Your values. British values.


Could you say whether your values as a teacher are British values?

You might find Ofsted asking that question one day.

It’s a contentious issue. Lots of people, even if they are able to articulate their own personal values struggle to articulate what ‘British values’ are. Some will challenge outright the notion of ‘British values’ at all, (though personally, I think it’s a distinctly British value that the British are uncomfortable even talking about British values. I don’t think you’d see Americans or even the French expressing such reticence).

Be that as it may, I was doing a training session with some trainee teachers on ‘fundamental British values’ a few weeks ago in the north of England. I was asking the trainees to reflect on how their own personal values cohere or contrast with the ‘fundamental British values’ as defined by the Department for Education as “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs”.

One trainee, a young hijab-wearing Muslim woman training at a predominantly Muslim school in Bradford, said to me: “I was doing Romeo and Juliet with my Year 9s last week. I was really hammering on about the concept of individual liberty as understood in Shakespeare’s time and in modern times and how concepts around the individual liberty have changed. I wanted to get across to my students how it is their right and their individual liberty to choose their own marriage partner. We discussed dating sites, Tinder, arranged marriage, forced marriage, divorce, bigamy and related the relevant issues to the drama being played out by Romeo and Juliet and their warring families. I realise now that I was teaching my own values. I really wanted to get across to the students, the girls especially, what their individual liberties are. Now I think I was teaching British values as well.”

The following week I was in Bath with a similar group of trainees asking similar questions about how easy or hard it is to integrate personal, professional (and even political) values.

One student said that he wanted to be an art teacher because he truly believed that the pursuit of art could only be achieved when one understood that art was a fundamental expression of oneself to others. He said that true art could not be achieved without understanding the primacy of one’s individual right and liberty to express oneself in whatever way one chose, even if that caused offence and shock.

At first he didn’t think this had anything at all to do with so called ‘fundamental British values’. Indeed he thought at first, that his understanding of artistic expression ran counter to any idea of so-called ‘British values’.

But then he stopped and reflected, thought for a moment and concluded by saying that he realised that he wouldn’t have had the right to express his art or teach his students they had a right to artistic expression had he been a teacher in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, let alone the so-called Islamic State.

What are your values? Are they British values too?

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching professionalism and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

The (British) values David Bowie gave us


Aladdin Sane.tif

Aladdin Sane.tif

I was never a mad David Bowie fan, though I liked his music and admired his creative genius. Anyone who saw him perform live or saw the show of his designs at the V&A a couple of years ago couldn’t doubt that.

But after the announcement of his sad death at the age of sixty-nine, I’ve realised something about him that I think is really wonderful – that he epitomises fundamental aspects of what (I hope) it is to be British.

To millions of people across the world over decades he gave people the confidence to be different, odd and quirky. He gave people confidence about their strange and original thought. He gave people confidence to see the world differently – through music, art and even their own sex and sexuality.

He gave people – perhaps men particularly – confidence to break out of the constraints of gender and express the ambiguous nature of their sex and sexuality through performance, dress and make-up.

I think therefore, he helped us appreciate some fundamental values we now take for granted – particularly the values we now share about gender, sexuality, identity and the right to musical and artistic expression.

That’s the nature of values in a free society – particularly those like individual liberty and tolerance – we soon take them for granted and forget where they came from and who fought to establish them for the rest of us.

But the individual liberty and tolerance we take for granted around artistic expression is extremely fragile – you only have to go back as recently Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union to realise that. And how long do you think someone like David Bowie would last under the so-called ‘Islamic State’?

In my view, David Bowie gave us something every bit as valuable as democracy and the rule of law.

He gave us the right to be ourselves and to live and let live – as unique, strange and odd a concept as that may be or may appear – and that is individual liberty and tolerance of the deepest and most fundamental kind. And (I hope) if that’s not being British, then I don’t know what is.

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching professionalism and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

What are your (three) fundamental values?


I was in Bath recently talking to an excellent group of trainees about fundamental British values.

What are they?

It’s not easy to say is it?

