Friday, 20 May 2016

Why English SATs test Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar

What hours spent! Like dogs worrying bones, we have chewed over this question, why?

Why inflict made-up 18th century grammar on 11-year olds? It doesn't make sense! Who wants this? Employers? Is our local business saying, 'We'd employ you as admin staff ... but you can't locate the subjunctive, so we're sorry...'

The conclusion? It only makes sense if we follow the money. Money drives all. Money drives the schooling system. And maybe, if you're working for some super-large company selling educational materials, turning out exam scripts, providing online teaching programmes to take those exams, and offering the infrastructure to collect and collate test data - then maybe you also have the sales staff who whisper into the ears of national governments, 'We can handle the teaching, learning, and assessment for you! You have teaching shortages, school attendance problems, lack of standardised testing. We can solve it all, at a single stroke, just outsource the work you can't handle.'

Wouldn't the flow of money from a national education budget to corporate pockets be huge?

But this turn - from schooling as decisions based on educational issues into decisions based on economic principles - has been creeping over us for the last 20 years or so.

The Cox Report (1989) still allowed for creativity in English; but listen now. The rationale used by governments here and across the world to teach English or introduce English into primary education is not now about individual creativity or 'personal enrichment' - it's an economic argument: this country will succeed amongst the leaders of the world if we teach English.

But I've been troubled. Since Osborne announced all schools would become academies in the budget. Note that. No announcement from the Education Department, but from the Man with the Briefcase at Number 11. The decision about the UK educational future is based on economic principles. It's how English is taught in a global marketplace with standardised tests and packages.

Which is why the UK is turning to Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar. It's an economic driver, unproven,  which tells your child's classroom teacher how English should be taught; how courses should be designed; and how classes should be run. Spelling delivered on Mondays, Punctuation on Wednesdays and Grammar on Fridays.

Now just look at the use of technology in education, for which I am humbly indebted to Dig, man with two brains and a world eye view.

He tells me how there are two main lines of talk about EdTech in English teaching right now.

One is how wonderful is technology! How teachers can use technology to improve the quality of what they do in all areas of their profession.

But the other line is how big tech companies are seizing the opportunity to create learning and teaching platforms, into which are built standardized curriculums and adaptive testing. These curriculums teach the test. So there is no difference between learning and testing: the child follows the online learning course then takes the online test which scores wrong or right and brings the child back to the same line of online learning, so each time they take the test, they answer more precisely. Teaching to the test becomes a perfect circle.

But worse. It's probably anathema to say it, but the words of Sugata Mitra are becoming taken up in a way that is downright dangerous. He has the language I recognise from home ed and he's wrapped it round a theory that we recognise. But it also fits in this new world. Actually, you don't need a teacher. You just need to buy the computers with their edu-learning software.

And this means that large educational businesses - pick one you know - can sell online packages to a country's education department saying: You know this problem with teachers? They are expensive and difficult to find. You don't really need English teachers in the classroom! Look at the research. You just need learning managers.

Now tell me this ain't happening. I hear that in universities the same is taking place - PhD students are employed as teaching assistants. The role of the teacher as a professional in this society is being steadily eroded. Soon, will any school need any subject specialist?

Which is why your child needs to learn Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar. Computers can't mark poems. They can't give a grade to stories. They don't understand metaphor.


SPAG is the sort of global teaching and learning you can shift online. You can assess online. Indeed, you can bring together the worlds of teaching/learning/testing as if there is no divide. Your specialised English teacher can become a non-specialised Learning Assistant, guiding the child through the use of their SPAG computer program, giving what appears to be individual feedback but what is nothing more than a pre-set pattern your child learns to get right, if they're to move onto the next screen.

The school is forever grateful to the corporate who supplied the package and who takes away all the teaching and testing and feedback.

The corporate has gratefully received the public money your taxes gave to government for the education budget.

Is it only English? Not likely. A large company - insert the name of your nightmare edu-supplier - wants to sell curriculum across the board. They're not English specialists. English is one of many subjects they can offer, and they want to sell complete packages across the board to national governments.

