Pounds 355? Just to listen to a day's waffle!

12th June 2009 at 01:00

You take your car in for a service. When you collect it, the mechanic says there's a problem with the nearside rear calliper dustshield retainer. You haven't a clue what he means, but you don't want to appear a fool and you ask him to fix it. Although the retainer is really only a small metal clip, he knows you'll pay whatever he asks. He's confused you with the jargon of his trade.

It's just as bad in education. Recently, a colleague sent one of her youngest teachers on a classroom management course for a day. Afterwards, the teacher had difficulty recalling anything useful she'd learnt, but she did return with an expensively produced handout.

Consider this gem taken from it: "In the assessment context, the use of verbalnon-verbal technique can inform our judgments and isolate strategies we can categorise as those of assessment, as opposed to variants such as teaching or feedback."

Would that sort of thing keep Billy in his seat? Of course not. It's waffle. Rubbish. Even worse, the school paid Pounds 180 (excluding lunch!) for the teacher to attend, and this sort of stuff was pedalled all day to the dewy eyed.

Add on the Pounds 175 for the supply teacher who covered the class and learning a little jargon became a costly experience for the school. Personally, I'd have done the cover myself and asked her to spend the time with a good classroom practitioner. She'd have learnt more, and the Pounds 355 could have been spent on extra equipment.

Primary education seems to spend a lot of time reinventing itself and designing suitable phrases to describe questionable techniques, and yet we never seem to spend enough time running with the things that really work.

If I wanted to, I could spend a lot of money bringing consultants, advisers and "experts" of every description into school to lecture my staff. But when I look through the lists of what's available, I'm often baffled by the lecture titles, let alone the thought of a day struggling with the tedium behind them. What do you make of "Building Bridges in Perspective Balancing" or "Targeting the Listening System"? Precious little? Me too.

Perhaps things have always been like this. As an eager young teacher in the 1960s, I was concerned at how little my new class had previously achieved in maths. I spent a lot of time teaching basic concepts and was getting somewhere ... until I was visited by the local inspector, who told me, incredibly, that maths "wasn't about numbers".

My Year 5s should have been spending their maths time exploring "real life" issues and nothing else. Making traffic graphs with sticky paper, or constructing castles from cornflake packets to explore area would be a good start, he said. I wasn't sure the parents of my children would have been happy, but early in your career you don't question whether an inspector has a grip on reality.

Buzzwords and phrases have always been prolific in education, but never more so than now. If we're not "Striving for Excellence", we're "Driving up Standards" by setting "Smart Targets" or offering "Opportunities for All". Laudable aims, usually accompanied by glossy booklets and not much else. And sometimes, the phrases are merely daft. "Outreaching Our Communities" is my current favourite. What does that mean?

I hear there's a version of bingo currently played by young executives required to attend tedious business management courses. They decide on a group of buzzwords, write them out on a grid and as soon as the lecturer says one, they put a tick through it. The idea is to be first at crossing out a line of words, at which point you jump up and shout "Bullshit". I'm sure this is an idea teachers have already adopted.

Mike Kent is headteacher of Comber Grove Primary School in Camberwell, south London. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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