What's all this then?

I tweet too much. So I needed somewhere else to start storing all the words. This is it. Think of it as the external hard drive for my thoughts.

I don't have an obesssion, a dream, a fixation or a hook, so don't be expecting a focus here. It's like great big lumps of my twitterings. You may see teaching stuff, rants, maternal anxiety and occasional sojourns away from reality.

Anyway, I like a nice chat so we should talk. By we, I of course mean me...

Friday, 25 January 2013

The Great Lego Rip Off: what schools don't need.

If you've read Big Rant about Big Writing on here, then you know that I tend to get a teensy bit irate about people who come into schools and charge huge amounts of money for initiatives of dubious educational benefit. There is a simple reason for this:

It is wrong.

These are tough times for schools, and money is tighter than an inappropriate simile. However, teachers are a dedicated bunch, and we are mostly doing our damnedest to counteract Gove's tightly controlled academic agenda and keep learning fun for our children. There are lots of ways to keep learning creative and and engaging; from drama in the classroom, to outdoor learning, to historical re-enactment. My school has a large grassy hill which is perfect for recreating the Storming of the Bastille, for instance.

As teachers we feel pressure to keep learning novel and exciting. We sense the chilly shadow of OfStEd over our shoulder, and we constantly question whether we are good enough, doing enough, achieving enough.

Into this heady melting pot of stress and worry and expectation comes a Superhero... *dramatic pause*... WORKSHOP MAN! Or Woman. Or more usually, slightly iffy company.

Anyone in possession of a pigeon hole in school knows that by the end of a week it can be full to the brim with flyers: drama groups, art collections, science workshops, Owls. Yes, owls. Some of the companies touting their wares will be brilliant value and genuinely offer kids something their teachers can't, and leave memories that will last a lifetime. But the majority will not.  At best they will be a day that's slightly out of the ordinary and gives teachers a break.

All of them, however, will require money from the school. Money that is being stretched just to make sure there's enough staff. That leaves the option of asking parents for a "contribution", which is school speak for "we need the money".

And that's wrong too. Firstly because state education is meant to be free. Secondly, because no one wants to be the parent that says "no", whose kid can't go on the outing because Mum's too hard up. No-one wants the embarassment of being unable to pay. So they all pay up, for science theatres and year books and swimming and school photos and Owls. Yes, owls. Some companies are sneaky and offer the school things for free, like an assembly, but pass on costs to the parents who have to buy photos, or art work or Christmas cards. The list can seem endless when you're struggling with money. And it is not right.

To finish on a more abstract note, school's money is public money. We all pay for schools.

For all these reasons, there is a responsibility on companies who want to make money from schools to make sure they are offering something brilliant, be it a workshop, consultancy fees or training in the Next Magic Teaching Method. Make sure you have something that will really add to the children's time in school, will give teachers inspiration for years to come, and is a truly extra-ordinary learning experience. And if you can't do that, then go and make your money from somewhere else. Thank you.

(And what's rattled my cage? £12 so my kids could make a Lego house.)