What the hell am I assessing? And why?

This week I ‘fed back’ for an hour to a Y11 class on a Germany PPE. I told them that I wasn’t going to give them any grades until they’d had the feedback, that by the end they’d realise how pointless that knowledge might be anyway, that I’d only give them scores, not letters, and only if they specifically asked for them, and that since everyone in every history class has a target of 100% – whatever their reports might say – we should all focus on all being the best.

“So why did we do the test, then?”, one asked. “I want to know my score.”

“It’s about learning from mistakes in a pressurised environment. You can all follow instructions in here; you can all answer my questions when you’re sat in front of me, but you have to do it alone. It’s practice for you. By the end you shouldn’t need to know, but I’ll tell you if you really want. My questions to you are, why do you want to know, and how will that grade help you?”

For this session I’d completed the PPE myself and handed it to the class. We went through each question, looking at the phrasing of the question, what exactly candidates were being asked to do, the weighting of the history to the mechanics of answering the bloody thing, timing and similarities and differences between each question. I don’t think that’s anything special, really, but it is incredibly useful for them. I do the same before PPEs, too: a kind of pre-brief, although not with the actual paper. Again, though, nothing special.

All of this is focussed on helping children keep calm when they know the subject, so when an unusually phrased question, for example, pops up they can breathe easy knowing that it’s a seven-marker, meaning x,y,z: “Count to seven on your fingers: the two on the other hand mean two paragraphs.” Nothing special.

What do I get from this? Writing out the answers is useful, as is watching them spot – or fail to spot – my turns of phrase which help me gain extra marks; it’s useful as it’s focussed on what is right, not what I did wrong and how shit I am at exams, which helps me keep a positive atmosphere. But the data? The numbers? What do they mean?

Let’s take a QLA. I punch a load of numbers into a big, colour-coded, condition-laden spreadsheet in the hope that where the red sea swamps the green hills I can at least understand something about both individual and group performance on single questions, types of questions, timing, strength of knowledge, technique, amount of revision, what they ate for breakfast, etcetera.

But I can’t. Not really. I might have some ideas, but – actually – I probably know what’s gone wrong – or right, although I think that’s harder (and this is where comparative judgement should be brilliant) – as I’m marking each essay. The spreadsheet is a problem: it’s loaded with too much information and expectation. And because we’re time challenged (a phrase I very deliberately choose because of its utter inability to convey just how little time a teacher has to do anything effectively) every year, we look for, and find, shortcuts which don’t actually exist. And then (!) we over-estimate our own ability to draw inferences from these numbers because a) COLOURS and b) someone else agrees BECAUSE OF COURSE THEY AGREE THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND EITHER.

Right. And that’s why reading children’s work is vital, and why writing pen-loads of comments all over half a page of writing, drawing inferences from the most over-stretched (sorry, *creative) parts of our tired, flaccid brains is a time-consuming waste of consumed time.

I don’t know about you (although I’m now going to assume I do, because I genuinely assume this to be the case) but I can predict 90% of the mistakes a class will make on an exam. Because I taught them. I don’t need to write comments for that 90%.

It’s the other 10% of problems which I’m looking for, and that’s why I assess – to hunt the problems. But, and here is the thing – no, really: this is it – I have to know what I wanted in the first place to make sure I’m hunting in the right place. If I look for data to tell me everything then I might well end up knowing nothing, lost as I’ll find myself in a noise of competing, shouty numbers.

Rather than asking “What can the data tell us?”, we need to ask “What are we assessing and why? What information will we receive?” In doing so anomalies are clearer and we can focus on something worthwhile, rather than drowning in RAG.

See this from Ben Newmark on finding the expected and unexpected problems.

Our good friend, Sir Robert Peel

I’ve been doing this thing with Y11 where every time I mention Sir Robert Peel, I then say, “our good friend.” Why? A while ago one of the group mentioned that he turns up a lot, and across a couple of our units. “He’s everywhere!”, she said. And so I responded with, “yes, our good friend”, and now I say it every time.

And? Well now I don’t have to mention his name. I just ask, “and which friend of ours …?” And the reply comes: “Is it .. It’s not our good friend, Sir Robert Peel, is it?”

“Why yes, Josh! Yes it is.”

“He’s everywhere, Sir. He founded the Met as well.”

“And when was that, Katie?”

“1829, Sir. After he’d written the Gaols Act, of course.”

