The factory model

Mr. Brumley looked out of the window and to the crowd gathered outside the gates. He squinted as he tried to make out the words on the placards being waved enthusiastically at passing cars. He saw the words ‘SCHOOLS’ and ‘FACTORIES’ repeated a dozen times, as well as various iterations urging people to ‘SAY NO!’

He turned to the group gathered around the table in the meeting room.

“What do we do about this?” Mr. Brumley urged. “The staff have all walked out in support of this protest. How can we get them back into work? How can we get this place going again.” He looked around at the nervous faces looking back at him. “Anyone?”

Silence. A few furtive glances were exchanged between those sat at the table. Then, an anxious voice spoke.

“They’ve, er… they’ve kind of got a point, though, haven’t they, sir?”

“What? Who said that? Was that you, Mr. Perkins? What do you mean? Don’t be nervous – I want to know what we can do to get back on track. Your voice is important here, as you know.”

“Well, they are kind of right, aren’t they?” replied Mr. Perkins. “Things could be done a bit better in order to make it less stressful for everyone, couldn’t it? I mean, the current model makes it very difficult for everyone out on the chalkface. There’s a lot of really anxious little faces out there every day.”

“Go on… how could we improve things? What do you think we are getting wrong? Do you think there is something in this whole ‘factory / school’ thing?”

“Well, yes. The fact of the matter is that this place shouldn’t really be run on the model it does. After all, we are a factory. I mean, we manufacture plastics to sell to industry. The protesters are right: this factory really does seem to run on ‘a school model’.”

“How so?”

“Well, the inefficiency for a start. We spend an awful lot of time and money on things that don’t really need to be done. All the filling out of forms. All the time spent on the latest industry fad before it is never heard of again. And what’s the point of all the data collection? I collect the data from all the departments every month and it just sits in filing cabinets. Someone told me it is only produced in case the auditors come in. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot of time spent writing commentaries, explanations and analyses of the data. And then there’s all the meetings….”

“Interesting. Mrs. Sanderson, will you look into this for us? Go on, Mr. Perkins…”

“There’s also the excessive managerialism. Just look around this table. No offence to anyone, but do we really need this many managers? I mean, in every department, there are as many managers as there are entry level workers. Have you seen the amount of company-wide emails and the excessive workload that this sort of thing generates?”

“Right… yes, that is a problem. What else?”

“Well, the worst of all is the waste. I mean, we have lots and lots of materials that we buy in, that then leave the factory without ever having been enhanced in any way. They just end up in the same state that they arrived at us in. It’s like these materials never even came to the factory in the first place. In my last factory, we were really efficient about waste. We made sure all materials were refined.”

“Okay. You seem to speak from a place of experience. How should we go about things here?”

“Well, I propose we run this plant on what I call ‘a factory model’. It’s based on efficiency and fair accountability.”

“Yes, but we do want everyone to enjoy working here. We don’t want to take the fun out of the job, do we?”

“Well, actually, in my experience, when everything runs efficiently and with fair accountability, there is room for lots more joy. Efficiency doesn’t mean ‘cold and unfeeling’. In fact, it means quite the opposite. Because all the systems are structured around effectiveness and efficiency, it means we can take more time for the personal touch. We actually care more about causing damage, not less. Achievement goes up. Morale goes up. Try it and you’ll see.”

“Right. It sounds like a model worth trying.” Mr. Brumley had a glint of excitement in his eye. “We’ll put together some analysis of current systems and then come up with a strategic plan. We’ll start testing this model within a few weeks.”

“Testing?” replied Mr. Perkins. “Testing? Are you some kind of monster?”

5 things Einstein didn’t say (that you might hear during CPD or assemblies) by @JamesTheo

Starter for Five

Name: James Theobald
Twitter name: @JamesTheo
Sector: Secondary
Subject taught (if applicable): English
Position: Teacher
What is your advice about? 5 things Einstein didn’t say (that you might hear during CPD or assemblies)

  1. “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
  2. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
  3. “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”
  4. “I don’t need to know everything, I just need to know where to find it when I need it.”
  5. “Please stop Google searching quotes by me to use for your presentation. I probably didn’t say what the internet tells you I said.”

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the College of Teaching

Arthur lay in the mud and squelched at Mr Prosser of the College of Teaching.

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to accept it,” said Mr Prosser gripping his fur hat and rolling it round the top of his head, “this College of Teaching has got to be built and it’s going to be built!”

