Thursday, 20 July 2017

Saying Goodbye



I never got to say it.

It was three Christmases ago. I was cooking the family Christmas meal. I love cooking. I'd spent two days on the prep. It was going to be a gourmet affair for the whole family. As it turned out, I cocked up the starter, a beer soup that tasted just awful. The amuse-bouches were nice. The sorbet, at least, cleaned the beer soup off everyone's palates. I got the main course on the table, but the show-stopper pudding stayed in the fridge, a sad homage to the deconstructed fancies of Masterchef. I didn't eat. I excused myself and went to bed.

Part of me never woke up, though it took me a long time to realise it.

The rest of that holiday is a blur. I went back to school in January, having recovered enough from the virus to convince myself I could motor on. I did, right up until February half term.

I was teaching a pretty full timetable. I had responsibilities on top of that. Determined to bring about better communication, better assessment and lower workload for everyone, I was in charge of deploying Google Apps for Education. My line manager, an Assistant Headteacher, had left and on top of what I was doing, I was asked to fill his role too - parental engagement. No promotion. No pay rise. No support. No extra PPA. No review of my current responsibilities. I could have turned it down, I suppose, but the promotion was hinted at as a deferred possibility, and I wanted nothing more at that time than a seat at the decision-making table. I wanted to change things. I knew I could change things.

The school had just come out of Special Measures after years in the category, dragged out by every unsustainable, damaging initiative you could imagine. Every single one. I reckon I've been seen by more Ofsted inspectors, LEA advisors, Mocksted-peddling consultants and every other type of external observer than most teachers will see in their entire careers, and I never let the side down. I watched colleagues leave and get pushed out. I stayed. I threw everything I had at it, and all that ever happened was that more was thrown back at me.

By the time the virus came along, there was nothing left of me to fight it.

Between that Christmas and February, I started losing weight. I still attended every after-school parent event, as was required of me. I still ran the parent forum that SLT never attended or responded to. I still followed up, as was asked of me by the head, every single parent complaint and produced half-termly reports for governors on my work. And I rolled out Sims Learning Gateway, too, so that every parent would have access to their children's data and reports, and so that the school could save the considerable work and expense of printing them out.

I still ran Google Apps for Schools.

Oh. And I still taught. Not one. Not two. Three subjects. There were gaps in the staffing you see. And I'm a bit musical. And I'm a bit French. And that's all you really need at Key Stage 3, right? Someone to stand in front of the class who knows more than them and who can write reports.

School finished at 15.30 on the Friday and I was in the doctor's office by 17.00. I had pain in my gut and I was exhausted. I was diagnosed with a stomach ulcer and sent home with Omeprazole. I went to sleep.

I don't really sleep much. Six hours a night has been the average my whole adult life. For the next few months, I was sleeping 14 hours a night, and I needed a nap to get through the day. It was a sleep that provided no rest. I woke up from it as tired as I'd fallen into it. I went back to the doctor and he signed me off. A fortnight. Then another. Then another.

I had a whole barrage of blood tests. My white blood cell count was critically low. I was, apparently, suffering sepsis. There must have been drugs. I can't remember. There were supplements. All sorts. The energy required to digest food was more than my body could handle. Eating meant sleeping. I developed a tremor. I couldn't walk down stairs without holding on because my knees shook from the effort. I couldn't play my guitar, which broke my heart. I still can't play it because, I think, my heart is still broken. I got a new diagnosis: post-viral fatigue syndrome, or post-viral ME.

During that whole time, the school called me once.

"Hi JL. We've just had the call from Ofsted. I'm just calling to find out if there's any chance of you being back tomorrow."

The school went back into Special Measures.

And I missed it. Oh how I missed my work, my students. My sense of purpose.

My wife, I don't mind telling you, saved me. She is my hero. As I write this, she's still out there doing it. She works in education too. The greatest challenge for me these past couple of years has been to see the job's impact from the outside; to watch it try to do to her what it did to me; to support her the way she supported me; to struggle daily to find the balance between encouraging the right amount of resilience or of resistance; to be at home feeling like the one you love loves her job more than her family; knowing this to be untrue; resenting yourself for feeling it; resenting the toll it takes, the fact that even when she's home, she isn't really - the best part of her is still at work. Just like I was.

