Category Archives: The Education Fables

These are all stories I made up in my brain. They are ready to collapse under the weight of the clumsy education allegories that they carry, so best read them quickly.

Rejected ideas for ‘Get Into Teaching’ Christmas adverts

Christmas advertising, we are told, has “hit a record high” this year, with a unparalleled £6bn being thrown at advertising agencies to produce that perfect television commercial for high street stores.

In recent years, these ads have become less like the 30-second showcase of a few tinselly gifts that they used to be and more a kind of feel-good mini feature film that tugs on our heart-strings so hard that our ventricles end up in our bladders and we need to spend Christmas drinking enough to float them back out again.

Not wanting to miss out on this gravy train, teaching authorities recently asked advertising agencies to “get us in on that John Lewis Christmas misty-eyed pap bandwagon” and make them an advert of similar oily charm.

Subsequently, a number of pitches were made by agencies to try and create an advert that leaves the general public all weeping so hard that they’ll quit their comfortable jobs the very next day and start banging on the doors of initial teacher training providers demanding to “get me some of them teaching hugs”.

Eventually, they chose to take a different route with their campaign, but we’ve managed to get hold of a couple of the speculative scripts, which we are sharing with you below. Enjoy. And have a very merry Christmas.

Pitch #1: ‘Board pens’

Pitch #2: ‘Sweets’

The Little Book of Tycche: The Finnish Art of Wellbeing in Teaching

So, you’ve read all about hygge, lykkelagom and ikagai, and followed all of the guidance but none of these things have made a dent on improving your work/life balance in teaching, right?




That’s because they are all fads. Now if you want to make a real change in your life, the principles of tycche are what you need.

Tycche is a Finnish word that is used when one has achieved the perfect work/life balance. It is simultaneously an art, a practice, a feeling and state of being. It is something that you achieve, you do, you feel and you are. You can’t buy it. But you can buy a book about it, priced at £14.99. In fact, you need to buy the book to have even a vague idea of what it is. You probably still won’t be entirely sure after you’ve read the book, though, such is its nebulous quality. This means we can probably whack out a few more volumes to sell to you before you get bored of it.

There is no literal English translation for the concept of tycche (pronounced tee-chuh), but it is often used to represent a combination of various ideas – ideas such as: surviving, coping, getting by, feeling a fleeting sense of confidence or achievement before it ebbs away, balancing on a tightrope, not giving up just yet, marking, and cake. It’s widely believed that the word comes from the old Sami phrase tycco lek che – literally “sod this, I’m having a sit down”.

Tycche can be achieved through a set of simple daily rituals, both in and out of the classroom. Here, we’ll take you through some of the things that you can do to feel, achieve, do and be tycche.


The key to drinking your way to tycche is in embracing tepid as an acceptable temperature for drinks that other (normal) people might call ‘hot drinks’. Once you see lukewarm tea and coffee as not only acceptable but actually desirable, you will no longer feel that deep melancholy that you currently feel whilst tossing back unpalatable gulps from the mug on your desk. You will instead feel a sense of satisfaction. That feeling is tycche.


So you’ve been teaching all day, been on duty, had a meeting, and now you have planning and marking to do. But before you do that, you think you’ll just check your emails and spend a couple of minutes dealing with replies. And then you see it: 42 unread emails. How can you possibly deal with this much information? The replies alone will take about half an hour. Half an hour which you haven’t got. This is where the principles of tycche can help.

According to the laws of tycche, rather than spending time replying to your emails now, you should flag the most important emails for reply later. You must promise yourself that you will definitely reply when you get some time. Don’t worry, you won’t actually reply later, as there will be another 42 emails in your inbox by then and these first emails will have magically (that’s the power of tycche) disappeared onto the second page to be forgotten about until someone sends you a reminder at some point. But the key is in truly believing that you will reply: your good intentions are important here. Tycche will take care of the rest.


In order to achieve tycche you need to ensure that you have hobbies – that is to say, pursuits that you undertake in your spare time. However, the problem that many teachers have is that it is difficult to find that spare time when snowed under with excessive workload. But that’s no excuse because: as it is a central tenet of the practice of tycche, one must undertake hobbies. The balance is easily met though, by simply making marking your hobby. By taking on marking as a pastime, you are able to enjoy your hobby every single day and complete your work. The perfect work/life balance.


The key to finding true balance is for you to visualise all the sources of your current stress sitting on one side of a set of weighing scales. Go ahead, do it now. On the pan, you place every repetitive email, every piece of marking using excessive criteria, every data dump, every exhaustive spreadsheet, every lunchtime detention… put it all on.