“You haven’t had much support from teachers yet,” said Arthur, “why’s it going to be built?”

Mr Prosser shook his finger at him for a bit, then stopped and put it away again.

“What do you mean, why’s it got to be built?” he said. “It’s a College of Teaching. You’ve got to build a College of Teaching.”  He shifted his weight from foot to foot, but it was equally uncomfortable on each.

After a moment, he said: “You were quite entitled to make any suggestions or protests at the appropriate time you know.”

“Appropriate time?” hooted Arthur. “Appropriate time? The first I knew about it was when my membership form arrived at my school. I asked if I had to join and was told it was in my ‘best interests’. He didn’t tell me I had to of course. Oh no. But the suggestion was that if I didn’t, it would be bad for me.”

“But Mr Dent, we’ve had consultation meetings for months – we’ve invited all teachers to attend them.”

“Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight online to find one of these meetings. You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to make them accessible to teachers had you? I mean like actually holding them on a day when they can attend or anything.”

“But we had a public meeting to discuss membership on May 4th 2016…”

“A public meeting? I had to go down to the cellar to find it.”

“That’s where we house our public-facing department.”

“With a torch.”

“Ah, well the lights had probably gone.”

“So had the stairs.”

“But look, you found the meeting didn’t you?”

“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard.”

“But you still found it?”

“Yes, but full-time classroom teachers didn’t. You know – the people you keep saying that this College of Teaching is for. They didn’t go because you held that meeting on a school day.”

“In the afternoon! It was from 2pm until 5pm. Teachers could have come after school and caught the end…”

“Teachers don’t finish work at 3pm! You should probably know that. Besides, you held it at the beginning of May during the week leading up to the SATs, so most Primary teachers were busy. It’s probably the busiest and most stressful time of the year for Primary teachers.”

“But there are more Secondary teachers who could have…”

“The beginning of May is also the start of the GCSE exams. Secondary teachers were also far too busy to attend. You would have thought an organisation that claims to be in the interests of teachers would be well aware of this.”

“Teachers could have taken an afternoon off for it.”

“No teacher is taking an afternoon off at the beginning of May. In fact, if you wanted to hold a meeting that perfectly excluded the majority of teachers in the UK, holding it during school hours on a school day at the beginning of May is probably the most precise moment you could hold it. Which is why these meetings are full of educationalists, consultants and people who stand to profit if they can get a wedge of the College of Teaching pie.”

A cloud passed overhead. It cast a shadow over Arthur Dent as he lay propped up on his elbow. Mr Prosser frowned. “And this is why you need a College of Teaching…” he said.

“Oh shut up,” said Arthur Dent. “Shut up and go away, and take your bloody College with you. You haven’t got a leg to stand on and you know it.”

Mr Prosser’s mouth opened and closed a couple of times while his mind was for a moment filled with inexplicable but terribly attractive visions of Arthur Dent sobbing his way through a 24-hour marathon of Brain Gym activities. Mr Prosser was often bothered with visions like these and they made him feel very nervous. He stuttered for a moment and then pulled himself together.

“Mr Dent,” he said.

“Hello? Yes?” said Arthur.

“Some factual information for you. Have you any idea how much damage the College of Teaching would suffer if you teachers didn’t support it.”

“How much?” said Arthur.

“None at all,” said Mr Prosser, “We’ll just go ahead with our plans anyway.”

Is the DfE employing the Chewbacca defence over the retention crisis?

Originally posted on Labour Teachers, March 6th, 2016. If you haven’t read the posts on Labour Teachers, you really should. Even if you aren’t a Labour supporter, or even a UK teacher. The blog – contributed to by a variety of educators – articulates many of the concerns and hopes of people working in education today.


As reported by Schools Week today, the DfE have announced a new strategy “in an attempt improve teacher retention”.

Are they going to actively reduce the workload of teachers? Nope.

Are they going to reduce contact time for classroom teachers in order for teachers to keep up with workload then? Nah.

Are they going to improve pay and benefits for classroom teachers? Of course not.

No, what they are going to do is spend more money on professional development.

Okay, that doesn’t sound so bad. I mean, that might allow classroom teachers more agency and it could be quite motivational for many thinking of leaving.

Well, that might be true if they were actually going to spend the money on classroom teachers. The reality is that they aren’t. No. They will be spending more money on courses for leaders. To be precise, they will be doubling support for the Teaching Leaders programme.

