells me lots of stuff about how the car and what I need to do as the owner. But, I don’t get anything personal written down on the sheet from the garage. We love your collection of CDs. We like the sticker in the back window. We are impressed with your collection of sunglasses. Nor, do I get something personal about the car. We love how the car turns corners. We love how pretty the tires are. The process is purely functional as the car needs to pass a series of safety tests. Never do I leave a garage feeling that the experience wasn’t personal enough. Never do I leave a garage feeling unmotivated and let down. I might be depressed with the amount of money I end up paying, but I never feel let down by a lack of niceness about the experience.

There is an unwritten rule about marking. I think it was Mary Poppins who started it off. We think, no feel, that we should be saying something positive about all pieces of work. We spend a lot of it comforting egos.  We have structures for doing this ‘WWW’(What Went Well) or ‘two stars and a wish’. The emphasis is always on the positive. And, if I am honest, I have written some absolute drivel in the past for the sake of positivity. If you want to see empty, bland, beige writing, pick up any exercise book in secondary schools. The first comment written by the teacher will be bland McBlandy bland face. Good use of …. Good, you have…  Well done for …  It is all bland.

I too have sat with a piece of work staring at me, thinking what I could say about the work. And, I have spent hours doing that. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. I never got the ‘Magic Eye’ pictures in the 1990s, but marking can be akin to them sometimes, staring at something and hoping that something will pop out. When you have spent ten minutes searching for a piece of positivity, you then have to find another one as the school you work for enforces that all feedback includes two positive comments.

A few years ago I stopped being so personal, or at least I limited what I wrote in exercise books. I stopped searching for the really positive things to say when a student had completed what was expected of them. I only focused on what they needed to work on and improve. I stopped massaging egos and saved myself time and sanity. I also gave myself more time to well mark some more.  

Of course, there is a complex relationship between work, rewards and feedback. If there are no rewards, then a student will be disaffected. But, what if doing the work was enough of a reward? What if students felt the satisfaction of doing work? Not the excitement lottery of what their work will be praised for. It is all leading to the same point, but I think our ‘purple praise’ has taken away the emphasis on the work. We have created a dialogue between the teacher and student, but it is a needy, unreliable, conditional and unwieldy dialogue. A student will only work if they get praised for it. Sir, you never say anything positive about my work.

I don’t get praised for the way I work, but I work really hard. I am conditioned to work hard regardless of who has or hasn’t praised me. I get satisfaction from seeing the work done and completed.

When I see people marking all weekend, I think about this ‘purple praise’. Do the students only work if they are given praise? Does it take them so long for them to mark because of the insistence on praising students personally?  

Marking is about love (according to various people). By marking a piece of work, it shows that you care about that student and that you have read the work. But, what if we have created a bizarre relationship by doing that? A relationship built on ‘need’ and not a mutual co-existence. The teacher’s role is purely to fulfil the needs of a student. I have had relationships with people built on need. I had to praise and flatter the person all the time, but they didn’t give a hoot about me. Maybe that is what we are doing with marking, building a dependency and a need. Interesting, that we have teachers across the land focusing on ‘grit’ and ‘resilience’ in the classroom. Maybe our marking is the exact cause of this indirectly. Our students aren’t gritty enough because we are praising them for everything they do. Our students aren’t resilient enough because they are seeing everything in a positive way with ‘positive praise’.        

The reward for work should be the satisfaction gained from completing the work. The reward should not be a comment from a demigod teacher. As a student, myself, there was nothing better than the reward of seeing several pages written for an essay. The smug, pleased satisfaction was addictive and led me to university. Primary school is about training students to work, and there, praise is needed. Secondary school is about students working on their own with less praise and becoming independent. Independence is about a ‘praiseless’ context. Our praise-led curriculums in secondary schools stop independence.   

Before people go all mad and throw their peppermint tea at me for being cruel, hurtful about a child’s feelings. Listen: if we stop the purple praise, you stop the negativity. Let’s just get them doing the work. I tell students what they need to improve on. That for me is the most important thing. It’s what I do to school for. Making them better. If I do want to praise, I do it verbally and personally.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, 17 April 2016

The One about Structure - Part 2 SPOILERS!

Warning: This blog contains spoilers for ‘The Walking Dead’.

Writers lie, steal, trick and surprise you. If there is one thing, my many years of reading has taught me is this little sentence. Over the last decade I feel that the way television programmes have been structured to reflect the novel’s approach to narrative. And, at the heart of a novel’s journey is the little, evil writing deciding when to lie or trick or surprise the reader with his or her tiny little puppeteer hands. They pull the strings.