She has resigned. She has a wonderful new job to go to. All this week, she has been saying goodbye and it must be gut-wrenching for her. She loves those kids, and her colleagues, and they love her back.

But she is getting to say goodbye.

I went back on a phased return. The occupational therapist's report was ignored (administrative cock-up) and I was put straight back into the classroom. It was awful. I was awful. I had no support. I felt like I was shunned for having dared to be ill. I was a stone and a half lighter, and I'm not a big guy to start with. I struggled on until the summer holidays. I was given a timetable on the final day. Next year, I would be teaching English and Citizenship instead of Music and French, neither of which I had ever taught. Surprise! Have a great summer.

I went home in tears. I had an appalling summer. My precarious health caved in a second time.

Anti-depressants were little use, but they reassured people around me that I was doing something. CBT was excellent. It gave me a language to conceptualise the anxiety attacks I was suffering, and to manage them. It didn't stop them.

I had another term of absence, until my departure was mutually agreed.

Since then, I've only worked supply and part-time contracts. Initially, I felt totally, and stupidly, emasculated. How utterly disrespectful to my wife that feeling was -  to the decade she'd supported my career aspirations at the cost of her own. I got over myself pretty quickly.

Physically, I'm a weaker person for my experience. The weight and muscle loss have caused me to suffer pain in my cervical spine, which is with me for life now. At some point, a permanent tinnitus kicked in. If that doesn't sound like much, consider never being able to enjoy a silence, and having to work harder to keep your cognitive load under control in every noisy environment. A classroom, say, or any dinner table where more than one conversation is going on at the same time. I'm still prone to an anxiety response in stressful situations.

Mentally though, I am stronger than I've ever been. I've learned the power of no, and I'm not letting go. Unfortunately, that's not always helpful when working in schools (an understatement). By the same token, I have a little less ego getting in the way. I never valued myself much by how hard I worked, how much I earned, or how important my job title sounded, but I don't break myself anymore trying to sustain a system that can't sustain itself, and I advise all those who'll listen not to either.

I focus on the students in front of me, on the curriculum to be taught, on keeping expectations high. Ironically, I can only do this because expectations of me are low. Anything more than a body in the room who'll take a register is a bonus, it seems, for some schools I've worked in as a supply. But even for those who really look after supply teachers, accountability is low, and where that is the case, I stay as long as possible. Every placement where my curriculum needs are met and my pastoral abilities empowered, I literally feel my teaching improve.

What does that say about our education system, at least as I'm encountering it?

As I've picked myself up from the floor, I've taken ownership of my own CPD. I go to conferences and I read, read, read and I write. I listen and I ask questions. I interact with people across the education system who constantly challenge me to think better, to be better. And I have the time to do all that because I don't work for a school that won't let me, that has other priorities for me.

But there's one thing missing. Nearly three years ago, I didn't get to say goodbye to students I'd taught and colleagues I'd taught with for years, and I still carry that with me. Since then, I've met many young people and teachers, some of whom I've had opportunity to say goodbye to, but few of whom I'd developed a true, long-term, pastoral or collaborative rapport with. If you read this and you have those things, I dare say you don't take them for granted. I dare say your students and colleagues don't either. Though I would venture a guess that more than a couple of things this year have gotten in the way of you making the most of it.

In my experience, a focus on curriculum, self-directed CPD, and moderate accountability don't just create the conditions for better pastoral care for our students - they are in themselves better pastoral care for our teachers.

Saying goodbye is always a proud moment, tinged with more than a little sadness. It is a privilege. Perhaps an education system that allows teachers that privilege is one that would see fewer teachers choose to say goodbye to the classroom instead.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Invisible Academies (Chapter 3)

Back to Chapter 2

The Archē Academy



I arrived at the Archē Academy early. Bathed from the East in the only sunlight ever to reach its walls and windows, it glowed an iridescent orange. As I awaited the hour of my appointment, I spoke to people streaming through the city's East Gate to their places of work. Among those who live in the Academy's vicinity, I learned, the true colour of the building is the source of some controversy. Despite deep division in that regard, all accept as fact - and not without some pride - that it was the first official building of the White City. Eschewing palaces and ministries, the Emperor's first act was to create a school (this school, their school) to forever safeguard knowledge and the past, which to them are synonymous.

