Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Politicians Want Teachers To Take An Oath. Well, You Asked For It.


With the approach of the General Election we can look forward to the Sunday morning policy announcements from all the political parties. From now until May we will have knee jerk reactions to the latest opinion polls and focus group discussions. Already ASBOs will be replaced by Crimbos, new dangerous dog laws will be enacted and penalties for cyberbullying quadrupled. Look out for new policies on cat grooming in public places, suggested bans on French cheese, bicycle lanes encircling the M25 and a new train link to your constituency.

Given 4 years of mayhem poured upon our education system the Labour Party are out for reform and votes. Tristram Hunt – the privately educated pretty boy shadow secretary of state for education went on a mission to Singapore to find what works best. He came back from his expenses paid, no doubt first class travels, with the answer: Get teachers to swear an oath.

It seems there were no T shirts available.

This will be an education-light blog because the chance to mock the politician is enticing. Oaths are pledges and promises but they can also be insults and curses. I think I will look to the latter.

Hunt did suggest the oath be similar to the renowned Hippocratic Oath no longer compulsory for doctors. Maybe he meant The oath of the hypocrite, seemingly taken by many politicians around election time.

I’ve been swearing about politicians venting their ignorance upon our schoolchildren for some time, so I think I will continue. I have researched oaths in the interests of fulfilling Tristram’s desires and I will endeavor to run the full gamut of oath opportunities.

There’s biblical backup to using oaths. According to Luke (13:6-9) Jesus cursed a fig tree which did not produce the fruit he desired to sate his hunger. The tree died. There are many interpretations of this parable, one is “be careful what you wish or pray for because it may happen.”

More recently:

When I was a member of The Mischief Makers in 1961 I swore a powerful oath of lifelong loyalty, possibly on a vatfull of bat entrails, on punishment of Chinese burns. I think this is what Tristram wants so perhaps I should bow and pledge allegiance to his highness and his cronies, invoking divine witness and promising self- flagellation for any failure I commit in their eyes.

I have an oath for politicians to start my thinking: something about answering the questions asked, being truthful, honest and principled, acting and voting according to conscience, manifesto and constituents ’wishes. And taking care when submitting their boyfriend’s rent allowance, their duck’s housing needs or their husband’s adult viewing costs.

Oaths can be foul words. We now have Reception Class children being tested so that they can be given a baseline score against which school improvement can be assessed in a league table.. Whilst schools furtively seek out the hardest possible tests for the five year olds, I have some swearing to do about this.

Perhaps we have misjudged Tristram. Maybe he has been listening to the views of teachers and he sympathises. Perhaps his oath is the kind of words we use when exasperated, bullied and condemned.

5 year olds must now study fractions and decimals in order to keep up with Finnish children who don’t even start school until they are 7 years old. I swear that’s nonsense worthy of a Tristram oath.

Levels to show progress through the curriculum have been abolished and will be replaced by whatever system an individual school deems fit. Allegedly parents had difficulty understanding the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,7 & 8 nor could they work out how a level 6 might show progress from a 5. So now we have no universal information until the end of year 6 when children will be given a mark around 100. I promise (oaths again you see) that I have been reliably informed that it looks like 106.1 will be an average score at age 11. Oh, goodness.

Quelling more offensive, gutturals about the present government’s assessment nonsense I have to mention GCSEs. In future GCSE grades will be allocated according to “comparable years data.“ Find a year when 11 year olds achieved the same SATs results as this year’s 16 year olds did 5 years ago. The GCSE results achieved by the former group will be replicated by the latter group. So this ensures results can never improve nor deteriorate.

However, for various reasons everyone accepts, there are no reliable comparable scores.

Well, bother and blast. I am informed, and I asked for this on oath, that there is no writer, commentator, academic, educationalist or human being connected to assessment who believes that we now will have a joined up system of assessing our children. Which oath would you suggest?

This evening, we are told that there has been a 46% rise in student appeals against exam grades mismarking. The regulatory body, OFQUAL, said this was bound to happen with new exams; there has been“volatility.” Not their fault.

Students, no doubt, mildly curse the lost opportunities of badly marked exams, whilst Education Minister, Nick Gibb says “45,000 papers having their grades upgraded is unacceptable.” Not his fault.He is“very unhappy, ” and, “we are monitoring what the exam boards are doing.” Not resigning, then?

Mr Gibb might more sensibly have claimed the Mafia oath of “Omerta” where a member of the organization keeps silent. Mind you, this often involves the silent person “taking the fall,” for the offence.

