When is a TeachMeet not a TeachMeet?

  • When the TeachMeet is only open to participants from a particular organisation
  • When the TeachMeet is advertised as free to teachers from a particular organisation (implying that at other events teachers have to pay to attend TeachMeets which they never have and never will!).
  • When the TeachMeet does not allow anyone to sign up to deliver a presentation (subject to time constraints)
  • When it appears that the presenters for the TeachMeet have been decided in advance.
  • When the TeachMeet has not been added to the TeachMeet wiki at http://teachmeet.pbworks.com/w/page/19975349/FrontPage



This is, most likely, NOT a TeachMeet!!

This is NOT a TeachMeet...

From http://www.affinitytsa.co.uk/sites/default/files/flyers/Affinity%20TSA%20Teachmeet%20Leaflet%2030.10.13.pdf


Unqualified headteachers? Welcome to Michael Gove’s educational dystopia . .

Pimlico Primary, a new free school in London, made the news this week for hiring a  27 year old as the head teacher ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-22016045 ).  27 does seem a rather young age to take responsibility for a school, although an outstanding candidate with 5 years of experience in the classroom and as a deputy head could take the role and make a success of it.  Except this appointee has none of those things. Anneliese Briggs does not have a teaching qualification. Yes, that’s right, a school is hiring a headteacher who is not really  a teacher.

How in the name of feck did we get to this sorry state of affairs? I have nothing against Ms Briggs personally, and I think she is probably a victim in all of this caught up as she is in the ideological blitzkreig which Michael Gove is waging against state education.

Apparently what makes Ms Briggs suitable to be the leader of a state funded school (so we pay her salary), is her experience with the ‘cultural literacy curriculum’ of E. D.  Hirsch. Hirsch’s emphasis on the systematic teaching of facts and his creation of a curriculum which appears to follow a logical order has been the doyen of Gove’s eye for many years now, offering as it does a veneer of theoretical credibility to his curriculum reforms which are leading to a bloated and fact-heavy curriculum.  I too have experience of the concept of cultural literacy as a curriculum, and cutting the chase I can let you have my expertise for free right now, the cultural literacy curriculum is a load of old tripe.

Briggs was no doubt involved in Civitas’s ‘anglicisation of E. D. Hirsch’s curriculum ( http://www.coreknowledge.org.uk/coreknowledge.php ).  Maybe she even helped draw the wonderful diagram below, with its *amazing* insights into how a school curriculum is not just about core knowledge, but also about the school’s ethos and values.  Not that the diagram is wrong or anything, it’s just that it’s so glib and patronising.  The whole thing reeks of posh kids holed up in a London office thinking they have all the answers to education because they can draw a pretty diagram using PowerPoint.

It’s hard to know where to start with the debunking of the snake oil drenched chicanery of ‘core knowledge’, there’s just so much to go at.  But how about you just pause reading and quickly outline the story of Gawain and the Green Knight (from the top of your head, no Googling it). I don’t want you to quote from the original, just tell what the story is, and what it’s meaning is within Christian thought.

No doubt you rattled that off easily, but if you had trouble, then bear in mind that Civitas recommends that Year 5 children are familiar with the legend of Gawain and the Green Knight.  And if you teach in a school using the core knowledge sequence then you can’t miss this out, as the theoretical foundation of cultural literacy is that it is impossible to acquire later knowledge unless each interim step has been achieved. So miss out Gawain and his jolly green mate, and you’re stuffed when it comes to year 6 and you have to learn about ‘The legend of Culhywch and Owen’.. it will make absolutely no sense whatever to you. *

Gove, and his previous school minister Nick  Gibb have been obsessed with curriculum reform, because the curriculum seems, to the education outsider, the one thing you can grab hold of in education and change to impose your will on schools and bring the unruly teaching profession to heel.  But if  you’ve worked in education for even a short time (ie longer than Ms Briggs), you will soon learn that the curriculum is only part of the complex picture of education. Driving up standards and the quality of learning is not all about changing the curriculum, especially if your conception of the curriculum is a list of stuff to be taught and learned, rather than a more progressive view of the curriculum which is rooted in what we know about learning and child development.  Andrew Pollard writing of the pernicious influence of Hirsch’s ideas on the new national curriculum pointed out that  the new curriculum ‘neglects the way children learn’ ( http://www.ioe.ac.uk/64559.html ), but his views were ignored by Gove. Pollard has decades of experience in education and published his first book on primary schooling in 1985. If he was 27, had spent a few years knocking around in a think tank and spent a few hours once in a school, maybe he would have been listened to.

