Teachwell | Debating Education – Debates and Highlights
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Debating Education - Debates and Highlights


I know last Saturday was rainy and cold, yet somehow it felt sunny and warm. What better start to the day than finding oneself on Tom Bennett’s list of people he sometimes pays attention to on twitter. His descriptions of people, including me, were spot on it has to be said. Basking in this unexpected praise, and delusions about how close I actually was to Michaela, meant I ended up powering walking my way there hoping I wasn’t late.


I think it is fair to say that I didn’t change my mind as a result of the debates. However, listening to both sides did give me a different perspective and I certainly shifted my views in other ways.

Debate 1: Sir Ken is Right: Traditional Education Kills Creativity.

Guy Claxton Vs Daisy Christodoulou

Of course I was anti-Ken (despising charlatans as a rule) but Daisy’s brilliant arguments cut through Guy’s attempts to explain and justify the vacuous and substance free drivel that Sir Ken spouts. It was only right that she won that debate. Knowledge is needed to be creative. The idea that one can simply conjure up something new out of nothing has no basis. Vagueness, has never led to greater understanding of the world around us and I can’t think of anyone better than Daisy to have made the argument against peddling ignorance in of all places, schools.

Debate 2: Mixed Ability Works

Bruno Reddy Vs Old Andrew (Both Maths Specialists)

As a primary teacher, I have pretty much always taught mixed ability classes, with the odd year when there were sets for literacy and numeracy. Bruno’s argument that King Soloman’s Academy demonstrate that mixed ability classes leads to greater success was undermined by the fact that he hadn’t really looked into other factors.


Having taught numeracy to children ranging from P-Levels to 3A in my last class – I know it’s not as simple as just ‘differentiate’. Also I think Bruno’s assertion that bottom sets suffer from low self-esteem and disengagement ignores the reality that mixed ability classes only change the number of such students in a class rather than their attitudes.


In terms of self-esteem – I don’t think that mixed ability cuts it either. Children know which group is HA or LA within a class. Even when one has mixed up the children so they don’t sit in ability groups, all they have to do is look over at the work of children near them to gauge where they are in the pecking order for that subject.


The only solution to the self-esteem issue is down to how we bring up our children to cope with their strengths and weaknesses. Which leads me neatly onto:

Debate 3: Character Should Be in the Curriculum.

James O’Shaughnessy vs Joe Kirby

This is one debate where I actually felt torn.


I believe that character education is the nudge that many schools need move away from the moral relativism that has infected the education system. I agreed with James on the necessity of teaching about virtues and concepts such as spirituality explicitly, because these are not touched on at home for many pupils. For many, there is no foundation for the need to be a good person, respect themselves or others. No one to ask and no one to answer some of their questions about the world that relate to these issues.


However, I do take Joe’s point about fitting it into the curriculum at secondary. There is a lot less flexibility compared to primary. His #anticharacter arguments were fantastic – in particular, the points relating to accountability to Ofsted and measuring character.


Overall, I don’t think it is something that needs to happen in all schools or be taught in a particular way but I do wonder if it is primary schools who need to teach it explicitly.

Debate 4: Ofsted should be abolished.                                                           

Katie Ashford vs John Blake

I struggled with this issue as I do think we need to be accountable, and my last Ofsted was really positive. They stuck to the absolute letter of the new Ofsted Inspection handbook. No graded lessons, triangulation, no preferred methods. The actual report itself simply highlighted areas of strength and weakness with absolutely no prescription of what to do – spag was a whole school weakness that needed addressing. It was down to the school to work this out and I believe that if the same team inspected the school again, as long as those areas were addressed, they would not feel the need to comment on the how.


Also Sean Harford is a great and I have more than a sneaking admiration for SMW. Whatever anyone has to say about him, he does put his money where his mouth is and before criticising Mossbourne, I think it would be wise to match his achievements or surpass them first.


Katie brilliantly stated all the reasons why Ofsted have indeed held schools and teachers back. Her experience of working in a Special Measures School is completely typical unfortunately – more work to please the Inspectors regardless of the impact. Yet John is right that all the public money needs to be accounted for and we are going to have to have some sort of inspection regime.


I don’t know is the answer – would cloning Sean Harford help?

Debate 5: Michael Gove was a great Education Secretary.                  

Jonathan Porter vs Francis Gilbert

Yes he was and Jonny made sure that he won that debate hands down!! I’ve yet to meet anyone who has argued against the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ line. Jonny was right that to be anti-Gove is truly to ignore the need to ensure that the poorest children in our society receive the same education as their better off peers. We can all write a list of excuses and hide behind them but it’s neither kind nor just to do so.


Sitting next to Nick Rose and behind Tom B, Gwen and Old Andrew for the duration of the debates. It meant I had a smoking buddy and I got to witness Tom’s diva tantrums up close (he really wanted a tweeting prize!!)


The staff at Michaela – fiercely intelligent, beautiful and well-dressed. All of them were brilliant hosts in their varying capacities. It was a pleasure speaking to the incredible Katie and wonderful Navreen in particular. Could Bodil be more lovely? Or Jonny’s distress at the Google maps fail any more genuine?


Jean-Louis Dutaut is a nice guy and does not look freaky in real life!! He’s still a progressive but at least he’s a laugh and a smoker.


Who knew that Ed Clarke was so uber posh? Lovely guy!!


Meeting Anthony Radice, if only Quirky Teacher could have been there, then Old Andrew’s blogging ‘progeny’ could have all been together – someday.


There’s always one person who is the opposite of what you imagined and that person was Martin Robinson – gregarious and larger than life – ‘the only socialist in the village’ story was class.


Geraldine, Heather, Anna – lovely to have met all of you at last!! Again brilliant people and at least one Leicester connection.


It seems Old Andrew may be developing ulcers as a result of the Labour Blog posts I send him (I really didn’t think the JC/Moseley one was that controversial…). Confirmed by amazing Gwen – who I finally got to meet having missed her at ResearchEd. Who can only be matched in loveliness by Naureen (need more time together!!)


Saying hello to John David Blake and Robert Peal, brief but worth it!!


The most pleasant and crazy of all experiences was meeting Daisy!! It must be remembered that I only joined twitter earlier this year. Daisy’s 7 Myth’s was already a must read book.


I really do credit her, Tom and Robert, in particular,  for writing books that made me realise that I had been butting heads in the education system for good reason and that yes, the BS was indeed BS!!! All three books put many, many things into perspective, one that was difficult to grasp working as a full time primary teacher.


So for her to even have heard of me, never mind actually know who I am, was lovely in itself. To then state that her mum thought I was great, was surreal, which was then topped by her asking Heather to take the picture at the start of this post, sending it to her mum and then showing me the reply – which indeed indicated her mother’s approval!!! Nuts but true.



On Sunday morning, I was reminded of a tweet sent the previous day that Old Andrew picked up. It was from someone who didn’t attend the debate because they would have ‘stood out’ if they had.


I’m not sure if things happen for a reason, but while waiting for the train home,  I got to witness two gorgeous pink-coated 3 year old girls make friends. They saw each other, seemingly assessed each other’s level of cheekiness and then started chasing each other around a suitcase. Bored with the suitcase, they ran around the big advertisement board, bumping into each other, giggling incessantly and generally having a good old time.


Should they have noticed how different they looked to each other? Waited for someone who ‘looked more like them’ to come along? Would they really have felt more comfortable? Had more fun? Got on so famously? Let’s face it the girls did what made the most sense. Heres hoping some adult manage it a bit more often too.


PPS – If I have forgotten to mention anyone – sorry! There were just so many wonderful people around that it overloaded the working memory!!

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