Sunday, 17 November 2013

Primary elephants? Policy is dull, we are not thick.

Like many primary bloggers, I am unable to engage in grown-up discussions about education because my brain is full of glitter, toy bears and gingerbread. Obvs.

I'm responding to the call to action set out in @michaelt1969 's 'Elephants in the Primary Blogosphere' post, and I am responding with my view on why our voices are not heard.

The present Education Twitterati slightly gets on my titterati, in the way that it is around 10 'famous names' having a conversation. We have an 'Education Group' on Twitter in the way that my school has 'Year Group Assemblies' in which the 'Year Group' that is performing involves the 10 popular vocal kids doing all the acting and singing, while the other 100 kids sit holding triangles or guiros, which they strike only when instructed. In this point, I am defiantly bashing my guiro in the collective face of the Education Twitterati. Right in it.

At risk of sounding like the kid with the weird smell - sitting alone by the football pitch when the big boys play - I feel quite excluded and I think many whose blogs are similar to mine feel the same way.
For all the illusions of Twitter being a level playing field, it is as likely to close down debate as it is to spark it. Those who have many followers tweet to those who have many followers, and those who have no followers write endlessly and post their views into a readerless void. Only the most self-flagellating of time-pressed teachers would continue to post, leaving a harrowing Guernica of shattered and aborted primary-education blogs all over the internet, terminated after three unseen posts.

The upsurge of interest in primary bloggers is necessary, but it needs to become a part of the main debate on education. There is an obvious danger that we become our own echo chamber - we who appreciate the experiences, politics and quirks unique to primary education - and if this happens, we remain excluded from the main debate.

Again with the metaphors, at the Feast of Education, the primary bloggersshould not be the 'Children's Table' beside the Grown Ups table; we are free to talk about crayons, while they talk about policy. Sure, it's good that we have a table, but it shouldn't be perceived as separate from the adult discussions.

In the spirit of gripes, I found it dull as shit to read through Michael Tidd's Issues that could become blog topics, which included
  • Will ‘scaled scores’ provide useful information at end-of-key-stage tests?
  • How will we assess English and Maths once levels are scrapped?
  • Is primary schooling becoming all core and no breadth?
  • Does the new National Curriculum necessarily more rote teaching & learning?
  • Will the new grammar requirements in the National Curriculum raise standards of reading/writing?
  • Do primary teachers have the subject knowledge needed for the new National Curriculum?
  • What does it mean to be “secondary ready”, as the DfE suggests we should be aiming for?
  • Is the current level 4b a viable expectation for 85% of students?

and so on.

Snoozaroonie, as I might say when a child uses the word 'nice'. I am studying for a Masters in Sociology of Education, a key part of which is to look at policy paradigms and how the neoliberal performativity agenda is reshaping the educational landscape.

I don't not blog much about these things because they are too deep for my tiny primary-teacher brain, but it's because questions like Michael Tidd's are so boring for a teacher who values primary education as a holistic phase of character development, nurture and intellectual exploration. Remember that old nostalgic meme - 'the caring teacher'?

Our experiences and priorities are perhaps different to yours, and our struggles and questions are not just a simplified version of your own. Would it be too much to ask for us to set our own agenda?

As such, and in the spirit of muscular banter, I raise my own list of Issues that could become blog topics for primary teachers.

  • Literally where the fuck do all the children stash the red felt tip pens? Is this a national issue? If so, how ought we intervene?
  • Which facial cues alert you to the fact that a child is about to projectile vomit all over their workbooks? Should this be covered in INSET?
  • Is it morally acceptable to confess to your children that you find Michael Morpurgo's work to be anachronistic and dull?
  • How can we educate to equip children to challenge the rampant inequalities that face them?
  • Do any other teachers feel nauseous when they see Comic Sans? How can we cull this abhorrent typographical terrorist?
  • How can we expose children to texts that they can relate to, but which also challenges them/
  • At what age should teachers be able to begin problematising topics such as gender and sexuality? How?
  • Do all young men teachers get rapidly promoted out of the classroom, or just most? For those who stay - like tiny me - what makes them stay?
  • To what extent are we implicitly encouraging our children to stake their pre-pubescent self-worth on their ability to jump through hoops in the arbitrary Gradgrindian SPAG? Do children who are repeatedly admonished for their STUPID inability to get enthused about spotting 'fronted adverbials', end up as illiterate, morally-dead wrong-'uns?
  • How can you teach climate change to 6 year olds in a way that scares them enough to care and empowers them enough to act?
  • How can we encourage our children to become healthy and active, when we - their PE teachers - are rotund and medically-addicted to Battenburg, and get a stitch during their warm up?
  • Is bombarding our 4 year olds with traditional fairy stories an act of gender violence?



