According to OFSTED, over half a million kids in the UK are being wrongly diagnosed as having Special Educational Needs.

Well – I can sort of sympathise with that to an extent, because I do think that there are a nunber of kids who are misdiagnosed with conditions like ADHD who have nothing of the sort. What they have is an inability to understand the word “no”, probably because it’s never been said to them, or if it has been said, it’s not been reinforced.

But that, of course, isn’t what they’re talking about.

No, it’s “let’s bash teachers” time again! Because apparently, it’s all our fault.

Apparently these kids wouldn’t need the extra help they get (or are supposed to get) when they’re “labelled” as having SEN if – wait for it – they had better teachers.

I work in a school of extremes – there are a few really bright kids, and rather a lot more kids who are very disadvantaged, not just in terms of their academic ability, but economically. Just today, I’ve had kids in two of my classes who have felt sick and light-headed and who it turns out, have not had any breakfast because there was no food at home, and in the case of one lad – had nothing to eat all day because his mum has no money to buy any and doesn’t get paid until Friday. (Okay, so that kid should probably be on free school meals and I don’t know why he isn’t – but that’s another issue.)

But tell me – how the hell does “better teaching” make a difference with something like that?

There are also different types of SEN. Making an incredibly crass distinction, there are the kids who have learning difficulties because they have (I hate this, but I can’t think of another way to put it) physical or mental problems, and the kids who have learning difficulties because they can’t behave or sit still long enough to learn anything. Okay, so those kids often also have other difficulties too, but putting the first group in with the second does neither group any favours at all. The kids who need the help (who are usually the quiet ones) end up not getting it because the staff are too busy dealing with A who keeps trying to punch B in the face who in turn is trying to throw C out of the window.

Often, those kids respond very well to one-to-one tuition. But when you’ve got eight of them in a class and there’s one of you (two, if you’re lucky enough to have a TA with you), that’s just not possible.

So whoever produced this report should just shut the hell up about these kids needing “better teaching”. ALL kids deserve good teaching – not just the below-average ones. The state sector is seriously failing very able kids, yet nobody seems to kick up a stink about that.

I’ve worked in five different schools since 2005 when I started teaching. There are, undoubtedly, some ineffective teachers out there. But the vast majority of those I’ve met – and I’ve probably met a lot more in my short career than many other teachers who’ve stayed in the same place for longer periods than I’ve been able to – are very hard-working, dedicated and have the best interests of the kids at heart, no matter how we grumble about them.

It’s no wonder that teachers in this country are vilified by so many kids, parents and members of the public. Practically everything that’s reported about us in the media says that we’re crap at our jobs, not well-qualified or well-trained enough. The country is bloody lucky that some of us are prepared to do the job with everything it entails while the media shovels shit at us.

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I know I’ve been rather quiet of late. It’s not that there’s nothing going on, it’s not having either the time or the energy (or both) to pontificate regularly. Also, many of the things that I feel like ranting about are a bit too specific to the school I work in and not appropriate for me to post about so publicly.

But with any luck, the new school year will imbue some renewed vim and vigour, so maybe I’ll be able to get into the habit of posting a bit more often!

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I’m starting to wonder if there’s a limit to the amount of time it’s possible to work in the sorts of schools I’ve worked in for the last four years before it all becomes too much.

The only work I’ve been able to find has been in particularly ‘challenging’ schools where there are serious behaviour problems, above average numbers of pupils with literacy and numeracy difficulties and on the SEN register, and a culture of low aspiration and low self-esteem.

I entered the teaching profession with my eyes open. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy job and was well aware of the way in which behaviour has worsened over the years, as well as the way that the power of teachers to deal with it has been eroded.

There’s a culture now of having to reward kids for almost anything – even turning up to school regularly. I’m expected to give the kids in my form a point for having 100% attendance each week – something they should be doing as a matter of course. Soon, we’ll be giving them rewards for just breathing. Things that should be taken for granted – good manners, consideration for others, respect for the people around us and their property – are completely absent in a large number of the children I’ve worked with in the past four years and if I think about it too much – and what it’s going to mean for the society I live in and that my own children are growing up in, well, that way madness lies.