The government have told us that they are: democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs.

Got a problem with that?

Going by the reaction at my talks a lot of people have.

So I ask: What are yours then?

Getting drunk in public? Misbehaving at football matches? The Battle of Britain? The novels of Dickens? Fish and chips and a nice cup of tea? A red postbox? A black taxi cab?

I don’t mean to trivialise but sometimes I make up a list of things that derive from ‘British’ behaviours,  history, culture and customs just to wind-up my audience. I can see some of them getting annoyed. I don’t stop… James Bond films… the Dunkirk Spirit… always saying sorry, even when someone stands on your toes…

The funny thing is, I actually believe some of them, though I don’t tell my audience which ones.

But British values, especially fundamental British values are hard to summarise aren’t they?

That’s because of course, we all have our own personal values and our own ways of relating them to be being British.

Discussing this issue with student teachers and trainees, they often question how fundamental British values can even be encapsulated into a sentence like “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs” – and they challenge even the notion of trying to do it in a diverse and multi-cultural society such as ours.

They’re right to say it’s hard. They’re right to say it’s challenging. But just because it’s hard and challenging doesn’t mean that fundamental British values don’t exist.

Go on… Have a go yourself…

Try and get fundamental British values into a single sentence…

The French manage it with theirs and they do it in better than a sentence – they manage it in just three words: Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite.  Three words that say who and what they want their society to be. That’s quite an achievement I think – and they did it two hundred years before the invention of advertising strap lines and PR – though not, of course, before the Greeks gave us an understanding of how the rhetorical tri-colon plays a fundamental role in how we understand philosophical and political messages.

What’s your message of yourself?

What are your three fundamental values?

Becoming a Writer


If you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know I usually write about ‘professional’ issues rather than curriculum matters. However, recently I was given a set of books about English to review and they made me reflect on issues around ‘professional autonomy’ and how different that once was for young, new teachers.

As a primary teacher who did an MA in ‘English in Education’ at London University’s Institute for Education nearly thirty years ago, I read these booklets with some interest. They reminded me of the halcyon days when I felt truly inspired to teach. I would turn up for two hours twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, over two years – each time I felt absolutely knackered from a full day’s teaching in a tough Hackney classroom – but within minutes, find myself drinking at a fountain of knowledge poured by the likes of Harold Rosen, Margaret Meek (Spencer), Tony Burgess and Jane Miller.

These books remind me of those sessions. I’m going to summarise them – all too crudely. But here’s the third one on Writing for ages 3-7.

In the first years of their lives, children are not only learning to talk but they are also learning to recognise and use graphic systems like drawing, writing and numbers.

Speech and writing are close relations but are not identical twins. Speech has a grammar that realises meaning in ways every bit as complex and rich as writing. As babies learn to speak, they are laying the foundations for their acquisition of literacy. The most significant event in becoming literate is when a child realises written marks are symbols of spoken language.

Oral and written stories, poems, songs and rhymes have a key role to play in unconscious and informal learning about writing and – especially for a young child – being read to. But teachers have a vital role to play too in making the unconscious, conscious and informal, formal – through appropriately pitched instruction – that is, skilled teaching. The teaching of writing requires an understanding of all the needs of a writer at work and of the complex and varied demands made on children when we ask them to write.

Teachers must encourage the confident ‘voices’ of early writers. They must provide support and instruction to bring children, without haste and anxiety, to an understanding of the conventions of writing and to a relaxed control of handwriting.

The premature introduction of, for example, grammatical and spelling rules, can be harmful to the confidence of the young writer and spoil the experience of writing as fun, active, participatory and collaborative as well denying opportunities for individual, quiet reflective thought.

Young children should experience a range of writing styles that represent the linguistic, social and cultural diversity of their classroom and which encourage exploration of the real and imaginary worlds beyond it. As is the case with early reading, parental support for early writing is of vital importance. Teachers should be the drivers of regular two-way traffic of fun and meaningful writing experiences between the school and the home.