Hey! Maybe they can even take control of Global Scores and Global League Tables!

Then you'll know that in SPAG, your child reached number 1,356,729 in the world. Won't that be comforting.

Monday, 9 May 2016

It's in the interest of government that you HOME SCHOOL!

We home educators did a lot of good work, huh!

Over the years, we told everyone life is fab without school!

Okay, that pissed off some of you, but we also spread the actual wording of the law, which nowhere states that school is compulsory, but which states the duty to educate your children by school or otherwise - a duty which you sign over to a school when you register Tinkertop. But you can take that duty back, perfectly legally, by writing a deregistration letter.

Now, off to the woods!

Well, maybe we did too much good ground work. Because the wind blows this way.

The government is encouraging schools to enter a market place, but the market is very bad at supplying school places when and where they are needed. If you do get your child into a school of your choice, you can find children locked everyday into over-crowded classes. It hasn't helped that the government has, over many years, slagged off the teaching profession as idle, feckless, lazy buggers with too many holidays. And now, the new curriculum is turning parents off.

But there's more! The media happily reports our everyday problems of unregulated schools doing what they like. Doesn't matter whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian. Stories of abuse and brainwashing are rife. You'd think mini jihadists are being brainwashed everywhere. 

There's only one conclusion to come to. The schooling system is in a mess.

And that's advantageous. We have a government running on neoliberal lines; they want to open up the public educational market to businesses supplying learning packages; they want you to use computers which can track and monitor you; and they want to solve the problems of unpredictable school places and those expensive teachers.

What's a good solution? Home School! 

Look, you've already been told how fab this life is. The government will say 'some parents do an excellent job' to encourage more of you to take up your Section 7 duty and teach your kids yourself.

Except, it will be claimed, you're not quite up to the job. And we wouldn't want any child to slip through the net and be subject to abuse/brainwashing/neglect. Therefore, new home schoolers, you must register, use approved packages run on your computer and tied into the curriculum, so your child can re-enter the school system at any point having never fallen behind; and the government will support you by giving you a voucher to buy approved online learning from the educational supplier of your choice, but in return you must agree to an Ofsted inspector or LA equivalent into your home to approve your work.

How is government going to do it?

Step1) Send out pro-'home-school' reports in the media to prepare the ground. The media will be complicit. Let's face it, Richard, the standard of critical education journalism in this country is pretty poor. The words HOME-SCHOOL will be used everywhere. The words HOME EDUCATION will be abandoned, for these words simply won't appear in government press-releases.

Step 2) Use Local Authorities to encourage parents to 'home-school'. As more schools turn into Academies (we tried force, other methods will be found), so the LA education departments will be required to work elsewhere. The LA bods who once worked with local schools will be placed in charge of the more difficult areas - 'special educational needs', the 'traveller children', the 'school refusers' and 'the home-schooled'.

Step 3) Order a review into home schooling. Find that there is no register and no requirements on local authorities to keep records.

Step 4) Force a registration system into Local Authorities for home-school record-keeping. Your LA will then send out all information telling parents how you must be registered if you choose HOME-SCHOOL. At the moment, there is no compulsion for a parent to register and no requirement in law for LAs to keep any register. Because primary law is difficult to change, expect this shift to come through changes to interpretative documents such as guidelines.

Step 5) Parents will be told they are not up to the specialised job of covering any curriculum. After all, just look! It's impossible for most parents to 'achieve the high standards expected at age 11 SATs'! Thus you will be encouraged to buy off-the-shelf learning packages from large corporates. The job of business will be to take public taxation money for education and package it up into online modules to sell back to you.

Step 6) You must buy this stuff! Kids must work at the computer with a prescribed curriculum! Kids must then take online tests to be marked by computer! How are we going to force parents to buy into this system? Give them money. If you register and 'home-school' you'll be given a voucher to spend at your favourite corporate supplier on the packages that are linked to school. Now you are home schooling! Well done!