As to its colour, there are proponents for every hue in the palette of the rising Sun, from ceremonious purple to sacrificial red. Each is happy to state the colour of the building as they see it in the here and now, to accept that it may be a different colour every day, every minute, or every time they happen to walk past it. The subjectivity of these existentialists is trusted by no one, least of all themselves, and two main factions have coalesced on the subject: on one hand, those who argue that the building can only be white, though it is never seen to be, and on the other, those for whom black is a certainty assured by the senses.

To the former Cartesians, appearances are not to be trusted and it stands to reason that the Emperor could only have inaugurated the White City with a white building. Notwithstanding this logic, supported by the unquestioned infallibility of the Emperor, they further argue that only the reflective achroma of white can honour the past, by protecting it from the blanching rays of each new day. To their empiricist disputants, history gives scant evidence regarding whether the naming of the city predates the erection of the building or vice versa; even if the archive were complete, the Emperor's logic cannot be inferred from the logic of ordinary minds; the achromatic purity of black is equal to that of white; and the only way to honour the past is to absorb the light of the new day, that its rays may be filtered by prior knowledge and not let loose upon the world, refracted and untamed.

To neither faction is it of any interest that proof has repeatedly been presented that the building is now grey.

The Emperor has seen fit to ensure that each Academy serves a locale, a community, and so the complainants on either side are, in their vast majority, students and alumni of the Archē Academy. It was thus clear to me as I left off speaking to passers-by that, more than bricks and mortar of this or that colour, the Archē Academy (and perhaps the whole Academy edifice) is built of this polemic. This thought was interrupted as I noticed a student moving in the opposite direction to the otherwise well-ordered crowd. I asked after her as I waited at the reception desk, and was informed she had come unequipped. She would return tomorrow.

Inside, the impermeability of the walls and the staining of the windows have ensured that the curriculum is incontestably empiricist. Though it was already obvious to me that the Academy is not premised upon a model of indoctrination (at least not a successful one), I was intrigued to see if the diversity of opinion in the general population was reflected in the school. What I found was that personal opinion has little place there. While a curriculum built upon experience appears to lend itself to individual interpretation, and a curriculum delivered chronologically must continuously highlight the erroneous nature of what has been held in each successive era as infallible knowledge, there are a number of criteria to discourage relativism. These criteria form the basis of strict hierarchies - of people, of subjects, indeed of the senses themselves.

At the bottom of these hierarchies are the students (not in order of age, but of proven maturity), the arts (not for lack of value, but because their true appreciation relies most heavily on the acquisition of prior knowledge and experience) and taste and smell (which seem to be perceived as wholly unacademic, though use of the other senses is also strictly proscribed). At the top of the hierarchies are the Emperor (or, to be precise, his subtle and less subtle instruments of measurement), the sciences (to which here belongs the study of language), and sight (for the direction of one's eyes is understood as the direction of one's attention). The Archē Academy is the first in the Empire, not just historically, but academically, and all its many eyes are fixed upon maintaining that status, be the minds behind them conscious of this or not.

The school's hierarchies and reverence for the past go hand in hand. They sustain and nourish each other, and are supported by rituals I found worthy of note. Speech is limited in quantity and quality, because a singular outburst might loose something new upon the accepted canon. As a result, no sentence is ever complete - completeness itself can only be conferred by the Imperial Authority of the Guardian of the Archive Vault, whose visits are separated by millennia. A student's sentence, already heavily shaped by prior teaching, will, no sooner pronounced, be dissected, pulled apart, have clauses amputated and others inserted, punctuation moved, changed or removed and only be transcribed into a book when it matches the sentence on the teacher's lesson script and can be transcribed into all books. The lesson script itself is not written by the teacher but by his or her superior, and is also subject to revision according to changes in the examination specifications, in direct correlation with imponderable movements in examination authorities, who in turn respond to the fathomless logic of the Emperor - a conduit for which I assume you are, dearest Secretary. In this way, every new event in history has the potential to re-write the entirety of the curriculum. Despite inscrutable fluctuations over aeons, it is no wonder that the Archē Academy has maintained its place at the Empire's apex, for a disciplined hierarchy is the most responsive system to changing circumstance.

