£2 for your integrity


Wow. Only £2 for a Final Solution word search. Could it be true? Yes. After a quick, soul-destroying word search search I found these bad boys.

At last, a Bin Laden word search!

Who wouldn’t want to start their Topical Tuesdays tutorial activity with a Syrian Civil War word search?

What I particularly like about this one is the image of the Klan member at the top. In my best Homer Simpson drool-voice: Mmmm, appropriate.

Clearly this is the Bin Laden extension activity.

This is, as the author states, ‘designed for the new AQA A level’. A level. FFS.

“Oh look, there’s Anne Frank, from that film we watched with the girl from Game of Thrones in it. And the guy from Taken!’

Why read Miller when you can take this mighty test?

Seriously. It’s not okay to sell resources. And it’s certainly not okay to sell these.

Stand still

Being light on my feet has its advantages: tigers, trucks and tyrannosauruses alike tend to trip awkwardly when trying to trap me in their teeth, tyres and tiny talons. I simply skip away. Being light on my feet in the classroom, however, is perhaps a disadvantage.

Like many, I pace when I talk. I get excited, and I just can’t hide it. But there’s little worse, I think, than watching an orator pace unnecessarily. It’s distracting, and implies a lack of confidence, a confidence to just stand still and address one’s audience squarely. Just as when we talk with purpose, so too we should move with purpose.

I’ve worked really hard to stand definitely: if a pupil front right is talking, I move front-left so I can see the whole class; if I’m explaining I stand front and centre as the focus; if we’re discussing an idea on the board I stay to my right, meaning I can point to something with my left hand, and gesture and write with my right. This ain’t no rocket-science, but it’s not something we’re told about when training. I’ve certainly never seen this sort of thing on an observation form. Perhaps it should be?

Standing still is authoritative. It demands attention. It exudes confidence. The gestures we use, whether by choice or accident of habit, tell our pupils something about our ability to explain and direct. These little things are important.

Anyway, today I observed a PGCE science teacher and gave him one piece of advice: stand still. He admitted that he moves a lot, but unlike at the AA, the first step in changing your practice is to change your practice. Deliberately changing an aspect of what we do, especially when this contradicts a seemingly embedded behaviour such as being light of foot, is hard. It takes discipline and focus. That discipline is worth the effort, however, if only because other traits then become easier to control.

Give it a go. Stand still

Tests for pleasure

Beginning pretty much every lesson with a test is a fantastic way to build confidence. BOOM! Pop that on your industrial conveyor-belt of mechanically reconstituted childbots, and drone it out to the regional Nestlé MAT. 

How? Why? Won’t somebody think of the children? Here:

Today Y9 faced these five questions to start.The questions are pretty easy because the descriptions are quite clear, and a couple include massive hints. In fact, I’d wager that 1, 3 and 4 are obvious, with 2 being slightly harder and 5 requiring an educated guess.

Asking these questions resulted in most pupils gaining 4/5, to which I can say, ‘Wow – that’s 80% and you haven’t even studied this before. You must be geniuses!’

But here’s the trick. After I’ve gone through the answers (with them writing these in, correcting any spelling mistakes), we, in true Brendan Rogers style, go again. ‘Let’s do it again, but this time aim for 100%. Focus on the one or two you didn’t get.’

My rule is this: just getting one more is still an improvement, and with only five questions that’s 20%. We often repeat until everyone has achieved 100%, with this taking perhaps six minutes, or so. 

It’s a great way to start a lesson because there’s success right away, and the effect of that success, however small, is vital. Remember, tests aren’t evil.


So I found myself in a little bother recently over a post I wrote about Peanut Toast, the in-some-circles much heralded, whilst in others much derided, new foodstuff from the eponymously named Peanut Toast Co. I’ve since deleted the post due to the aggravation it caused, but I’d like to review it below.

There have been a fair few discussions about Peanut Toast on Twitter, with both criticism and praise heaped upon the product and company. One, admittedly less than catchy, advert in particular stirred the hornet’s nest:

“Peanut Toast is a healthier alternative to other toast. We need a breakfast revolution. Join us!”

A few bloggers, and one in particular, took issue with the Toast.

“I won’t name the company or product, but there is a new breakfast out there – yes, that one – which claims its toast, made largely from peanuts, is better than other breakfasts. But have they, I wonder, thought about those for whom peanuts cause anaphylaxis? Toast made from peanuts is not the best breakfast.”