All these principles apply with equal force to learners of English as an additional language (about one in six children in the 3-to-7 age-group) – indeed, such children have the advantage of being engaged in the complex process of making comparisons between writing systems. They are likely to have an increasingly conscious knowledge and transferable skill from one written form to another especially when comparing first language or bilingual edition books.

The new National Curriculum orders for writing at Key Stage 1 are over-preoccupied with the early teaching of spelling rules and grammatical concepts and terminology. They make the fundamental error of believing that analysis of the written language is a necessary preparation for competence in writing. The reverse is actually true: as developing writers confidently use their writing ‘voices’ on the page or the screen, they begin to grasp and command the correct use of writing ‘structure’.

The statutory guidance for writing at the Early Years Foundation Stage quite wrongly assumes that competence in writing emerges from being taught to read by the use of synthetic phonics.

John Richmond’s English, Language and Literacy 3 to 19: Writing 3 to 7 proposes an better balanced understanding of the effective teaching of early writing at the Early Years Foundation Stage and at Key Stage 1 than that offered by the government. It offers an alternative curriculum for Writing from 3-7, and an educationally sounder approach to the testing of writing at this age-range. It is available from the United Kingdom Literacy Association at http://www.ukla.org/publications/shop/, price £12 (£11 to UKLA members).  

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching professionalism and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

  

Do professions go on strike?


When I go around the country talking to teacher trainees we get talking about the definition of a profession and the characteristics of professionalism. I love it. I always get a wide ranging discussion going into which people brainstorm things like education, training, qualifications, cpd, specialist skills and knowledge and then develop thinking around dedication, being a role model, responsibility, trust, probity, accountability.

I am always interested in their understanding of the concept of accountability. To whom do they feel they ‘owe’ it?

Willingly, the trainees will recognise that they are accountable to a wide range of ‘stakeholders’ (horrible phrase I know) such as:

  • their employers (like the local authority or school governors who appoint them to their job);
  • their line-managers (like head of department or headteacher, who will ask them what they are planning to teach every day);
  • the wider public and government (through things like Ofsted, who come round and inspect the quality of our teaching);
  • the parents (who turn up at parents evenings or accost you first thing in the morning to ask how ‘Little Johnny’ is getting on with his reading);
  • and even ‘Little Johnny’ himself (who will walk through the classroom door and ask “What are we going to do today Sir?” or complain: “Miss, you haven’t marked my homework!”)

I have rarely met a single student or trainee who doesn’t accept that wide ranging accountability comes with accepting the complex and weighty responsibilities we take on from the first day we enter a classroom as a qualified teacher.

Then I usually tell them this story:

Some years ago I was at a party in the area where I live in north London. I was standing around drinking wine, being introduced to neighbours I hardly knew (that’s what it’s like living in London…) and the guy standing next to me said: “What do you do for a living Alan?”

I said pleasantly: “By profession, I’m a teacher.”

“Well, teaching’s not a profession,” he said rather bluntly (that’s what they’re like in Muswell Hill…!)

“Isn’t it?” I said. “Why do you say that?”

“Teachers go on strike,” he said. “Professions don’t go on strike. Professions put the interests of their clients first. If you go on strike for better pay or pensions or conditions, you’re not putting the interests of your clients’ first. You’re putting your own interests before theirs.”

I must admit I was rather challenged by that remark. We had a rather animated discussion for the next ten minutes that ended with me throwing my glass of wine over his… no, I’m only joking.

So I turn back to ask trainees the question: “What do you think? Do professions go on strike?” and what follows is always a fascinating response.

One such response came recently at the King Edward’s Consortium PGCE in Birmingham (an excellent place to train as a teacher by the way) and one of their brilliant trainees said (I’m paraphrasing her but it’s pretty close):

“Yes, I think professions do go on strike and I reserve my right to do so if in my judgment and that of my colleagues we think that, for example, my employers or the government needs to be held accountable for their actions. Because their actions can directly affect me as a teacher and my students. I accept my accountability to a wide range of people including my employers and the government. But accountability cuts both ways. My right to strike is a way I can hold my employers or the government to account as well.”