As with speech, movement too is restricted in number and type. It is an oft-repeated cautionary tale in the Academy that the wave of a student's hand once blew chaos into the pages of the archive itself. For this reason, any potential for action with uncertain outcomes is dealt with in advance through policy and enforcement, habituation and exclusion. Students walk from class to class in single files along the left-hand wall, with hands behind their backs. Some see their maturity rewarded with an elevated status to monitor adherence to this code. Teachers walk with their hands by their sides. The most venerable of them walk backwards, at once showing the ideal direction of travel for the academic mind, and the profound abilities conferred upon them by detailed and encyclopedic knowledge of the past.

What of the student who hadn't brought a pen that morning, whose path I crossed as I entered? I never saw her again, but she has crossed my mind many times in the intervening month. I wonder whether she gave her exclusion any thought at all, and if she did, whether she had any power to change the circumstance in time for the next day. I imagine her across the road, contemplating the colour of the Archē Academy. Will that experience come to shape which faction she joins in the great polemic? And, if so, is it possible that the Emperor willed it thus? Having created the White City, the dark vault of the age-old empire and the grey Academy, is it conceivable that he abhorred the cold logic of this achromatic scale enough to create the conditions for dangerous little sparks to flit briefly into existence?

I suspect the archive is incomplete on the matter.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Invisible Academies (Chapter 2)

Back to Chapter 1

The Three Academies Of The White City

The Secretary was surprised to find herself impatient for his return. He'd been gone a month, too short a time to expect him to have even left the imperial enclave known as The White City. Written correspondence was out of the question. They both knew this, as much because of the ponderous pace of Imperial bureaucratic time as to avoid the mediation involved in communicating impersonally, the filtering effect of censors both internal and external, real and imagined. Thus it was that she had filled the gap of anticipation with dreams of his first journey in her land and imagined herself for the first time as a stranger. When a Department mandarin drew her attention to the appointment he had made to see her, she accepted the news with the equanimity that befits her rank.



Courtesies having been observed, only the sound of tea being served filled the room as they settled on cushions either side of a low table. Though the ritual sounds spoke superficially of accord, not quite unseen, the Brownian motion of the steam rising from their cups better captured the underlying conflicts each was battling with.

"I am told you have visited the Emperor's three Academies."

"Indeed, I have, though not without some challenge as you forewarned."

"Were you hampered in your access?"

"Not at all. At least, not deliberately. Movement through The White City is reminiscent of some famous paradoxes that were once part of our school curriculum."

"How is the inclusion or exclusion of curriculum material decided upon in your homeland?"

"I can't profess to know. I could only tell you who makes those decisions."

The Secretary could not comprehend the ramifications of not having an Emperor to provide stability over aeons, with a purpose and a trajectory as true as time's arrow itself. Blind to this, she impugned upon Marco's homeland a wisdom its own citizens would have scoffed at. Seeing in her face a hint of acquiescent patronisation, he said only: "The question would yield a different answer at surprisingly regular intervals." At that, her eyes narrowed. He sipped his tea with an innocence that was either wholly beatific, or a disingenuity that was no less admirable.

"Tell me of the Three Academies. One is my alma mater. I am interested to see if you can work out which." Her self-indulgence surprised him, and he began his report uncertainly, defensively, hastily trying to reframe the narrative he'd prepared into a portrait of her. It shifted incessantly, resolving and dissolving like a surrealist montage.

"My journey took me first to the Archē Academy, where the East Gate imposes itself on the minds of denizens, then to the Aūrion Academy, where the West Gate frames the entirety of the landcape, and finally to the Ārtios Academy, where the Gateway Bridge is erected as a permanent reminder of the transience of all things. I have prepared a report on each, but I would be hard pushed to say which you attended without more time to reflect."

She laughed, and he could tell it was as much at herself as at him. He relaxed at that and she seized the opportunity to move on.

"I am only playing, Mr Collier. Your visit is a welcome diversion and I am keen to hear your thoughts. Would you care to read your reports to me? It would bring me great pleasure."

"I would be delighted to," he said. Often, since his children had grown up, he missed reading aloud to them. He took every opportunity to do it in his classes. Equally, he kept those opportunities to a minimum because, like her, he enjoyed being read to. He wondered whether she had ever known the teacher's priviledged joy of hearing a reading voice develop over weeks, months and years.


Sunday, 30 October 2016

Death Of A Teacher

Co-written with @whatonomy in Lima, October 2016.