“My!”, I say. “He was a busy boy.”

I’ve written here about the importance of repetition, but what I’ve not mentioned is the idea of repeating snippets of stories, or phrases, which are either memorable on their own, or link various events together which might not appear obvious.

I do the same with concepts, events and actions: “That bloomin’ old Treaty of Versailles, eh?”; “Oh, like Semmelweis’s death from infection? How ironic!”. And I ham it up. Oh yes, I play the fool – I feign ignorance and slap on the slapstick, heavy and thick. But it works – “It’s ironic because that’s what he campaigned against, Sir, and yet people wouldn’t read his work because it was too full of statistics.”

And they laugh, because it’s this little in-joke we have, the twenty-eight of us and me, all laughing at our silliness, and no-one else will get it. And it’s safe in my room to laugh, because children who wouldn’t otherwise get on all get it. Together. As does our good friend, Sir Robert Peel.

How I taught Y9 today

Following on from yesterday’s How I taught Y11 today, here’s one for Y9. I am not – repeat, not – going to do one of these every day for the next week, but I did want to show just what I mean by “consistency of approach”.

This group is very keen, with only a few reluctant speakers. We start GCSE in Y9, although we’ve chosen to preface their study of Nazi Germany with the story of Weimar Germany for the first half-term.

9:50 – Welcome all in silence. Some are slightly late as they’ve come from PE. There’s late from PE, and then there’s “I’m late ‘cos I had PE”. None of the latter today. They all have a chart which shows the rising number of unemployed in Germany from 1928-1932, alongside the number of seats the Nazis gained in the election years. They have to firstly write what they see, and then what they think this all might mean. They already know about the Wall St Crash and that Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933, so this is a task designed to help them recall information as well as approach sources of information in a logical fashion. Too many look at a source and say, “I don’t know”, when they should instead focus on what is obvious first: numbers, dates, names, places, the provenance, the medium, etc.

9:57 – After a short discussion I talk and they make notes as specifically directed by me. We use the Cornell system. Again, a little of this they already know, but there’s more which they don’t, or would otherwise have to infer. I don’t want them to infer here: I need them to know.

We also reinforce some longer-term causal links through whole-group answers. And what was the nickname given to those who signed the armistice? “November Criminals!” And they later signed the treaty of  … “Versailles!” And Hitler gave the government the nickname of the … “Weimar Republic!” And so on.

10:10 – They all have a Nazi propaganda poster, produced in 1932. I want them to use the same technique as they did at the start to annotate this. The difference is that I also now want them to add their own knowledge, based on what I’ve just told them.

10:15 – I tell them what I’ve noticed, annotating my own version in front of them. What else have they noticed? And so what might that mean? What might it imply? What might it suggest? Lots of answers, picked mainly – though not exclusively – through cold call. Lots of praise, too, but also a ‘right is right’ approach: it’s one thing to infer a point, but it’s another to make a completely invalid point. “Why did you think that? Millie, do you agree? Why not? Ah! So can you see why … Yes, fab.”

10:23 –  Question: What can Source A tell us about why Hitler became Chancellor? I show them a model answer I’ve already written. I read through, picking out what it is I have done by highlighting and drawing out the parts where I’ve clearly answered the question. I make clear the phrases I want them to use, as well as how I might include the answers to several questions (when was it produced? Who produced it? Why was it produced?) in one show sentence, for example. I take away the example and they write for nine minutes.

10:40 – Stop writing. Let’s look at my example again. Using a different coloured pen they add anything which they now realise they’ve missed with my model answer as the basis. This makes it clear what they didn’t include the first time around, so when I zip through their books, either at the time or later, it’s also obvious to me.

10:45 – There’s a short written source I want to finish with. Again, I want them to annotate and work out the main message, but this time much more quickly. My thinking is that they should now be able to do this more successfully because a) they have more knowledge, and b) they know how to approach the piece: where’s it come from, what does it say – now, what does it mean? This takes a couple of minutes, leaving one minute to summarise: “That’s right – bored young men, with nothing to do and no hope. So who might they turn to in their desperation? Ah! So can we now see why …?”

10:50 – Pack away. I ask for hands up from those who, like me, forgot to open their calendars this morning: 90% of hands shoot up to tell me absolutely anything about their chocolate. Fun – tick!

