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Glossy tosh that cost us something really worthwhile

Recently I received a letter from a senior officer at my local education authority. It informed me that my school's provision for three-year-olds - once a cornerstone of the Assembly government's education policy - was no longer viable and would have to shut down. Many schools in my authority have suffered the same blow. Maintaining the provision might have been a headache, but the benefits were significant.

That same week I was sent two very glossy documents from the government's policy nerve centre in Cardiff. Both must have cost a fortune to produce. I can only conclude our leaders are having a laugh.

Are any of you old enough to remember the Monty Python sketch in which John Cleese details his new theory of dinosaurs? He describes them thus: "They are thin at one end, big in the middle, and thin at the other end." It's the same with these documents. Either they state the blooming obvious or they make no sense whatsoever.

The first - Effective Practice in Learning and Teaching: A Focus on Pedagogy - is so terrible it made me weep tears of laughter. I was even moved to read the paragraph at the bottom of page 1 out loud to my staff: "The model for pedagogy shows the key components of effective pedagogy and the key conditions required for effective pedagogy to thrive." Quite apart from this being one of the ugliest sentences ever produced in the English language, what does it actually mean?

The sentence refers to a lovely poster, entitled The Pedagogy Model, which is included in the booklet and helpfully expounds this nonsense in graphic form. Looking a bit like one of those circular charts used in physics lessons to demonstrate the elements of white light, it tells us - and please pay attention here - we should be concerned with what our leaders call "the learning process" (that's in cyan), "relationships and environment" (magenta) and something helpfully termed "teaching strategies" (yellow).

At the centre of the chart, all three colours combine to form a brownish-purple splodge where "enhanced learner outcomes and wellbeing" appears. Job done! Now everything is all right.

The policy zombies have solved the riddle of teaching and learning and can wrap up early and go off for a long weekend to their tax payer-funded second homes on the Moon.

But hang on a minute. Look at that central portion where the colours should combine to form the white light of clarity and insight. But no, it's the brownish tint of ... well, let's put it politely, it's as clear as mud. The message it sends is: "We're talking s**t!"

The Assembly government won't give us any money to translate the document into a language we can understand, of course, nor will they begin to explain what we can actually do to bring about "enhanced learner outcomes and wellbeing". In short, it's useless - utterly, utterly useless.

Take these words from page 4, where it says officials want practitioners to "listen to learners" and "create an environment that both inspires and stimulates the desire to learn". What teacher doesn't know this already? Do they think teachers are such idiots that we don't listen to children? That even the least creative, least imaginative "practitioner" doesn't pay at least some attention to the classroom walls?

But, remember, I received this the same week as two of my "practitioners" (members of staff) and their "environment" (schools) were facing the axe. I felt like adding the following paragraph to the document: "We want practitioners to remember to breathe regularly (both in and out), eat food and, if at all possible, get a good night's sleep."

If the pedagogy document assumes teachers are idiots, the second document I received that week, Staff Health and Wellbeing, must assume we are beyond hope. In what were a very gloomy few days, this delightfully produced booklet received even more laughs than the pedagogy tosh.

Page 1 offers the following useful advice: "Make time to make good things happen" and "give up having regrets". It gets better. On page 13 - and this is advice for adults, remember - it suggests: "create a golden cheer-up board", "decorate the staff toilets" and "take a day off every other week to stay in bed and eat toast". OK, I made up the last one, but not the others. Did you spot the difference?

By page 23, whatever government joker put this booklet together is really picking up speed. Do we really need advice on how to increase our levels of physical activity by "parking the car further away from the entrance" and "getting off the bus a couple of stops early"? And advising us on the benefits of "walking in the great Welsh outdoors at leisure times" and "tackling the garden" is plain annoying. When exactly will we have time to do this?

I'd like to give some advice to education officials. Please, please, no more glossy documents. Next time you write something, put it on a postcard and send schools the money you save. With my school's share, we might even be able to afford to keep our provision for three-year-olds running.

Andrew Strong, Head of Llanbister Primary, Powys.

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