Rich Hymen, merino sweater sleeves drawn just shy of his elbows, is contemplating his forearm hair. This is not, or shouldn't be, his natural environment; he isn't a comfortable sage on the stage, but as he imagines the faces of his expectant charges, the sense of responsibility taking hold visibly stimulates each follicle, and his grip on the lectern tightens.

Dick!

Students are filing into the auditorium. As they do so, he runs a thumb and forefinger down his lanyard. Cotton? No. Vinyl? Maybe. Nylon? Yes. Nylon and the bas relief of a transfer. Nylon and rubber. YES!

Dick! Stand to attention, Dick! For Pete's sake!
"Hello everyone. The theme of today's lecture is the learning cycle - empowering students for the 21st Century through helical planning."

At 'helical' the students' notebooks flutter and crackle: a graphologist would have heard the word 'helical' scratched rapidly in graphite.

Dick! (Please. 'Rich', Dad!) Bullshit. Dick.

"Picture this: the Victorian Age. An age of agrarian industry. A time of great disparity and yet... of great expectations."

Dick!

"The harvest is done; the children, exhausted by their industrial travails, trudge back to the charity school to learn words, numbers and the writing thereof." Graphite twitches throughout the auditorium. And the graphologist hears "thereof".

Dick! Do your flies up. You're exposed.

The lecture follows Rich Hymen's well-trodden path from A to B, the Roman road from a dark past to an unknown future: a future in which 65.7% of jobs will not be intelligible to either the people that do them, nor (most pertinently) to their parents, who are likely to be sitting now in the auditorium.

Dick!

Whenever he talks about the future, everyone in the auditorium (including Rich) looks at the glowing green exit sign in the rear, right-hand corner of the room.

The lecture ends. Each forearm hair in turn stands down, like a batallion dismissed. Students file out like a squadron sent to the front line. All but one.

"Mr Hymen, Sir."

"Yes. Hello. How can I help you? And remind me your name."

"Arthur Busch, Sir. Arty. I'm struggling with behaviour in my B placement. I wondered if you could help me."

"Of course, Mr Busch. I assume you've already been through the Future-Proof Checklist I've given you. Tell me. What have you tried?"

Arty winces. The capital letters on Future-Proof Checklist are audible in his mentor's speech. He fingers the corner of his reporter's notebook. He flicks it open to the checklist, reworked in his own handwriting and annotated in three colours.

"I've tried 'know-understand-apply' learning objectives, no objectives, showing the objectives at the start, revealing them at the end, and asking the students to deduce them from the lesson."

"None of those worked?"

Dick!
"No. I don't think the problem was my objectives."

Rich scratches his chin: he's thinking.

Dick!
"And also.." Arty is breathless, "Also, triple marking has... kind of become, well, just another routine: something I do, the kids do - you know?" Arty's brow rises, expectant.

Rich works a knot in the lectern as he frames his response. As he does so, he imagines the lectern buckling.

"Have you tried flipping your classroom? It's maybe a bit advanced for you at this stage."

"I've tried that, Sir, but there were problems of... accessibility. Of varying kinds."

"Ah, yes. How can we prepare kids for the future when society doesn't even allow them to live in the present? Tell me that. What about giving them access in class? Have you tried iPads?"

Arty's parents - could they have observed him at this moment - would have seen an increment of aging that no parent should have to see.

"I did. I now have a few fewer. My feedback stamp quickly became an improvised graffiti tool, my lollipop sticks spawned a number of hilarious games, and the brain gym quickly descended into a bout of Ultimate Fighting."

Rich nods - thoughtfully (to a casual observer). He nods again. He pauses. He nods again.

Dick! You numbskull.

"I think," he says without thinking, "I have the solution."

"But Mr Hymen, you haven't really asked me what the problem is."

"Ah yes, of course. I forget myself."

A  pregnant silence follows, during which Richard Hymen hesitates to ask, and Arthur Busch hesitates to tell. The urgency of Arty's situation wins over, and he speaks first.

"I think the problem is the checklist, Sir."

Oh Dick! Dick, Dick, Dick! You've finally been caught with your pants down.

"You think my checklist is incomplete?"

Arty's parents - could they have observed him now - would have been so proud.

"Not incomplete. More, dare I say..."

Dick! He hasn't swallowed your creation. He's going to spit it back in your face.

