So comrades come rally

Today millions of public sector workers are striking over pensions.

In the borough where I used to work every school bar one is closing completely or has part closures. These include faith school, academies and special schools. I know some of these head teachers would ensure their schools remained open through snow or illness and would rather snog Michael Gove than close their schools. Today however the schools are closed and the teachers striking over pension changes.

Today public sector workers are marching, rallying and picketing. Many of them will have never been on strike before but this time it feels necessary. Like those head teacher in my ex borough they want to demonstrate their anger and dissatisfaction at the pension changes. It’s indisputable that public sector pensions have to change but the changes are going too far too fast. We Love Local Government explains this far better than I.

Apart from changes to pensions I think the public sector also just wants to make its voice heard. Since the coalition government came into power they’ve constantly criticised the public sector and have branded them feckless and lazy;  greedy pension grabbers that shirk the real world of hard work for a cushy time being babysat by the state.

The government response to this day of action has been one of that teacher who says, ‘you’ve let yourself down, you’ve let the government down but most of all you’ve let the public down.’ If I were them I’d be a bit worried at the anger that has provoked such a massive walk out rather than threatening to withdraw their offer over reforms. But I guess that’s why I’m not in politics. My ego is sadly just not vast enough.

I’ve mentioned before that when I went into the public sector it wasn’t for the pensions or the perks or even the holidays. I wanted to be a teacher and make a difference in children’s lives. I felt I could best do this in the state sector.  As a new teacher of 22 I didn’t care about a pension because it felt like retirement was a million years away (it still is now that the age of retirement is getting higher and higher) and took a big chunk of my wage each month that might be better spent on having fun.

But now after a whole career spent in the public sector I’ve been left high and dry. I don’t pay into a government pension any more because that jo has gone and I have no job to strike from today. But the public sector is where my heart lies so I’m with everyone who strikes today. Good luck and maybe just maybe the government will listen for once.

‘Arise, ye workers from your slumber,
Arise, ye prisoners of want.
For reason in revolt now thunders,
and at last ends the age of cant!
Away with all your superstitions,
Servile masses, arise, arise!
We’ll change henceforth the old tradition,
And spurn the dust to win the prize!
So comrades, come rally,
And the last fight let us face.
The Internationale,
Unites the human race.’

The Internacionale

Type for your life!

I have a confession to make: I don’t touch type.  I have a rather idiosyncratic style that I’ve developed which involves my pinkies stick out in the air like I’m taking tea with the queen while my hands cross the keyboard as though I’m playing a particularly complex piece of Chopin. Which is not always accurate but it’s quick. I’ve used this style all my working life. I’ve written lesson plans, end of year reports, letters and articles using it. Hell, I’ve even written a book or two using it.

Before.

So why can’t type properly?

At my all girl secondary school we had the option of taking a subject called ‘Office Practice’ which consisted of pecking at giant typewriters in an asbestos-lined portable classroom  while the teacher marched up and down barking orders.

I escaped this dystopian nightmare by taking Latin instead. In a manner that would have Mr Gove jumping for joy, my mother decided that her daughter would have none of this practical nonsense so I spent two years reading the joy that is De Bello Gallico and learning how to translate sentences like ‘the Carthaginians were once again routed.’ Which of course has proved far more useful in my daily life than that practical nonsense.

Latin was such a popular option in my school that just five of us took it (their mums made them do it too) and was timetabled for a triple lesson once a week. The teacher taught us for the first period, rushed away to teach French somewhere else in the middle period and came back for the final session. Except she usually forgot to come back.  In effectively one lesson a week I learnt very little Latin and got a D but a friend brought in her guitar most weeks and I did learn how to play Stairway to Heaven which apparently impresses teenage boys so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

At uni I had a Saturday job in a local newspaper office as receptionist. My boss, the head of advertising, naturally left the crappiest jobs for the Saturday girl. These jobs usually involved typing pages and pages of classified ads and the week’s sales figures. Not a Latin declension in sight.

And that’s how I developed my quirky style. Hung over, munching a toffee Crisp and desperately trying to see through swollen sleep-deprived eyes. Four years of that every Saturday and I was quick and accurate-ish and I’ve never really had the time to undo the damage.

But I’m now bored with the restrictions. I make the same mistakes constantly (‘citizenship’ gets me every time) and I have to peer intently at the keyboard as I type which makes copying anything really time consuming.

After. I hope.

This weekend I started learning touch typing using an internet programme (hurrah for the internet!) Perhaps one of the positives of being self-employed is that although the business is picking up, I still have time to practice. I’ve learnt all the letters and the commonly used punctuation. My little fingers are not at all happy at being employed and often refuse to work and I find myself hitting the spacebar with my index finger instead of my recalcitrant thumb but I’m getting there slowly.

I have written this post without looking at the keyboard and all I can say is thank goodness for spellcheck. My speed is about 18 wpm and my accuracy probably about 70% but it’s a start.