Now, you just balance out the other side of the scales with cake. Lots of it. Fill the other pan with chocolate brownies, Battenberg, Viennese whirls, jam tarts,  millionaire’s shortcake, sponge cake, cream cake, red velvet cake… then drizzle it all with salted caramel until the scales are perfectly balanced.

This isn’t just an act of visualisation, though. To truly find tycche, you must eat actual cake every time your workload increases, every time someone dumps some extra work on you. Have to reply to some emails? Eat a Jaffa cake. Need to mark a load of mock exams? Eat some iced buns. Need to go to the photocopier? Take a chocolate Swiss roll with you. You must keep workload and cake in perfect balance with each other: that’s tycche.


If you are struggling to make the work/life balance of tycche through  any of these practices, simply open a bottle of wine. About half a bottle in, you’ll feel it: tycche.

The Little Book of Tycche by Skinni Lahti is available from all good bookshops for £14.99.*

*Spending fifteen quid of your hard-earned money on this book, plus spending 6 hours reading it are actually both in contradiction of the rules of tycche and will throw your life back out of balance. Luckily, that can be remedied with the The Second Little Book of Tycche, which will be out in hardback in time for Christmas at £20.99.

An art history of back to school

Ever since I published ‘An art history of school inspections’ a few years ago, studying the way that art has portrayed schools has been somewhat of a hobby of mine. In this post, I’ll take you through the ways that artists throughout time have interpreted that key moment in a teacher’s year: going back to school.

To begin with, one of my favourites is this classic from the Dutch Golden Age by Jan Steen, which depicts teachers in the midst of the summer holidays.

‘Teachers on Summer Holiday‘ (c.1655-65) by Jan Steen

In Steen’s painting, entitled ‘Teachers on Summer Holiday’ (c.1655-65), you can see the teachers really throwing themselves into relaxing. The teachers featured in this painting were very keen to explain that the artist captured them at the moment they were “taking a short break between reading some books, eating healthily and working out at the gym”.

Another painting depicting the leisurely mood of teachers during the holidays is Lucian Freud’s ‘I Might Even Get Dressed At Some Point Today’ (1950-1), shown below. You can tell from the way that the light falls that the moment captured is around 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

‘I Might Even Get Dressed at Some Point Today’ (1950-1) by Lucian Freud

The pastel shades and relaxed mood of Freud’s painting is often contrasted, by critics, with the dark ominous colours of Isaac Israels’ ‘One Week In, The First “Back to School” Shop Window Display’ (1894).

‘One Week In, The First “Back to School” Shop Window Display’ (1894) by Isaac Israels

Israels’ somewhat sombre painting shows the portentous moment when the idyll is shattered and the thought of having to go back to work at some point comes crashing down on the teachers stood at the window, as they stare at the display.

Moving on to the painting below, we are introduced to one of the key themes of back-to-school art: school nightmares.

‘The Back to School Nightmares Begin’ (1886-7) by Théodore Roussel

This classic of the genre is Théodore Roussel’s ‘The Back to School Nightmares Begin’ (1886-7). Here, the painter portrays the dream of a teacher in the days just before the autumn term begins. The teacher dreams that she is in the staffroom looking through the staff handbook. He captures the dream in the moment just before she realises that she has forgotten to put any clothes on and will wake up in a state of sheer panic. This particular genre has been the source of many works by a range of artists, notably Bosch’s ‘I Dreamt My Voice Wasn’t Working and None of The Children Were Listening to Me’, and Vermeer’s ‘I Think I Just Said **** In Assembly’.

‘Sorting the Classroom and Putting Up Displays’ (1964) by Richard Hamilton

The above piece of artwork, by British pop artist Richard Hamilton, is entitled ‘Sorting the Classroom and Putting Up Displays’ (1964). A famous piece of contemporary art, it shows the teacher in her classroom in the days before the pupils start back at school. The teacher has spent hours making the classroom look nice and freshening up the wall displays, and here she takes a moment to look around her and absorb the room, disheartened by the knowledge that it will never look quite as nice as this again for the entire year.

As the day of return grows ever closer, such preparations truly begin in earnest, as we can see below.

‘The First Week’s Lunches’ (c.1620-5) Sir Nathaniel Bacon

Sir Nathaniel Bacon’s ‘The First Week’s Lunches’ shows a well-meaning teacher preparing her daily lunches for her return to work. She has optimistically bought lots of vegetables and fruit for various healthy meals, the sheer volume of which suggesting that her intentions are to continue in this vein. Yet the real genius of this painting is in the detail: note how the artist cleverly depicts a look of uncertainty on the teacher’s face, showing us that even she knows she’ll be eating chips from the school canteen by the second week.