Step 7) You must be inspected, obviously. They gave you money and they want you to be accountable to it. And, after all, your child is now being HOME-SCHOOLED and is therefore INVISIBLE AT HOME. You could be doing anything to them! Every term the LA will meet its obligations set by central government and come round with a clipboard and tick sheet.

Step 8) We can now equip every person born in this country with a personal student number. Tinkertop, born today, your number will be associated on a big database with all the keystrokes you have entered throughout your educational career since the age of birth. Every online test you take, every computer-based curriculum you follow, it will all be logged. You will be told how this is to your learning advantage; you will be given unique feedback, your intellectual development will be supported the moment you begin to engage with your nursery curriculum. Expect tie-ins and merchandise. The online link between the Entertainment industry and the Education industry. Peppa Pig Does Big Maths Online. Approved by government, supported by the Educational Voucher Scheme for HomeSchoolers, and the test results of your 3-year old collated, tracked, and owned throughout their lives in a fantastic big data exercise!

Success! Government opened up the education system to the market; positioned teachers as support assistants thus lowering further their pay grades; the pressure on local schools is lifted by parents doing it for themselves; the responsibilities for on-site monitoring given to local authorities and the chums running shareholder corporates given access to public education budgets!

Hey, you parents doing HOME SCHOOLING! You're doing a GREAT JOB!

My only request to you, parent unit, in this brave new world, is simple: that you explore the philosophies that brought about home education.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Hello Jonathan Simons.

Grit listens to Radio 4 this morning, the day of the Parent Boycott to protest against punishing tests for 6-year olds, and now she needs urgent medical attention.

See, Jonathan Simons, how you have brought about this crippling burden on the NHS?


Ahem. I will be calm. Listen to the Today programme just before 8am for the interview with Jonathan Simons, head of the 'right-leaning' Policy Exchange.

Okay, my hives are itching. Because who the fuck are 'Policy Exchange' when at home - ALARM BELL - this just tells me how people in the government know cak all about education. They're buying in ideas from right-wing think tanks and corporates.

But to Jonathan's interview strategies.

Strategy 1: If your child is miserable because their life is diminished, then blame schools and teachers. Jonathan encourages you to turn your anger on teachers rather than the government. If the teachers say that the tests are imposed, claim this is just 'an excuse'. In hundreds of schools everything is FINE.

Grit yells at the Radio: The government imposed the tests. They bought in the curriculum from people like you. IT'S YOUR DOING.

Strategy 2: Compare what cannot be compared. Assert how tests are the same everywhere! The UK is merely 'Benchmarked to the standard of an equivalent age in other countries'.

Grit yells at the Radio: OH DEAR. GENERAL KNOWLEDGE FAIL. Children in other countries speak other languages, Jonathan. In other languages, the grammer is more clearly marked. But the 'rules' of English grammer are not so simple! We English are so darn happy to be flexible with our adverbials and our future pluperfects! So exactly where are these simple building blocks? You're showing a pretty thin grasp of the English language here, Jonathan.

Strategy 3: When faced with the idea that other countries just do fine without testing, say those countries are 'plummeting down the international league tables'. Assert that 'we' want to be among the 'top performing countries of the world'.

Grit yells at the Radio: CHINA! You mean China, don't you! We were there when Gove and Gibb came to town: from that point comes your transformations back in the UK. Believe me people, I HAVE SEEN the Chinese education system. It is NOT PRETTY. You will lose your child to The Machine where there is nothing to offer but brutality.

Strategy 4: Assert 'we're just being reasonable'.

Grit yells at the Radio: Who's being reasonable? When was a right-wing think tank ever reasonable? Tosser.

Strategy 5: Agree that Nick Gibb was being dramatic when he claimed your life will be shit if you fail to underline an adverbial! Then go on TO DO EXACTLY THE SAME. I quote: 'If you don't have a solid grasp of ... grammar ... it's hard to access things later on in life.'