Look at the programmes popular today, ‘The Walking Dead’, ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Broadchurch’ and ‘Happy Valley’. Yes, they have some interesting things about them, but what is more interesting is the structure of such shows. They playfully exploit the structure of their narratives. Several years ago I switched off television because the shows became so formulaic. A glut of American shows followed such a rigid formula. Take ‘C.S.I.’. It had a structure. A crime has been committed. The crime is investigated. The crime is resolved. Times that by twenty and you have one season of the show. Move the setting to a sunny place and you can make more of the show and just give it another name. The problem, if we are honest, is that the crime drama is easy, safe and ‘comfortable’ as a formula. Things can be wrapped up and solved quickly and you only need to retain the main investigator’s name for the next show. There is no intellectual baggage. The actors draw people in and the routine and familiarity keeps people coming back for more.

Shows after a while realised that audiences sometimes dropped off. So, ‘plot-arcs’ were introduced. A mystery was threaded across the series and you had to watch to resolve the mystery. Then, in the finale, the mystery would be resolved and then a writer would hint another mystery. For me, television shows are waking up to formula apathy. I stopped watching medical dramas when I met the third young rookie doctor who knew best and my fourth kind-hearted nurse with a problem at home. Look at some of the dramas mentioned above:

The Walking Dead / Game of Thrones – The story doesn’t follow our moral expectations. Characters good, and bad, die in the most horrible way. There’s no Eastender’s moral justice.  Any character can be suddenly taken away, eaten alive or die a long, drawn out, Dickensian death. You know the characters have all got a chance of being food for the zombie-eyed worms. You just don’t know when or how.    

 Broadchurch / Happy Valley – The story is the subplot and the character’s feelings is the main plot. We watch how these people deal and react to events. We know, in part, what is going to happen. We place ourselves into the drama. 

So why am I talking about television when I looking at Q3 of the new GCSE English Language GCSE?  Well, for one, I think our students are far savvier about structure than we like to think. We just don’t make it explicit it enough. They are consumers of stories daily, yet that consumption isn’t analysed and discussed, and I think it needs to be. I also think structure is neglected in the classroom, because we have so few resources. But, and that’s a large but, students know vast amounts about structure already – they have absorbed it. Take the following plot point:

A character in a story is the happiest they have ever been and they have just married the man of their dreams. 

Ask a student what happens next and you’ll see. They know and, importantly, they know why this happens in drama. Now you could spend a few lessons teaching students about Fortuna or Dame Fortune, or you could look at the text closer. I have changed my view of text structure considerably over the last few terms, and I haven’t gone on to make students learn obscure terminology, because, I don’t think it is needed – look at the AQA examples.

I have found that short films are particularly helpful when getting students in the structure mood. I particularly like a short film called ‘A man afraid of falling’. I spent quite a bit of time getting students to summarise what the focus is on. Sometimes, I used single paragraphs to do this. The following is from H.G. Wells’ ‘The War of the World’. 

  1. The end of the cylinder was being screwed out from within.
  2. Nearly two feet of shining screw projected.
  3. Somebody blundered against me, and I narrowly missed being pitched onto the top of the screw.
  4. I turned, and as I did so the screw must have come out, for the lid of the cylinder fell upon the gravel with a ringing concussion.
  5. I stuck my elbow into the person behind me, and turned my head towards the Thing again.
  6. For a moment that circular cavity seemed perfectly black.
  7. I had the sunset in my eyes.

Turn them into one or two word summaries:

1.       Cylinder

2.       Screw

3.       Knocked

4.       Screw drops

5.       Elbowed

6.       Hole

7.       Blinded 

The great thing of doing it like this is it simplified things, but it helped to engage with the content of the text. Students noticed it:

·         Keeps referring to the screw

·         Zooming in – getting closer to the creature

·         Repeats physical action

·         Keeps referring to the vision getting blocked

Once we had explored this, we able to explore the effect of these particular choices of focus.

Why does the writer keep referring to the screw?

Why does the writer describe the cylinder first and then zoom in on the hole?

Why does the writer repeat the physical action?

Why does the writer keep making the narrator’s vision blocked?

Now, there is a problem with this aspect, because there are simply two parts to the effect thing. One part is the meaning. The other is the drama. Often these, I think, are fudged together as the effect and marked as one and the same thing. 

Why does the writer keep referring to the screw?

M: Shows the narrator’s obsession and concentration on what inside the cylinder

D: Heightens the tension as the screw is moving by an unseen figure. The use of the screw reflects that there is something inside, but the focus on a screw hides any clues about the figure identity.  

