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Thursday, 20 June 2013

'How I turned around a failing school.' Interview with outstanding head, Carol Knutsford.

Carol Knutsford became Britain’s most successful head teacher when she took over the failing Cheddar Brook School (now the JD Wetherspoon Academy) last year, taking it to Outstanding in just two terms. She tells us how she did it.

ONSTED: Cheddar Brook was a shithole until you got there. What was the first thing you tackled when you arrived at the school?

Carol: Student behaviour was appalling, so the first thing I did was sack some teachers. For example, the week before I started at the school a 56-year-old female teacher had been the victim of a pistol-whipping by a year 8. Her low expectations and failure to recognise that student’s low boredom threshold meant that she simply had to go.

ONSTED: Was it difficult sacking teachers?

Carol: (laughs) Oh God, no! Fortunately I hate teachers. I really despise them. Teachers come and go. None of them are as important as my bullshit initiatives.

ONSTED: Can you give us an example of one of your most exciting bullshit initiatives?

Carol: Wow. There are so many to choose from. I recently set up an emotional literacy programme for obese girls from conflict zones. That was pretty exciting.

ONSTED: What did it achieve?

Carol: Absolutely nothing. How could it? It doesn’t matter though, because that’s not the point of these initiatives. The point is that they sound brave and innovative and grab attention.  

ONSTED: How did you prepare and motivate staff before the all-important visit from ONSTED?

Carol:  What I like to do is adopt a veneer of supportiveness while making it very clear that I expect no member of staff to eat, sleep or piss from the moment we get the call from ONSTED until the inspection is over and the Outstanding is in the bag. For example, I send all-staff emails saying things like ‘I know some of you are feeling a bit stressed, so we’ll be keeping school open late tonight. Pizza will be served in the library at 3.15am.’ By the time they are observed, teachers will stink and be unable to focus their eyes, but at least they’ll have outstanding lessons ready, chock-a-block with pointless and chaotic activities.

ONSTED: And how about during the inspection itself? What are your tips?

Carol: Weed out some middle class kids and get them to show the inspectors to a 22-year-old teacher’s lesson where students are learning about Shakespeare’s sonnets by playing a game of Twister.

ONSTED: And finally, your proudest moment?

Carol: That would have to be at the end of my first term when a year 7 boy thanked me for getting rid of teachers that had been pissing him off. I looked at him for a long time and then, with tears in my eyes, said 'no, thank you for insisting that we be better. You deserve to never be pissed off.'

Students at the JD Wetherspoon Academy take part in an outstanding lesson about the essential tenets of neoconservatism.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Teachers invited to retrain as troops with Cannon Fodder First scheme

Many ex-teachers find themselves in prison, in mental institutions or on the streets. Finding the readjustment to civilian life difficult, they seek solace in alcohol, drugs and, perhaps most worryingly, supply teaching.

Gary Penchant, a former geography teacher from Ipswich, is one such casualty of this hidden war. Highly decorated with three outstanding observations from ONSTED, Gary had long dreamed of leaving teaching to start his own business, selling dyspraxia-friendly software to cash-strapped local authorities.

The dream however, soon became a nightmare. Gary explained, ‘I was institutionalised. As a teacher I’d lived a regimented life, and I just couldn’t turn that off when I quit. Every day was the same. I would wake up, put on an ASDA easy-iron shirt and a shapeless pair of chinos, get in my filthy Nissan Micra and drive to my old school. I would sit under my old classroom window all day, shouting things about reclaimed land and earthquakes. The funny thing is it was some of the best teaching I have ever done.’

Gary went on (long-windedly), ‘The truth is I have seen things and done things that I am ashamed of. Things that have scarred me. When you have looked into the eyes of an EAL student from Afghanistan, seeing him pity you as you do a fucking rap about the features of an ox-bow lake, you realise you have experienced things that most rational people in society simply cannot relate to.'

Gary is not alone. Thousands of ex-teachers struggle daily to find an outlet for their apathy and sarcasm. This is why the government are launching a new scheme, set to allow teachers become troops. Called Cannon Fodder First, the scheme will mean that teachers with no military training, experience or physical fitness will be (literally) parachuted into war zones to facilitate behaviour for democracy and good outcomes for all.

Charlie Condor, Development Manager at Cannon Fodder First, commented, ‘We do not foresee the need for teachers to receive any specific training before being deployed in the field of combat. Their experience of defusing potentially violent situations with powerful techniques like Restorative Justice should make them an asset to our guys on the ground.’

To qualify, candidates need to have a proven track record of shouting in a chaotic environment and must have seen Saving Private Ryan at least 10 times. History teachers are at an obvious advantage.

Ex-teachers facilitate a restorative conference in Helmand Provence

Monday, 10 June 2013

Warring educational factions agree a truce

A surprise truce has been reached between progressive and traditionalist educators during the 7th annual Learning and Skills Conference at the University of Carterton.

Delegates thrashed out the agreement in the early hours of Tuesday morning, with debate focussing on the age-old question of which is better, knowledge or skills.

‘For years, we have been labouring under the misapprehension that the two approaches were incompatible,’ said Toby Bunion of the Conservative Learning Forum. ‘But now we’ve reached what seems to be the ideal compromise. We traditionalists will get to tell teachers what they have to teach, and the progressives get to tell them how to teach it.’

Maureen Bismark from the pressure group Progressives for Progress (PfP) explained, ‘We don’t mind kids having their minds filled with reams of archaic knowledge, as long as they learn it through pointless tasks that quickly descend into classroom chaos are a complete pain in the arse for teachers to facilitate. I’m thinking living graphs, hot-seating, carousel activities, that sort of thing.’