This whole story summarises what Gove is doing to UK state education.  He is using his pet free school project to create chaos and uncertainty, and undermine the professionalism of teachers in the most cynical of ways.  No doubt, Pimlico Primary will have lots of help from the DfE once opened (although we probably will never know how much as previous FOIs to determine levels of spending on free schools have been ignored or bypassed), so it will be a success and Gove can confidently declare that not only teachers not need to be qualified, but head teachers don’t need to be either.  And so the assault on state schools will continue as more are driven into the academy chains of the Tory backers and primed for profit making.

Welcome to the topsy turvy world of Michael Gove’s education dystopia, a nightmare from which we may never awaken.

* Just for the record I had to study Gawain and the Green Knight at university, but I never really got on with it, so I missed the lectures and tutorials and in the exam answered on Chaucer instead. I still have no idea what Gawain and the Green Knight is about, I know a Knight is involved and he is green, but my ‘core knowledge’ fizzes to a halt then. Thank god cultural literacy was not invented when I was a student or would have been stuffed for any literature written after 1370 which would have had serious ramifications for my degree .

It wasn’t so I graduated with a 1st.

Teachmeets… NOT FOR SALE!


Osiris Educational  is now offering a ‘free directory of TeachMeets’ and also enhanced paid-for packages to help TeachMeet organisers promote their event. Osiris Educational are a for-profit company providing CPD and training to schools and teachers.

This is simply a terrible idea. Read on for just some of the reasons why it’s so wrong.

Firstly, TeachMeets are a bottom-up grass roots movement. Formed spontaneously on the fringe of a commercial event (the Scottish Learning Festival), the idea quickly spread and TeachMeets are now held just about every evening of the week. The idea of teachers coming together to share best practice and ideas (and just have some quality time away from the pressures of the classroom) was compelling because opportunities for sharing before this were limited, and those teachers stuck in a staffroom with few other innovative practitioners could often feel a need to tell others of their work, and get some ideas from other innovative teachers.  TeachMeets are free to teachers to attend, although there are often costs associated with setting them up, so limited commercial sponsorship deals have been struck.  These work best when both parties (the company, and the Teachmeet organisers), understand the delicate dynamic balance between the company getting something back for its sponsorship money whilst not stomping all over the non-commerical ecology of the TeachMeet with size 9 stiletto marketing heels.  Some TeachMeets run with no Sponsorship at all. The events at Heathfield CPS in Bolton (organised by @deputymitchell) have no sponsors, but teachers pay a couple of quid for a pasty and pea supper at half time. Teachmeets are not commercial, they are not a chance for companies to get lots of free advertising, sell directly to teachers or somehow muscle in.

Osiris’s move is egregious in so many ways. Firstly the ‘free service’ does nothing other than promote the event.  This sounds very kind and all of that, but there is already a perfectly good way of publicising Teachmeets. There is a TM wiki at http://teachmeet.pbworks.com/w/page/19975349/FrontPage where all teachmeets can be listed. And of course there is the younger brother of the Teachmeet phenomenon, that is Twitter to help spread the word virally.  Some teachmeets sell out (the BETT one for instance), some are very well attended (50+), I have been to a few where numbers are below 20 and one with just 9 of us.  The one with 9 sounds like it may have been a bit of a damp squib, but it wasn’t as there was easily enough expertise and enthusiasm in the room for us all to take something away from it.  So the kind offer of a ‘free service’ to promote a TeachMeet is not a kind offer, it’s reinventing a wheel that is already invented, is not broken, and belongs (crucially) to the people in the cart.  Why on earth would TeachMeet organisers systematically hand over information on their events to a commercial company, I can see no reason for them to do this.  And Osiris have ‘terms and conditions’ for using the site.  Here is an excerpt:

Any behaviour that is deemed unsuitable or unfit to Osiris Educational’s efforts to provide quality, fair and unbiased CPD training will not be tolerated and may result in the removal of Osiris Educational’s support and sponsorship (as outlined above, but not limited to).

