Saturday, 13 April 2013

This is not education. This is like potty training and we do it because we can’t face the mess.

Posted 13th April 2013
This is not education. This is like potty training and we do it because we can’t face the mess.
If you google, "yid army schoolboys" you will find my ability to say too much can have me living in interesting times. This particular incident cost our school a chair of governors and ended with me signing an agreement which, uniquely, I was not allowed to see. This was less than jolly for many people but our local newspaper loved it. Indeed, one of The Hertfordshire Mercury’s reporters sold the story to the nationals and “The Sun” paid him well.

Last autumn the paper asked me to write a blog; they said I courted controversy and spouted forthright views.

Last week the editor banned me from blogging saying, “I can no longer justify giving you a platform for your views when you demonstrate negativity and animosity towards The Mercury.” Having dedicated all 7 blogs to attacking  government education thinking I am pleased to announce that the government has given my school £795,000 to build a new Maths Block. It seems it’s just my local paper that doesn’t believe in free speech.
So here’s Blog 8 via Google, my brave new world of limitless speech – unless you live in one of those countries where internet searches are scrutinized and censored.
In England we are sinking into a massive education hole. Government policy and teacher collusion is driving us ever deeper into whatever lies way down there. Everyone has signed the deal and each of us will bear the guilt, unbridled and verbal acts of contrition will not protect us from blame.

It has taken me many years in education to see the murky light. By equating “good” in school with children, students and young people scoring highly in SATs at age 11, GCSEs at age 16 and A Levels at 18 governments are doing the obvious. Who can argue with better results? Put the results in league tables and parents can see which school has the best results. Surely a good thing.
Our school inspectorate, Ofsted, rule that a school is outstanding if children make 3 levels of progress 11 -16. Surely that's good too; we all want to see students progress.

I recently organised an art exhibition of younger children’s artwork in their junior schools (see their tremendous art at ) One experienced, friendly and humane headteacher asked me if we could run the exhibition after the SATs test in May... and this was in November a full four months before the display. His kids would be working on their tests: practice paper after practice paper and no room for art or much else. This is not right.
Just before Easter, so now we are in March, another local school spent three days doing practice tests six weeks before the SATs. They are nice people and gave the kids a treat on the final day as a reward for their patience. This is not right. This is not childhood.
We have selective schools in Hertfordshire, always next to the most expensive housing. One headteacher claims that every attempt at creativity with her 10 year olds is greeted by parents complaining, “We want none of that. Teach them to the DAO test.”
This is not right. This is not childhood. This is not education.

Every day this week – we are on holiday – I have watched teachers and students in school, revising for various exams to take place in May and June. Their commitment is amazing. If the students do less well than they should (according to a rigour of data) these teachers know that I will probably talk to them in a way that justifies their feeling threatened for their jobs. It’s a tough world. Young people get one chance at doing well at school and teachers need to be able to do it all: prepare, inspire, explain, cajole, demand, evaluate and reward.

I have no problem with the difficult conversations. Students were generally betrayed in my first school by poor teaching. 10 teachers had around 50 days off each year and no school leader/manager seemed to say a word. Having just completed another year as a 7 day a week milkman, I did speak to my so-called colleagues about their commitment. To the horror of the socialist revolutionaries nursing their headaches and backpain, I even refused to drink with one hero miscreant more than once discovered in the pub whilst his students watched a film in his classroom. But that was 1987; I think it was a Wednesday.

Last year the exam boards stole our 16 year olds’ GCSEs English qualifications in a drive for rigour (another word for flawed statistics.) The exam boards dumped 21 of our young people (around 10,000 nationally) who had done the necessary work to earn a place at college, a pass on the minimum CV for a job interview and the knowledge that their hard work would bring them just reward. A dangerous precedent even with our famously non violent britishness.

So what did our teachers do in response to the amoral, cold blooded dismissal of their work? Go to the pub? Bunk school? Claim everything would be alright after the revolution?

They taught less risqué poetry. No-one’s got the time for stories that provoke, inspire, amaze, amuse or annoy. They held fewer off piste discussions and taught to the GCSE exam earlier than ever and over and over and over again. They called upon the students’ trust to grind through revision, repetition, rote learning and formulaic writing frames – most of which will be relegated to vague memory within days of the single terminal exam. They rigorously identified borderline students, labelled them C3 and D1, wrote to their mums, bribed them with sweets and implored them to repeat tasks, for one more mark.

Our middle ability boys have entered the English exam in March and will enter two different English exams in June. They are having three shots at the one qualification and they are working very hard at lunchtimes, after school and in their holidays. On hearing of this the education secretary copied Father Ted and shouted, “Enough of this sort of thing!” He accused us of cynicism. Well, Mr Gove, you started it!

But I agree: This is not right. This is not childhood. This is not education. This is like potty training and we will do it because we can’t face the mess.
Our English teachers have worked so hard and worried so much that I am fearful for their mental health. If they get the borderline students a “C” grade rather than a “D” the school will be a better school in the eyes of the government, parents and teachers – until next year when we play the same game again. We are all on the road to education hell where we only teach to the test by which our school lives are measured. After 35 years in coed, comprehensive schools with amazing children, young  people and adults I will never forget the 14 year old Robina Kashmiri’s post apocalypse  poem (20 out of 20 in her coursework) or the beautiful story by a 50 year old Bunty Faye about her grandfather’s death.
But now, in the words of the near immortal Leonard Cohen, “It's come to this, yes it’s come to this, and wasn't it a long way down.”
Dennis O'Sullivan


  1. Wow. Eloquently expressed. This is how we impoverish our culture one student, one school, at a time. Sadly I can not afford to homeschool my children and get them out of this system which, failing in the UK, is being flirted with by our slavish, lazy Aussie-colony politicians. Happily I teach a subject which flies a little under the radar of national curricula and so forth. I will hold on to the large part of the resources pie my subject (Music) has in my independent school with fierce determination in order to 'provoke, inspire, amaze, amuse' and perhaps even annoy as many young adults as come my way into a sense of awe and wonder, into experiences of competency and its resultant confidence and joy and into articulate and fearless expression of their convictions.

  2. what else can we expect from a government that would much rather penalise hardworking families by hitting them with a bedroom tax, cap their benefits AND ensure their children have the same outlook by removing their hard earned exam results and then spend at least £10,000.000 on a funeral
    the phrase I'm all right Jack comes to mind