I know that one of the things teachers have to do at all costs, or you won’t last a second, is be able not to let the kids get to you. The kids who speak to you like you’re a piece of shit. The ones who won’t even deign to speak to you and just look at you like you’re a piece of shit. The ones who make personal remarks not-so-sotto-voce all the time. The ones who refuse to do a single thing you ask them and when given a detention proudly announce “I i’nt doin’ it” with a smirk you wish you could wipe off their face. The ones who cry “assault” if you so much as brush against them accidentally in the corridor, or call you a racist if you happen to suggest that perhaps it might be time for them to get on with some work now, and no, I’m not saying it because you’re black/Indian/Chinese or from Mars.

Then there are the ones who, no matter what work you set them insist “this is shit”, or “I in’t doin’ that, it’s too ‘aaard!” or “this is such a crap lesson, why do we ‘ave ter do music anyway?” The ones who can’t seem to understand a simple instruction to remove their coat/spit out their gum/not to eat that bag of crisps in class/not to try to lift up the keys on a keyboard or any other damn thing that is simple common sense to most individuals with half a brain-cell.

I’m trying not to let it get to me, but it’s impossible for all this crap not to have an effect. I’m well educated, well-qualified, dedicated and bloody good at my job – those are things I know. But having any number of the things I’ve just described thrown at me every day at my place of work is starting to erode my confidence – and the fact that its KIDS who are doing that – kids who I’m trying to HELP makes me both angry and incredibly frustrated. And I think it’s starting to show.

It’s only the second week of term, and I’m already thinking that I might not make it to the end without either decking someone or having a nervous breakdown.

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I’ve not posted much here lately, partly because for some reason, this website seems to have something against my laptop and makes it freeze up – but mostly because many of the things I feel the need to rant about are a bit specific to what’s going on at my school and I’m a bit wary about posting them “in public”.

But in the light of last week’s vote in favour of the boycott of this year’s KS2 SATs, I felt the need to brave the vagaries of my browser (!) and post something about it.

I’m not a primary school teacher, so most of my experience of SATs comes from my being the parent of two primary-age children.

My eldest is in year 6 and is due to take her tests next month. But I’ve already told her that if, at any time leading up to them, she feels it’s too much for her, or too stressful, not to worry, because as far as I’m concerned, she doesn’t have to do them and I’ll tell the school that – because I don’t agree with them.

As a teacher I think they should be abolished. All they do, as far as I can see, is contribute to what is the massive inequality that already exists in our education system. When I was 11, I did tests at my primary school which I suspect that most kids did – but they were set by the individual school and were done as a way of a)checking your progress and seeing how you’d done by the end of your time at the school and b) to provide some basic academic information to the secondary school you were going to.

There was none of this publishing of results so that those who could afford to move closer to the “good” schools could see at a glance which they were. Of course, the real reasons for the problems many of us who teach face on a daily basis lie far deeper than a set of tests, but the idea that kids are being tested for reasons which have very little to do with their actual education really annoys me.

My daughter told me today that her teacher had told them that how they do in their SATs will affect what class they go into at their secondary school.

Does it bollocks.

Unless things there have changed in the last three or four years I can say that is definitely not the case, as I actually trained at that school – and the kids’ SATs results had no effect whatsoever on which tutor group they went into. They might have had some bearing on which sets they went into for English and Maths etc., but as far as I remember, setting didn’t take place until either the second half term or after Christmas by which term the subject teachers had been able to make their own assessments of pupils’ work.

As far as I’m concerned, these tests contribute NOTHING to the education of our kids, and in some cases have a detrimental effect on it. And what are they actually FOR? Or rather, WHO are they actually for? I can see that it’s nice for the kids and parents to know when/if they’ve done well at school – but that’s what the school reports are for. I can see that some base data is useful for the secondary schools that pupils attend, although in my experience, they will put pupils into ability based groups based on their own observations.