So Osiris have taken it upon themselves to police what goes on a TeachMeet webpage?  I guess they had to do this in case clearly unacceptable material was posted (they would be liable as they host the service), but how far will they go in deciding what is ‘unsuitable behaviour’? What if a Teachmeet was organised which was expounding teaching ideas which contradicted one of the paid for courses which Osiris run? Would there be a temptation for them to remove this teachmeet, or put pressure on the organisers to modify the focus of the TeachMeet so it did not disrupt the commercial interests of Osiris? I think the answer is ‘possibly’, and whilst there is any possibility of this happening, I think a move to a commercial company hosting TeachMeet information is to be strongly resisted.  And are Osiris planning to become the ‘ticketing agency’ for Teachmeets. Most events are ticketed just using the wiki; you add your name and you’re on the list, if you want to sign up to do a presentation, put your name on that list and so on.  Larger events (like the BETT teachmeet can be ticketed using EventBrite which is free to use if you are not charging for your event).  The wiki for all but the largest teachmeets is simple, is democratic, and it just works. What if Osiris decide you have to register to attend a TeachMeet on their site.  Which means teachers adding in their information to be stored in the database of a company selling things to (wait for it) teachers.  I’ll not even waste keyboard taps pointing out how problematic that idea is.

If you are prepared to pay Osiris money, they can upgrade their support for your TeachMeet.

When I started writing this blog at about 9am March 20th, I had loaded a page tweeted by @david_obst which had details of the Gold and Silver packages which Osiris were offering. Just now (having closed that page), I decided to reload it, and found that it had been modified and the details on the packages had disappeared. I can only conjecture that concerns being expressed on Twitter had Osiris to rethink their business model and landgrab of TeachMeet territory and they had retreated in order to consider their options. If this is the case then I welcome it.  Before the page was taken down I had read that if you went for the Gold Package, Osiris would send a host to your TeachMeet to run the event for you.  What a great service that would have been. The last event I went to was joint hosted by @dughall and @deputymitchell, who did a great job of drawing out the professional strands of learning from the presentations, keeping the audience enthused and generally entertaining us.  They also did it for free (not even expenses) as all TeachMeets hosts do.  And if one or both of these had been ill, I counted at least 20 other people in the room who could have got up on the spot and MCed the event.  It may be stating the bloody obvious, but standing up in front of people and engaging them is a skill which teachers already have.  It’s not something they lack, it’s one of their CORE skills, for crying out loud. The idea that we would need to pay a company to provide a host for a TeachMeet is bizarre in the extreme.

The message here is simple. Hands off TeachMeets, they are not for sale.

Profit-Making State Schools, Why this is a terrible idea (part 2)

In profit warning part I ( http://bit.ly/WCI8ut ) I argued that neoliberal pressure to allow schools to make profits were absolutely nothing to do with raising standards or improving outcomes for students. The motivation behind allowing companies to cream off profits from running state education is purely about profit and the enrichment of the elite who will own the largest stakes in these companies.  If profit making companies are allowed to run schools, then standards will actually drop as they have done in the liberalised markets for energy and rail.  Nor will the tax-payer make any savings, as the government will fund these schools places at least the same level as non profit-making schools, and pressure from neo-liberals may even create the same kind of distortions we are going to see in the NHS as ministers bend over backwards to create favourable conditions for profit making for private enterprise.

Allowing market forces into education will not work for many reasons.  When people talk of market forces and competition, it is interesting to probe what particular markets they are holding up as successful and vibrant examples of the capitalist genre. One such ‘market’ is food retailing and the domain of the supermarkets. It is true that competition to win the ‘weekly shop’ has led to unprecedented choice and value for Britain’s shoppers. The large supermarkets constantly innovate to get us through their doors, and for those resistant to the might of the big chains, many towns offer alternatives such as traditional markets, organic outlets and so on.  As an example of competition and the profit motive driving up standards, it is hard to argue with food retailing, although the bullying tactics of the large supermarkets in squeezing margins out of their suppliers such as dairy farmers do reveal how even this text-book capitalist template has its negative consequences*.