"No." Rich touches a finger to Arty's lips - much to the disapproval of Arty's parents, could they have observed him.

"Arty, we are writing the rule book of the Third Millennium, here. The past is a foreign country. The future is our home now."

"Mr Hymen, do you realise how vacuous that sounds?"

Richard Hymen's hairs all stand back up to attention, ready to go over the top, lest one be shot as an example.

Ha! Ha! Ha! Dick! Vacuous. Did you hear that?

Rich's features set. "Arturo."

"Arty."

"Yes, Arthur. Look, it's really not as complex as you might think."

"Well, I am coming around to that way of thinking." Arty smiles and then, just as quickly, unsmiles.

"Watch." says Rich, "And learn."

From his salesman's bag, an ironic legacy from his father, Richard pulls a black box. He holds it up with precious care between them, then pulls a strap from it, methodically, behind his head and over his ears.

"You can't hold back the future, Arty. Look. Just look."

The device descends slowly over Richard Hymen's now incongruously youthful face, and finally obscures his eyes.

"Can you see?" he says, "Can you see what I see?"

Hymen - unbroken, unbowed - doesn't hear Arty's footsteps to the door. He doesn't see the calm determination now on the young man's face.

He neither hears nor sees the door that shuts on two careers.

Dick!

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Invisible Academies (Chapter 1)

Invisible Academies

Prologue

In that greatest of Empires, a new Secretary of State for Education had been appointed. Her knowledge of the glorious purpose of Education could be in little doubt. Her commitment to the infallible logic of the Curriculum was as certain as the rotation of the stars above the imperial palace; her sensitivity to the deep poignancy of Schooling for everyone from the Emperor himself to the lowliest of his subjects an inevitable outcome of her own learning. Yet the trajectory of a mandarin's progress to such high office can only be achieved at a cost - the wider one's field of view, the harder it is to perceive the details. What a lever gains in power, it must lose in subtlety. This lesson, the new Secretary of State had never forgotten. Now, surveying her conspectus, she yearned for the unattainable: the five-year plan of an Academy in such and such a city, the performance management documents for a teacher of maths in such and such an Academy, the workbook of a student in the third row in such and such a class. 


Chapter 1 - A Commission

It was almost by chance that they met. Almost, because chance had no part to play in the Emperor's dominions. Banished from this most rational realm, it remained only by clinging to the weaker instincts of all but the most disciplined subjects. It hung around in their uselessly consuming dreams. It clung to their unproductive subconscious thoughts. It preyed on new and complex situtations, always ready to pounce from the shadows to supplant superstition for faith. The Secretary for Education herself was, on this occasion, nearly seduced by its simple narrative. Her training and lifelong devotion to the Empire allowed her to overcome herself and recognise the intentionality of their meeting. We can all find solace in her temporary weakness, and may all find inspiration in her self-mastery.

A visitor from a land beyond even the Emperor's towering aspirations, here he sat at her table, engrossed as well he might be by the lavish entertainment put on for his delegation. Yet he may never have been there. A classroom teacher, he had been picked by lot to accompany the deputation. His mission, it transpired throughout the evening, was to learn all he could of the Empire's education system. From curriculum to pedagogy, from structure to agency, he was tasked with reporting how the Empire prepared its children for the future so unassailably well. He was woefully unqualified for the task, but his Head of State hoped less to transform the lot of their students than to boost the morale of their teachers.

Luck, hope, naked deviousness and outright envy. She balked at every detail of his account and pitied the people of his barbaric homeland, but never betrayed her diplomatic smile. She found him charming, in a child-like way. Though she did not tell him so, she too may not have been there that night. Her presence was, strictly speaking, unnecessary. Only her recent promotion had made her feel compelled to attend. As the uncomfortable notion of chance retreated from her mind, she marvelled at the Emperor's omnipotence that had brought them together, and vowed to make the most of the opportunity.

"You will have access to all of the Empire's Academies."

"Thank you, Your Excellency, but I will need to see no more than a few. The Curriculum being equal in all, my interest will be in seeing it applied in different contexts - urban and rural, coastal and peripheral, rich and deprived."

She let pass the notion of deprivation. She was certain he spoke guilelessly and meant no insult.

"The Curriculum is indeed equal in all Academies, but equality and uniformity are not the same. Each Academy has its own, notwithstanding an element of franchising."