As far as I can tell, the only thing they’re used for these days is to compile league tables which some parents will use to make decisions about their childrens’ education. And if we’re going to put our kids through the stress and rigmarole of national tests, then surely we should be doing it for the benefit of OUR kids, and no other reason. And if, as I think, they’re not benefitting our kids, then we shouldn’t be doing it.

I’m not a member of the NUT, but I do hope my union – the NASUWT follows suit about the boycott.

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The school I work at didn’t close yesterday and isn’t closed today – must be one of the few in the country that isn’t! But I can’t get in, so I’m off work again today. Yesterday, I attempted to get in, but after travelling about 10 miles in one hour, in conditions that were getting steadily worse, I gave up and came home – which took me another hour. 2 hours to go precisely nowhere – great.

Anyway, while I was driving in, I heard someone from an organisation representing small businesses moaning that headteachers close schools at the drop of a hat, thus meaning that parents have to take time off to look after their kids. I’m sure that for such businesses, this is a real pain in the arse, but what’s the alternative? He said that because kids all come from within a small catchment area, there should be no need to close schools. Mick Brookes (who was also on) then pointed out while that’s often the case for pupils, it’s not so for teachers, and that there’s no point keeping a school open if there’s no-one to staff it. The other bloke then seemed to suggest that schools should be kept open anyway, even if there were no lessons, so that the kids could be dumped there while their parents went to work.

All I have to say to that is – let him spend 6-8 hours in a building with a thousand kids who have nothing to do without adequate supervision – because I don’t think there’d be enough money in the world that would tempt me to do that!

I understand that it must be very frustrating for employers whose workers have to take time off because their kids can’t go to school – but please stop blaming the teachers for this as well as the rest of society’s ills. In my part of the country (East) we rarely have weather like this and it’s unusual for schools to be closed because of snow for even one day, let alone two or three, so I can understand that the local council wouldn’t want to splash out on snow ploughs that might get used once in a blue moon – although a bit of grit on the local ‘A’ roads wouldn’t have gone amiss yesterday.

I had to put my personal safety first yesterday. I’ve struggled into work in the past on numerous occasions when I should have stayed at home – I’m sure we all have – but looking back on it, it was a stupid thing to do to attempt to get in. And I have to consider the safety of my children, too. My husband attempted to take them to school yesterday (we don’t live within walking distance) only to get a call at 8.45 from another parent telling him the school was closed. Needless to say, he was furious, as was another friend who’d almost had an accident on the ice with her kids in the car on the way. I have no idea why the decision to close the school was made so late – it’s a village school along windy back-roads and other, more accessible schools had already been closed. There, Mr. Small-Business-Man is one of the problems of trying to keep schools open – which as Mr Brookes rightly said, most heads try to do. Schools dilly-dallying about making the decision and thereby putting lives at risk. I’m sure there’s more money lost to industry every year through people chucking sickkies every Monday because they’ve drunk themselves stupid over the weekend than there are because we have to close the schools occasionally. Get a sense of perspective and try to put kids’ lives before your profits, okay?

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Well, strictly speaking, I’ve not been away, but it’s been a good couple of months since I posted anything here. To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve done much of anything anywhere – the last few weeks of term were ridiculously busy and the things that were really p**sing me off were quite specific to my school, so I decided against having an online rant.

Tomorrow is my last day of freedom for another six weeks – as I imagine it is for most other teachers. It seems to get harder and harder to contemplate going back with every holiday. Is that normal, or is it just me? I don’t know why it is, and I don’t think I had this feeling of dread when faced with returning to work after a holiday when I was working in other jobs, I just know I’ll be lying in bed tomorrow night unable to get to sleep and cursing myself because I have to get up at six the next morning. What makes it worse of course is that the school has once again arranged for a day of training on Monday that nobody wants or is interested in. Considering we weren’t in on the last day of term due to the weather, it’s even more frustrating that we don’t have any time to get things a bit straight before facing pupils on Tuesday.

Why do schools do this? Why can’t we just have a day in school at the start of each term that we can use to tidy up and sort things out? I can’t remember the last time I had a day like that. Oh – wait. Can it possibly be that the schools think we should go in during the holidays to do that sort of thing?