How different is this to the Y11 lesson? Well, it isn’t really. I can, hopefully, rely on more knowledge with my Y11s, but the  approach is the same. I don’t treat different classes that differently at all, though there are exceptions: that Y11 class from yesterday need a bit more gee-ing up, whilst I have a Y7 class that need calming down, such is their blood-lust for the Maya at the moment.

Again, it’s straightforward. Again: it’s not fancy, it’s not dry; it’s just teaching.

How I taught Y11 today

A tiny class of eighteen with hugely varying ‘abilities’ and behaviours, this group has come a really long way over the last year. They’re the class who don’t speak, often staying silent bar two boys; one, a nailed on A*, the other an argumentative young man who once told me to “get [my] head out of [my] fucking arsehole.” I feel, recently, as if we’ve had a breakthrough, and whilst I’m careful to not ascribe one particular thing to this, I do think that there’s a consistency of approach, if you like, which has helped with this. I’ve deliberately played the long-game with them, which is a little risky when you pick up a class in Y10, but it seems to now be paying dividends.

Anyway, here’s what we did today. It’s not really that different to any other day, but over time they’ve had some success with it.

8:50 – Welcome with a recall task: they began to look at C19 prison reforms on Monday, so this is a simple ten-question true-or-false quiz about the separate and silent systems. Two have forgotten their books (which they shouldn’t have taken home in the first place) and so are given negative points and paper.

Their scores reveal there’s some confusion about the chronology and reasons for differences, though differences are recognised, so we return to this using ‘reform’ and ‘punish’ as key factors. We then consider context and reasons for introduction of prisons (end of Bloody Code in early C19, declining use of transportation, for example).

9:05 – Answer a five-mark question: Briefly describe the separate and silent prison systems. These questions should be easy marks and we’ve worked hard to ensure we don’t drop marks through lazy writing. This is a quick way to summarise the two for them, and I can easily give them all scores later in the lesson.

9:10 – Silent reading on prison reformers. Whilst they read I circulate, quickly giving them scores out of five. Most are now getting full-marks each time, but I ask those who aren’t what they think the reason might be. They always know why – which is great, and usually means they’ve just not written quickly enough – and so are given a reminder or tip – no marking for me.

9:25 – I question them on what they’ve found out. At this point I want them to refer to notes because, frankly, they don’t do this enough. Their confidence is still not where I need it to be and so I usually use one-minute-revision followed by quick quizzes to bolster self-esteem, but I also want them to get out of the ‘don’t know’ habit; actually using their books in which they’ve just made notes is surprisingly difficult for some, so any chance I have to say, “Turn back one page, find Elizabeth Fry …”, for example, I take. “Ah, Cameron’s found her, so’s Lucy; I see Josh and Liam have, too – Abi, what can you tell me?”

9:35 – Answer a seven-mark question. Everyone can grab full marks; we’re all aiming for an A (this is the only time I’ll mention targets). This question requires, essentially, two points which are fully explained. They all know that making two clear points is vital, but often mix these up in one paragraph, which means their points are lost and confused. So I model an example on the board, picking out discourse markers, and ask them to then write just one paragraph on one point. They’re asked to write about the reformers (we’ll add a paragraph on prisons next lesson) so I can pop a few examples under the visualiser next time.

9:47 – One to ten, back of your books. Same quiz as at the start, but I’ve jumbled the questions up. Who improved? Everyone? Full marks? Sixteen our of eighteen.

9:49 – Pack away. They leave their books in their class pigeon-hole and reading with me.

So, next lesson? We’ll recap the quiz again, plus another one on reformers, have a look at our seven-mark paragraphs, see what we need to improve, then do this and add the other paragraph. We’ll then test a thesis statement, such as “Prisons were modernised in the C19 mainly due to the decline of transportation”, where we’ll look for evidence for both sides of the argument which will then lead to an eight-mark question.

Read, question, practice, quiz, repeat. It’s purposeful, they see the benefits immediately, we amend and improve all the time. And the key successes today? Kayleigh’s handwriting was legible enough for me to read it and give her full marks, and the boy who thinks I’m arrogant asked me to read his second question.

It’s not fancy. It’s not dry. It’s just teaching.

A sequel is here!

What is fun?