Naturally, I was sceptical, and wanted to know more. When I asked the makers of Peanut Toast (the only peanut-based toast on the market), the Peanut Toast Co., about their Peanut Toast, they said that whilst they don’t claim to have all the answers, they believe their peanut-based Peanut Toast breakfast to be a better breakfast than other breakfasts, especially regular, non-peanut toast. I just had to find out more.

I visited Peanut Toast Co. in London last week and was, to be fair, astonished at the standard of breakfast toasts provided, especially Peanut Toast. And I blogged about it. I happened to mention the name of one of the critics of Peanut Toast, stating that the aversion to Peanut Toast was a real shame, and that, frankly, I believe them to be wrong.

From that blogger, and peanut-critic, I received the following comment on my blog:

“I have never criticised the Peanut Toast Co., or any of its products, especially Peanut Toast. To claim otherwise is defamation. Please contact me with your details so I can begin legal proceedings against you.”

Understandably concerned, I have since deleted the blog. I am not, however, worried about the threat of a court case. No, rather I would like the aggravation to disappear as the level of opprobrium levelled at me has been rather shocking.

I will, however, stand by my praise for Peanut Toast and the Peanut Toast Co., who I feel are producing superb breakfast toasts.

How much is ‘enough’?

Perhaps you, like me, have read accusations levelled at The Empire* of a focus on knowledge and drill being solely designed to ensure children pass exams, and thus promoting and pushing a reductive agenda which fails to take into account, let alone develop, the whole child©. Barry Smith, at the launch of a certain school’s book, was jumped upon for saying that said school would be an ‘exam-factory’, which apparently proved the fear-mongers’ fears of a Tekken future correct. This, of course, is bullshit, because any school in which children are taught well will likely have excellent exam results. And in any case, which teacher doesn’t wish their pupils to achieve the best exam results they can? There may be all sorts of problems with examinations, but to accuse teachers of – Shock! Horror! – helping pupils pass exams is absurd. Imagine criticising a hospital for being a ‘health-factory’: ‘All those robots want to do is fix people’s broken-bits, but what about mindfulness and nuclear war, eh? When will doctors talk about nuclear war?’

The answer, if I ever get chance to refute such nonsense claims, is that ‘I didn’t mean that, and you know it.’ Well, then what do you mean? That school should be something more than preparing for exams? That children should be afforded the chance to develop their cultural capital through trips to places they might otherwise never visit?; to learn instruments other than girl-band?; to recognise that dance is an art-form, not star-jumping around the gym to an Ed Sheeran remix? Absolutely. Totally with you, just not sure why you didn’t say that in the first place.

Schools can’t teach everything, of course. There’s only so much time, teachers and money, as Mark Lehain argued here. So how much is ‘enough’? At what point do we say, ‘Our pupils now know enough?’ Do we say this? And enough for what? Enough to pass the exam, or enough to face the grizzly world?

This typically excellent tweet from James Theobald reminded me of a passage from a typically excellent Michael Fordham blog:

On the one hand, we know we need to make decisions about what to teach, and yet, on the other, there is not much rational basis on which to say ‘x is more important to teach than y’.

Part of the answer to this must be that we, as curriculum designers, accept arbitrariness as a fundamental feature of curriculum design. On some level, in some way, what we choose to teach in the arts and humanities is always going to be open to the accusation of arbitrariness. I do not think we can ultimately escape this critique, and our response to it should most probably be a challenge to our critics to outline a curriculum theory where specified content is not on some level arbitrary.

In exposing pupils to as much history, English literature or colouring-in geography as possible we’re obviously betting on this helping them pass their exams well, but we’re also doing so because we believe these subjects and topics to be interesting in and of themselves. We should try to aim, I think, for some kind of narrative across a year, or key stage, but not solely in preparation for KS4, even though this narrative might do exactly that. When I learned to recite every English monarch in order, I did so because I believed this might make me a more interesting and impressive person, at least to the sort of people who find the recitation of English monarchs either interesting, impressive, or a combination of both. Furthermore, I suppose I also realised that should Lord Krang of the Zvartox System threaten Earthly vaporisation unless one person could quickly recite all English monarchs in chronological order then I’d be able to step up and save humanity. ‘Oh, how reductive!’, they cry. ‘That isn’t why I did it!’, I reply, ‘but your ability to moan about it is, I suppose, down to my acumen, so you can thank me by buggering off.’

