"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6.8

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19

"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12

Friday, January 6, 2012

Attitude, brain-cells, willful ignorance, hormones and the wise men

Today is the feast of the Epiphany. With a sense of foreboding I looked at my timetable for today. Yup, I have "that lot".

"That lot" are a group inherited from a dear colleague who retired last year. She must have had the patience of a saint to have kept her hands off them because whenever I think of them I have murderous thoughts, but more of them anon.

Since we returned to the Knowledge College after the Christmas festivities I have been trying to inculcate some sense of personal responsibility in my various Yr 11 classes (16yr olds) following their recent mock exam for R.S. This has been something of a lost cause for a number of reasons.
* The kids who care work hard, do well and take advice.
* They are the minority.
* Revision is a chore. Why would you do it?
* "It's only R.S. Chill Sir, it doesn't matter."
* There seems to be a belief that R.S. will attract Divine intervention which obviates the need for doing any work.
* "I thought I'd just turn up and see how it went." is a common maxim.

Well I've marked the bloody things and I know how it went.


As it would if you didn't bother to do any preparation.

Of course I should know better because this is an annual trauma.

"But Sir, mocks don't count. No one revises for mocks. As if!"

I try with exaggerated calmness and patience to explain what mock exams are for. They are a diagnostic tool to enable teachers to see where the weak points are so that we can take some remedial action in time for the real exams. That only works if you do your bit and do your best.

They remain unmoved. Bryony is so concerned at her poor showing and its implications that she is showing her new black nail varnish to Aimee.

All week with my various classes I have been looking at the exam paper and the mark scheme provided by the Exam Board in an attempt to analyse where things went wrong (apart from a singular lack of effort) and how answers could be improved.

They sigh a lot.

How many of you went on to the virtual learning environment to look at past exam papers? This is very disingenuous of me. Many hand go up as they perjure themselves.

It's odd then that since the exam no one has been up to me to say, "Hey Sir, I recognised the paper immediately I looked at it what with it being on the VLE together with the mark scheme." Funny that. I thought at least one of you might have noticed.

Their defences begin to crumble and they start to look shifty. By the end of each lesson the vast majority have admitted to doing no revision. I ponder the reprographic costs, both financial and environmental, of the six page revision booklets I had printed for over 300 students.

I also ponder the consequences when my Senior Line Manager asks how I can account for so many students who have high target grades bombing in the exam. (The response about leading a horse to water and so forth cuts no ice.) Another senior colleague has informed us that we are "responsible for them getting their grades."

Which student shall I go home with tonight to ensure they sit over their computers working hard I wonder?

(There's a battle still to be had there and, believe me, I'm just in the mood to lead the charge.)

Yesterday there was a minor revolt in one class.

"If we all did so badly, it must be your fault." I'm told.

Charlotte looks distainful. "I didn't do badly. In fact I met my target grade. But then I worked hard."

Unbowed they persevere. "I was in Mrs. Singh's group last year and it was better."

Ah that'll be why you got exactly the same (bad) grade with her then.

"Yes, but if it's everyone it must be your fault." (I'm beginning to dislike Dan.)

"It isn't everyone." Charlotte intercedes mildly. (I knew I liked that girl.!)

So you don't make the link between a bad grade and not revising?

"No, but, right: we do too much writing." There is general assent.

Writing is one of the things we do in school. It's known as an educational tool for communicating thoughts and ideas and for recording information.

"But we do too much of it."

Dan, I'd have thought writing would have been right up your street what with it being a kinaesthetic activity and you being a rugby player. So you're telling me that you don't learn visually or kinaesthetically. You must be an auditory learner then. IT'S A SHAME YOU TALK ALL THE TIME IN CLASS THEN ISN'T IT?

Charlotte puts down her pen with exaggerated precision. "The problem with you Dan is that talk shit but you don't give a shit." Dan is stunned. Mere women don't talk to Dan like that, but then Charlotte isn't a mere woman: she's a future Prime Minister.

I look at Dan and point at Charlotte. What she said.

So, back to the group I inherited from Miss. They are a funny lot and they don't gell at all. In fact most of them seem to hate most of the rest of them and its hard keeping a grasp on the mercurial nature of the allegiences.

I start my speil on the imprtance of study and revision.

"Like I want to work in a church" Sometimes the stupidity burns. Josh sits there all butch and hormonal, full of bravdo and acne with one of those supercilious grins, rocking on the back two legs of his chair in expectation that his admirers might appreciate his wisdom.

Dear God, if you exist make him fall over backwards and bang some sense into his head. (For a moment I feel like Adam Smallbone from "Rev." during one of his melt downs.)

I say something arresting and confronting about the nature of stupidity. Josh is deeply affronted.

"It's not going to get me a job" offers George. I'm not sure I recognise George from the front. Most of the time all I see is the back of his head as he talks to the boys behind.

So which subject on its own will get you a job? I ask, all innocence.

"Well, maths and English."

That's two subjects.

"But you need them to get a job."

I didn't say otherwise. I asked which subject on its own would get you a job.

"But those are important. You need them."

Again, not disagreeing. Let's start again. You said R.S. wouldn't get you a job. That's true. But its true of ALL subjects in isolation. No subject will get you a job on its own.

The boys see where I am going but won't be seen to understand the point.

"But you need Maths, right?"

Yes, and if you go to a job interview with just GCSE Maths you won't get the job. The employer looks at the whole C.V. and its full range of subjects.

"Yes but R.S. won't get you a job." (I'm not sure why the film Groundhog Day flashes through my mind at this point.)

