Thou shalt shut up and listen to thy teacher

20th March 2009 at 00:00

So Ofsted has sent advice booklets to maths teachers on delivering good lessons, has it? Well, excuse me. I assumed English teachers would get them too, so I ran to check the post this morning. What did I find on the doormat? A pizza flyer, a bill and a leaf from my husband's boot.

I'm disappointed, particularly as I am struggling with the basics. For instance, I note that the maths booklets advise circulating around the classroom to check that pupils have started working. Apparently this means you can check for errors. Innovation or what?

So let's have some equality around here. There's enough bias in the system already. I don't like to be controversial and bring up marking, but put it this way: it always seems to be the English teachers you see struggling home with a bulging backpack, looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Maybe I'm misjudging Ofsted. I'm sure that within days a glossy, optimistic government publication will arrive for English teachers. There will be pictures of blissful pupils (taken at an angle, as though the photographer has one leg shorter than the other) all benefiting from the fact that their teacher now knows what to do. The children will have been force-fed fruit juice and sprouts for a month to give that fresh look to their skin. They will all have Because you're worth it hair and not a spot in sight. The message? Your class could look like this if you would only take Ofsted's advice and make sure your pupils learn something in every lesson. Tut-tut.

Ofsted is not the only organisation with all the know-how, though. The Times reports that the RSPCA is looking for people to read to abandoned dogs. It calms them down, apparently.

Well isn't this untapped expertise? If the RSPCA has found out how to calm a pooch with a portion of Proust, it should be drafted in to show English teachers how to calm a class with a chunk of Chaucer. I'd certainly sign up for that one.

If Ofsted really wanted to improve work in the classroom, it could produce a set of stern educational booklets aimed at families. Every household would be sent copies, to be read at Sunday tea by Father in a sonorous voice. Children would have to sit on hard wooden stools to listen to the Ten Classroom Commandments and The Behaviour Beatitudes, including: "Thou shalt not stab thy neighbour with a broken ruler so that thy teacher has to cease teaching to deal with thee" and "Blessed are the meek for verily they shall accept instructions without scores of irrelevant questions".

Something else puzzles me. If Ofsted believes the quality of maths teaching is so bad, shouldn't people be weeded out early on?

When wannabes are interviewed for training, why doesn't someone say, "How would you find out whether someone has started doing the work?" I know this is a tough one, but standards are standards. If they answer, "Why would I want to do that?" or "But I intend to have fun in my lessons", then they should be sent off to train for a profession that doesn't need them to know what they are doing. If they are maths graduates, perhaps banking would suit.

Fran Hill, English teacher at an independent girls' school in Warwickshire.

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