Do you remember when you learnt to touch type and how long did it take you? Is there hope for me?

Classroom Secrets: it’s all work, work, work

BBC1 programme Classroom Secrets is a clever idea: stick some cameras in a Year Four (eight and nine year olds) classroom and invite the parents to watch the results. Maybe we should do this for every child. It was interesting how one set of parents thought their moppet would be quiet and diligent in class. He wasn’t. And how another believed their daughter was probably being led astray by other children. She wasn’t.

I can’t count the number of times in the past when I’ve said I was deputy head of a primary school and had the response, ‘Oh how sweet! That must be fun. Not like working with teenagers.’

No, not like teaching teenagers (I’ve done both) but different. In the past, along with other colleagues, I’ve taught small children who have bitten, screamed, sulked, ran off, hidden and kicked and it’s not always easy to get the parents to support their children.

One aspect of behaviour that emerged in the programme was that fact that children came into school tired on a Monday morning and not able to concentrate. We’re then shown a child eating a croissant slathered in Nutella for breakfast in front of the TV. That’s an awful lot of quick release sugar for a child’s breakfast resulting in a peak of energy followed by a dip and lack of concentration in class.

Too much sugar for a child's schools day breakfast!

But these are issues that every school has to deal with. It’s important to engage parents and children in learning about healthier lifestyles. This includes the importance of a good balanced breakfast based on the eat-well plate and why sleep is so important (the NHS recommend ten hours a night for a nine year old child.) It’s also important for schools to support parents in how to manage their child’s behaviour. Parents can’t be expected to know all the answers. Unless children are well rested, healthy and safe they will always struggle with their Latin. Are you listening Mr. Gove?

And the outcome? The parents were able to see exactly what their children were like at school and they and the teachers began to understand each other better.  The teacher changed her behaviour management style in class and the parents put their kids to bed earlier. Result all round.

Ps I’m not commenting further on the teaching and behaviour management of  that schools as I’m sure there will be enough comments elsewhere…but please stop going on about work, work, work.

What do we want? Pensions! When do we want them? Before we’re too old to enjoy them.

When I was a little girl and went to play at my friend’s house we would bandage her teddies and give them pretend medicine but when it was her turn to visit me, we would line up our toys and pretended to be teachers. Many years later she grew up to be a doctor and I grew up to be… well I think you can guess.

When I was that little girl I didn’t think about pensions or the public sector I just wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. And even when I went to university, in between lots of practice snogging boys and drinking too much alcohol, I worked hard to learn my profession. I can’t remember rubbing my hands together in glee and planning to work in the public sector because of the pensions or because it was an easy option. Nascently political, I wanted to teach in state schools so I did.

But teacher pensions are a perk in a job where you get yelled at by parents on a daily basis, abused occasionally by the kids you try to teach and slagged off regularly by the media and politicians. So I’m behind the strikes on Thursday. Michael Gove has already got his knickers in a twist at the thought of striking and calling it a ‘massive inconvenience.’ It will be, especially to some working parents who, as Guardian journalist Suzanne Moore points out, use schools as a child-minding service. It’s frustrating and annoying when train drivers or airport staff go on strike but it’s a last resort and it lets the world know how fed up people are.

The ATL (Association of Teachers and lecturers) is striking for the first time in its 127 year history.

Gove (circled) on strike: teachers will lose respect of they strike .

Perhaps you should start listening to the teachers, Mr Gove. Because of course you’d never go on strike yourself, would you?

For more on this debate read the excellent page in The Guardian. I appear at 1.40pm.

Sport for sport’s sake

I’m still taking in the news that we’ve lost our bid to host the 2018 world cup. I won’t mention all my personal thoughts about this here but they may involve words like ‘robbed,’ ‘Russian mafia,’ and ‘no infrastructure.’ Just saying.

 Meanwhile, the school sports argument has reached fever pitch. I wrote about the cuts to funding to the very successful School Sports Partnership (SSP)a couple of weeks ago, just before it hit the headlines. Since then, quite rightly, many people have argued about the damaging effect that cuts to grass-roots sport will have.

 Just last week the prime minister dismissed the SSP as a ‘complete failure.’ I don’t know who his adviser was on that but I hope s/he has been demoted to counting paper clips. Since then there has been a significant u-turn to the extent that there have been reassurances that school sport will continue to be supported by the government.  We know this is a u-turn because Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that the government’s position is, ‘not a u turn.’ (try googling the words ‘school sport’ and ‘u turn’ and see what you get.

 I know the SSP very well and have always been a fan. I work closely with the partnership development managers and primary link teachers. More importantly I see for myself the difference in schools: the excellent facilities, the wide range of sports on offer and the number of students engaging in competition. The SSP has also focused on specific groups in the last few years like tricky teenage girls, for example, or the kids they call ‘semi sporty.’ I think I would have been a ‘semi sporty’ when I was at school: loads of enthusiasm but not much skill. And for those who are very sporty, there are gifted and talented programmes and links to county-level sport.