Why does the writer describe the cylinder first and then zoom in on the hole?

M: Shows the movement of narrator – they are gazing in to the machine

D:  Creates a sense of size and gravity of the situation. All the characters are looking at the cylinder, yet all they are focused on is a simple screw.

Why does the writer repeat the physical action?

M: Shows the how the other people watching the events are keen to see what is inside.

D: Takes the reader’s focus away from the main event. We want to see what is inside, but other events are taking place that distract the narrator and the reader.

Why does the writer keep making the narrator’s vision blocked?

M: Shows the narrator’s impatience at what is happening.

D: Makes the reader experience things like the narrator and builds up the tension. We are awaiting the reveal, but the writer keeps pulling back from the reveal. When we expect to see something, something gets in the way.

This might look like this:

       The opening two sentences focus on the cylinder, because all the people’s attention, including our narrator’s, is focused on the cylinder. The repetition of ‘screw’ four times in the opening paragraph gives a sense of the obsession these people have, which might be as a result of their fear for their lives, or just curiosity. The two sentences closely followed one after the other shows how there is nothing else they are bothered about.

       The writer toys with the reader’s and the narrator’s emotions. Both want to find out what is inside. Yet, the writer misdirects the reader. After obsessing about the screw, the narrator is ‘blundered against’ and turns away breaking his attention away from the discovery. Then, to make things worse, after the screw has been removed, the narrator can’t quite see because the sun is in his eyes. Vision is important here as the reader wants to see the creature but the writer is constantly blocking his sight to hinder his view of thing. This creates an overwhelming sense of frustration and holding back of key information.   

       The length of the sentences reflects the sense of pace of things. The sentences get progressively longer as the anticipation builds. This reflects the narrator as he is metaphorically holding his breath, waiting for something to happen. Again the writer, fools us with one sentence at the end, which most writers would use to create drama and describe a dramatic event like a hand poking out. Instead the writer describes: ‘I had the sunset in my eyes’. This is an anti-climax as all the previous sentences have built up to a reveal and the writer fails to deliver that and subsequent tension is deflated.

When planning for teaching this aspect, I went through lots of stuff and some of it was provided by AQA. What has alarmed me is the incessant focus on narrative perspective. It, I think, is dangerous when talking about structure. It takes a sophisticated reader to comment effectively on narrative perspective directly. It is told from a first-person perspective to make us experience things ourselves and it…. Umm… errr. Did I say the extract uses a first-person perspective? Recently, I sat through some training on the exam paper and the person leading the session informed us that ‘a sentence’ is appropriate technical terminology for describing structure. Therefore, students talking about the first and last sentence would qualify for using technical terminology.   There has been, however, a lot of frustration over the terminology aspect. We have finally had a list, but I don’t find it especially helpful for teaching structure.

I feel that maybe students understanding before they look at techniques that writers shape a story and that they lie, steal, trick and surprise you. The recent finale to ‘The Walking Dead’ was brilliant, in my opinion. However, some were disappointed. Fans of the show knew that a new villain was due to appear in the story and this has been hinted at throughout the series. In the comics on which the shows is based on, the villain brutally murders a beloved character in sight of all the other characters. But the writers included the infamous scene, but they will devilishly cruel with how they presented it. We had the villain swinging a bat at each character. Then, we had the villain tell the characters that he is going to kill one of them. Then, he decides which one to kill by singing ‘eenie meenie miney mo’. The camera at this point switches through all the characters. We then get a shot of the villain taking aim to kill one of the people. Finally, we switch to the perspective of the person being killed, including blood pouring down the screen. Yes, someone was killed, but we didn’t find the identity. For me, I thought it was brilliant. We had been promised a death, but we were tricked. Some like me loved it; others hated it. But, it goes to show what writers do when they shape the narrative. That’s why I think we need to be looking at some of the following technical terms or ideas when exploring an extract:

















‘The Walking Dead’ built up the audience’s expectations through constant foreshadowing of the villains arrival. When we think the villain is going to kill someone the focus is vague and ambiguous to confuse the audience. They misdirect the focus on who is going to be killed. Then the perspective is changed, so just when we think we know who is going to die. It is again hidden from us. Therefore, the whole ending was a red-herring. We were promised a character was going to die in the episode. They did die, but we just couldn’t tell who it was.

 We must make students see that writers lie, steal, trick and surprise us. Importantly, we need to show students examples of writers doing this. ‘The War of the Worlds’ does just that. The rest of the extract I use ends with the narrator running away. After spending the whole extract getting closer and closer to the cylinder, the writer then ends the extract with him running away. Also, the writer tricks us by making two creatures appear instead of one. In fact, curse that H. G. Wells, that’s all he does is one trick after another. 