To be honest, I wouldn’t mind going in for a few hours during the holidays if I lived around the corner from my school – but I don’t. It’s a 90 minute round trip.

No doubt I’ll be in a state of nervous anticipation all day tomorrow.

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A few weeks ago, Old Andrew wrote that learning can sometimes be Hard Work, reminding us that while learning can indeed be fun sometimes, it’s not always the case. There comes a time when, in order to progress and learn something new, we have to actually make an effort and challenge ourselves, which might mean sitting down with a book and actually working something out for ourselves or – God forbid! – learning something off by heart!

I read this article in the Telegraph a couple of days ago which argued that Motivational gimmicks ‘undermine’ the intellectual content of lessons and found myself nodding in agreement while thinking back to Old Andrew’s post and about my own experiences of lesson planning.

I sat in a Staff Meeting a few weeks ago at which the (new) Head told us all that he didn’t think the kids at my school were enjoying their lessons enough (or words to that effect). I think the word that strikes fear into all our hearts was also used. You know the one I mean. The three-letter one that begins with “f” and ends with “n”.

I have absolutely no problem with trying to make my lessons enjoyable and engaging. I want the kids I teach to enjoy the time I spend teaching them, but this emphasis on lessons being “fun” ALL THE TIME isn’t doing pupils any favours. Not everything in school – and in life – is all-singing, all-dancing, all-the-time. Some things just have to be learned and some effort on the part of the pupils is required in order for that learning to take place. At the same meeting, we were also informed that staff were working “much harder than the pupils”, and that this shouldn’t be the case.

Er… huh? On the one hand we’re expected to be entertaining and plan these mightily interesting, engaging and FUN lessons to stop the poor little dears from suffering that nasty old boredom, but on the other, we mustn’t work too hard? What planet is he living on?? But then, he’s probably not taught for a while and doesn’t realise quite how much work it takes to provide this amount of “fun”.

There was a thread on the TES forums this week about whether people felt their workloads were increasing, despite the various guidelines now in place regarding non-contact time, and the administrative tasks that teachers aren’t supposed to do. But despite that, most people were agreeing with the OP that they seemed to be working harder than ever – and given the amount of time I’ve spent these last couple of days preparing just ONE lesson, I’m not surprised. It’s a lesson for a bottom set MFL class – and I’ve spent ages scouring the web for pictures for powerpoints, and making up games… which I’ll use just this once and for about twenty minutes.

I don’t know that the answer is – in fact, I doubt there is one because while the educational establishment is obsessed with the idea that kids need to have “fun” in order to learn anything, and seems to have dismissed the idea that learning FOR ITS OWN SAKE is A Good Thing I can only see this trend continuing and getting worse, to the point where the TDA will require teachers to pass tests in Juggling and Unicycle Riding as well as in basic Literacy and Numeracy.

I’ll admit that I work in a particularly challenging school where there are a large number of pupils with very low self-esteem who will, when presented with anything that’s even vaguely unfamilliar or which seems as though it may require some effort, instantly say that they can’t do it, or it’s too hard. But we’re not doing them any favours whatsoever by trying to cocoon them into an environment where nothing is hard, and learning requires no effort. Life isn’t like that. Sometimes life is boring – or hard – and we can’t all be good at everything. To my mind, this is all parcelled up with another ridiculous trend – that of not allowing kids to be bad at something or to fail. The idea of rewards for all, regardless of effort – and in many cases, its the badly behaved pupils who end up getting rewarded for simply shutting up and/or sitting still, while the kids who behave well and do exactly as they’re expected to get left out – is teaching kids that whatever they do is enough to get them through whereas we know that in the real world it isn’t. Life isn’t fair – we can’t all be winners, but what we can do (and should be doing, but aren’t) is teaching kids that while that is indeed the case, they’re almost certain to be better off if they try – if they attempt to do the things they think are hard and get their heads down and LEARN things without those things having to be sugar coated all the time. Come to think of it, they’d probably learn more as well, because teachers would be able to spend their time planning actual lessons rather than thinking up new methods of entertainment!