When one goes to court one may swear an oath to promise to tell the truth. We call upon God to witness that this time, and perhaps only this time, we will tell the truth. Quakers refute the oath as they believe it is an excuse for dishonesty. Di, insists I include her joke about quakers liking oaths when they are pronounced with an Irish accent.

I believe the scouts have now dropped God from their oath but they still swear to “help other people” and in America to, “to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight,” which sounds great advice for all of us.

Well, that’s the scouts and they have a three fingered salute to go with it. According to David Icke, who you may remember as the TV football pundit who shell-suited declared himself the son of God, the freemasons have more suspect oaths and salutes.

Allegedly, freemasons vow to help their fellow masons,” to fly to their relief,” and if they don’t they will pay the penalty,“having my body severed in two, my bowels taken from thence and burned to ashes,” which are then scattered so that no memory remains of such a “vile and wicked wretch as I would be. “ No wonder they give each other jobs. At the elevated, very rarely reached 33rd level of freemasonry, according to ex mason, the reborn Jim Shaw,” May the wine I now drink become a deadly poison to me,” if he breaks the oath of secrecy, and, of course, it is only a man that can become a freemason – ironically dressing up in aprons.

You may have noticed a veering away from education in this blog. Given the open goal of conservative education mess – free schools with no kids and unaccountable academy chains fiddling expenses for example, Labour has the opportunity to wreak havoc at election time by appealing, in common sense terms, to the millions of frustrated and confused parents whose children are on a treadmill of league table obsessed, Ofsted fearing tests.

And they suggest an oath.

Apparently legendary bluesman Robert Johnson gave his soul to the devil, aged 27 and the musicians curse was born. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse are the best known of the dead at 27 musicians’ list.

Everyday in America, millions of children swear an oath to a piece of cloth. In our schools we have a new found instruction to promote British values. My relatives in Ireland used to speak of British values but I think the ones we are meant to promote are not Oliver Cromwell’s but ones of decency, integrity, honesty, fair play and equality of opportunity. Let’s all swear a great big oath to those values and punish those in authority who cheat on them. May your innards become your outers and your children cross the road when they see you.

Also in America is the curse of their presidents. From 1840 until Ronald Reagan used his western actor skills not to die from a bullet, every president elected in a year ending in 0 dies in office Harrison, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding, Roosevelt and Kennedy all met the criteria. I think the next one will be the president after Hilary Clinton.

Tristram Hunt is perhaps an occultist and is egging us on to make effigies of the enemies of promise and the spoilers of education. I wish the present government thinking, or that of the Labour opposition, was to support the arts in school rather than relegate them to some sort of home play time activity. Effigies can be made of wood (Technology lessons please) clay (Ceramics) or stuffed puppets (Textiles is long gone in most schools). You paint the effigy (Art GCSE for all) then you stab it or burn it (in a poor Food Tech lesson?). The better the artwork the more likely the “pure sympathetic magic” will work. Now, children, of whom shall we make effigies in our Gifted& Talented Art workshop?

I am off on a ramble now so cut to the final few lines for some closure, if you wish

To those politicians who play with our children’s learning, opportunities and futures, may these fine Irish curses apply:

           May the snails devour your corpse

           May the devil take you by the heels and shake you

           May you be afflicted with the itch and have no nails to scratch with.

Time now, for the Bob Dylan reference. Listen to “My Back Pages” for a plea:

           “I wish that for just one time

           You could stand inside my shoes

           You’d know what a drag it is

           To see you.”

This may be borrowed from the Irish, “May she still be alive till everyone’s sick of the sight of her.”

Marriage vows have changed so much you can swear an oath to do just about anything. No longer is obedience essential from a wife. However, another Irish curse, “May you get the runs on your wedding night.” Or how about “May you marry a wench that blows wind like a stone from a sling.”

Addressing my union’s excellent patient leadership who keep telling us that the political parties are listening to your arguments and vision. Get some promises, pledges and real words signed in their blood as an authentic oath.

Moving to a close with some Shakespeare, (All’s Well That Ends Well 1V, ii)

Mr Hunt

              “ ‘Tis not the many oaths that make the truth

                But the plain single vow that is vowed true.”

Here’s a teacher’s vow for you, no fancy words required:

              “I will do all I can to help children learn.


Dennis O'Sullivan   Wednesday 22nd October 2014

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