77 things you won’t hear a self-respecting teacher say

“So he started a fight in the lesson. Who cares? He’s on course for 5 A*-C including English and Maths”

“If this senior leader just used a bit less plain English and a few more acronyms, we’d all understand what she was on about a bit better”

“The lesson I just taught required improvement”

“Kids, these SATS will change your lives”

“I can’t wait for OFSTED to come in, it should be a helpful, informative and professional experience that will really help me to become a better teacher”

“I tell you what, it just gets easier every year”

“What these kids really need is to be ritually humiliated in front of each other for not understanding my subject”

“Apparently she’s having a nervous breakdown, but more importantly, she’s below target”

“My real priority this year is to make sure I meet my performance management targets”

“I can’t teach this interesting lesson. It doesn’t fit within the leadership’s strategic plans”

“I’ve realised that, when you work it out per hour, this job pays really well”

“I love the late nights marking, but if it weren’t for the early starts and weekends, I’d have left this job by now”

“I can’t work out who to vote for – I’m spoilt for choice”

“Analysing every individual child’s exam results after the event is an excellent use of time”

“I’m feeling really relaxed. I’ve got a rowdy year 9 class after lunch”

“No, I don’t need training in how to break up a fight – what I really need is another session telling me something I already know”

“These INSET days are always so useful”

“God, I really wish the school would hire more consultants and fewer teachers”

“I have no natural motivation to do this job well. What I really need is a cash incentive”

"I accept failure. I am the enemy of promise" (all links open in new window)

“It’s not remotely tempting to tell these parents that the data and targets we give their kids are absolute nonsense”

“I just have no idea how intelligent a kid is until a spreadsheet tells me so”

“This abusive and threatening behaviour is all my fault”

“Isn’t it great to see another initiative stand the test of time?”

“A top-down restructuring would sort all this out”

“Isn’t it wonderful to have an Executive Headteacher?”

“I spend far too much of my time brushing up on my subject knowledge”

“It’s been such a boring, stable decade”

“These changes have been brought in at a sensible pace and with due consideration for how long it realistically takes to implement them”

“I just feel so listened to”

“The source of the problem here is that we are not testing them at a young enough age”

“Observations are a very realistic reflection of the day-to-day reality of this job”

“I just love that warm, fuzzy feeling of getting one over on a colleague”

"Satisfactory is no longer satisfactory"

“Hopefully a business can take over this place and really sort it out”

“I’ve really been lazy here, I’ve only planned this lesson for one learning style”

“Nobody knew how to teach until a few years ago”

“I’ll only do something if it’s turned in to a SMART target for me to achieve”

“Right, listen up please, learners…”

“I just love the way we define children by their performance in a narrow set of disciplines”

“Supply teachers have it so easy”

“My student teacher is working 12 hour days and still feels like they’re failing. Best that I reinforce that impression”

"I didn’t join this profession to make the best use of my individual skills. I joined it to be a member of the blob"

“Anything worth having in life can be measured”

“I just love the way everything is so well planned when we come back in September”

“The IT systems here are second to none”

“We really need to outsource a few more services”

“I love the sense of professional autonomy I get given in this line of work”

“I wish our Head was a bit more focused on his own CV and less interested in the day-to-day realities his staff face”

“Why would we waste time teaching kids about the dangers of the online world when we have targets to meet?”

“He had a point. I was restricting his rights”

“So there’s a bit of violence in the corridors. Big deal”

“Spending an hour in front of a class of kids is very similar to spending an hour in front of a computer”

“I can’t wait to check my emails at the end of the day and see that I’ve only got one or two manageable tasks to do before I can go home”

“I really felt that some outstanding teaching and learning took place in my learning environment today”

“Yes, I’m so sorry, I did cause all the highly complex social problems which are disadvantaging your son”

“We really need a more complicated hierarchy at this place”

“It would serve no public good to pay me for the extra responsibilities I’ve taken on”

“You’re above target, so I’m now going to pay more attention to the other kids. You wouldn’t want me missing out on my pay rise, would you?”

"I don’t know what stress is"

“Do you know what’s definitely not worth trying? Putting people who know what they’re talking about in charge”

“There’s no chance of you getting a C in this subject, so you’re no longer entitled to my attention”

“I tell you what would really keep me in this job – better career prospects”

“Glad to see they’ve sacked more admin staff. I mean, it’s not as if records need to be kept is it?”

“This job is great for my health”

“Seeing the stats makes it all worthwhile”

“What a shame that Michael Wilshaw’s got a knighthood already – can’t we give him another?”

“Isn’t it great when a politician comes to visit your school and everything just carries on as normal?”