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I’ve spent a lot of time and effort since the beginning of term organising a year 7 trip. More precisely, six year 7 trips. We had the chance to play a Gamelan (a percussion orchestra from Indonesia) which is currently housed at a local school, and seeing that this half-term’s topic is “cultural identity and diversity”, it seemed an ideal way in which to cover that aspect of the curriculum.

I took two classes last week, am taking two more this week and the last two after half term.

Kids are notoriously bad at remembering to bring forms back (well, they are at my school!) and so I’ve reminded and nagged at every possible opportunity – lessons, assemblies, when I’ve seen kids in the playground etc. On Monday I reminded the class I’m taking tomorrow that they needed to get their letters back, and said that the groups I’d taken last week had done very well and that it had been fun.

The response?

“They tole us it woz borin’. All they dun was sit an’ play instruments.”

Er… what? The letter explained where we were going and what we were going to do. It’s a MUSIC trip – what do they expect? To sail the seven seas or scale the north face of the bleedin’ Eiger??

Oh, no, wait. If the kids at my school were given the chance to do that it’d be “too ‘borin’.”

Honestly.

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I’m feeling distinctly frayed around the edges lately. Not so overwhelmed as I felt the first two or three weeks of term, but frazzled nonetheless.

I like being organised. It’s the only way I know how to function really – I’ve never been a seat-of-the-pants kind of person, which can sometimes be a bit of a disadvantage in teaching when something goes off track or in a direction you hadn’t anticipated. It doesn’t happen very often, and I’m pleased to say that when it has, I’ve coped with it. I suppose what’s bugging me is that there are things “out there” which prevent me from being as organised as I’d wish.

Narrowing it down still further, the problem is PSHE. I’ve come across very few schools where the kids have PSHE lessons with someone who’s qualified and or experienced in teaching it. And by that I mean teachers who teach it as an actual subject, not by form tutors like myself who find themselves dumped in at the deep end trying to plan an interesting lesson that will engage the kids with whatever it is they’re supposed to be thinking about that week.

It’s not that I can’t teach the subject. Anyone who knows me will know that I can usually offer an opinion on pretty much anything – so that’s not the problem. The problem is that I’ve got some plans here written by someone else (who co-ordinates PSHE across the school) – which are telling me to use some of the information I’ve been given in a certain way and then that I need to give examples of where (in the world) that information doesn’t apply. Which would be fine – except that I haven’t been given any of those examples. Which means that I either have to go trawling the internet to find them or ignore that part of the lesson plan.

See why it bugs me? I don’t have time to plan for this – not with everything else I have on my plate, and it’s not as though, like some form tutors, perhaps, I’ve done this scheme of work before.

Honestly, if PSHE is to be taken seriously by the kids – and in my experience so far, with year 8s and older, it isn’t – surely it should be taught by someone who a) knows what they’re doing and b) who has an interest in it, because quite frankly, I don’t. Not that the topics chosen aren’t interesting and relevant – often they are; I just don’t have time to spend on it. Often, the first time I look at the lesson plan for that week is on Friday morning when I get into school (my PSHE lesson is first thing Friday) – usually because I’ve had so much else going on that I’ve not been able to get to it before that. And that being the case, I need a lesson plan AND resources so that I can just give the lesson and not have to worry about it.

I know I’m not the only one in this position – it’s just bugging me to the extent that I have to vent.

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Although I can usually find someting about my job to moan about, I make no secret of the fact that generally I enjoy it. I teach at a tough school, and the department I’m running has been neglected for a number of years due to staffing problems – but I made huge progress last year, which I know was greatly appreciated by the head and the other senior staff at the school. I know I’m doing a damn good job, and I feel that I’m at last working somewhere where my contribution is valued and where I’m pretty sure there are good promotion prospects for me as and when.

BUT…

I’ve just sat and spent an hour marking some year 9 books, and I wonder what the hell I’m doing? The majority of this class can’t follow a simple instruction and rarely finish a piece of work. Some of them just open their book and write wherever it opens, so the work (when there is any!) is all over the place. Sadly, this isn’t unusual.

I’m sure their maths books don’t look like this. Yet another depressing reminder of how my subject is perceived by pupils.

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