This seems to me an example of ignoratio elenchi: it fundamentally misses the point of the retention issue. Excessive managerialism seems to be one of the causes of the issue, so spending more money on more leaders would appear a daft response. In fact, it may seem such an irrelevant response to the issues of workload and retention affecting classroom teachers, that any who are currently bogged down by these issues and who are considering leaving the profession might just conclude that the DfE are employing the Chewbacca defense.

For any who don’t know, the Chewbacca defense is a concept born of the satirical cartoon South Park. It is a strategy in which a party will counter an argument with an irrelevant response in order to confuse those they wish to persuade. In South Park, they satirised O.J. Simpson’s defence counsel Johnny Cochran’s closing argument in the infamous trial:

Cochran …ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, I have one final thing I want you to consider. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Chewbacca. Chewbacca is a Wookiee from the planet Kashyyyk. But Chewbacca lives on the planet Endor. Now think about it; that does not make sense!
Gerald Broflovski Damn it! … He’s using the Chewbacca defense!
Cochran Why would a Wookiee, an 8-foot-tall Wookiee, want to live on Endor, with a bunch of 2-foot-tall Ewoks? That does not make sense! But more important, you have to ask yourself: What does this have to do with this case? Nothing. Ladies and gentlemen, it has nothing to do with this case! It does not make sense! Look at me. I’m a lawyer defending a major record company, and I’m talkin’ about Chewbacca! Does that make sense? Ladies and gentlemen, I am not making any sense! None of this makes sense! And so you have to remember, when you’re in that jury room deliberatin’ and conjugatin’ the Emancipation Proclamation, does it make sense? No! Ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, it does not make sense! If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit! The defense rests.

Tackling the teacher retention issue by spending more money on leadership seems as nonsensical to me as Cochran’s argument here. I’d argue that leadership already gets the largest slice of the professional development pie as it stands, so it seems such a mistake to spend more money on this and hope to improve the situation.

The most pressing issue of the retention crisis is having teachers in classrooms. Trying to do this by taking them out of the classroom to be leaders is like a doctor trying to fix a headache by hitting someone on the head. Does that make sense?

Five Common Wrongs for English Teachers to Avoid by @JamesTheo

Starter for Five

Name: James Theobald
Twitter name: @JamesTheo
Sector: Secondary
Subject taught (if applicable): English
Position: Teacher
What is your advice about? Five Common Wrongs for English Teachers to Avoid

  1. Teaching pupils that a comma is used to mark a pause or to take a breath. Hearing, this, is, enough, to, make, me, hyperventilate.
  2. Using the word ‘connective’ to describe a part of speech. It’s a made-up term used to lump words together into arbitrary groups.
  3. Using the phrase ‘wow word’ to mean ‘sophisticated language’. Unless, of course, you are trying to teach the concept of irony.
  4. Teaching that simple and complex sentences are about length. A well-written simple sentence can often be a long, lingering, meandering piece of carefully crafted epic beauty.
  5. Doing something else when there’s an opportunity to read. If you are studying Shakespeare, the best thing pupils can do is to read some Shakespeare.

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How to teach a book by @JamesTheo

Starter for Five

Name: James Theobald
Twitter name: @JamesTheo
Sector: Secondary
Subject taught (if applicable): English
Position: English Teacher
What is your advice about? How to teach a book

  1. Firstly, be a History teacher: spend lots of time teaching social, historical, cultural and biographical contexts. Give pupils something to hang their ideas on when reading.
  2. Next, tap into your inner Maths teacher: identify the patterns – the recurring themes, motifs and symbols. Draw attention to them throughout reading.
  3. Be a Psychology teacher: focus on characters and their intentions. Treat them as studies in humanity. What can pupils learn about the world from them?
  4. Be a teacher of Philosophy: identify the questions the text provokes. Pitch these as ways into chapters/sections or as essay questions in response to the text.
  5. Most importantly, be an English teacher: make sure pupils read lots (including reading outside of the text); plan for pupils to write about what…

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What is the point of Speaking and Listening? #BlogSyncEnglish

There has been much hand-wringing over the past couple of years about the place of speaking and listening in the English curriculum. The refrain from English teachers and teaching unions has generally been along the lines of this cri de coeur from Joe Walsh of NATE:

“What is proposed is essentially a downgrading of the importance of speaking and listening skills in the English GCSE.”

And where have teachers placed the blame of this devaluation of speaking and listening? Step forward Michael Gove and the DfE.