"Each has its own Curriculum? How can this be? How can equality be assured? And who can be licensing a curriculum, if not the Emperor or his Ministers?"

The nature of his task was only beginning to dawn on him. She held back an admixture of feelings that amounted to nothing more than condescension, and which she resented in herself.

"You may be thinking in terms of equality of outcome. The Emperor in his wisdom offers all equality of opportunity." She paused, noting the puzzlement of his expression. "It is therefore fitting that his most successful subjects should be free to develop and deliver curricula that honour him and his infallible principles. The noble task of the Ministry is to ensure that standards are upheld. You will also have access to all Ministers, Commissioners and Inspectors as you desire."

Questions rose in his mind like a tide, but he knew better than to open the floodgates. He would have much to observe and much to learn. For now, he thanked her profusely for her hospitality.

"There is something you can do for me."

"Yes, Your Excellency?"

"I would like you to report back to me with your observations."

The cold breath of censorship caressed the back of his neck. She sensed it in his eyes.

"Don't worry," she laughed. "My intention is quite the opposite of what you fear."

He relaxed visibly.

"It will be my pleasure to share my observations with you, Your Excellency."

"I am glad. A fresh perspective can be... Gratifying."

He noted the hesitation. Conversation with her was like chess. He was enjoying it deeply, and was glad there would be more occasions to do it. For now, as they took their leave of each other, neither of them could be in any doubt that he had exposed a weakness in her game, though she never betrayed her diplomatic smile.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Two Rejected Education Film Ideas

How To Get A Head In Education 

John Dumbledore Dewey is a highly successful academy headteacher who can't come up with a motto for his trust's new academy that will get his community to buy in and stop complaining. His obsessive worrying affects not only his relationship with his wife, his friends and CEO, but also his own body - graphically demonstrated when he grows a large stress-related boil on his shoulder. When the boil grows eyes and a mouth and starts talking, Dewey really begins to think he's lost his mind. But has he?

The boil takes a cynical and unscrupulous view of the teaching profession in contrast to Dewey's new-found ethical concerns. Eventually, he decides to have the boil removed in hospital but moments before he is taken into the operating room, the boil grows into a replica of Dewey's head, covers his original head, and asks doctors to lance it, which is done since nobody has noticed the switch from left to right. Dewey, now with a new head, moustache and personality returns home to celebrate his wedding anniversary. He resumes his teaching career rejuvenated and ruthless, although without his wife, who decides to leave his new cruel persona.


Teacher stress: Don't let it get inside your head.



Being Tom Bennett

Supply drama teacher Craig Schwartz and animal lover and pet store clerk Lotte Schwartz are just going through the motions of their marriage. Despite not being able to earn a living solely through supply teaching, Craig loves his profession as it allows him to develop the talents of others. Though achieving some mastery, he is forced to take a job as a file clerk for the off-kilter Department For Education, in an office located on the five-foot tall 7½ floor of Sanctuary Buildings. 

Behind one of the filing cabinets, Craig finds a hidden door which he learns is a portal into the mind of education star and behaviour guru Tom Bennett. The visit through the portal lasts fifteen minutes after which the person is spat into a ditch next to the new Sussex Turnpike. Maxine Lund, one of Craig's co-workers whom he tells about the portal because he is attracted to her, sees a money-making opportunity selling trips into Bennett's mind after office hours for £200 a visit. Craig, Lotte and Maxine begin to understand that anyone entering the portal has the ability to control Bennett's mind. Their relationships play out through Bennett, until he discovers the portal and enters it himself, in a bid to restore order to his and their lives.


Tsargate: A portal into the rational mind of Tom Bennett

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

On Exactitude In Education

After Jorge-Luis Borges, my greatest teacher.


... In that Empire, the Art of Teaching attained such Perfection that the assessment of a single child occupied the entirety of a School, and the assessment of a School, the entirety of the Empire. In time, those Unconscionable Frameworks no longer satisfied, and the Teachers Guild struck an Imperial Curriculum whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Teaching as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Curriculum was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Politics and Markets. In the Classrooms of the West, still today, there are tattered ruins of that Curriculum, harboured by Idealists and Charlatans; in all the Land there is no other relic of the Discipline of Teaching.


—Suarez Miranda,Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV,Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658