 So well done to those sixty head teachers who wrote a letter to the Observer (I’m pleased to see they include some of the schools I work with) and well done to all these sports fans and personalities who’ve spoken up for the SSP.

 Power to the people and I look forward to seeing what happens next. We can make a difference.

Strictly Come Coalition!

Brucie: Good evening and welcome to Strictly Come Coalition. It’s cuts for you, for you….

Plebs: Cuts!

Tess: And our first coopool onto the dance floor tonight is Michael Gove and his partner the state school system. Last week the joodges said that his University U turns were unbearable and his fees fleckles were flawed. Can he do any better tonight with his education white paper quickstep?

Brucie: Wonderful, wonderful stuff from thingy…er…Michael Gove but what did our judges think. Bruno let’s start with you.

Bruno: MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMichael!!!! That was as wet and drippy as a day old cornetto. It was all over the place. I didn’t-a like it. 4.

Alisha: What was you thinking Michael? I just don’t get it: graduates need a 2:2 or more to teach but soldiers don’t need no degree at all? Totally buttaz, blud. 4

Len: Well I don’t like all that fannyin’ arahnd with national curriculum and chewbaccalaurates or whateva they’re called. But I like the way yer brought out the discipline elements. Well done, mate. 6

Craig: O.M.G. Oh Michael Gove. What a disaaaahhhhster, darling. You haven’t listened to a word anyone has said to you, you’ve gone totally overboard on assessment and discipline. Testing at 6, an obsession with synthetic phonics and exclusions all ovvvvvaaaaaaa the place.  2.

Brucie: Don’t worry Michael. You’re my favourite.

Tess: Wow, harsh comments there from our joodges but what do you think at home? Well, it doesn’t really matter what you think because we’ve decided for you.

Brucie: And now for our next couple. It’s David Cameron and his partner Nick Clegg with the leadership waltz. Last week Len said that Nick was being dragged round the dance floor by David and was hanging on for dear life. Craig said he felt that Nick is being dominated by David. Bruno said, ‘it’s a –love!’ and Alisha said ‘wasteman, innit!’ Take it away, Dave and Nick…

Please do not feed the kids

I read an interesting article in The Guardian by Carrie Quinlan today. In it she writes about our beloved education secretary Michael Gove. There’s not much money hanging around at the moment as we know and Mr Gove has decided in his wisdom that money potentially ear-marked for an expansion of the free school meal scheme for children living below the poverty line  is better spent on a fund to encourage councils, head teachers and private businesses to turn around failing schools. It’s a tough decision- feeding children or better schools? Quinlan’s stand is that school meals are more important at the moment but judging by the comments on the article there’s a lot of interest in the subject. 

Just say no, kids.

School meals are something I know about: I remember how dreadful they were a few years ago and how hard some of us tried to improve them at local level, being dismissed at every turn- after all, schools are about education and teaching and not about providing cordon bleu meals and restaurant standard dining rooms.  Or are they?

 Then along came tousle-haired pukka pixie Jamie Oliver to remind us that food and water are the basics of life and local councils were suddenly shamed into providing better funding and better catering contracts for schools. Catering companies had to review how they operated- chucking out the fizzy pop and chocolate that makes money and adhering to tricky nutrient-based standards. Parent power has been instrumental in this and parent campaign groups sprang up all over the place like the now famous Merton Parents for Better Food in Schools group. Before we knew it, kitchens were being built and improved, hot meals cooked from scratch and numbers of children taking a school meal shooting up. There’s still a long way to go. Standards are not always as good as they could be in secondary schools in particular. I was in a school just this morning where there were all sorts of nutrition crimes being committed in break service.

 For many poorer children this may be the only good quality meal they have during the day and parents should be secure in the knowledge that their children are getting feed properly at school. You have to be pretty poor to actually qualify for free school meal and I suspect that more children will become eligible as more and more people find themselves without work.

 Food is a basic of life. The link between a healthier diet and attainment at school has been well documented. Children have smaller systems and need carbohydrate-heavy meals to keep the going and sugar, e-numbers and caffeine have a greater effect on their growing frames than on an adult’s.  Schools already have to cope with children who have been fed huge amounts of sugar at breakfast (if they have breakfast at all), children who have tucked into crisps, chocolate and so called energy drinks on the way to school and pack some extras in their bags for break and lunch.

 It’s already a battle to get children and young people to eat healthier foods as well as junk and the poorest are the most vulnerable. So better schools or better food? Yes, we need superb schools with excellent head teachers but unless the basic physical and emotional needs of children are met they won’t make the maximum of difference. Is it too much to ask for both for our children?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 39 other followers

%d bloggers like this: