This article is composed of extracts taken, with permission, from a blog called "Disgruntled teachers". These extracts all deal with extraordinary official attitudes.
1. In a literacy lesson to a class of five and six year olds.
Some of the children had used 'ellipsis' (as a set of dots) in their writing because they had learned about these three little dots earlier in the week. The children knew about them and were intrigued by them and by their special name: ellipsis. The management/observers regarded this as reason enough to dismiss the entire lesson as 'inadequate'. Curiously they felt the need to 'reassure' this particular teacher that she was an outstanding teacher but - due to the grave matter of five year olds messing around with dots - the lesson in question had to be judged as 'inadequate'.
2. An INSET session on grammar.
We had an INSET about teaching grammar today . . . We really did sit there today learning how the government has changed the term 'embedded clause' to 'relative clause' . . .
The most horrid example, though, was their definition of a sentence. In our meeting this afternoon we were asked to define a sentence ourselves. All ten groups in the room came up with something like this: 'a linguistic unit (a collection of words) containing a verb that can stand alone to convey meaning.' Some versions included references to a subject and an object, some included references to capital letters and full stops.
This was DfES' version:
'All the words in a sentence are held together by purely grammatical links, rather than merely by links of cohesion. A sentence is defined by its grammar, but signalled by its punctuation.'
This definition might or might not mean something useful, but it certainly illustrates the desire of the DfES to look cleverer than thou: a symptom of authority without natural authority. And there is no reference to 'meaning' in their definition.
3. A nursery school lesson plan
Today I spent my time with the youngest in the school: Nursery and Reception. Below is part of a plan that I was to follow for the first part of the morning in the Nursery:
Uses language to share feelings, thoughts and experiences
Learns to use words and is able to use them in communicating
Uses simple sentences
I can use some words that I have not heard before
I can make a sentence from words about the weather
I can express my thoughts in words
(A brief description of some weather-based activities)
Children with English as an Additional Language (EAL): Say some words out on the table
Lower Ability Children (LA): Talk about what happens using some of the words from the table
Higher Ability Children (HA): Draw a picture of a scene with a distinct type of weather for Autumn
The Puritan work ethic assumes that more work is automatically better so the more words you use the better.
It could, of course, be suggested that the above plan illustrates, in fine detail, exactly what the expected outcomes are. This means making what you do presentable to your superiors. The above plan is not what a plan made by a teacher for a teacher looks like. It is the sorry outcome of being under permanent scrutiny.
We should question this outcome-led target-driven approach with the very youngest children.
4. Craft in a primary class
I spent part of my morning taking pictures of the children, each holding their little 'yoghurt-pot-and-chickpea' shakers that they had made yesterday. It's this kind of time-wasting that UK primary teachers should have protested long and hard about. It never should have come to this. In the past the child made something fun and they took it home. Now they make something fun, the teacher takes a photo of it, prints off the picture and sticks it in the child's progress book . . . and then the child takes it home. Are we beginning to see why teachers are exasperated?
5 Two examples from maths teaching
My first task at the start of my PGCE was to observe a school for two weeks. This school was being inspected by Ofsted. One teacher was told by an inspector that the 'mental and oral' starter to her maths lesson was a minute and a half too long.
Two years into my career I was observed teaching a maths lesson. I was heavily penalised because one pupil - out of 25 - had not been sufficiently challenged by the activity. This simple point was considered grounds enough to rate the entire lesson, and by extension all my teaching, as 'unsatisfactory'. The way this judgement was delivered was terribly demoralising. For some time I felt like stopping teaching.