There are many paintings that depict the reality of the first day back, but none are more well-loved than George Elgar Hicks’ ‘You Have to Go In, Dear, You’re the Headteacher’ (1863), below.

Woman’s Mission: Companion of Manhood 1863 by George Elgar Hicks

In the painting, the headteacher tries to pretend that it is still night-time by covering his eyes and making it dark. His wife is deploring him to pull himself together and get into work as she is sick of coming home from her tough, high-flying job in the city only to find that he’s been lounging around watching Netflix all day and hasn’t done any of the jobs around the house that he’d promised to do.

‘These Are the New Guys’ 1766 by Benjamin West

The first day back has finally arrived in Benjamin West’s ‘These Are the New Guys’ (1776), which depicts the moment when the school’s new staff members are introduced in the first staff meeting, and the entire faculty stare back at them. The new staff members hang their heads and blush as every current member of staff looks at them, some with a sense of envy at their youth, and some with a sense of pity at what these new guys have let themselves in for.

‘Memories of Empty Roads’ (1998-9) by Julian Opie

Contemporary British artist Julian Opie turns his attention to the daily commute. Opie highlights the misery of sitting in traffic every day by presenting it in relief: ‘Memories of Empty Roads’ (1998-9) cleverly shows us not the gloomy traffic but the clear open roads enjoyed by everyone during the previous six weeks, starkly reminding us all of happier, carefree times.

‘End of the First Week Back’ (1856) Henry Wallis

Perhaps the most famous image in the whole of the back-to-school genre is Henry Wallis’ ‘End of the First Week Back’ (1856). Here, the clothed teacher is bathed in early morning light, showing that he has fallen asleep in his clothes, such was his fatigue. The peaceful look on the teacher’s face is in contrast to the ripped-up paper on the floor, which is the result of various shredded worksheets that he has printed and then subsequently realised are riddled with spelling and content errors, due to his sheer tiredness. One should note that the exhausted teacher shown here is actually positively vibrant when compared to how he will look some eight weeks later.

I hope you have enjoyed seeing some of my favourite pieces of back to school art – I’m sure you’ll agree that the genre has inspired some great works throughout the centuries.


A Glossary of U.K. Education (Vol. 4)

We present Vol. 4 of our glossary. For previous volumes, please follow these links:

Vol. 1

Vol. 2

Vol. 3




apparently one of the most explosive materials on earth, with a level of volatility somewhere between uranium and hydrogen.




the positive action of working with other likeminded people in order to produce something or promote an idea; this is one of the most important things one can do in education and is widely encouraged, unless of course the thing that is being produced or idea that is being promoted is one with which you disagree, in which case it isn’t collaboration, it is a neoliberal conspiracy.




a substance that is difficult to control and can wreak havoc unless it is captured cleanly; it increases its potency as it gets more and more out of control, bouncing back and forth throughout the environment; it is vibrant green in colour and goo-like in its consistency. (Wait… this is the definition for Flubber, isn’t it? Oh, what the hell, I’ll just leave it here. I’m sure nobody will notice – Ed.)

Didau, David

/ˈdvd dɪd… er… dʌɪd… um…ˈdʌɪə… oh say it however you want/


former All England Hula Hoop Champion and prime antagonist of everything you know about education.




iono, is it even a word?

Festival of Education

/ˈfɛstɪv(ə)l ɒv ɛdjʊˈkeɪʃ(ə)n/


like Glastonbury, though with more toilets, less beer, but exactly the same number of Tinie Tempah main stage appearances.

further education

/ˈfəːðə ɛdjʊˈkeɪʃ(ə)n/


an education that is at a greater distance from one’s current location than other educations under consideration.

glue sticks

/ɡluː stɪkz/


the most valuable currency in schools; should you find yourself in possession of a reasonable number of functional glue sticks in the summer term, it is advisable to have these valued by an expert, insured, and locked away in a safety deposit box in the vault of a high security bank.


/oʊ iː siː d/


the official Finland fan club.




the Eurovision Song Contest of education, the prize for which is the legal mandate that the winning country must be mentioned in every single education speech or panel for the next few years; could be made better with an irreverent commentary by Graham Norton.

Six Thinking Hats

/sɪks ˈθɪŋkɪŋ hatz/


a system designed by U2 frontman Bono as a tool for discussion; each of the six coloured hats represents a particular way of thinking: blue = lewd thinking; white = try not to think about anything (it’s hard, isn’t it? give this hat to the member of your group you want to keep occupied); red = think like a socialist (make placards, etc.); black = harness your dark thoughts, give in to them, strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side will be complete; yellow = what would SpongeBob do?

sports day

/spɔːtz deɪ/


either the hottest or the wettest day of the year.