If fun is something enjoyable, then my experience of history lessons is that children of all ages enjoy learning new stories. That might, however, not be what they’d immediately suggest, were we to ask. “Videos”, “that millionaire game” and “posters” might well be the response of a few, at least until we’ve probed further. When we ask children whether they’ve enjoyed something, apart from it being a dumb question (because SO WHAT) it’s also open to chasm-like interpretations: actually, “videos”, “that millionaire game” and “posters” are, I think, responses which we think children give because that’s we’re asked in the final few days before Christmas. But I’m not so sure children are so vacuous.

What do we expect to hear? “Really hard work, Mr Peaness.” “Lots of essays, Mrs Crunchbutt.” “Tests please, Miss Fanklewitt!”

Well, of course we don’t hear that. But their responses are, I think, more nuanced than heads-down-thumbs-up or role-play. The longer I teach, the more I see that most children do actually want to be successful: they do want to learn, and they do want to be good. There are a few who don’t think they do, and there are probably a tiny, weeny little minority who, thanks to all sorts of mitigating factors, genuinely struggle with wanting to know more, but most do. And so, to most – I think – an enjoyable lesson is one where they feel successful or that they’ve worked hard, or that the teacher cares about them.

These three aren’t mutually exclusive, but sometimes children work hard and are a little more confused, and that’s okay as long as they know it’s in their best interests. And, actually, if they don’t know it’s not the end of the world, but as long as they’re told. Now, that might not feel so fun, but – again – so what? That’s not the point. If children are having fun then HEY PRESTO! Brilliant. Well done us. But, let’s be frank, this is a happy coincidence.

If a child says a lesson I teach is fun it’s usually after a story: maybe I’ve spent most of the hour telling that story. I’ve not planned it to be enjoyable, but I know that for most it will be. And also, when, at the end as I’m holding the door and saying goodbye, not one child says, “That was amazing, Sir! Can we write that much every lesson?”, I’m not disappointed because that would be mental. However, they might say that it was tough but that they get why we did it. And that’s fine because we’re trying to help children become cleverer.

They still might ask if we’re watching a video on the last day of term, and I’ll still look enormously perplexed, as if I’ve never heard that before, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get it. They’re not idiots, but they’re also not yet PhD candidates. They’re just children.

Plan stories, not lessons

How coherent is your curriculum? Does it tell a story? Is there a clear narrative? If a Y7 could fully access the Y8 curriculum are you okay with this?

When we plan lessons episodically, we’re hoping that these connect. Skilful teaching, using recaps and recall quizzes,  helps bridge the gaps, but when the narrative is atomised into skill-based activities and even tinier chunks we risk losing sight of the bigger picture. History teachers often plan in terms of depth studies (Germany 1918-39, for example) and breadth, or overview studies (medicine or crime 0-2000, for example). It’s clearly easier to tell a story when we have characters who lived through a particular period, but a story doesn’t have to be the preserve of the historian: there are stories in all our our subjects, and hierarchies without which our houses fall into the sand.

Planning questions is one way to approach learning, though that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to certain subjects. We can all, however, look for a narrative that runs through a key stage. Take our KS3 history curriculum:

Y7: the changing power of belief.

  1. How can we best tell the story of the ancient world?
  2. How did religion begin to develop in mediaeval Europe and beyond, c.300-1066?
  3. How was power manifest in the Middle Ages, 1066-c.1485?
  4. How far reaching were Henry VIII’s choices, 1509-1688?

Y8: the developing power of ideas.

  1. How can the development of medicine tell the story of the Industrial Revolution?
  2. Was Germany really to blame for WWI?
  3. To what extent was WWII inevitable?
  4. How far have we learned lessons from history?

Historians will notice at least one artificial end-point, but there is a clear narrative running through our KS3: power, faith, ideas and the development and changing nature of government and the state. We’re also lucky in history to have a clear chronological framework on which to hang the story. But dates don’t have to be the only type of narrative washing-line.

When a pupil joins our school in Y8 they will, of course, be able to access the curriculum, and that’s due to the way I’ve resourced it. The story, those multiple themes which develop and interweave throughout, though, is clearer and more coherent because of long-term, deliberate planning: knowledge is intentionally built on top of more knowledge, not generic, packed-lunch lessons.

Plan stories, not lessons.

Edit: Michael Fordham’s post here makes this great point:

No teacher believes that his or her curriculum is all-encompassing, and there is no shame in sharing that with pupils. Whenever a pupil asks me ‘why don’t we study x?’ my response is always ‘well we had to make some tough choices about what to include and what to miss out. Just because we missed it put does not mean it is not interesting or important.