“What we really need to sort this place out is another strategic document for managers to pontificate over”

“There’s far too much trust in this profession”

“I really feel under pressure to show more integrity”

“Excellent, another exodus of staff – they obviously weren’t up to it”

“I can completely understand how I have gone from being rated as outstanding to being rated as inadequate in the space of a few weeks. I’ve obviously become rubbish overnight”

“How selfish of this kid with complex needs to drag my stats down”

“If only I had to do more formal observations, it would really benefit the kids”

Meeting the National Council of Resistance of Iran

The widely-publicised hanging of Reyhaneh Jabbari on Saturday cast doubt on western attempts at a rapprochement with Iran. Some Iranian Brits say that only the end of the ayatollahs’ regime can provide a solution. I spoke to them.

Members of the National Council of Resistance of Iran protest following the execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari

Members of the National Council of Resistance of Iran protest following the execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari

It’s Saturday afternoon outside Downing Street, and a small group of Iranians have gathered, as they often do, to call for democratic change in their mother country.


Today, their demonstrations are infused with particular grief. Reyhaneh Jabbari, a 26-year-old interior designer, has, just hours ago, been executed for premeditated murder in Iran. She had confessed to stabbing a former employee of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence, but said that she was defending herself against an attempted rape and that she did not strike the killer blow. Human rights groups’ numerous concerns about the process of her trial have fallen on deaf ears.


Today’s protesters support the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a group with international chapters, founded in 1981, which describes itself as a broad coalition of democratic Iranian organisations. They have allies in parliament; they advertise a meeting of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom, which features several MPs and Lords, at which a representative of theirs will be speaking. And demographics may draw more Brits to them – the number of people born in Iran and living in the UK rose by 60% between the 2001 and 2011 censuses.


The protesters call their president, Hassan Rouhani, “murderous moderate” and refer to the acid attacks on women and 1,000 executions that have taken place during his tenure. They suggest that the British government, in seeking a thaw in relations – David Cameron’s meeting with Rouhani in September was the first between a British prime minister and an Iranian president since the revolution in 1979 – are reading too much in to minimal changes.


“The current regime is not built for this century,” says Farid, an activist handing out fliers about the NCRI to passers-by. “It’s an Islamic fundamentalist regime. They all believe in Supreme Leader power. They say that he gets his power from God.” Another protester, Marzi, concurs: “They present themselves as liberal, moderate, hardline – there’s no difference.”


The fact that Iran ignored western pleas to spare Reyhaneh Jabbari was a statement of strength. The spread of ISIS, who are Sunni, has made Shia Iran very valuable to the west. The protesters consequently accept that there is no magic solution for the British government. Farid says: “You have to go for regime change – how, I don’t know. Not through international intervention.”


But he castigates the British diplomatic position as playing in to the hands of Iran’s self-interested rulers. “The suggestion of uniting with Iran against ISIS was very strange. Iran is showing no interest in being allies with the UK. And the UK is marginalising the Iranian opposition.” He points to links between the Iranian regime and terrorism – including IED attacks that have killed British and American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, and rebel soldiers in Syria – to show that the policy is self-defeating.


What, then, might the vehicle of change be? The Green movement, which made international headlines in 2009? Amir, who holds a picture of Reyhaneh Jabbari at the demonstrations, thinks not. “The Green Party don’t have a democratic direction. They want to go through the regime. We opposed the Shah and we oppose them.” Farid points out that they have been implicated in a 1988 massacre.


He says that the Green Party were “not brave” five years ago, but adds a note of optimism. “I could feel the atmosphere. It was an excuse to show frustration against the regime.


“All the ingredients for popular resistance in Iran are there; the only thing missing is foreign pressure. I think there is a strong feeling in the youth that wants change. They want to live in the family of nations, they want to travel, they want experiences.”

Why don’t we value initiative?

Society is full of reminders that we don’t value the precious attribute of initiative. My theory is that this is because we are too willing to use easy explanations for complex realities.

Schools and initiative

I’ve seen it in particular as a teacher, and I wrote about the impact our exam results culture has on it (all links open in new window). Treating kids in schools like customers in shops sends them the message that someone will always be there to bail them out, when they need to realise the value of taking responsibility for themselves.

Initiative in wider society

We have a problem with initiative more widely. Some examples are merely irritating. Get on the tube in London and you will be bombarded with announcements telling you exactly how to behave. Pick up a cup of coffee and you will be told “CAUTION: CONTENTS MAY BE HOT”. But elsewhere this matters a lot more – for example, instead of looking after our health (look at our rates of obesity), we sue doctors who are just trying their best.