"Anyway, it can't be that important when its only one lesson a week. You get three lessons a week for History and hundreds for Maths." There is general assent. "Yeah, the school don't think its important." Out of the mouths of babies: I couldn't have put it better myself - and believe me I've tried. I don't think I will ever rise above the invidious and institutional inequality of time allocation for different subjects on the curriculum. When History, Geography and R.S. have the same recommended minimum time allocation as set out by the exam boards and History and Geography get more while fewer students take them to exam level, and R.S. gets less when all students take it, there is something deeply unjust and seriously wrong. I am told that there will be no more time allocation for R.S. but I must still achieve to the highest standards.

"But I did well in all my other subjects." This may be the first time I have ever heard Hayley speak. She prefers to spend the lessons stroking Adam's hand.

And did you revise for those other exams?


But not for this one?


There you go then.

Hayley looks perplexed as if she is struggling with one of the great existential questions of life. Then the eureka moment passes as something shiny grabs her attention.

"Anyway, my Dad left school at 15 with no qualification after spending all his time messing about."

Ah, its hereditary then Adam? Sarah smiles. It goes right over Adam's head. We spend a pointless few minutes discussing the legions of wasters who left school with nothing and rose to run multinational corporations. Does it not occur to you that for every one of those people there are thousands who don't make it and spend a life in relative poverty in a series of low-paid, low-status jobs or unemployed and you are in danger of joining them? I go to the board where I have have some statistics about unemployment amongst 16-25 yr olds displayed. One in five is out of work. Every school leaver is competing with school leavers from all over the place for a limited number of jobs. Who get's the job? If two candidates are equal in every other respect it will go to the one with the better qualifications. That's why ALL your GCSE subjects count and why you need to make the effort with all of them. You're just complacent if you think otherwise.

"Yes but R.S. won't get you a job."

Today is the day the three wise men appeared. What do I get? Josh, George, Bill and Adam, four boorish, brainless dolts.

There is a shout. Angeline has had enough. She is very red in the face and her voice is trembling. "Why can't you just admit that you're wrong? Why is it so hard to understand that in order to do well in life you need to make the most of school?"

"Who asked you? You can shut up!" Ah the voice of someone confident in his argument.

"Anyway, I've got a job."

Really Bill? Tell me.

"I'm going to be a waiter. I'll be getting £6.80 an hour at 16 and I don't need R.S."

Suddenly I feel very sad. And how much will you be earning at 26? 36? 46?


  1. I feel your pain. You see what a mockery modern educational theory (starting with that damned Rousseau!) has made of learning. When it comes down to the premise that teachers should do the learning, and earn the grades, instead of the students, then the jig is up: there can be no education at all in that case, it's a Carnival of Misrule.

    The problem is not you, my friend, it's the dick-headed people who run the school systems and universities, both here and there, as well as the mudbrained parents of this day and age who want their kids to have everything good in life without working for it. A pretty kettle of fish!

  2. You paint a disturbing picture of a total lack of institutional support in one of the most important subjects our young people can be taught. I marvel at your energy and your passion. Keep it up!

  3. I have been a member of a local SACRE for many years and I think it is fair to say that many Head Teachers and their timetablers in secondary education pay lip service to the provision of R.E.

    You talk about institutional inequality in the way that time is allocated to the subject. There can be no justification for a school to give some Humanities subjects more time on the curriculum than others when the exam boards advise the same minimum hours of study, and you rightly point out that more students take R.E. than History or Geography. R.E. is a booming subject in terms of uptake at both GCSE and A Level.

    However, until Mr. Gove sets a standard - don't hold your breath - individual Heads will not act and this is the injustice of the situation.

    What I fail to understand is why so many R.E. teachers meekly accept this discrimination.

  4. I'll tell you who the boorish dolts really are: its Michael Gove and his advisors who have no understanding of life in school and for whom the whole business is about political dogma and rhetoric.

    You are talking about real people and the effects that policy has on those people. "Anyway it can't be that important if its only one lesson a week" says it all about what politicians and Heads really think and it would be so easy to rectify. As Passing Priest said, you can not (educationally) justify giving a minority of pupils the lion's share of the time while depriving the majority of a fair time allocation for subjects that are supposed to have equal worth. If all three subjects you mention have the same recommendations from the exam board they should have the same time. QED.

    Your writings on life as an R.S. teacher should be compulsory reading for all those desk-jockeys and for those legions of secondary Heads who collude when it comes to marginalising R.S.

    In terms of the attitudes your students express it is interesting that the girls seem to be the ones on-side while the boys are not. It was ever thus. Boys don't like writing and can't do deferred gratification while girls understand the value of studying. That's a bit of a generalisation I know, but it is largely true. What I find disturbing (amongst much that you have written) is the lack of careers awareness expressed by your lads. How have they got to 16 and are only hearing it from you now?

    Ah, but Careers Guidance is now a website isn't it? You can now go through school without a face-to-face with an appropriately qualified objective adult.

  5. At least you're still allowed to teach to GCSE. At my place the Boss has cut that out completely.

  6. Ho Ho Ho. I have a n ice lesson on 'why do we have to do RE' and will happily send it to anyone.

  7. I think that's the agenda Hassan. I think we face managed decline until the subject can no longer be sustained. I think it is what Gove wants - he won't even consider R.E. as having equality with History and Geography for EBac, so what message does that give? - and most Heads would be pleased to see the back of it because its been starved of resources and adequate staffing for so long it's now an embarrassment to them. Did I also read that training numbers have been cut?

  8. Caroline is right. It's time to take a stand.