Samuel Beckett would have loved it. After 15 minutes we turned it off and instead talked about ways to improve handwriting

15th April 2005 at 01:00
One picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes. If you've ever tried to assemble a piece of flat-packed furniture, you'll agree.

On the other hand, my staff and I recently sat through a primary national strategy training video that defies belief. It's half an hour long and is as logical as Alice in Wonderland. It's also excruciatingly, staggeringly, mind-numbingly boring. I simply cannot believe we're meant to take it seriously. Stuff like this, said a colleague, takes educational garbage to a new level. I know I complain about much of the documentation that emanates from our educational lords and masters - and now I'm into the twilight of my headship, you can call me a cynical old sod if you like - but I'm still passionately interested in education and I do try to keep up with it all.

When this package arrived I tried, as always, to look on the positive side.

Excellence and Enjoyment shouted the headline from the glossy booklet.

Continuing Professional Development declared the beautiful white lettering on the video, above a photo of three well-dressed women (who'd obviously never been near the paintpots and papier mache) poring over a laptop and no doubt still at school at 7pm busily setting new targets for driving up standards.

As I thumbed through the booklet (and remember, this costly package has been sent to every primary school in the country), I couldn't believe the nonsense I was reading. One of the principles underlying teaching young children, we are told, is "the use of assessment for learning to help learners assess their work". Honestly, I'm not making it up. It's on page 9. Want more? Well, as a teacher, you should "set high expectations" and "establish what learners already know, and then (wait for it... ) build on it."

Good God, have our young teachers spent three years training without being told these illuminating basics? More to the point, are teachers so daft they can't work out this sort of thing for themselves? And that's just the booklet. Wait till you get to the video. I played it at a staff meeting. I have a dedicated and enthusiastic team, open to new ideas and techniques, but unwilling to suffer fools. For the first five minutes they dutifully watched while I watched their faces. Soon they began to glance at each other; then the smiles appeared. After 10 minutes everyone was laughing, because even though the people on the video were talking 19 to the dozen, none of us had a clue what they were trying to tell us.

The worthy ladies on screen sat wittering away about structure and scaffolding and whole-staff reflection and scrutiny and systems of trialling (whatever they are), and none of them seemed to be hearing each other in any meaningful way. Samuel Beckett would have loved it. After 15 minutes we turned it off and instead talked about ways to improve handwriting. Nevertheless, it worries me that we put up with this expensive and unnecessary claptrap. It lands in our staffrooms and we either don't look at it, or we watch it, decide it doesn't have any bearing on educational reality and we dump it in Pseud's Corner where it belongs.

In future I don't think we should. I'm sending my package back, with a strong letter saying what we thought of it. And if even 10 per cent of the 26,000 schools who receive this rubbish do the same thing, perhaps we can batter a little sense into the dullards who think this is really what we need in our staffrooms.

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.


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