In my attempts to help students discuss structure effectively, I have used poetry. This poem by Imtiaz Dharker made a great starter for exploring structure.

The skin cracks like a pod.

There never is enough water.

Imagine the drip of it,

the small splash, echo

in a tin mug,

the voice of a kindly god.

Sometimes, the sudden rush

of fortune. The municipal pipe bursts,

silver crashes to the ground

and the flow has found

a roar of tongues.

From the huts,

a congregation: every man woman

child for streets around

butts in, with pots,

brass, copper, aluminium,

plastic buckets,

frantic hands,

and naked children

screaming in the liquid sun,

their highlights polished to perfection,

flashing light,

as the blessing sings

 over their small bones.

I used the poem with a Year 8 class, but I moved away from your typical structure questions, instead I went for these questions instead.


       How do they introduce the setting?

       How do they introduce the characters?

       How do they introduce the history / background to the events?

       How do they introduce drama?


       Where does the writer trick us?

       What does the writer change perspective?

       How does the writer prepare us for the end of the poem?

As a class, we discussed the poem’s structure at length for a whole lesson. Below are some of their points:

·         Starts and ends with skin

·         Given how much important water is, it is never really described in the poem

·         Keeps referring to parts of the body

·         People introduced through their pain

·         Follows a structure of skin, sound, skin, sound or sound, physical action, sound, physical action

·         Moves from pain, sadness, lack of life  to freedom, joy and life

·         The water is the key point of drama and separates two parts of the poem

When describing the poem, we could now introduce terms, although not overly complex, like reversal and juxtaposition. The drip in the second stanza could foreshadow the rush of water later on. In a way, I think we have to be more attuned to structure. Before, I always focused on the opening, ending and the order of things. I think we have to be more precise with how and when things takes place. We need to get our hands dirty and look at things precisely. Poetry I think is great for preparing students for looking at structure. One stanza can be packed with loads of structural choices. I also found the following helpful for students:

What is happening across the text?

moving towards vs moving away

inside vs outside

constant vs varied

decreasing vs increasing 

moving vs not moving

speech vs silence  

action vs description

1st person vs 3rd person

emotions vs emotionless

To reflect back on the opening sentence, ‘this blog contains spoilers’. This foreshadows a secret later. I then digress and avoid talking about the main purpose of the blog by talking about television.

I am sure I will have some more thoughts on the question later in the year. A big thank you to Mark Roberts and @MrRDenham for their recent offerings on this particular question.

Thanks from reading,


Saturday, 2 April 2016

Have a nice day in the High-Rise tower, but remember the lifts are broken

This week I popped into a shop at the ungodly hour of five o’clock. After purchasing some goods and parting with my hard-earned money, the young shop assistant wished me a good day. In fact, their exact words were, ‘Enjoy the rest of the day.’ Now, it was very nice, but sadly it was echoed by the other young shop assistant next to him to an elderly lady, who looked like it could be her last day and so maybe it was more important for her to enjoy this last day. Please do, old lady, enjoy the day; you have certainly earned it. These platitudes, we are exposed to daily, weekly and monthly, are the glossy coating on society’s problems. They sound nice, but they are without meaning, value or heart. The young person didn’t care about me personally. He was programmed to say it. Therefore, he didn’t see the gap in the logic of his comment. There were very few hours left to enjoy in the day. For all he knew, I might have passed out within thirty minutes of leaving the shop.

It just so happens I am currently in a reflective mood after reading J.G. Ballard’s ‘High-Rise’: a dystopian take on modern society and how it is slowly, or quickly, breaking down told through events in one single block of flats. The different classes are living on different levels and are slowly alienating themselves from each other. Mankind is reduced to savagery and animalistic behaviour, when the trappings of civilisation are removed. From the outside, things look fine, but underneath the surface things are broken. People still go to work, even though inside the flats chaos runs. While reading the book, I was reminded of the current education system and Nicky Morgan’s recent speech. A speech that seemed as well-meaning as the young shop assistant wishing me a good day. It was, in my opinion, empty, hollow and without passion. I think somebody could do with one of my lessons on pathos.

I am not an openly political person and I will not openly share my political persuasions. Plus, red is never a good look for a blond. But, the current issues in education are making me angry. I didn’t raise my head up from the parapet for the phonic debate, but the privatisation of the education system is one I feel strongly about. Did I say privatisation? I mean academisation of the education system.

