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What do they mean...

These are mostly applied to other people, particularly pupils, colleagues and those in a higher pay grade. Just about everybody, in fact. They may lead to glowing praise, as in 'After careful consideration, I have established that my headteacher is perfect in every way.' This often coincides with hopes of promotion. Once those hopes are dashed, and the post of head of department has gone to That Prat Who Can't Teach For Toffee, And Deserves To Die Horribly (another example of critical skills in action), this assessment may be revised downwards. Applied to Johnny in 2B, critical skills may show that he will go far, and the sooner the better.

They may also be applied to pupils' work, on the rare occasions when they have done any, and here they can be safely indulged. In this context, humanities fare better than sciences. While the maths teacher can merely say 'very goodpoor work', the English teacher can really get stuck in to an essay on The Lord of the Flies, and comment on the virtues or otherwise of the exegesis in elegant prose. Unfortunately, this will probably need to be done 35 times between the end of Hollyoaks and the beginning of Coronation Street.

For official purposes, however, we are meant to engender critical skills rather than exercise them. These are the skills our young charges will need in life, such as decision making, creative thinking and curiosity. But what we know, and those who prescribe these strategies do not, is that the little treasures have these skills in abundance already. This is why we have to lock everything up and keep putting people in detention, thus missing Hollyoaks again.

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