Schools are not supermarkets; education is not food shopping.  If Tesco was a school, you would get to visit the supermarket as prospective customers on an open day and the manager would show you a powerpoint presentation of the facilities, for this is mostly what happens when parents set out to choose schools. If you liked it, you could put your name down and if successful you would then be allowed to shop there for the next 4, 5 or even 6 years. You’d better hope you made the correct choice, as you would only be shopping there and you wouldn’t be able nip along to another school to take account of a special offer, or a juicy 3 for 2 deal.  You could transfer to another supermarket if they had a spare slot for a customer and you could bear doing all of the paperwork.  This is the fabled ‘choice’ held up by Neo-liberals as the consumer pay off for accepting a privatised alternative to a state service. The choice here though is nothing but a chimera; you can’t shop around, split your shop up to get the best value or stop going to a particular store altogether as you can do with your weekly shop. Once the decision is made, you are captive, and captive customers can do nothing to influence the quality of the service they get.

Profit making schools will probably do many things to ensure that they deliver a healthy profit to shareholders and senior management of the parent company. Firstly, as a school’s main budgetary outlay is staffing, particular the cost of teaching staff, they will seek out the lowest paid teachers (those with little experience), and whenever possible employ unqualified teachers on the lowest wages. Michael Gove’s announcement in July 2012 that unqualified teachers can now work in academies and free schools suddenly makes sense, paving the way for a way for profit making chains to commence the profit-seeking race to the bottom.

Profit making schools in Britain may also look to the Charter Schools of America for handy tips on how to boost the bottom line.  Reports on the Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago ( http://on.msnbc.com/WWxtrK ) reveal how they see parents as nice little earner on the side, and have created a system of ‘disciplinary charges’ to fine parents of students they believe have broken school rules. Some students have racked up hefty fees for their parents for what seems like trivial infringements.  The potential for abuse here is astonishing.  Schools needing some extra cash can simply mete out detentions to students (whether justified or not), and then soak the parents for ‘administration fees’. The ultimate irony is that a student with a poor disciplinary record is far less likely to be offered a place at another school, so the family is trapped into handing cash over.  Schools will also no doubt be tempted to inflate other costs for parents, the school trip could no longer be a cost-neutral exercise, but have a hidden surcharge to boost the coffers, and the uniform could only be bought from the school, again with added margin to rip off the parents and enrich the schools shareholders.

The blind belief in the power of the markets, despite the overwhelming empirical evidence of failure in energy supply, rail transport and so on is a very real form of coercion through which the state forces people to accept a second-rate service simply to increase the wealth of a narrow elite.  Profits created are either the result of cartels (as with energy), or state funded monopolies (rail, and education if that ever comes to pass) being handed tax payers’ money. Nor does the state itself shrink as most free market advocates would wish, as government still has to fund these services through general taxation and have regulatory oversight to correct the most egregious failings of these quasi-markets create.


* This was written before widespread contamination of Beef by Horsemeat was discovered in UK and Irish foods. Rather than modify the blog, I merely ask the reader to reflect on how the failure of the supermarket supply chain impacts the arguments made here about the perfectibility of markets.

This blog was originally published on The Backbencher

Profit-Making State Schools: Why this is a terrible idea. (Part 1)

Gove’s education reforms, in particular his expansion of the academies programme and the launch of free schools, are moving inexorably to the moment where companies will be encouraged to run schools for profit. Gove let slip at the Leveson enquiry that he would be happy to see Free Schools make a profit in the second term of a Conservative administration and Think Tanks such as Policy Exchange have been agitating for quite a while to let providers make a profit from state education. A recent posting on this site  (http://bit.ly/11EYNRc) called for the ‘profit motive’ to be allowed into education so that the ‘disgraceful situation’ of only 7% of state educated people getting top jobs could be remedied.

Education is now being ‘worked-over’ in a classic neo-liberal pincer movement with the end game being the state allowing companies to take tax-payer money for providing a service, and extract a profit from this.  The first part of the pincer movement is to comprehensively rubbish the existing state run system. Gove has been working hard at this from his time as shadow education secretary to the present day. He frequently cites the International PISA studies and England’s position in them. He relishes statistic showing Britain has plummeted down the league tables for Maths, Science and Literacy like a football pundit commentating on a team’s slide from Premiership dominance to 2nd division obscurity.  The media have followed Gove’s lead and the general perception is created that schools are failing, that students leave with limited literacy, no understanding of science and mathematical skills equal to the average South Korean child at the age of just 6.