With excitement mounting in the education community, there can be little doubt that ‘progressive-traditionalism’, the learning of huge amounts of pointless knowledge through silly convoluted activities, represents the future of British education.

Chris Farmer, Executive Director at Capital Wealth Management Group, sponsor of the country’s largest academy chain, Forward!, commented, ‘It sounds great to me. I mean, I don’t know what a card sort or a hot seat is. My kids go to prep school and for some reason they don’t do those things there. But, yes, we are definitely going to be implementing this.’

As an indication of what an outstanding ‘prog-trad’ lesson might entail, delegates from the two sides came together to rewrite the famous passage from Dickens’s Hard Times in which Headmaster Gradgrind, the original fact-pusher, teaches students to define a horse.

The rewritten Hard Times excerpt in full:

Gradgrind: ‘Girl number twenty. There is a post-it note stuck to your forehead bearing the name of a certain graminivorous quadruped. Can you guess what it is?’

Sissy Jupe minimizes Facebook on her phone and opens Google. ‘How do you spell graminivorous, Sir?’

Gradgrind: ‘It’s in the word search I gave you as a starter.’

Sissy Jupe rifles in vain through the five card-sorts and eighteen worksheets on her desk. 

Gradgrind: ‘Right. We’re going to need some peer-to-peer support here. Bitzer, sit on the hot seat and get into character as the graminivorous quadruped in question.’

Bitzer sits on the hot seat and begins to neigh in a lack-lustre fashion.

Sissy Jupe: ‘Is it a horse?’

Gradgrind: ‘I’m not going to answer that, but can someone else answer Sissy’s question?’

Bitzer: ‘Yes, clearly it’s a fucking horse.’

Gradgrind: ‘Great learning guys. I call that rapid progress.’

'Now get into groups and make a scrappy poster about eighteenth century crop rotation systems. Spend most of the lesson colouring in the title. Then hand it to me and I will lose it before next lesson.'

Sunday, 9 June 2013

‘We hate poor people’ admit top universities

Britain’s top universities have called an amnesty on pretending that they want to admit more poor people.

Pryce Fairchild, spokesperson for the body that represents Britain’s top ten higher education institutions said that universities will benefit enormously from a return to the good old days when people got into university because their dads were posh, minted or both. ‘There can be no argument that standards are slipping in Britain’s universities,’ said Fairchild. ‘We have come to the conclusion that this is because we admit too many poor people. Poor people tend to be stupid. If you are poor and stupid instead of rich and stupid it means you cannot attend a good university. Simple as.’

In spite of criticisms that the new admissions policy will set social mobility back by several decades, top educational establishments have been quick to implement the changes.  One college has been harshly condemned for adding the phrase ‘No dogs, no Irish, no women and no media studies’ to its undergraduate prospectus. 

Roger Pike, admissions tutor at a leading Oxbridge college explained. ‘Oxbridge has always been the source of Britain’s best double agents, perverts, sociopaths and, more recently, comedy panel show team captains. People say we should just accept the top 1% of pupils from every school in Britain, irrespective of class or background. But then where would we be? I think it would be unwise to mess with our winning formula. Doing so could destroy the very foundations of our wonderfully fucked-up country.’

Michael Selwyn, head of ONSTED recently detailed his own theory about the root cause of inequality. ‘The reason for the lack of inner-city, working class, disadvantaged kids at Oxbridge is the culture of low expectations and poor teaching in state secondary schools.’ Secondary teaching organisations reacted angrily and rushed to criticise what they see as a culture of low expectations and poor teaching at primary level. Primary teaching unions reacted angrily to this and rushed to criticise what they see as a culture of low expectations and poor teaching at reception level. Reception teachers have blamed parents. Parents told them to shut the fuck up and babysit their kids.
The way it should be

Free school launched for children of Guardian-reading professionals

The Collective Futures Free School in Hackney, which will open its doors in September, is set to enable smug-faced, over-paid Guardian reading professionals to send their children to the kind of schools they themselves went to without having to feel guilty about it.

Wealthy lefties living in inner-city areas have long faced an overwhelming quandary, as Becca Hobbs, freelance travel journalist and mum, explains. ‘People kept asking me, ‘why don’t you just send Otto and Jerry to a private school?’ But I would never do that. It just totally isn't me. I buy my haemorrhoid cream from an organic women’s co-operative in Palestine. I've been to fucking Tibet. I can’t send my kids to private school. The trouble is that the local comp is full of ridiculously poor children. Don’t get me wrong, I like poor people. They’re great. It’s just that the ones round here take it a bit too far. Well, much too far, actually.’

Becca goes on, ‘Basically, we realised that we had a choice: move to Kent, or set up our own school. You don’t get pop-up galleries or Eritrean film festivals in Kent. It was a no-brainer.’

Becca asked around and found a large number of parents in her local community who were facing the same dilemma. After a series of meetings they came together, agreeing to found the Collective Futures Free School.

At present, free schools are forbidden from actively selecting students on the basis of parental income. This would mean that, in theory, poor children would be able to attend the school. However, Becca is confident that Collective Futures has found a fail-safe way round this: the school will be registered as a special school. ‘We realised that, actually, our children all share a specific Special Educational Need.’ explains Becca, ‘That is, they are Gifted and Talented. When he was four, Otto asked me to stop reading him excerpts from Polly Toynbee’s columns because he found the syntax somewhat jarring. You can’t expect kids like him to be educated alongside normal children. It would be absurd.’

The governing body invites applications from anyone who can prove that their child is Gifted and Talented. To be deemed Gifted and Talented, children will need to demonstrate exceptional intelligence, ability or a particularly precocious grasp of how to use systems to accumulate wealth and power. 

More information and application forms are available at the Collective Futures website

After weeks of debate, parents have finally agreed on the Collective Futures school uniform