We don’t value initiative because we’re far too willing to accept easy answers to questions.

In school, I always felt that the failings of wider society were blamed on teachers. If a kid was struggling to get a good grade, you were made to feel that it must be something that the teacher was doing wrong – as if the grade were somehow a product, being made in a factory, rather than a reflection of a complex interaction between that child’s natural cognitive abilities, their upbringing, their social climate, their effort levels, their enthusiasm for that subject and the teaching that they were given. We should be trying to change wider social factors and finding ways of allowing children to succeed in their own way; instead we undergo a pitiful charade of recycled short-term measures designed to make test outcomes go up by a small amount each year.

Beyond school, we’re so short-termist in our outlook that we can’t see past the ends of our noses. Better, we think, to make yet another announcement on the tube, or to make clear that the cup of coffee might be hot, than risk being blamed for something. In its individual context, that may be the case; but the damage that such an attitude does to our society is more important when taken as a whole.

And everything is someone else’s fault. The kid who is not getting the grade they want must be being taught badly (and we give them this message, which is so damaging). The person who hurts themselves doing something stupid can’t possibly need to take a look at themselves.

We want to be able to blame someone else, but it’s not always good for us. And unfortunately, in our marketised society, we only give people what they want, and too often forget what they need.

Teacher workload can’t be tackled in isolation

Our politicians are, suddenly, desperately trying to prove that they care more than each other on teacher workload. Good – but only a bottom-up solution which remodels our approach to education as a whole will make the necessary difference.

Politicians’ rhetoric

All three of the main parties have accepted that there is a problem – an important start. They are also all trying to claim that they hold the solution to it. Tristram Hunt said in yesterday’s Guardian that he wants to tackle the issue (all links open in new window). Nick Clegg is in on the act today. And last month, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan promised to make it a priority.

Call me cynical, but I can’t help but notice the looming election in all this. Morgan couldn’t resist finishing the section of her speech on workload with a pointless dig at Labour (at 6:30):

Hunt’s piece – which, on the whole, I found more encouraging than some of his recent pronouncements on an oath for teachers and master teachers – only got as far as the second sentence before blaming “this government” for the problems (the rot goes much deeper, Tristram, and while I’ve got your attention, you can’t credibly criticise “initiative-itis” while also proposing half-baked new ideas based on a “fact-finding trip” you took to Singapore).

Clegg comes across as well-informed on what the problem is, though I will reserve judgement until I see some tangible impact; he made similar noises in 2010 (a call for reduced class sizes led to a big “I agree with Nick” moment in the election debates) and has made no difference to teachers’ workload in four years of government since.

Workload itself isn’t the issue

Teaching is a naturally stressful job and nothing will ever completely remove that impending sense of doom when a year 9 class is about to walk through the door, but a good teacher can cope with that if they feel that:

  • They are supported
  • The work they are doing is meaningful
  • They are valued

Teachers are not shy of putting hours in, but they have a real problem doing so when one or all of the points above are violated. They will become disillusioned if they are fighting losing battles because systems fight against them; if they’re doing work to cover the back of someone in an office; or if they’re not treated like professionals.

Politicians are the problem

Westminster will not change teachers’ workload in a meaningful way, because the priority there is to try to get one over on other parties. Education, like other public services, is dictated by the demands of the electoral cycle and, to win an election, one must convince the public that you have “improved” things in the previous five years. This usually involves something measurable being perverted to convince someone who doesn’t understand the job that things are going well.

If we want to tackle teacher workload, we must get to the bottom of this. We have to stop patronising the electorate and our teachers. If politicians want to tackle teacher workload, they should stop trying to score points on that or other educational issues and stop treating public sector workers as if they are permanently on the naughty step (I know, wider society pays for the public sector – but good management and leadership involves trusting those who work for you). Accept that teachers mostly know what they are doing and respond to on-the-ground realities rather than dictating from above.

Do that, and you’ll see just how willing teachers are to put the hours in to help the next generation.

Labour and football fans: Not going far enough

This week, the Labour party announced plans to give football fans a place on the board and a minority stake in the clubs that they support (all links open in new window). This would improve, but not go far enough truly to address, the problems in the game. Unfortunately, this seems to be a move based more on rhetoric and winning votes than considering what is best for football fans and their clubs.

As Mark Ferguson, of Labour List, explained the decision, he talked of “putting comunities at the heart of decisions” and “questioning the untrammelled power of money”. These sentiments should be welcomed – football should be a game for the people – but they are not enough. A Labour official told The Independent this week that the decision would not constitute an overhaul of the power structures within the game”:
“The present owners would retain control. We are not saying football is a broken model. It is a hugely successful export. We are not going to rip it up, but we say it can be improved.”