What do you think?

Do professions go on strike?

Does accountability cut both ways?

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching professionalism and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

Now, what’s reading all about…?


I usually write about ‘professional’ issues rather than curriculum matters but I was recently given a set of books about English to review that made me reflect on issues around ‘professional autonomy’ and how different that once was.

As a primary teacher who did an MA in ‘English in Education’ at London University’s Institute for Education nearly thirty years ago, I read these booklets with some interest. They reminded me of the halcyon days when I felt truly inspired to teach. I would turn up for two hours twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, over two years – each time absolutely knackered from a full day’s teaching in a tough Hackney classroom – but within minutes, find myself drinking at a fountain of knowledge poured by the likes of Harold Rosen, Margaret Meek (Spencer), Tony Burgess and Jane Miller.

These books remind me of those sessions. I’m going to summarise them – all too crudely. But here’s the second one on Reading:

Successful entry into literacy depends on existing competence in spoken language. Beginning readers, to be successful, must employ all the resources of their memory and their meaning-making ability to generalise from the evidence of the text in front of them.

Like the way we pick up language, much of a beginning reader’s learning takes place unconsciously. However, the teacher’s role in appropriately pitched conscious instruction is vital.

Pleasure in reading is an essential prerequisite to success. This principle applies at all levels of encounters with the written word, from initial ‘word-recognition’ activities up to full-scale comprehension of extended text.

Learning to read is learning to infer and construct meaning. In the search for meaning, readers are trying to employ a formidable panoply of strategies at different points in their encounters with texts – and in talking about texts, this is not just books but could be anything from an advert on a billboard to a sign on the way to school. Many, perhaps even the majority of these strategies operate fast and automatically, below the level of conscious awareness.

The job of the teacher (and of the parent, in a less specialised, less expert but no less important way) is to create the conditions in which the young child’s reading strategies can operate unhindered and to greatest effect.

These strategies include things like:

  • recognizing and retaining whole words, to which children have been introduced by the teacher;
  • linking semantic and syntactic patterns of spoken language, of which most children already have substantial experience;
  • recognising the links between writing and sounds.

Successful teaching of reading does not depend on allegiance to a particular method, but on an overall understanding of what it is that children do when encountering a text. Too often, debates about the teaching of reading have been reduced to arguments about methods. ‘Which method should I use? “Look and say”? Phonics? If so, which kind of phonics?’

To seek a fail-safe single method is to seek the wrong thing. At one particular moment in one particular child’s early experience of reading, any one of these methods – or, more likely, a combination of them – might work. The most important piece of intellectual equipment that a teacher needs is not a method, but an understanding of the processes involved in becoming a reader.

Beginning readers need full access to a wide range of books, crucially including books that have been composed using the natural patterns, usages and rhythms of English.

These include:

  • books that the teacher reads aloud to the class;
  • big books where the children can follow the words as the teacher reads;
  • books that, once the child has heard and seen being read aloud by the teacher, he or she can read in a group or alone, repeating the experience more independently;
  • books accompanied by a CD or DVD so that the child can hear an experienced reader giving voice to the marks on the page;
  • books which go home to be read before bedtime or whenever there is a quarter of an hour to spare.

The support of parents and other experienced readers at home is of enormous importance in the development of successful young readers.

About one in six children in the 3-to-7 age-group is a learner of English as an additional language. EAL learners are engaged in the complex process of sorting differences and recognising equivalences between their first and additional language(s). Appropriate books in the first language and in bilingual editions should be provided, so that the writing systems of English and the other language(s) can be compared.

Current government policy and statutory requirements in the area of early reading are based on a simplistic view of the reading process, in which only one method – synthetic phonics – is recognised as being effective in the teaching of early reading. This simplistic understanding fails to do justice to the diversity of strategies that young children use to become successful readers.

John Richmond’s English, Language and Literacy 3 to 19: Reading 3 to 7 proposes an better balanced understanding of the processes of early reading at the Early Years Foundation Stage and at Key Stage 1 than that represented by the new National Curriculum for English. It is available from the United Kingdom Literacy Association at http://www.ukla.org/publications/shop/, price £12 (£11 to UKLA members).    