Teacher, The

/ˈtiːtʃə, ðə/


your magazine from the NUT; you know, the one that you don’t even take out of its plastic wrapping; yeh, that’s it, the one that sits on the side for a month before you decide to throw it out; you don’t even know how often it’s published, do you? Is it monthly or quarterly? Nobody knows. Nobody.

TEDx Education

/tɛdɛks ɛdjʊˈkeɪʃ(ə)n/


conferences for new media types who hated school themselves but think that schools might be a way for them to monetise their ‘creativity’ whilst simultaneously avenging their own schooldays; talks from these ‘thinkateers’ are interspersed with the occasional actual teacher to give the conference some credibility.




a pejorative term for a pre-printed large collection of sequenced subject resources (cf. individual resources which, due to the fact they are unsequenced, uncollected and you have to spend time creating and printing them yourself, are far superior).

toilet break



a luxury for teachers.

A Glossary of U.K. Education (Vol. 3)

Following on from volumes one and two, here’s the latest edition of our education glossary.

Bennett, Tom

/bɛnɪt, tɒm/


Scottish outlaw and folk hero; known colloquially as ‘Tam’ Bennett, he formed the researchED clan and led the VAKobite Rebellion against the neuromyths laying claim to the throne of pedagogy; he ultimately overthrew the House of Brain-Gym and restored evidence to its rightful place.

Bloom’s taxonomy

/bluːmz takˈsɒnəmi/


a hierarchical model of classification which organises learning into six levels of complexity: remember, understand, apply, analyse, evaluate, create; once you have overcome all of these levels, you must ultimately defeat the end-of-level boss: obfuscate.

Blue’s taxonomy

/bluːz takˈsɒnəmi/


a hierarchical model of classification which organises items on a scale of least irritating to most irritating, based on the members of the boy band Blue: Simon Webbe (least irritating), Duncan James, Antony Costa, Lee Ryan (most irritating); e.g., “The consultant delivering that CPD was absolutely Lee Ryan.”




life-force of teachers; they can cut our budgets, they can freeze our pay, but if they come for our coffee and tea, they’ll have to prise it from our cold, dead hands.

Christodoulou, Daisy

/krɪˈstɒduːluː, ˈdeɪzi/


the only prominent educationalist who is most commonly referred to by their first name alone.

fair funding formula

/fɛː ˈfʌndɪŋ ˈfɔːmjʊlə/


unfair funding formula.

grade descriptors

/ɡreɪd dɪˈskrɪptəz/


occult apparatus used for supernatural divination; a form of cleromancy in which prophets will look over a document and then interpret it using the grade descriptors to guide them to a grade, which will then be challenged by another prophet who used the same descriptors to come up with an entirely different grade; a process of debate will follow until the prophets can agree on an interpretation of the descriptors that angers the spirits the least.

Hirsch, E.D.

/hɛːʃ, ˈiː ˈd/


educationalist and academic; be honest, you think his name is Ed, don’t you? I mean, maybe not consciously, but subconsciously, you sort of think of him as Ed Hirsch, don’t you? Yeh, you do.

interactive whiteboard (IWB)

/ɪntərˈaktɪv ˈwʌɪtbɔːd/


a large interactive

display that,

when written on with an

interactive whiteboard pen,

displays the writing wherever the                                               hell



Even after calib


Mantle of the Expert

/ˈmant(ə)l ɒv ðə ˈɛkspəːt/


educational approach in which novices spend their time pretending to be experts so that they can remain novices for longer.

Slough of Despond

/ˈsl əv dˈspɒnd/


the filthiest, most festering, fungus-ridden mug in the staffroom, as mentioned in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress: “This miry Slough is such a place as cannot be mended; it is the descent whither the scum and filth […] doth continually run, and therefore is it called the Slough of Despond.”; it is traditionally discarded in the waste bin at the end of every term, only to magically return in another form within a few weeks of the following term.




the gift given to tired teachers from the benevolent gods every few years as a reward for their hard work in educating the children (cf. wind, which is a punishment handed down to teachers from the vengeful gods for not keeping up with the marking).

Summer Holiday

/ˈsʌmə ˈhɒlɪdeɪ/


1963 British film starring Cliff Richard, in which he plays a character who wanders about feeling utterly purposeless at the start, then writes himself a to do list of household jobs he’s been putting off all year; he goes on to read a couple of books, binge watch some boxsets, fall asleep in the afternoon a bit, and he finally goes into work to put some displays up on the walls; just as the credits roll he suddenly realises that he hasn’t done any of the household jobs on his to do list.