The problems

He’s wrong – football is a broken model. There are several major problems which, when taken together, show a game which has forgotten its fans entirely. Though money has always played a role in the game, it now dictates its course.

The game is far too over-commercialised. Broadcasters prioritise ramming as much football as possible down the public’s throats, over-hyping it at every turn. Where fans used to be seen as making an emotional investment, wishes are seen as a vehicle for money-making, rather than the reason why the game exists. The absurdity of broadcasters’ views on football is beautifully illustrated by the following Mitchell and Webb sketch:

Decent competition is also now a hollow notion. Where the money goes, the best players follow, with TV companies and the global fanbase rapidly moving in behind them, concentrating the wealth even further and creating an undesirable cycle. For competitive value, one might as well watch the stock exchanges go up and down each week, rather than the Premier League; for Manchester City and Chelsea, read Apple and Google. It is obvious that those businesses are going to outperform their competitors, as their enormous resources give them every advantage. The football authorities have failed to take action to prevent such a pattern emerging, forgetting that much of the value of football lies in its ability to throw up unpredictable scenarios and to give everyone their dream of being King for a day.

Worst of all, clubs are at the mercy of their owners. A businessman able to afford the club’s shares but with no links to the community can now wander in to a club, buy it up and turn it in to his plaything. Fans of that club will tend to accept this if he accompanies it by spending millions of pounds on the team, but they are losing something special – the ownership of the club. Even if the owner’s investment brings results on the pitch, it means one person – or small group of people – buying prizes which should belong to wider communities. If clubs are – as they should be – defined by the collection of fans that support them, it cannot be claimed that a club has won anything in these cases. Clubs like Portsmouth, who were gutted by a series of foreign owners apparently interested only in making a quick buck from them, have seen the opposite side of the story, plunging down the divisions with their fans powerless to stop the carnage around them. Clubs such as Rushden and Diamonds, Chester City and Luton Town are among the many who have suffered from unstable ownership under the current model.

These problems seem likely to get worse. Premier League chiefs have softened the ground for clubs to play competitive matches abroad – a slippery slope taking the game closer to an American-style franchise model. The idea of local players coming through youth academies and in to first teams, learning from but equal to the occasional import, is an anachronism.

The flaw in Labour’s plan
A 20% stake and seats on the board will give fans little more than they have already, and Labour have made clear that fans will not have the power to veto takeovers. This means that they will have little more than they already have; they will be seen as a nuisance in the boardroom, to be patronised at every turn and given tokenistic victories to keep up the appearance that they matter.

Ferguson referred, in his article, to the name of Newcastle United’s stadium being sold and Cardiff City’s owner changing the club’s strip from blue to red. Unfortunately, his plans would not have stopped these things from happening. Directors, in these cases, would have been as unlikely to listen to fans with a 20% stake on the board as they would to listen to fans who march on the stadium or hold up banners for the cameras.

The solution
The German model of fan ownership is straightforward; fans must own at least 51% of the club. The clue, of course, is in the numbers – 20% is not enough.

The football authorities – and this shouldn’t be left to politicians, who have better things to worry about – should be brave enough to introduce a similar measure in England. The success of football as an export is not the most important point here; fans deserve a game that they can identify with and in which they feel a sense of belonging.

Supporters are not simply people who turn up to watch rich men’s armies slug it out and who deserve an occasional pat on the head; they are the club. The emotional investment that they make is more valuable than any financial one.

Cricket – The County Championship Challenge

What I’m doing this week

I’ve challenged myself to go to a session of each of the eight County Championship matches this week. My only rules are: you need to see a full session, you need to have a pint at each ground, and it can’t be expensive.


Why I’m doing it

There are lots of reasons why I decided on this rather random undertaking – I had a free week; the fixtures seemed to fall in to place for it to be feasible, but completing it would still need both luck and judgement; and I’ve promised myself that I’d explore the county grounds previously. But none of the other reasons would matter if I didn’t think the Championship was worth watching.

It’s well documented that these are nervous times for those who value the longer form of cricket. Test matches are poorly attended, other than in England and Australia, and the ICC’s response of seemingly holding an Ashes series once a fortnight risks over-cooking the golden goose that remains in their possession. India, where the game’s centre of gravity lies, seem blasé about five-day matches. This seems largely to be the product of the IPL becoming the game’s money-spinner, a trend which risks dividing players’ loyalties and which has embedded itself around the world through a variety of spin-off T20 leagues. In this environment, one might think that a four-day domestic league risks becoming obsolete. Yet a strong four-day competition not only retains an appeal, but is essential for cricket to remain the game that we know and love.

