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.)


  1. I've only just discovered your blog and am reading with huge interest and considerable appreciation! Thank you.

  2. Thank you for the kind words :)

  3. That is a fine post.

    I saw Ros Wilson yesterday on "Big Writing," just to observe. I was reminded of a medicine man/woman who peddled cure-alls that didn't really work. She did the hard sell and did it like a messianic preacher. The Head had brought her in to speak her message to a captive audience. As she generalised about boys and girls, and talked of her ex husband and I wondered about her sanity but not her greed.

    BTW I am thinking of becoming a "workshop man" myself. But I agree with you, that unless you can offer something extroardinary and of lasting value then one is a charlatan and a leech. As a matter of honour, I would not seek to tap precious resources from desparate schools or colleges. I agree that what one offers MUST be based on solid research. Too many teachers teach without knowing why or perhaps being reassured that they are doing the right thing, as there is a research to back their ideas.

    These private companies are sucking up precious resources from schools and colleges without adding any real or lasting value. They are ugly face of capitalism. The sooner we move towards a Finnish style of education policy the better. "Big Writing" should be called "Big Money" with a purple ball thrown in for tenner.

  4. Thank you. I'm sorry to hear about your BW indoctrination, I mean training, but your comments on it have made me laugh!

    Ben Goldacre had some interesting thought on teachers conducting and therefore owning educational research, and I'm right behind him. Here's a linky:


    Good luck on the road to becoming an ethically unquestionable workshopkeeper.

  5. Thank you for your comments, Bird.

    I'll see how it goes. I am near the end of my career. Last year I was asked to co-manage a literacy project in my College. Over the course of the year I discovered theories on Academic Literacy and Language and began experimenting with them in class. Some of the most influential academics in this field teach this to new teachers at Stanford University in California. Two leading teachers are Dr. Robin Scarcella and Dr. Jeff Zwiers. But there are a several others.

    Will this be "next big thing in education?" I don't know. But I do know that the academics and teachers who focus on teaching "The ELLS" (English Language Learners) are humane and not in it for the money. They know that all students can benefit from their ideas. They are multicultural educators, influenced by the theories of Lev Vygotsky and later sociocultural theorists.

    A few weeks ago, I recently gave a presentation on identifying Academic Language and how it differs from conversational English and the problems faced by students. Inbetween I raised the issue of second language learners as a growing issue in our schools and colleges. As you are aware many native speakers also find Academic Language to be a highly complex language to learn.

    All this is "literally" a world away from ranting in "The Ros Show."

    Are you aware that Ros angrily dismissed Michael Rosen as "a son of a vicar," who would therefore know very little about education? I sat there wondering whether I should intervene. Michael's father, Harold Rosen, was a highly respected educator. My partner told me afterwards that I should have challenged her, as there were many, young impressionable teachers present.

    One day, Bird, the UK education system will recover from those who have had much power to ruin it. I hope that when the dark cloud lifts young teachers in the profession today will reap the rewards of teaching, where their professional talents are valued not just by praise but through renumeration. Hopefull, all teachers, by then will be as aware of the theories behind their teaching as they are conscious of the practical skills to deliver it.

    Thanks, for the Goldacre link.

    Good luck, to you, too. You have a fine blog. I have not updated mine on English, Media and Film for some time. I realise from writing this that my writing skills have become rusty! Maybe I'll have time for that now.


OK, I've stopped talking, your turn...