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

Talk, talk, talk…


I usually write about ‘professional’ issues rather than curriculum matters but I was recently given a set of books about English to review and made me reflect on issues around ‘professional autonomy’ and how different that once was.

As a primary teacher who did an MA in ‘English in Education’ at London University’s Institute for Education nearly thirty years ago, I read these booklets with some interest. They reminded me of the halcyon days when I felt truly inspired to teach. I would turn up for two hours twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, over two years – each time absolutely knackered from a full day’s teaching in a tough Hackney classroom – but within minutes, find myself drinking at a fountain of knowledge poured by the likes of Harold Rosen, Margaret Meek (Spencer), Tony Burgess and Jane Miller.

These books remind me of those sessions. I’m going to summarise them – all too crudely. But here’s the first one I read on Talk.

The spoken language is the mode from which competence in all the other aspects of language springs. Literacy – that foundation of the ‘civilized’ world – could not have come into being without the prior existence of speech.

The learning of spoken language is not merely an act of imitation for young children, but is far more powerful – it is a generalising act in which they perform, infer patterns and rules from the raw material of the language they hear – and then apply inferences to utterances arranged in certain orders and in some cases varying their form according to context – even when they have never heard it before.

Speech is the essential means by which children and young people learn. As a teacher you have a crucial role in guiding children’s use of the spoken language and creating contexts in which children can practise and extend their competence.

To be productive though, ‘group talk’ of whatever size needs a clear structure and purpose. That structure and purpose may be very simple: for example, you could set one single, open question with a time limit. Or you may set a more complex structure involving a series of questions or tasks. Sometimes you will be an active participant in the talk and sometimes just an observer. A key aspect of a teacher’s skill is in setting tasks for children that make demands at the edge of – but not beyond – the reach of a child’s existing state of knowledge or grasp.

Group talk may well involve reading and writing but it shouldn’t be an automatic preliminary to those. Talk should be regarded as an activity in its own right with equivalent status and seriousness to other kinds of language work.

It should embrace a range of purposes and take a range of forms, from exploratory – such as ‘thinking aloud’ or putting together hypotheses – through to the more presentational – like stating arguments or debating – from the tentative to the declaratory and from collaborative group situations through to the individual child becoming a confident speaker in front of an audience.

In the best classrooms, the culture and routines of ‘talk’ is a valid form of ‘work’. The most successful schools have broadly agreed policies on the important principles relating spoken language to learning and in my view, one such principle is that the use of properly managed talk is that it is respected and admired throughout. Quiet classrooms are not necessarily an indication of a working classroom.

Some 17% of the UK school population is bi- or multilingual. These children often outperform their monolingual English-only peers. Teaching multilingual children is not a different kind of teaching, just an adapted one, and recognizes children’s access to a variety of linguistic competence – like the way good teachers recognize a variety of ‘Englishes’ other than just Standard English. Good teachers respect the language of the child’s culture and community. They compare and contrast standard equivalents of non-standard forms that children use in everyday speech. This in itself is a fascinating study of language.

In my view, the government’s new legal requirements for spoken language are insufficiently detailed in the primary years and over-preoccupied with formal and presentational uses of the spoken language in the secondary years. Sadly it seems, the government’s true estimation of the value talk in schools is to be seen in the fact that achievement in the spoken language now does not count towards a student’s main grade at GCSE English Language.

To me that’s a retrograde step – both for English as a ‘subject’ and for teachers’ professional autonomy.

I recommend reading John Richmond’s English, Language and Literacy 3 to 19: Talk – it proposes an alternative National Curriculum for English, giving proper and balanced recognition to the role of the spoken language in learning at the Early Years Foundation Stage and throughout Key Stages 1 to 4.

It is available from the United Kingdom Literacy Association at http://www.ukla.org/publications/shop/, price £12 (£11 to UKLA members).    

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.