How uncomfortable it is, then, when the very same international comparative measures show a different story.  The company Pearson conducted a meta-analysis of the international comparative measures (such as PISA, TIMMS and PIRLS) and found that the UK came 6th in the league table of education systems in the developed world (http://bit.ly/VbKhL8). The combined school systems of England, Wales and Scotland beat the Netherlands (7), and beat Germany (15), and Sweden, the model for Gove’s free schools did not even figure in the top 20. Finland was the only European country to beat the UK, the other 4 countries were those Asian countries which always do well (Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea) largely as a result of the extremely high intrinsic value placed upon education culturally.  This composite did merge the English, Scottish, and Welsh systems into one but English schools are the largest proportion, and the Scottish and Welsh performance is very close to the English number.

The conclusion is quite clear, the crisis in education we are constantly being told about is a construct, a convenient fiction, or a downright lie (take your pick). If the advocates of profit-making schools confronted reality, then they would have to admit that, whilst not quite world-beating, the schools in the UK are well above average and better than countries such as Germany so often held up as shining examples of economic prosperity and productivity.  Of course the doom-sayers can always come back and say the measures used in this analysis are not the right ones and they paint a far rosier picture than is really the case, but Gove can’t have his cake here and eat it.  He constantly used PISA scores to denigrate the system and convince people of the need for reform, so he’ll have to swallow it when the same measures show that things are not as bleak as he paints. This is clearly a case of PIRLS before swine.

The second part of the neo-liberal pincer movement is to stress how much more efficient private enterprise would be running state schools. The argument here is that the state is a bloated, slow-moving dinosaur, unable to innovate or act quickly, whereas companies bring new thinking, new methods and can implement these rapidly and effectively. The motivation of a profit to be had at the end of the quarter focuses the company ruthlessly on results and outcomes, and the juicy lure of the bonus gives the organisation a hunger and desire which the dead-hand of the state could never have.

Well if this is the case, and if it is going to apply to schools, then the neo-liberals have some more explaining to do, concerning the liberalisation of the rail network in the UK and the privatisation of energy supply. The bracing winds of the liberalised market were allowed to blow through energy and rail during the 1980s and 1990s, so these are hardly new reforms and have had a lot of time to bed in.  By now, if the logic of the neo-liberals held true, then competition in the energy market should have delivered world-beating service and low prices to UK consumers for electricity and gas and a constant stream of new innovations.  And likewise the rail network in the UK should be one of the most efficient in the developed world delivering great value for the traveller and clean uncrowded trains running exactly to time. The reality is once again very different. The UK energy market is confusing for the domestic consumer with an abundance of tariffs making best value very difficult to assess. In fact the failure of the market to deliver value for the customer has been a source of embarrassment for politicians, most notably David Cameron who promised legislation to force companies to put home-owners on the best possible tariff, but then had to backtrack on this when it turned out to be unworkable (http://bit.ly/VbLC4x) .  On top of this, the big 6 energy companies are currently being investigated for what looks like a massive and cynical (even criminal), market rigging exercise (http://bit.ly/11EYNRc). The consumer was promised a competitive market; but neo-liberalism has delivered a cartel.

Rail it seems has done no better from the neo-liberal experiment, UK fares are among the most expensive in Europe (popular commuter routes are sometimes 3x more expensive than comparative German or French routes), trains are crowded and dirty and the tax-payer subsidy for the network is much larger than countries which have retained public ownership of rail. On top of this the bidding process for the renewal of the West Coast Franchise went spectacularly wrong when it was revealed the winning bid had used profit projections for the final years of the franchise which were so exaggerated as to be either the result of gross incompetence or downright lying on the part of the bidders.  Scrapping the bid alone has cost the tax payer over £40M.  All of this profit making seems to come at a cost, a cost largely borne by the tax payer and the customer.

So a simple question should be posed to the profit making school hawks:

What will be different about the contracts and execution of the deals which let private companies run state education to those which have gone so badly wrong in energy and rail? 