Grit yells at the Radio: WHAT???? WHAT????? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU SAYING??? (Hives are starting to swell.) Go on then, you complete and utter ignorant. Exactly how am I 'not accessing things in life?' HOW? Or try telling me how 'I am struggling all my life'. GO ON. Try telling me how I am utterly unable to be creative! Have you seen my Knicker Drawers, Jonathan? Look, I JUST REINVENTED THE BOOK. And don't get me started on how Dig 'failed all his life'. He has his own Wikipedia page. AND he's just been  hailed as one of the 50 people who have made significant contributions to the English language teaching profession around this globe within the past 50 years. I never saw how he recommended underlining adverbials, Jonathan, and I also notice you weren't in The List, Jonathan. Not you, and not your bedfellows Gibb, nor Morgan, nor Gove, so basically you're imposing a curriculum in the UK that is not being supported by best teaching practice around this planet.

Strategy 6: When faced with the blindingly obvious implication that PLENTY OF ADULTS SUCCEED IN LIFE WITHOUT BEING ABLE TO SPOT A DANGLING MODIFIER, Simons asserts: 'if you want to do anything in life, however creative, if you want to do anything artistic, you have to understand the basic building blocks of the English language because that's what enables you to go on and thrive and be successful and be creative'.

Grit kicks shit out of kitchen bin: WHAT?!! So, as an artist, Leonardo da Vinci FAILED. As did Picasso, Monet, Velazquez, Le Corbusier. THEY ALL FAILED. And, by the way, you're obviously implying that the best way to create artists in the UK is not to teach them art, but to teach them grammar. DOES THAT MAKE SENSE TO YOU, JONATHAN?

There. Now it's time to rush me to Accident and Emergency before I die of anaphylactic shock. Cheers Jonathan. Since the privatisation of the NHS is also on the agenda, I'll get the hospital to invoice you directly.

Monday, 2 May 2016

YES to the Parent Boycott!

I am yelling a BIG THANK YOU to all you parents keeping your kids out of school on Tuesday!

I would totally join you, except we are going to the woods today, but yay sisters and brothers if it means your action helps me register my disapproval 'against the government’s more onerous assessment regime for primary school pupils'.


You are RIGHT. Nicky Morgan and all her drones are WRONG. They want your child for global PISA scores and to create non-thinking automatons for the great economic enterprise. They couldn't give a rat's arse whether your child is happy in life, or whether your child can set their own goals to fit their own personhood.

Kids need space - mental, emotional and physical - to grow. We parents have a duty to provide that space. We have a duty to preserve for them that precious freedom to run about woods, ask questions about beetles to which you won't know the answer, and tell us stuff about lichen that comes as a surprise to us all. That is what childhood is for, goddamit. We should not meekly hand over our children for someone else's economic benefit.

And a life out of school bloody well works.

The Offspring Grit had all their primary years running about WITHOUT SCHOOL. It hasn't stopped Shark getting an A grade in Physics and a place at Sixth Form. It hasn't stopped Tiger swotting for an A grade in Maths nor gloating over her A* in Latin. And a NO SCHOOL lifestyle didn't stop Squirrel from staring into space solving the problems of the universe. (I have to be kind on that one.)

Sometimes, being out of school can be wonderful. It's the place where you can find the stuff of a creative life now withering in your local school. So yes, sure it can lead to a life start of independence and no small amount of happiness: I am 16 and live alone in the wilderness

Okay, I'm not suggesting we all take ourselves to the woods forever, but I ask myself who's the happier? The young person without the formal education who had the joy of time and space to find out what makes them feel fulfilled in life - a person who already had a lifetime experience of organising themselves, setting their own goals, managing their own identities, ambitions and aspirations, and who is able to go out and get it?

Or the person who wakes up already old, aged only 25, discovering they've been in an exam machine for the last 25 years with very little autonomy, self-expression or creativity, and who now discovers they're indebted to the sum of £30,000 in a discipline they didn't really want to do, but they can't get a job in anyway, because there are no jobs, so they work in a coffee bar instead?

Thank you people for saying NO to the miserable grinding system and for offering your kids a wonderful day of freedom and exploration instead. I hope you all have a fantastic time.

Just let me say it one more time.


This is what I think. Your leap into the woods is no less than the journey work of the stars.*

*And God bless Walt Whitman for helping me out.