The Writing Is On The Wall.

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There are those teachers who quiver at just the thought of them. Others cannot contains their enjoyment. But as a teacher or teaching assistant you will have your fair share of displays to put up. But are displays really just a waste of time?

For starters we need to establish the different types of displays.

1 – The printed display – This is a display made up of either bought posters aimed at children or A4 sheets printed from a selection of websites and then laminated. These often have magical, but unexciting information about grammar or maths rules.

2 – The paper display – A collection of children’s work stuck to the wall based upon a single theme, all roughly looking and sounding the same. Normally the piece that took the longest to create was the title and the border by some poor teaching assistant.

3 – The model display – Constructions created by the children, or if done as homework more than likely done by an adult, placed on a table to be poked, pulled and knocked over and parts forcibly removed by little fingers.

The trouble with displays is who bothers to look at them?

A display in a school reception area is fine. There is a steady stream of fresh adults eager to view the pictures by reception class that they first thought were fireworks, but upon reading the typed notice that accompanies them finds out they are actually self-portraits.

But inside the school is a different matter. Model displays always attract attention for a short period of time. The wonder of a 3D object draws children like a moth to a flame. There is no work required to view it. No reading, no need to understand it, the chance to touch it or poke it or even see which parts come loose when pulled. But the attraction dies quickly and soon children walk past without even a glimpse.

The paper display requires stopping, reading and understanding what it means. This is way too much work for a child. And who really wants to read their own work stuck to a wall? They spent way too long creating it to start with. So there is even less desire to read another child’s work. So apart from the occasional glance of a passing teacher or teaching assistant they generally go unnoticed.

Which brings us to the shiny world of the printed posters. There are some teachers who get a massive buzz from surfing certain websites and printing and laminating colourful sheets that they feel explains a simple process in a new and exciting way, such as i before e except after c (except the 923 words that are spelt with a cie, such as efficient, society, science, ancient, concierge or glacier.) But to children these are like wallpaper. They simply blend into the background. Every KS1 class in the country will have a number line hanging on the wall, or even from string tied across the classroom. Anywhere between 10 and 100 colourful numbers displayed either on kites, sunflowers, boats, planes, spaceships, caterpillars, fruit, dinosaurs and even underwear! They hang there day after day since the beginning of the year when they were carefully cut out, laminated, cut out again before being hung for all to see. And yet 4 months later when you ask a child what number comes after 6 the first place they look is at the child next to them in case it was drawn on their forehead and then at the floor. If you take any child out of the classroom and ask them what is on the wall in their classroom most of them would probably reply “paint.”

Parents of course love to see their children’s work displayed. There are many fridges and notice boards in houses filled with works of art that look like they were created by an epileptic squid on speed. But displays in schools are changed so often and parents never get the chance to see many of them.

So is it time to say goodbye to the display? Instead would we be better off displaying prints of some of the greatest works of art or even allowing local artists to display their work? Or maybe pictures of some of the most beautiful scenery from around the world? Maybe posters with famous quotes about love, peace and learning would help inspire our children more?

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Intelligence 0 – Foot in Mouth 1

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I have already voiced my opinion that Nicky Morgan was placed in the role of education minister because they thought she would appear friendlier to teachers and win back their votes. Her skills as an education minister had very little to do with it.

She proved that point today in style!

According to Mrs Morgan if the conservatives get back into power in May then she is going to ensure that all children before they leave primary school at the age of 11 know their times tables, use accurate spelling and grammar, write a coherent story and use long division.

WHAT DOES SHE THINK SCHOOLS ARE DOING?

It might have been a good idea before making such a comment to visit a school and actually see what schools teach. She could of even picked up a copy of her own departments guidance for the curriculum to see what tell schools to teach. It might have been an even better idea for someone in the Conservative party with an election so close to have checked what she was going to say before letting her loose.

The second part of her great plan is to introduce harder tests for 11 year olds. Schools that fail these test will have their head teachers sacked and turned into academies. I think someone needs to point out to Mrs Morgan that schools already carry out a test for 11 year olds called the SATS.

It is very strange that MP’s and ministers have this strange idea that schools are not trying their best to educate children. They fail to see the real problems that they have created and are effecting so many schools. You want to improve education Mrs Morgan then I have some advice for you.

  1. Not all children learn at the same rate and not everybody is capable of achieving certain levels due to a number of reasons.
  2. You want to make learning fair then make the funding for all schools fair.
  3. Bring back special schools so that those few children who disrupt a whole class day in and day out can be removed and stop spoiling education for the rest.

My last bit of advice would be that MPs and ministers who say something so stupid, fail to keep their election promises or fail to improve year after year should be sacked and given jobs cleaning house for teachers so they can focus more on their job.

Paper Paper Everywhere!

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The UK may be a small country but it is considered one of the most developed in the world. Free health care, support for the needy, free education (except university,) world leading research and manufacturing.

And yet for such a developed country with a world class education system supposedly producing highly intelligent people we have this strange idea that a piece of paper is the answer to everything.