Rocket ships

When the Ass came I was among the first to be invited to meet them. Their ship, hanging metres above the ground in the same way that Douglas Adams never did, gave no clues as to their purpose, whilst the Asses themselves were of such alien physique that we did not recognise even a face with which to converse, only a kind of crevasse.

I, being one of the world’s finest code breakers, was asked to decipher their black-brown writing, a spindly, scratchy ephemeral, ethereal scrawl which shot out of what appeared to be phallic mandibles. Without any contextual information about their home planet, their reason for being here or even whether they recognised individual or group consciousness, it’s fair to say this was very tough.

I worked alongside a language specialist for three months, cross-referencing sounds, glyphs and what we could only describe as twerk-like gestures, though we had little idea about any possible correlation between these. We worked in the dark, with only the light of science and previous success in our respective fields to guide us.

But we raced against time. The Chinese and Russians also had the Ass all over them, and they were beginning to come to their own conclusions as to the language: war, it seemed, was on the horizon. Would these two superpowers work together with the aliens to enslave the West? Our superiors grew impatient.

We needed to know more, and so had to learn more: were there individual Asses? How much of their language was visual, and how much was audio – were these two linked? Was one Ass actually one person, in our sense, an Ass-whole? Did they speak in the same time-frame as us, or was their language more similar to that of the Hopi Indians? We recorded their guttural noises, studied their movements and waded through their inky words.  The answers to these would help, but finding out would take time.

But time was not on our side.

During the fourth month we were pulled from the Ass-ship, ripped from its bowels to be told we were packing up and leaving. The Chinese claimed they’d made a breakthrough – an alliance. The Ass-ship had to be evacuated.

But what we didn’t know was that the Ass had been studying us. They knew what we were doing, and so – once our language had been learned – just as we we leaving they ‘spoke’. Words and gaseous images appeared in my head which explained to me their purpose and granted me the code to their spectral script.

What I learned was this:

There was no language. The script, their text, was shit. Actual shit: Ass shit. They had shat everywhere knowing that we would try to intellectualise what we didn’t understand, assuming that communication was the purpose. In fact they were playing with us, and had been travelling the galaxy to have a laugh at various life forms’ expense, and we were the shittiest.

In short, we didn’t know what we were playing at, but the Ass knew exactly what we were playing with. As the Ass-ship left us, hands blackened with the alien effluent, we noticed a crude piece of extraterrestrial graffiti on the underside, what looked like an upside-down rocket ship shooting bullets. The Chinese took this as a declaration of war, but for the first time I deciphered the code with no help.

Green onions

A few years ago I went on a course entitled Green Onions. Run by an American called Booker, the course promised to get me slicing my onions at record speeds. There were two parts: the first, a four-day residential, focussed on spring onions in the Mediterranean style, whilst the second, a mere afternoon in a rustic kitchen, allowed us to move on to the trickier Vietnamese shallot. I, being a confident and somewhat cocksure young man, didn’t bother with the second: “I ain’t gonna be needing no shallots, Booker T”, I said. “You can take Donald and the Steves on your little merry-go-slice, but I’m off to make me a tabbouleh.”

So, armed with bulgur wheat, mint, parsley and coriander, a tabbouleh is what I magicked up, complete with a beautifully ornamented spring onion garnish. And it was popular – my friends, eager to taste the fruits of my new skills, stuffed themselves with my finely sliced tabbouleh: they were full as ticks. “Toby!”, they cried. “Where once you could not slice a bean, you now can slice for the Gods. We believe your slicing can be equated with the great Michelin chefs around the world. So forget your previous inabilities, for this tabbouleh is your own tabbouleh rasa.” And we laughed and laughed, for I understood there was a pun without having to quickly Google it.

After a month of sublime, eloquent slicing and hot, fresh tabbouleh one close friend of mine, recently back from Southeast Asia, asked me to make her a Bánh Mì sandwich. She’d eaten my tabbouleh with gusto almost every night, but was keen to relive the memories of Hanoi street food. “Not a problem!”, I cried. “I was going to consider moving on to a European cuisine, but Vietnamese has so much more to offer. Now, you go to Germany, you’ve got your Bratwurst, your Butterkuchen and your Braunschweiger. There, in Vietnam, you’ve got your Pho, your Tom Chien Xu and your Bun Cha Nem. And as you look around the world, you go to Russia, Great Britain, France – any country: everybody! Everybody is doing flips and twists just to tuck in to some genuine Vietnamese.”