The thing is, I’m not so sure that speaking and listening has been devalued. Or at least if it has, Gove and the government aren’t entirely culpable.

When I trained, speaking and listening was a teacher-assessed element of the English GCSE, making up 20% of the overall grade in the AQA specification that my school followed (three tasks in, broadly: presenting, role-playing and discussion).

It might also be worth adding that one of the three pieces of coursework in the concurrent AQA English Literature GCSE was also allowed to be delivered orally too – that piece constituted 10% of the overall grade.

This, one would assume, is the evidence that speaking and listening once had a place of value in English. By removing it from the GCSE and letting it stand alone, we are told, Gove has devalued speaking and listening.

This suggests that the very value of speaking and listening is subjective rather than intrinsic: that its value is only based on the utility teachers and pupils see in it. When the speaking and listening assessment affects a pupil’s GCSE grade, it has value. When it doesn’t, its value is diminished. This seems to also suggest that the value of speaking and listening is ultimately decided by schools, teachers and pupils – even if that decision is provoked by curriculum changes.

But the narrative of a devalued speaking and listening is one that troubles me. It is my contention that speaking and listening may now actually be finding its rightful place in the English curriculum, and that the changes made in the past few years are actually bestowing speaking and listening a more intrinsic value.

When announcing the changes, Ofqual admitted that that there were huge inconsistencies in teacher assessment of speaking and listening. This meant that “in schools where the rules are interpreted differently, or where marking is more vulnerable to pressures from accountability measures, [pupils] may have received extra credit – when grade boundaries were set – for work of the same quality.” This seems a euphemistic way of saying that some schools inflate grades in speaking and listening assessment. Indeed, I did placements in three schools during my training year and was struck by the vast difference in interpreting the grade descriptors. It was clear in one school that they were inflating the grades to give low achieving pupils a better chance of passing the GCSE (they did this with the kindest of intentions – they cared about their pupils and truly wanted the best for them). However, this is anecdotal so we should adhere to a principle of charity and suggest that the majority of teachers weren’t cowing under the pressure of accountability measures and that they continued to approach the assessments with integrity. But even if this is the case, inconsistency is still rife. This is because, as Daisy Christodoulou has suggested:

So even if we think we are rigorous in applying the rules and we take pride in fair and accurate marking, the outcomes probably still aren’t actually fair and accurate.

Of course, speaking and listening in the new GCSE English curriculum is also teacher assessed. However, it seems that exam boards will be taking moderation a little more seriously than they did in the old GCSE. Whilst details are still yet to be finalised on this, it seems that they will be requesting audio-visual recordings of a sample of students from each centre. Moderation in previous qualifications meant that an examiner from your board came in once every five or so years and schools handpicked a few pupils to do a speaking and listening assessment in front of them. As a process of moderation, it was a fleeting nod to the idea of rigour.

I would hope that, with the new assessment, schools will produce audio-visual recordings of all pupils’ tasks for internal moderation. I think this will have the further benefit of bestowing a sense of formality about the speaking and listening ‘examination’, suggesting that we as schools value this strand of our subject highly. In this sense, it will still down to schools to decide on the value of speaking and listening. If we take it seriously then we are saying: this has value.

We really need to stop the hand-wringing and the ‘think of the children’ arguments like this one: “For some, these S&L activities have been proud moments, huge hurdles to overcome, only for their grades to become worthless.” Their grades are only worthless if schools and teachers don’t value them.

However, it isn’t solely down to us. I actually think that in separating the assessment from the GCSE grade, Gove, the Dfe, Ofqual – whoever you want to hold responsible – have brought out a more intrinsic value in speaking and listening. It no longer has subjective value as a component part of the GCSE. In previous qualifications, it was hidden away: once the exam certificate was printed we could see was the overall English grade. But now speaking and listening has achieved independence. Future GCSE certificates will give a grade for English (reading and writing, still enmeshed) and a separate grade for speaking and listening. Potential suitors (colleges, employers, etc.) can now see exactly how well their petitioner has demonstrated verbal communication within the context of formal education. As a former of employer in an industry of mainly customer-facing roles, I would have found this incredibly useful.

So to suggest that separating the speaking and listening from the GCSE is downgrading it seems absurd to me. I think that, finally, speaking and listening may have been elevated to its rightful place.


I'm just a teacher, standing in front of a class, asking them to be quiet and listen.


All views are my own.

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