The point is there is never enough. I, like you (not you, though), always want to know more. And the more I know the more confident I am in expressing the stretch of history, in my case, to my pupils. Knowledge is sticky. There are probably better, or worse, starting points, and for this we need to consider that issue of arbitrariness, but let’s neither assume there’s an end-amount of useful knowledge, nor that information is only oil to an examination conveyer belt.


Learning by rote doesn’t mean not understanding

Does anyone actually teach decontextualised facts? I’ve made this argument previously, but it seems to be popping up again, with Heather Leatt’s response to an article in the T*S prompting yet more immature thinking on the matter.

The argument seems to go something like this: I can teach children to remember twenty quotes from Romeo and Juliet, but that doesn’t mean they understand the play. Well of course not, but who actually does this? Who’s advocating it? Seriously!

Even the most Gradgrindian, paid-up member of #TeamTrad™ doesn’t force thirty, doe-eyed eleven year-olds to repeat random facts for hours on bloody-end. This isn’t reality. It isn’t even parody. No-one does this.

When I quiz Y7 on the key people in this unit on mediaeval power, I don’t do so with no explanation because a) I wouldn’t be doing my job and b) that would be mental. It would be a literally, [insert dubious Einsteinian attribution here] insane thing to do. It would also be pointless.

Having learned something by rote, or by heart if you prefer the more romantic phrase, allows any person to better deal with the matters at hand: knowing the various monarchs, in chronological order, who reigned during the Hundred Years’ War will aid understanding of the Hundred Years’ War. That’s the whole, actual, entire point. Learning by rote does not mean not understanding. It’s just a very effective way to help us understand more quickly.

Quality First Teaching

The most important reason as to why ‘Quality First Teaching’ is integral (which all teachers and leaders must recognise, of course) in ensuring all classrooms are succcessful learning environments, is due to its direct opposition to quality second teaching: in QFT, quality comes first, as opposed to second. 

But what is QFT? Putting quality first requires quality teaching to be placed above – and beyond – poor quality teaching. It necessitates quality teaching, and so could be argued to be the next step from quality second teaching. This, I would argue, is a misunderstanding of the hierarchical complexities of quality teaching, being, as they are, subsumed within quality teaching itself. Thus the idiosyncrasies of QFT are both inimical to, and conjoined with, the practice of putting quality first as opposed to second, rather than building on quality second teaching, in which quality teaching necessarily comes second to poor, or poorer, quality teaching.

The question which arises next is this: by which matrices do we recognise and judge QFT? If we take as an establishment of quality its very nature we can easily remove anything which obstructs the visibility of QFT. Stories are created, presented and evidenced through quality’s position both at the forefront, and as the driver of, teaching. Thus QFT becomes fully observable through its very practice.

Finally, how can school leaders best support their staff body to teach with quality at the heart of, rather than as an addendum to, teaching? School leaders would do best to promote quality first teaching through the promotion of quality practices, such as planning, teaching and assessing effectively. In this way teachers are free to put quality first, rather than second. Planning poor quality lessons, for example, might well be a bad idea. On the other hand, planning quality lessons will most likely be more effective over time.

What would you do differently next time?

You gave pupils, in pairs, envelopes with four pieces of paper in each. 

Yes, I wanted them to develop their team working skills.

Ok. How did that help?

They … well, they had to take out the piece of paper, and, er …

That helped to develop team working skills?

Yeah. Yes. That was the idea. 

Right, and how long did that take them? Was there discussion about who would open the envelopes first? Did they have to come up with a plan?

No, not really. I guess they just opened, um, …

Opened the envelopes?


Yeah. And on a scale of 1-10, 10 being brilliant, how well did that work?

Well, not well, I guess, but you’ve atomised it a bit. The way you’ve framed them opening the envelopes, rather than the whole task, well it makes it sound silly.

Opening envelopes to develop teamwork sounds silly.


Yeah, you’re right. I can see that. So tell me what happened next. I don’t want to atomise the task, so tell me what happened. Let’s look at the big picture.

Ok, well then they had the four pieces of paper and then they had to arrange them into the correct order.

Right. And how challenging a task was that, do you think?

Well, they, they hadn’t seen the image before.

And what was the image?

The whole thing? All four made up an image of a plate celebrating the British Empire.

Did it matter that they hadn’t previously seen this image? 

It might have, yes.

It might have how?

I mean, maybe if there were, erm …

More than four pieces of paper to put together?

Yes. I guess I should have chopped them up a bit more. But it took ages!

How long did it take each pair?

Maybe a minute?

That long?

Maybe. I’m not sure. Again, I should have chopped the image into smaller pieces.

