As regular readers will know, we at Grumpy Old Sod are particularly fond of John Ray's websites. John is an Australian university professor who has taken on himself the enormous task of documenting certain facets of modern society with his many websites, which include
"Tongue Tied" - accounts of many attacks on free speech around the world
"Dissecting Leftism" - politics from a conservative standpoint
"Greenie Watch" - the dafter side of environmental issues
"PC Watch" which includes some quite horrendous stories of the effect unbridled political correctness is having on ordinary people's lives
and best of all, "Eye on Britain" which scans the British press every day for the most important and interesting stories. We find this particularly useful because it saves us having to read the damn newspapers ourselves.
So it goes against the grain, really, to point out that for once John has fallen down on the job and made a couple of comments that betray a certain ignorance of the real state of affairs in this country.
Last Friday he reported as follows
Education in England could soon become "Orwellian" under a regime of targets, testing, tables, inspections and observation, teachers' leaders warn. Julia Neal, president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said this was the likely outcome of over-measured, over-monitored schools. The focus is on tests and targets, not personalised learning, she told her union's annual conference in Torquay. Ms Neal imagined a sinister future with CCTV surveillance in every classroom.
Ms Neal - a history teacher in Torquay Grammar School for Girls - imagines the world in 2013, when children are tested on a rolling basis and take regular mock tests to make sure they are ready for the real ones. "Failure to demonstrate a year-on-year improvement in pass rates would be just too embarrassing," she says. The new Ministry of Trust puts so much faith in teachers' professional assessments of their pupils it deploys inspectors to visit schools, "just to help out". "Luckily for the inspectors, CCTV is now obligatory in schools so they can watch teachers in action at any time, without prior notice. "After all, inspectors are there to offer support, just like a family member, perhaps - just like a big brother."
teachers did not object to being observed teaching a class. But they wanted to have a professional dialogue about the process with a suitably qualified colleague - not "a malevolent observer" who might pick out one or two classroom interactions and draw a conclusion just from those. Excessive monitoring stifled creativity and the enjoyment of teaching and learning, Ms Neal said.
All right, Ms.Neal probably went a little over the top with her suggestion of an Orwellian degree of centralised control of schools. But there is no denying that schools these days are bedevilled and beset with unnecessary targets, testing, paperwork and government interference at every level. All teachers want is to be left alone to get on with the job, which is teaching stuff to children, without being interrupted every five minutes to be told how to do it or that they're doing it wrong, or to fill in a form to explain exactly how they're doing it, or to attend an appraisal meeting to see if they're doing it properly, or to test the class to see if they've learned it yet.
So it was rather galling to read John's headline "British education "Orwellian" say lazy teachers". You'd have thought someone of his intelligence and background would be the last to fall for the old "if you don't agree with me you must be malevolent or stupid" clichι. You know how it goes - "if you're not in favour of speed cameras you must be in favour of killing little children", or "if you don't think paedophiles should be publicly castrated you must be in favour of child abuse".
It's not lazy, John, to want to get on with your job. If anything, it's the opposite. And then you went on to say "They hate having their competence judged. They would not last 5 minutes in business". Spoken like a commercial traveller, John.
Anyone who has ever tried to (a) have a kitchen fitted by B&Q, (b) persuade a Peugeot main dealer that it's really not normal for black oily drops of water to come out the air-conditioning, (c) get Barclaycard to admit that they might have made a mistake, or (d) get any sense at all out of British Gas, will be able to imagine that a teacher as ineffective and muddle-headed as many people who hide behind their desks in business, wouldn't last five minutes in the classroom. Just how forgiving does John imagine a class of 14-year-olds to be?
Sadly, the very next day John moved a little further away from reality when he reported on schools' minister Jim Knight's Road to Damascus experience about class sizes
British politician glimpses the reality of class sizes
And teachers refuse to acknowledge what the evidence has long shown - that LARGER classes are fine
A schools minister was yesterday heckled by teachers after he backed larger class sizes and suggested that it could be "perfectly acceptable" to teach maths to pupils in classes of up to 70.
Jim Knight said he had seen a "perfectly acceptable" maths class in Telford of 70 pupils working well in a large room with three or four teaching assistants. "There was good learning going on," he said.
The GOS himself was a teacher once. He began his career in an East End secondary modern school, teaching a class of 49 14-year-olds. Only six or seven years older than the pupils, straight from college, with only a very perfunctory one-year training course behind him and no experience at all, it was a bloody miracle he got out alive, frankly. There certainly wasn't much "good learning" going on.
It is completely obvious to anyone with more than the one brain cell required of a government minister that the bigger the class, the less likely it will be that children will receive the individual attention they need, or that discipline will be satisfactorily maintained, or that either children or teacher will feel the lesson to be a useful and satisfying experience. A few outstanding teachers might manage it. A few outstanding head teachers might be able and prepared to deliver the extra classroom assistants to make it work.
But this is an imperfect world. Heads have limited budgets. The extra staff won't be forthcoming. And not all teachers are outstanding - most are competent, but that's not the same thing. You can't magically turn your entire workforce into outstanding and gifted teachers, however much you might want to and however co-operative they are. In business, every office has its share of slackers, of competent and conscientious plodders. If John thinks that isn't true, well he wouldn't last five minutes in business!
And as for his suggestion about "the evidence" - well, his link leads nowhere useful, and we suspect this evidence is rather like the evidence which "proves once and for all" that man-made Global Warming is about to fry us to a crisp. In other words, it ain't evidence at all, just a slanted and politically useful interpretation of a few statistics.
Sorry, John. You're a great bloke and you run great websites, and we hope you continue to do so for a long time. But your prejudice against school teachers is showing. "Some good work this term, but must do better if he is to achieve a satisfactory result in the examination "
either on this site or on the World Wide Web.
Copyright © 2008 The GOS
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