And if you have the answer to this question, can you please let the Energy and Climate Change Secretary  and the Transport Secretary know as soon as possible, so they can correct the gross distortion and terrible value for the tax-payer operating in their respective areas.

This blog post originally appeared on the Back Bencher Site http://thebackbencher.co.uk .

Tony Little, the head of Eton, shares his insights into building character and resilience

Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 21.29.35According to the Daily Telegraph, Tony Little, the headmaster of Eton is to give advice to state schools on how to build ‘character and resilience’ and share with them insights on how children can make the most of their opportunities. (http://bit.ly/Wo9cM0)

Here is a quotation from the article

Eton’s headmaster highlighted a range of methods used at the school to help foster character and resilience amongst children, including:

* A range of school societies where students are charged with booking high-profile speakers.

* Tutorials – including those with pupils of different ages – where students develop speaking and debating skills.

* Developing stronger, more trusting relationships between teachers and students by encouraging staff to do more sport, music and other extra-curricular activities with pupils.

These are of course amazing insights into how to make a supportive school. There is absolutely no way that the feckless idiots who run state schools would ever have thought of running a sport or music club to build confidence. That idea would never have crossed their minds.  Once the 3.15 bell sounds the teachers are hot-footing out of the school gates in their battered Fiat Puntos either to go the pub and drink themselves stupid on cheap lager, or straight to a Communist Party meeting where they can share Trotskyist fantasies of the defenestration of Michael Gove from the second storey of one of his beloved academies.  And who would have thought that a tutorial where a student gets targetted help from a teacher could help build their speaking and debating skills?  Tony Little has shown even in these 3 short bullet points that he has a masterful grasp of education, that his school is genuinely innovative, even revolutionary in its approach. These educational insights are like manna dropped from heaven for the troglodytic state sector; just like the ambassador in the Ferrero Rocher advertisement he is ‘spoiling us’ and  his intervention is surely set to make a major difference to state education, and if he has to wait even a year longer for his knighthood then this is a travesty.

Luckily for those of you benighted lot who work in the state sector, I have managed to get a copy of his keynote at the ‘character and resilience’ building event. The audience is mostly teachers and management from state schools.  Leaking it is clearly, ‘not good form’, but in the interests of the wider public good I have decided to publish some extracts.

Speech beginneth here…

Welcome to Eton School. Founded in 1440 by Henry VI, this school is the best in the world. Many of you in this room probably dreamed of coming here. After having chatted with a few of you over coffee, I can assure you that you would have been really welcome here (as long as your parents were excessively rich and could afford £30,000 fees per annum).

But I am not here to talk about Eton. No I am here to share with you the secrets of how we build our boys into the strongest, most resilient people they can possibly be.  The education secretary (Mr Gove) has shared with me the problem of state education. It appears that none of your students have any backbone, they are feckless, idle, brittle individuals unable to withstand the rigours of life and lacking in even the basic talents to get on. And you teachers in the state sector are clearly unimaginative fuckwits unable to solve even the most basic of educational problems without having them spelled out by rich blokes like me. It reminds me a bit of the British Empire, but that’s material for another lecture….

Our boys are not like your boys (or girls). Our boys are men; even before they are boys, they are men. Let me share with you some of the ways in which we build them into well-rounded resilient individuals, the kind of people to lead this country back to greatness and conquer all on the international stage.  The chief value we instil in our boys (sorry men), is one of complete resilience. Only the other day one of the house masters told me of an incident. He had found a boy sitting on the stairs to his room looking sad. When he asked him why he as sad, the boy held out his phone.  It was an iPhone 4.  This poor boy had a phone which was at least 6 months out of date, and all of his classmates had iPhone 5 (the big ones with the fuck-off 64mb memory), yet fate had dealt him the cruellest of blows and he did not have this latest phone.  But did this boy give up? Did he break down? No, after a bit of a pep talk from the house master he took his iPhone 4 and declared proudly that he was happy to have this phone and he would make the best of his situation whilst he could.  And this is the spirit which makes up the Etonian, the stiff upper lip, the ramrod backbone, the refusal to let personal tragedy get one down.