So, loaded with pickled vegetables, many meats, lemongrass, a de-fluffed baguette and condiments I began my Bánh Mì preparation. The chicken, however, called for a marinade: nam pla, lime juice, soy sauce and – oh devil of devils – shallots.

How could I have been so dumb? How could I have been so naïve to assume that my one piece of expertly practised knife-work would get me through an evening of unfamiliar cuisine? And so, with my shallots firmly between my legs, I telephoned Booker T. “Booker”, I asked, “is it possible to tell me how to slice a shallot? I thought knowing how to slice a spring – sorry, green – onion would suffice, but I was wrong. So very wrong.”

“Young man”, he replied, “knowledge of how to slice only really begins to make sense when you have two things of which to link. Knowledge of how to slice a green onion is different to that of how to slice a shallot. The physical skills of both are similar, true, but you must know both first before you can practise, less you make mistakes.”

“I don’t mind making mistakes”, I said. “But Booker, I now realise that the more I know about slicing various onions the more well-equipped I will be when I face more obscure onions, like red onions, or the Cepa de Apa.”

“Fool!” shouted Booker. “You are not yet ready to slice the Cepa de Apa. It’s this kind of attitude towards knowledge that makes people think the Blues Brothers wrote the original. If you’d stayed in class you might have got all the references.”

And with that he put down his receiver. I had to learn the hard way, by YouTubing my way through hours of three-minute videos of poor advice.

Don’t give them the mic


Having played at hundreds of weddings, I have learned at least one vital lesson: never give the bride, groom, best man, father of the bride or tearful sister the microphone; never allow anyone to get up on stage; never give in to the incessant demand to be able to sing along whilst you play Angels, or assume you can all suddenly play A Whole New World from Aladdin whilst the bride’s maids of honour wail away: don’t give them the mic.

Firstly, they often aren’t in any kind of sober enough position to be able to perform, even if they do know the lyrics. Drunks tend to concentrate more, which gives them that false sense of security, and as their friends are also drunk there’s this camaraderie of distorted plaudits, a wicked domain of self-congratulatory, peer confidence building. The confidence is bullshit, but they’re not really aware of it.

Secondly, they concentrate so hard on getting it right that they sometimes forget why they’re up there in the first place. Seriously, I’ve had people wake-up mid-song/rant/declaration of love for the groom’s new wife. And then they freeze and it’s not funny at all, just embarrassing.

Thirdly, most people don’t have the technical skills to do what they want. Many people play guitar a little, a surprising amount of party-goers tend to think that drumming is actually quite easy, and nearly everyone thinks they can sing once a few vodka-and-cokes have been downed.

Finally, they often don’t know the words. Actually, they do, but not necessarily as well as think they do. They also think they know the tune, in a kind of ‘singing-in-the-car’ way as opposed to a highly-skilled performance way: they know the melody but not the acciaccaturas and appoggiaturas, the grace notes which have been written especially to not be noticed by the casual listener. They know a little, and to many people a little is enough, especially since we don’t need experts anymore. But they don’t know enough.

Now, I’ve had challenges thrown at me on stage. Once I was told that we were playing the first dance as the couple were walking to the floor. We’d never played the song. Luckily, we all knew the song to some extent (“Tobes, the solo just follows the vocal line, alright?” “Er, okay ..”), we were all sober, we’d been in loads of these situations before, and were all technically proficient and experienced musicians. If there was one thing we were missing, which would be the most insurmountable?

It simply has to be knowing the song, right? I mean, when the audience say, “Can you play something funky?” we can, because we know lots of funk tunes; when they ask if we can play the ‘B’ side to My Sharona we can’t because we simply don’t know it – we could if we did, and probably could work it out (badly) if we had a couple of listens in the van, but if we just don’t know the song then we’re stuffed.

I wouldn’t give myself the mic if I didn’t know the song. Knowledge has to be the starting point.


Dear SupaFrutos,

For many years I and my family have enjoyed tucking in to a can of SupaFrutos Tinned O-So-Heavenli Pears after our dinner. We always have a stash of your canned loveliness ready to open at any occasion. We have seven spare tin openers, and even took advantage of your 2003 offer to buy your branded O-So pear bowls. We managed to accumulate so many that we gave them to all our friends that Christmas! It’s no surprise that you are the world’s most popular brand of tinned pears.