Teach First

/tiːtʃ fəːst/


charity which focuses on giving bankers hearts.




powerful chemical catalyst; just one part wind mixed with 100+ parts children will cause uncontrollable agitation and ebullition of said children.




a form of neuralyzer (the memory-wiping device made famous by the Men in Black film franchise); it is used by teachers on themselves each night in order to forget the ignominy and upset of being told to “!@$# off” or that “your lessons are boring”; sometimes these things are even said to them by pupils.

A Glossary of U.K. Education (Vol. 2)

Volume One of our handy glossary of commonly-used terms in U.K. education was such a success that our publishers have rushed out the second volume. We hope that you find this a useful tool in navigating the debates and discussion around education, both online and in real world situations.




the action of gathering a group of children together in order to watch a short video of an athlete doing something inspiring to uplifting music.

Bjork, Robert A.

/bjɔːk/, ˈrɒbət ˈ/ 


cognitive psychologist, famous for his work on learning, memory and forgetting, and for his hit single “It’s Oh So Quiet”, which spent 15 weeks in the U.K. singles chart in 1995; he was hoping you’d forgotten about that.




main fuel source of teachers during the latter weeks of a term; as a child, cake is something that someone buys you on your birthday; as a teacher, cake is something that you have to buy for everyone in your department on your own birthday; how did that happen?

Chartered College of Teaching

/ˈtʃɑːtəd ˈkɒlɪdʒ ɒv ˈtiːtʃɪŋ/


see General Teaching Council for England (GTC).

Dead Poet’s Society

/dɛd ˈpəʊɪtz səˈsʌɪɪti/


elaborate teacher recruitment video from the late 1980s; data shows that the two-thirds of teachers who remain in the profession after five years only stay on in the hope that their pupils will one day stand on their desks and declare “O Captain! My Captain!” at them.




punishment given out to teachers whereby they have to give up their break time, lunchtime or after school to spend time with someone who has previously been rude to them or otherwise ignored their instructions.

enquiry learning

/ɪnˈkwʌɪri ˈləːnɪŋ/ 


for a clear understanding of the way that enquiry learning works, see entry for inquiry learning.

GCSE results day

/ˈˈsˈɛsˈiː rɪˈzʌltz deɪ


the second most exciting day in the school calendar, after stationery order delivery day.

growth mindset

/ɡrəʊθ ˈmʌɪn(d)sɛt/ 


a powerful incantation used as a magic word; legend has it that, if SLT and the board of governors hold hands in a circle with their eyes closed and chant the words ‘growth mindset’ three times, when they open their eyes the DfE will have made further cuts to their school budget.

inquiry learning

/ɪnˈkwʌɪri ˈləːnɪŋ/ 


for a clear understanding of the way that inquiry learning works, see entry for enquiry learning.

lunchtime duty

/ˈlʌn(t)ʃtʌɪm ˈdjuːti/


(Oops, sorry, I totally forgot to do this one – Ed.)




a Rorschach inkblot, often associated with a curriculum, which can be interpreted to mean absolutely anything a person sees in it when they look at it.




the mental attitude or disposition that predetermines a person’s responses to and interpretations of a situation; according to psychologists, there are three types: fixed and growth (Dweck), and dirty (Freud).

red pen

/rɛd pɛn/


principle weapon of torture, used by teachers who don’t take children’s feelings into account (cf. the marking pen chart below, showing the range colours preferable to use when marking); red pen is also famously mentioned in the old adage of teacher lore that goes, “Red pen at night: normal. Red pen in the morning: I fell asleep doing my marking last night.”

Spectrum of colours preferable to use when marking children’s work, in order to not cause unnecessary anxiety. ‘Sensitive White’ is a popular choice.

retention deficit disorder (RDD)



an employment disorder that can be found in the U.K. education sector; it is characterised by a person openly lamenting teacher turnover whilst they are simultaneously creating the conditions that cause teachers to leave their jobs, e.g., “Justine Greening spoke earnestly about the ‘challenges on recruitment and retention, but also on workload’, just before she announced a funding formula that will see 98% of state schools’ funding cut.”


/sɛlf əˈsɛsmənt/


process in which children show that they have had enough of the topic being studied; this is sometimes done by the pupil displaying an emoticon of a smiley face, or through the use of traffic light colours, but is more commonly achieved by the children putting their thumbs up, as pioneered by Scottish pupil James Krankie in the late 1970s (see image below); however, it should be noted that Krankie is still at school some 40 years later, which may be an indication that this method is a flawed way of gauging a pupil’s learning.

James Krankie, eternal schoolboy and pioneer of the thumbs up method of self-assessment