The finest skills are still honed in the Championship. Exciting as it is to see switch-hits, ramp shots and batsmen being caught in the deep on a T20 night, it’s the subtler skills that really make a cricket match – an opener’s ability to decide which deliveries to play or leave when the new ball is nipping around; a stroke maker’s ability to accelerate while not giving their wicket away; a spinner’s ability to tie an end down. So our County Championship allows spectators to gain a fuller appreciation for players’ true abilities than a limited overs competition ever could. For someone who grew up on the finer details of cricket, it’s most satisfying to watch the gradually unfolding duel between bat and ball that the Championship provides. This is not to mention the vital role that county games play in developing players ready for the international game – although there are a range of reasons for the relative strength of the talent available to England in the last 15 years, the Championship’s improvement has contributed.

A day out at the Championship cricket is great, too. The atmosphere is relaxed, the people are friendly, people have the odd drink without going over the top, and it doesn’t break the bank. It might be a simple reason, but it’s still the most important one for what I’m doing.

Anyway, these thoughts combined added up to “if I can do it, why not do it?”



So far

In the first two days I’ve visited Hove, Chelmsford, Edgbaston and Worcester, in that order. It’s logistically impossible to cram in more than two grounds per day, and there are combinations which work and combinations which don’t (I won’t bore you with all the details, but feel free to look them up if you’re as geeky as me, or if you want to tell me what you’d have done in my place).

I’ve seen a great deal – BBC Sussex Sport asked me to speak to them about what I was doing, which was nerve-wracking but fun. At Edgbaston today, the club got in touch, showed me around the press area and let me sit in the members’ area, where the view was fantastic. I’d never been to Chelmsford or Worcester before, so it was great to see two proper county grounds. I’ve been impressed with the crowds, which seem to be encouraging for the future of Championship cricket, and of course I’ve enjoyed seeing which ales the different clubs have decided to serve up.

Out in the middle, there have been some highlights – Ed Joyce’s catch to take Lancashire’s third wicket at Hove, Sam Northeast hitting a six to bring up his 100 just after I’d arrived at Chelmsford, Jesse Ryder putting the second-to-last ball of yesterday in to the river, Jason Roy and Gary Wilson putting on a partnership of over 100 for Surrey, and Jack Shantry taking two Surrey wickets in two balls. It’s the bits in between the highlights, though, that make Championship cricket what it is.



What’s next

So far the weather has not been a factor, and none of the games were going to finish in two days, but there lies the potential for failure over the next two days. I need to keep games in reserve which are still going to be happening when I get there, and the nature of cricket makes it impossible to take the gamble out of this calculation. The four grounds I have left Bristol, Cardiff, Lord’s and Trent Bridge.

The initial plan was to do them in that order, but Bristol is now looking like the most likely draw of the lot. The game at Cardiff is advancing. At Lord’s the game is about where you would expect a game to be at its half-way stage, with all results still possible. Unfortunately Yorkshire have the bit between their teeth up against Nottinghamshire, with the title theirs for the taking; they still need 16 wickets, but it seems to be a question of when they will take them, not if.  So really I’d like to do Cardiff and Trent Bridge tomorrow, and Lord’s and Bristol on Friday – but the only combination that now works is to do Bristol and Cardiff on one day and Lord’s and Trent Bridge on the other. So, I thought to myself as I studied the board of trains at Worcester station this evening, should I keep the bed I’d booked in Bristol, dash back to London and then go to Trent Bridge tomorrow afternoon, or go straight to Nottingham or Cardiff?

The conclusion I came to was that the game at Cardiff is the one most likely to finish tomorrow. Glamorgan are about 200 ahead with five second innings wickets remaining, and my guess is that they will set Derbyshire a target of somewhere under 300 early tomorrow. So, perversely, I am going to the game that is least advanced – the one in Bristol – first, because it allows me to go to Cardiff tomorrow. I’ll be nervously checking the scores from Trent Bridge and Lord’s, and hoping that there are no major fireworks at either in my absence.

Tomorrow night could be interesting. I would love to get the bus back to London, fall in to bed and fall out of it for Lord’s the following morning, before making my way up to Trent Bridge to see the final session of the Championship decider. The idea of going from Cardiff to Nottingham after what I’ve already done – and then having to find somewhere to stay overnight – isn’t massively appealing. Yorkshire, I know you’re chasing the title, but just hold off until the evening session on Friday, please.