And this was to develop teamwork?


What do you think now?

It seems a bit of a waste of time, but I like the activity. I just need to rethink it. Maybe spend some more time on it.

How did the activity develop their understanding of history?

Um. Well, er, they all got to see a plate.

They all got to see a plate.


Different plates?


Right. Ok, so if you were teaching that again …

How would I make it better? How would I make it more successful? What would I change?

Exactly! Yes! What would you do?

Well, I like the activity so I think I’d definitely chop up more pieces …


It is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man, that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps – Martin Luther King.

I have a problem with the notion that effort, or hard work, will always pay off. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the romanticism of the American Dream, and have absolutely worked hard myself, at least in some respects. But I really don’t think it’s necessarily true, or necessarily fair, to suggest that effort is the determining factor in a person’s success. It might be, but not always and possibly not often.

What we, as successful people, often fail to notice is the role luck has played in our journeys. We like to over-emphasise our own hard-work because, well, we’re proud of what we’ve achieved. If we’re told that luck was a significant factor in our success, maybe what we actually hear is “You don’t deserve your success.” This is an example of a kind of situational amnesia, a blindness to the forces – whatever they might have been – which helped us to reach a certain destination. This doesn’t mean that we haven’t worked hard, but that effort might not be the key factor in our journey.

In 2009, the British Fox News host, Stuart Varney, interviewed Professor Robert Frank about a recent article Frank had written for the New York Times, in which he had argued that “Contrary to what many parents tell their children, talent and hard work are neither necessary nor sufficient for economic success.” The interview went like this:

Varney: Am I lucky or not, being who I am and where I am .. I’m lucky?

Frank: Yes. You are.

Varney: Okay. Lucky?

Frank: And so am I.

Varney: That’s outrageous. That is outrageous. What about the risk I took? Do you know what risk is involved in coming to America with absolutely nothing? Do you know what risk is involved in trying to work for a major American network with a British accent, a total foreigner? Do you know what risk is implied for this level of success?

Frank: I do.

Varney: Is it luck that you hold a tenured position?

Frank: Yes.

Varney: That’s nonsense. I am insulted by what you said.

Frank: Well ..

Varney: You are going against the American Dream.

Frank: I’m not.

Varney: Look, if you come to America with nothing, and you play by the rules, you work hard, you get discipline inside yourself, you marry and have children in that order; okay? You do all of those things, you play by the rules, you will make it in America, and luck has nothing to do with it.

Frank: That’s not true, sir.

Frank later said this of the interview:

He said he’d come to the USA with nothing: he had a degree from the London School of Economics. That’s coming to the US with nothing? He had somehow overcome the handicap of working in America with a British accent. Americans love British accents! He said he took risks. What’s a risk? I looked it up. Merrriam-Webster: “Risk is the possibility that something bad or unpleasant, such as an injury or loss, may happen.” He took risks and he succeeded. Well, that means by definition that he was lucky. Full stop. 

Frank pointed out that when we feel gratitude, when we’re reminded of luck’s importance, we’re more likely to plough some of own good fortune back into the common good. However, we can recall our own struggles far better than we can the obscure role of chance and luck, and thus we underplay its significance. Furthermore, the idea that we are the recipients of luck might corrode our faith in free will. We are often too deeply invested in our own autobiographies to recognise the role which external factors might play.

And so, it’s all very well telling children they need to work hard, but they also need to join the conversation, and that really is hard. It requires knowledge of social conventions, often very alien to one’s own, in order to even be in the same room as those we need to impress. One of the things which I took from my visit to Michaela last year was the focus on knowing how to be successful. The message, during the lunchtime discussion, was that getting the top grades is not enough: A*s, or 9s, or whatevers, will be against A* and 9s from other schools full of children whose families are already part of the conversation, and that therefore we must learn the conventions of that conversation in order to stand a chance against those who might wear the right coloured shoes. Laura McInerney’s excellent recent article in Schools Week suggests a couple of solutions, neither to do with effort.

It’s very easy, then, for the middle-class, which I suppose I am now joining, to speak of hard-work paying off. But we must recognise the role of luck, too. I did not work hard as a teenager, really, at anything bar music. Despite growing up in a caravan, with my parents split-up and a sometimes severe lack of money, I had a loving family who supported me, pushing me to read Bryson at 11, Adams at 12 and Orwell at 13. I was lucky. I worked very hard to teach myself music theory, yes, but I grew up around guitars and amplifiers: I received an Elvis tape for my fifth birthday, and was brought up on a diet of soul, rhythm n’ blues and funk. I was lucky, and find it slightly embarrassing when family-members tell me how hard I’ve worked, because I didn’t have to, at least not academically. I worked hard to support myself financially, yes, but this was mostly through playing music, so what does that tell you?