  1. Fantastic!
    I like many of your alternative topics, and if it gets more people sharing their ideas, then I'm all for it (although the vomit one disturbs me slightly!)
    And for the record, I do find Morpurgo dull! He writes teachers' books for teachers who just lap up the Literacy links.
    That said, I still maintain that the policy stuff really does affect us, and we need to grapple with it, whether it's fun or not :)
    P.S. I'm 1979, honest! I may sound like a boring old duffer, but I'm only a boring youngish duffer, I promise.

  2. Spot on about the 10 popular kids! I find it amusing and frustrating in equal measures.

  3. Ha - apologies about the decade mistake. And as for the vomit; that is among my chief concerns. I once noted it was brewing and managed to throw the kid's workbook to the side, but I copped a projectile barf to the hands. Worth it though... Ofsted would award me their Victorian Cross equivalent if it existed and if they cared about supporting teachers which they don't.

  4. I thought it was just me about Michael Morpurgo. What's wrong with happy endings? It's almost as bad as secondary English teachers and their fetishism of 'Of mice and men'.

  5. Further key questions to consider:
    What has happened to story time?
    Why is it a waste of time to sit reading silently?
    Why is it a waste of time to practice for the school play/concert?
    What has happened to the teaching of handwriting?
    And, most importantly, when you float between classrooms, where do you put your coat?

  6. I fucking hate comic sans...

  7. Love the question about fairy stories and gender violence. Sometimes I think it would almost be better to tell them about the *actual* stories that gave birth to the modern ones, at an appropriate age of course; rather than have them absorb tale after tale of females waiting to be rescued. Cue Cinderella, that disturbing tale of plundered virginities..

    Comic sans = EUGH, and those red felt tips? There's a special black hole for those. And pencils.

  8. Hell yes on the red felt tips. Why do they disappear, and why do they always run out SO quickly? Are the kids drinking the ink, or something?

    Also yes on the problematising of gender and sexuality...I try to, in subtle ways, with my year 3s, but its difficult as I'm always mindful of what a kid might go home and say to mummy!

    And, an additional one: how can you create politically engaged children, yet avoid 'indoctrinating' them?

  9. I think we should resurrect our idea of putting on an assembly in which Mr gum kidnaps morpurgo and plans to sell him in burger form. Michael Morburgers. I think another very serious issue that we could/should/must discuss is the hypocrisy involved in teachers banging on about the vital importance of developing a 'love of reading' when they NEVER READ. We should talk to kids about what we're reading and demonstrate what we're getting out of it.
    INSET days about storytelling should involve us getting up and reading to fellow teachers. There shouldn't be shame attached to not reading or not being a good storyteller, but it should be addressed. A head teacher might be great with money and running a business, but unless they can talk to kids and enthuse them, shouldn't their job description just be Bursar, or Manager, rather than head teacher?

  10. So true about the fairy stories. I try to read a bunch of traditional stuff to my six year old, and he is horrified by it. Even the stories where I can pretend it's not painfully sexist (because there are no women in the story at all) are still painful, because they're all about death and dismemberment. Mikey was scared by Octonauts for a very long time, fairy tales and Greek myths are freaking him out...

  11. Keep on blogging! Hopefully Fiona Millar's tweet has boosted your readership. Are you on Twitter? It's important that Primary specialists blog and tweet. Enjoyed your post.
    PS Why is it so difficult for WordPress bloggers to comment on Blogger blogs?
    3D Eye