And so it is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you of my family’s disappointment at your continued partnership with the hugely popular Hate Pears tabloid. For many years I have struggled with the fruitist rhetoric of Hate Pears, but of late their scaremongering headlines have really gone beyond the pale: ‘Pears cause cancer’, ‘Ban these foreign pears’ and ‘Pear-eating paedophiles set to get new homes – for free!’ have really put me on edge, not least when combined with the somewhat contradictory articles about how best to poach a pear, where to eat  the juiciest pears in Italy and current sixteen year-old pop sensation Iced Pear’s revealingly peary outfit at this year’s Pear Awards.

I find it increasingly bizarre that you would not only associate your brand with such a publication, but that you would even allow Hate Pears to run SupaFrutos offers, such as last week’s ‘O-So Heavenli 2-4-1’ deal. This is particularly problematic for me – as I’m sure it is for many families – who often walk past Hate Pears’s front pages with their little ones in tow: ‘Oh please, daddy’, they whine. ‘Please can we buy Hate Pears? I love pears so much and Hate Pears will give us free pears!’

Now I, as any decent parent, don’t want to give in to the pleading, but am also under pressure to provide the necessary peary goodness for my children. I suspect this is the case up and down the land. But I am also under further pressure to teach my children the rights and wrongs of this world – I have a moral compass which I wish to pass on to my beloved children.

And this is where you come in, because your website explicitly states that not only do you grow and package delicious pears, but you also really like pears! You already have a huge customer base: there are millions of us pear-lovers, and we’re loyal to you. But that loyalty can only continue for so long under the present circumstances. And thus I write to you with one simple request: end your association with Hate Pears. I recognise that there may be some financial implications for your company, but we will continue to buy your pears, as will many others.

Kind regards,

Billy Broccoli and Family

Dear Mr Broccoli,

Thank you so much for your email. Whilst we at SupaFrutos completely understand your frustrations with Hate Pears, and whilst we ourselves not share their views on pears, we will continue our partnership with the publication as we do not wish to either exercise, or be seen to exercise, editorial control. We are a pear company and thus not in the habit of censoring pear-based news.

Thanks again,

Jessica, SupaFrutos

Dear Jessica,

Although I appreciate your reply, I am not sure you appreciate the groundswell of opinion against Hate Pears, especially from fans of O-So Heavenli Pears. As you no doubt have seen, my original email to you has now been shared by over 50,000 people. There is also a hashtag which is globally trending on Twitter. you may have seen it already: #LovePearsHateHatePears.

In light of this perhaps you will consider the economic, if not ethical, choice: if you continue to work with Hate Pears you may well lose customers. Hate Pears, meanwhile, will continue to attract their readership if people do, indeed, buy the paper for its aggressive frutism.

Your argument regarding censorship and editorial control is a non-starter. Firstly, Hate Pears is committed to ridding the country of pears, and as such should not be surprised if SupaFrutos chooses to advertise its pears somewhere else. It is, as I have already stated, bizarre that you entered into a partnership in the first place. Secondly, if Hate Pears’s content were to change with you leaving, that would suggest that its values are not strongly held. Unfortunately, I think that some people think they do hate pears, and that Hate Pears only serves to exacerbate this feeling, but this should not invalidate your values, namely that pears are glorious in all their pearity. Thirdly, even if you have previously held sway over the content of Hate Pears’s articles – which I strongly doubt given this morning’s ‘Muslim benefit cheat blows £10,000 on pear-addled binge party’ – your own stated values still contrast sharply with the editors at the paper. Removing yourselves from any contract would not be censorious, but actually free Hate Pears to speak even more lucidly about their absolute hatred of foreign pears, especially those grown in Syria. Fourthly, whatever your view of the ethics, this also has to be an economic choice for SupaFrutos: if you continue to work in tandem with Hate Pears you will lose custom, and I and my family might have to turn to Poundland’s ‘Pears in brine’ range.

Please consider this further, and check out the hashtag.

Bill Broccoli


Dear Mr Broccoli

Although we of course cannot comment on the specifics, we would like to make clear that we listen to our customers’ views. As such we have decided that, in the interests of our customers’ interests, we will no longer be working with Hate Pears. That publication will, I’m sure continue to exercise its right to promote it’s anti-pear world view, which it is, of course, entitled to both hold and publicise.

SupaFrutos will, however, take no part in this.

Kind regards,

Jessica, SupaFrutos