And it’s no good saying we should all learn from our mistakes, and that failure is somehow always a great thing. It sort of depends on how badly you fail, and what the safety net is when you do, if it even exists: if the son of a millionaire fails in his bid to set up a moustache-waxing salon, then it matters not if he’s lost £200,000. There are varying degrees of failure, and those sit on a sliding scale of social position.

I don’t have a problem with making pupils work hard, but we have to give them tools to make that effort count. Even that won’t necessarily lead to success, but it’s what we can do. We don’t need lots more interview practice, but we do need to insist on high standards, and model those ourselves: the language we use, the clothes we wear, the expectations we have. Maybe we have to give children the bootstraps as well as the boots.

Utopian thinking: keep teachers in charge of schools

A reply to this nonsense.

We are living in interesting times, and that shows no sign of changing. We are ready for new solutions. What you so often hear from all sides of an argument is that they are “doing this for our children’s future”. Yet that future is one of the biggest unknowns. Are today’s children going to be doing jobs of which we can’t yet conceive? Will the world still exist in the way we know it, given the looming danger of alien invasion?

One thing we can be sure of is that it will be the next generation that will face the challenges and carry the responsibility of navigating us through it. That is why it is with education that we need to start our thinking. What is it that children need to experience to be equipped to tackle the challenges of the future?

There are a few things which go on in schools that will be redundant. First, football. The aliens we encounter may not have the correctly shaped feet to fit into a pair of Nike 90s, let alone the conceptual understanding of feet, balls, or even football, despite its otherwise universal adoration. Second, getting in trouble. Children who get in trouble because they don’t follow instructions will likely be vaporised by high-grade laser weapons in an alien-human space war. And, finally, children must not be involved in any serious decision making regarding what they find engaging: instead, they absolutely need to be subordinates on the bottom rung of an authority structure that prepares them to obey – they need to be regarded as the novices that they are, or they’ll possibly be squished by the alien rocket landing-pads.

So what does an education system that caters for alien invasion look like? What does it take to get to the point where children are entering the alien world with the wisdom and intuition required to navigate the abundance of information and ride the waves of unexpected new lifeforms?

The answer: keep experienced, intelligent adults in charge of schools. Allow them to decide when, where, what, how and with whom children learn. Autocratic education is needed. A system where a child’s right to have a say on matters that affect them (as stated in article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) is completely at odds with the preservation of the human race.

Such a system (I call this ‘teaching’) would be supported by two pillars. The first is top-down decision-making, with children fully participating in belonging to the school community as fostered by the adults.

The second is “teacher-directed didacticism”, with children following what their teachers teach them. Young people are curious, they want to make sense of the world, that’s why they ask questions: “why, why, why … ” A good education system intervenes, focussing them on paths to that which they might otherwise ignore, asking them to stop being this way and telling them what to learn. It puts the trust in the adult, thus increasing their ability to survive a neutron-attack.

While teaching at a democratic school, Freie Schule Leipzig, a 10-year-old girl came to me. “I haven’t come to any HAL 9000 lessons all year, because I’ve been busy doing other things I was more interested in. Now I want to learn HAL 9000, but I don’t want to come to classes because I don’t know anything about it yet.”

“OK, do you think there are other children who feel like this?” I asked. Yes, she said. “Do you want to find them and decide what kind of HAL 9000 teaching you want?” Within a week, she had mobilised a full group of students who felt ready – now is my time to take on the HAL 9000, because I want to! We organised an intensive HAL 9000 week; through interactive storytelling we were able to cover a term’s worth of curriculum in five days. Unfortunately, HAL decided to disconnect the life-support systems and then lock all the children outside in the rain. “I’m sorry, little girl. I’m afraid I can’t let you in because you truanted the basic training”, HAL kept repeating.

This democratic approach failed because firm foundations of mutual respect, equality, dignity, trust and shared responsibility are the compass that navigates daily school life, not a do-whatever-the-hell-you-fancy kind of anarchy.

You may think, “If we had been given that much freedom I would have just done nothing all day … We would have created mayhem.”

Yes, you would have. Always remember, Kang and Kodos are watching, and they’re very hungry.

Note: Martin Robinson has written an actual reply here.