Cap'n Gove, don't make old Jim Rose walk the plank

28th May 2010 at 01:00

The waters rose and the cries of the children intensified. I imagined the headlines: "Primary school children drown in freak accident ..." "Sheffield man accused of causing death by dangerous teaching". At the inquest the coroner will ask me why I never completed a risk assessment and I will tell him: "I just didn't have the time, Your Honour, and anyway we don't do risk assessments for maths lessons."

Teaching liquid measures always leaves me with a sinking feeling; that's because I can't come up with a reason for not doing it practically. And doing it practically generally involves children pouring water from one set of containers into another set of containers and over each other.

In hindsight the paddling pool was not my best idea. I challenged my class to find a way of calculating how much water we would need to fill it. After being inundated with more impractical ideas than you can throw a life belt at, someone finally suggested we count the number of litres needed to fill it to a depth of 5cm, then by the miracle of multiplication work out how many litres would be needed to fill it to its maximum depth of 50cm. Brilliant!

"But we'll have to fill it for real to check whether we were right, won't we Mr Eddison?" added Sam Brightspark.

"Ah, yes, well ..."

I read somewhere that a person can drown in 2cm of water. Forty eight and rising took us to the brink of catastrophe, and despite unexpected opportunities for cross-curricular links - Bradley went for a paddle and discovered displacement; Bradley slipped and discovered how to reduce friction; Bradley breathed in water and discovered he was not a fish - I was forced to pull the plug on things. Unfortunately someone had already pulled the plug on the paddling pool.

"Wow, it's like a tsunami," observed Primula.

Back in the days when I was an idealistic young PGCE student and phonics might have been spelt fonix for all anybody cared, I was introduced to Piaget's theory of child development. This states that until the age of about seven, children's thought processes tend to be pretty one-dimensional. For example, they can't estimate the amount of liquid differently shaped containers will hold. Piaget referred to this as the preoperational stage in a child's cognitive development.

Now I admit some of my 10-year-olds have not yet progressed beyond this stage, but then neither have the adults at the newly rebranded Department for Education. Why else would they assume teachers have the capacity to shower children with whizzy, action-packed, hyper-engaging lessons five-and-a- half hours a day for five days a week and still do all the paperwork?

Which is why, in this new climate of co-operation, I would like to ask Mr Gove, the newly appointed Captain of the Good Ship Education, for permission to run a few of my concerns up and down his flagpole.

You see we deckhands have been hearing lots o' nasty rumours down in the bilge water (I think it's bilge water, only somebody keeps blocking the boys' urinal with toilet roll). And one of them there rumours is that poor old Jim Rose will be forced to stick his Primary Curriculum Review up his own gunwale and walk the plank with it. And that, in my humble opinion would be a great pity. You see, doing all that whizzy, action-packed, hyper-engaging stuff is what teachers enjoy and it is what children enjoy. And let's not forget that the word "enjoy" goes alongside "achieve" at the very top of the five outcomes in Every Child Matters.

Between you, me and the futtocks, we are a school in challenging circumstances. In nautical terms we have been given the task of ferrying too many too far in the teeth of a force-10 gale. And while the Government is committed - through the pupil premium - to providing the less well-off with the same educational advantages as the privileged, the truth of the matter is that children on Bleak Street are not those in Leafyshire.

Having the price of an education is not the same as knowing the value of it, and if it is not valued it counts for nothing.

A creative curriculum is the best way to engage the disengaged. This we can deliver if we are allowed to teach more and document less. If we are allowed to treat children as people rather than data trails. If we are freed from the dark shadow of league tables and the fear of Ofsted's Cat.

So before you up anchor and head off into uncharted waters, I ask only this, Cap'n Gove. Ignore the charts and tables for a while and look to your deck hands. That's us submerged under a sea of paperwork; engulfed by detailed planning; dragged down by the undertow of unrealistic targets; swept out to sea on a raging tide of individualised assessments.

That's us desperately waving. No, not waving - drowning.

Steve Eddison Key stage 2 teacher, Sheffield.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today