My favourite days of the year are those that are really horrible because they give so much ammunition for this blog. I was worried a few weeks ago that I had writers block and that maybe my streak of acidic, acerbic, caustic and other -ics was at an inglorious end. Thankfully, or unthankfully, this block has ended with an abrupt lurch because yesterday I was exposed to a presentation that was so utterly full of things I hate that at one point I looked around to find the hidden camera. In my mind I sort of hope that it was all a big test and that we're all going to be berated for not going to town on the flaws in it. At least in that I would be assured that education has some sort of morality/scruples/integrity/anything, anything at all.
What stood up in front of us on some grimy afternoon in late April was a salesperson, and there is utterly no doubt about that. The thing is, is that she had already sold the product and we were forced to sit there and listen to a service being described to us that had already cost our school money and was also useless as only a bad INSET can be. Most of the teachers sat in utter shock as what was explained to us was that the school had bought a resource that was an internet dictionary which, surprise surprise, is actually already available free. On the internet.
Consternation abound, there was time for questions, and questions came. Some of the teachers, unlike most of our little darling students, had done their homework. One Science teacher had looked at the word lists and oh was she not happy. There were, simply, not enough words, and what were we told? To submit any that were missing. Shock and awe were more abound than an attempt to stamp communism out of the north of a split country. Or something. So we have bought a resource that isn't actually finished. We have purchased a service that as its marquee product is a big tent full of absolutely nothing and what we are meant to do is take a look inside and throw shit in it for the company to use themselves by selling it to others. This is not a community of learners; this is a collection of self-indulgent dickheads taking the piss out of schools and getting away with it because schools buy this crap. And what will they do with our contributions? We were told, and I believe this is verbatim, that
'We even have a teacher in head office to define and categorise the words.'
'A teacher,' I thought, looking around the room, 'A teacher?' silence. 'Well, Well done mate, you have a teacher? We've got absolutely loads of them. Look at them. Count them. Bloody loads of them.' I was as incensed as incense. I was watching someone effectively tell me that the entire room's collective subject knowledge and learning ability were made drastically obselete by one teacher in a London office with a dictionary and a vapid penchant for the highlight button.
Included as part of the all-encompassing service, and here I use the word service as one might use it to describe that provided by an STI-ridden hooker, LSAs are trained to deliver the companies own particular brand of reconstituted crap to students in an intensive six-week cycle. They showed us results and then I thought to myself if you by-passed this company and added the money to budgets and staffing and developed this system in-house then we would get exactly the same results and we would have an enduring system we could be proud of. And that's it, isn't it? Schools are bought by glossy brochures because they have no faith in their own staff's ability. Teachers are overstretched because budgets are tight but if this money spent on outside agencies was turned internally and spent on overstaffing then maybe staff would be able to execute this sort of thing. It escapes me why schools are taken in by the glistening brochure of a third party. There is no magic bullet. Schools are so desperate for results that they have no faith in their own staff. There is a horrendous tacit implication that staff are doing a bad job and I don't think a lot of senior management realise this. They see that the stats are not befitting of their brogues and they throw money at a situation to make it better. They look for the quick fix. There is no quick fix. Just a quick way to disgruntled staff and wasted budgets.
If there are any members of senior leadership reading this then please heed my message: Stop spending money on this shit. Spend the money on overstaffing and supporting the departments that belong to you. Show your faith in your staff by giving them what they need; time. They are good at what they do. Help them develop in order to help students develop by giving them the time to, well, develop. Yesterday I saw two useless systems costing twelve grand in total. That is a part time teacher or LSA. That part-timer or LSA could ease the pressure and give teachers the time to develop the systems that these companies charge a premium to deliver badly. Half of the crap that educational companies peddle is just recycled chaff under different branding completely intended to sell short and exploit. A massive slice of the money that schools pay them is shoveled straight into branding, marketing, shareholders, offices, bonuses and yet we are more than happy to pay for all this instead of losing these add-ons by working the budgets internally. Instead of paying for someone's business lunch with a prospective client from another school why not give your staff the flexibility and time to be revolutionary? Why not encourage your staff to innovate and facilitate this with working groups that have time to actually work. And you know what? Maybe you can sell your own programmes that you've developed in house to others and thereby fund your own excesses. I dunno, use the profits to take your whole school to Alton Towers or some such shit. It's probably about as useful as half the crap you buy.
As an endpoint for my frustrations perhaps this might illustrate to people what this is really about: Do you know what normal teachers do when they go on strike? Most of them don't go out and hold up banners. Most of them sit at home and they plan lessons and mark work. Doesn't that tell you something? I don't need resources to do my job better. I have myself and my department and coworkers and twitter for that. I need time.
Postcript Edit: Although I thought this article finished, I can't help but feel that something else should be mentioned. It was clear that this new system was unpopular with staff so this morning another little presentation was arranged by the member of SLT who is in charge of it. During this the staff assembled were presented with vastly overinflated data about the effectiveness of the scheme that even lied, clearly and obviously, about the reading ages of some students. I still feel genuinely sick about this. Even if they were just tested with a flawed test it is so obvious that these reading ages were wrong that it would take a rank idiot to not notice. If this is education...