To those not in education, education looks like the outside of the High-Rise tower. Things look fine. The lights are on and people are going to and from school. Inside, however, the lifts are broken; people can’t move freely. There is rubbish in the corridors and people live in fear. The swimming pool is broken and it is full of corpses. Even the classroom has been looted and the tables and chairs have been used to build fires. I am being all metaphorical at this point – I need to mention this before somebody reads this as the reality of schools. We have been politically manoeuvred in a way so that the only way to survive is through becoming an academy. If the lifts are broken, you have to find a way to survive.  

My grandmother was employed by National Rail. I remember as a child sitting on trains and the pleasant experience it was. As an adult, I am repulsed by some of the experiences I have had on some trains. I have squeezed myself against a door as people struggle to get a seat. Nobody offers seats up for the needy. Isn’t privatisation great? Through family connections, I have seen parts of the NHS and the armed forces privatised and none of it has improved things. Prices have increased. Jobs have been lost. Efficiency has not improved. To see this happen to education is the saddest of all things. We all know what happened with ‘Group 4’.
If I felt that changes were made with all children’s best interests in mind, then I’d be happy. But, I fear they are not. LEAs are being worn away so that schools have to source their own services or materials. But, of course, there isn’t the money. In ‘High-Rise’ people go in search of things to eat and that ultimately ends up with people eating dogs. In schools, people are having to find solutions that cost little or no money, because there isn’t enough money as a result of squeezes on budgets. Added to this the new GCSEs need new texts and new textbooks. More costs enforced by the government and their changes. We have even had people telling teachers to use textbooks – could that be because somebody will be able to make some money out of selling them?

Education is becoming a business. Choices will be, and are being, made based on costs and not on what is best for children. Both things have to be factored in sometimes, but I foresee a time when the dominating factor will always be cost. What will make us more money? I used to work in business and the unwritten rule was: keep costs down and make loads of profit. Apply that business rule to education and you increase class sizes and cut corners and look for ways to make money. Young inexperienced teachers will be selected over older experienced teachers. Cheaper alternatives will take precedent over all choices.

Schools are sold the lie that academies will give a greater level of flexibility. It might be partly true, but schools haven’t been in this situation before, so how can they make the right, informed choice? Yes, schools have choice, but they have the choice to get it wrong in so many ways. We have all been duped when buying something for the first time because we were not experts. Now imagine that on a large scale.

In ‘High-Rise’ there is one floor that most share. Floor ten has a shop, a swimming pool, hairdressers and other things in it. It is the one floor where all kinds of people can meet regardless of class. The sad truth is that a privatised education system will be that there will be no floor tens. It will make the distance even harder for people to raise themselves up. Schools will be more selective about who they will take. It is well-known amongst some of my friends about schools that actively put off SEN students from attending schools and that is where I foresee things going. Giving schools choice means some schools will focus on making choices that will favour them rather than the student.   

Privatisation of the education system looks nice in principle. A large dose of money to make that school look a bit pretty, but it doesn’t solve what is ultimately the main problem: a percentage of the population do not see the benefits, value, worth or purpose of education. Why do they need to work hard? What is the point of going to school? Getting young people and society engaged in education and improving should be at the heart of all education policies.

Actions are louder than words. Young people see that there are very few jobs. Young people can’t go to university because it will mean they have lots of debts. Young people cannot see the different paths to improvement. Young people cannot always see the benefits of working, because what are the benefits for them in modern society. Culturally, we have an issue with disaffected youth. They are born in a scary place and we are not, as a society, showing them the paths to success. Instead, they see the lift is broken and that it is too much effort to climb the stairs. All too often extremism is borne from a lack of hope and a sense of frustration.  Society needs to think about its actions. It doesn’t matter what some Cameron clone says to a few teachers about helping them stop marking so much. Society needs to show children that the lifts might be broken, but the steps will help them survive, succeed and prosper. We need to stop telling young people they are important and valued and we need to start showing them they are important.

Society needs to change. ‘High-Rise’ is a comment on the connections between people and how it is important that people feel a sense of connection in life. The new education white paper focused too much on the building and not enough on the people in it: the students. A lot of the advice, in my opinion, was fixing damage created by the government in its several forms. White paper meet my lighter. A building is a building. A school is a school. It is the connection the students and the teachers have to education that is important. That is the starting point for any improvements in education. What are the barriers to students learning? Certain contextual factors affect progress in secondary schools. We need to show students how to use the stairs and remove any rubbish blocking them. But, more importantly, they need to be shown this through our actions and not just through our words.  

Have a nice day.