This ‘make do’ attitude is prevalent right across the school.  As you some of you may be aware, we only have a 9 hole golf course at the school, whereas nearby Wellington has an 18 hole course.  For any other school this dent to the pride would be terminal, it would be a situation never to be recovered from, but somehow here at Eton we can rise above the physical assets of the school (limited though they are), and look to a higher spirit guiding us.  I imagine many of you …. “colleagues”  also teach in schools where your golf courses only have 9 rather than 18 holes. Some of you will be saddled with swimming pools which are not Olympic size, so your boys will struggle, like ours do, in a purpose built, heated, all year round 25M pool. And what I say to you is this, dig deep and build the character of your students with lots of one-to-one time exploring the life of the mind and intellectual pursuits.  You should spend, as our tutors do, at least 2 hours with each boy per week, over a cup of warming cocoa and a buttered slice, getting to know them and tailoring a curriculum exactly to their needs. You will find this approach brings real dividends.

Thank you very much for visiting Eton to see how we do things here. Now if you could all leave quickly by this back door here, we would be very grateful. We’re not trying to get rid of you or anything,  tt’s just we have some prospective parents coming round in an hour or so and the place smells, erm, smells a bit of ‘chav’.  We obviously would like to get the servants in to give the place a good airing. Don’t get me wrong, I like the common people as much as the next fellow, it’s just I’d rather not have my school reeking of them.

Speech endeth, and hapless state school educators declare themselves amazed by the results produced at Eton with such meagre resources. They vow to return to their schools and start music and sports clubs forthwith. 

Upon returning to their schools they realise this is a really stupid bloody plan, as Gove has already sold off their playing fields and any musical based nonsense is not included in the eBacc, and if they don’t make the grade with that then Gove will have them converted to an academy quicker than they can say ‘enemies of promise’.

Going to the Wall…. is there finally a point to Interactive Projectors?

 I’ve always hated Interactive Projectors. Well ‘hate’ is perhaps too strong a word, especially when directed at a piece of educational technology. But dislike certainly captures my attitude.

The problems I had with Interactive Projectors were twofold.  Firstly, all the ones I ever used were pretty poor substitutes for an interactive whiteboard.  Because the units used Infra-red to provide the interactivity they have a pen which is cumbersome to hold, and many models had a horrid push-in scratchy nib and were large and heavy in the hand.

Using a pen instead of a finger is always a compromise for mouse functions, nothing can beat the immediacy of a finger touch.  And the problem with a pen solution is, in a word, the pen. You can lose it, break it, or find the battery is flat. Any of these 3 means game over, and as you can’t lose your finger, it doesn’t have a battery and even if you break it you have 7 others to use on the board.

My second problem with the interactive projector was how many people used to declare proudly that the solution did not need a board on the wall, that the wall itself became interactive. They proclaimed this as it it were a miracle, as if that was a *brilliant* thing.  But it was not a brilliant thing at all, in fact it was quite the opposite  it was a *rubbish* thing.  The problem was what to do with the wall.  Using the wall itself was never a realistic solution for a classroom used everyday.  The wall would be rough and scratchy on the pen, and it would get grubby and dirty quite quickly. If you try and solve the problem by putting a dry wipe board on the wall, then you get a bright white hotspot of glare from the projector which is uncomfortable for anyone looking at the board.  The other issue with a dry wipe board is that if you use marker pens on it, you need to clean the board very thoroughly before using the projector otherwise you get smeared ink on the image which again ruins the impact of the projected image.  So the fact that interactive projectors make the wall interactive is not a feature nor is it a benefit of the product; it’s a problem you have to solve (very possibly with a compromise).

At BETT 2013, SMART unveiled the Lightraise 60WI. It’s the world’s first interactive projector which responds to a finger touch as well as pens.  The touch response is excellent, quick and responsive and without any lag or dead spots.  And it can take two finger touches, so two people can work on the board at the same time or you can use the now familiar two finger gestures such as pinch and zoom.  SMART have managed to solve one of the major problems with the IPJ genre, namely the clunky pens; and finally using one could be a pleasure to use rather than a chore.

The issue of what to put on the wall is still unresolved, and to be honest I still hold that if you want an interactive surface, you’re best bet is to get an interactive whiteboard, solving at a stroke the problem of what to put on the wall. I’m still not a massive fan of interactive projectors, but with this big leap forward in engineering, SMART may finally be showing us the point to interactive projectors.