Schools across the UK have young children signing behaviour, homework and Internet use policies. A piece of paper with a list of rules or conditions that children are supposed to remember after they sign it. A lot of the time children are so excited it is a wonder they remember their own names. The last thing they are thinking about is a list on a piece of paper they forgot about 10 minutes after signing it. No matter how much you explain it to children they never really understand the principal and morality of a contract and how a piece of paper relates to the real world.

But then the same is true for adults.

How many adults read the terms and conditions when they sign up for a new web site or load new software? How many people simply click accept? How many read the small print on a phone contract or loan application?

Schools have to trust in all kinds of paperwork. The most obvious is DBS forms (Disclosure and Baring Service) formally CRB forms (Criminal Records Bureau.) Which highlights another crazy idea we have in developed countries that by simply changing the name of something it makes it better instead of just confusing people!
A lot of time and money is spent making sure staff and helpers in schools all have DBS forms. But is that little bit of paper a guarantee that the owner is perfectly safe to work with children or stop a person from being immoral? Is that bit of paper in fact only saying we have not caught this person doing anything nasty when the form was sent?
So the reality is that a DBS is no proof that someone is a good person, stops them from being a bad person or helps to catch them if they are being a bad person. So why spend all that time and money on something that becomes obsolete the moment it is put in the post. It is not a piece of paper that makes someone safe to work with children. It is their morality and character.
You would think if someone already holding a DBS commits a crime then surely the authorities should be telling employers, and surely in this age of technology it must be easier and quicker to verify if a potential employee has a criminal record?

This problem also extends to employing staff in schools. Our obsession with paper is one of the reasons we could be seeing a drop in those entering teaching.

One of the routes into education was mums (and a few dads) starting at school as dinner ladies (or men) and then stepping up to be a teaching assistant, or jumping straight in as a teaching assistant. After a while they would then take that step to becoming a teacher while still working at the school. This created a system that helped it maintain recruitment levels and supplied schools with local people who had a vested interest in the school.
But then came our obsession with paperwork. Suddenly it was no longer suitable to employ people and train them up on the job. Now you had to employ people who had a bit of paper to say they knew how to do the job!
But is that bit of paper really proof that someone is competent to do a job? Does that bit of paper tell you how long it took them to achieve it? Does it tell you if they struggled or found it easy? Does it tell you about their character or manner with children? Many people I know working in schools, some teachers, and even head teachers would never have imagined education as a career and entered it by starting as a class room assistant without a qualification and working their way up. Should we be trusting a bit of paper, or trusting out knowledge and instinct of people with a link to the school?

Schools and paperwork are like rabbits in a field. If schools suddenly went paperless the paper making industry, printer and photocopier manufactures and printer ink companies would go bankrupt over night! Yes, there is always going to be paperwork that is important and essential such as reports, but is it time we started to look at the paperwork that serves no real purpose or fulfils the role it should and make all our lives easier?

Or will we reach the point where if a global catastrophe took place most of the people in the developed world would just sit around until someone turned up with the right paperwork or the right qualification to rescue them?

Nicky Who?

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You would have thought there was a general election coming up!

Back in July 2014 Michael Gove was replaced by Nicky Morgan as education secretary. I said back then that it was all because of the upcoming election. I felt that Mrs Morgan was chosen because her party thought she appeared more “teacher friendly,” especially in a profession dominated by women.

I also predicted that she would do very little or say anything before the election to rock the boat with teachers. Michael Gove, irrelevant if his policies were a good idea or not made himself unpopular in the way he tried to deliver them. There also never seemed to be a week when he was not in the newspapers. The first thing Mrs Morgan said when she took over was that she wanted to repair the relationship between teachers and the government. Since then she’s been keeping a low profile.

She has made a few comments, but nothing headline hitting like Gove and no major policy changes. Her latest attempt to win teachers votes is the launch of a new “2015 DfE Character Awards.” A strange idea that seems to have no real use other than to promote the expectations of school staff to be social workers and psychologists.

Michael Gove may have tried to deliver his ideas with a sledgehammer, but at least once you looked at them carefully you noticed his ideas were aimed at improving the education and care of children. They were not poor attempts to make it look like he was doing something other than not trying to upset teachers and win their votes at the upcoming election.

If want to win back the teachers votes you would be better off sending every school a tin of biscuits for the staff room. Actually, it is January so you would be more popular at the moment if you offered them free membership to Slimmers World.

Achieving World Peace Or Getting A School Place. Which Is Easier?

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UK parents have just chosen the school they would like their child to attend when leaving primary school.
This always makes great headline news for local newspapers. Before you know it the pages are filled with pictures of a mother in Ugg boots and a velour track suit sitting on a sofa cuddling a child who looks like they have just been told Father Christmas is not bringing them that new pair of £150 trainers for Christmas. The article goes on to tell you how little Tyson-Billy-Bob and his mother Krystal-Rose are so distraught because he has not been offered a place at the nearest school and instead he will have to travel 5 miles to another school.
But while we sit there looking at the picture and thinking to ourselves “you willingly chose and paid money for that sofa!” it’s easy to forget that moving your child to a new school can now be harder than applying for political asylum and more stressful and worrying that being told you are part of the next production crew for Top Gear on their next foreign shoot.

Local authorities tend to think and plan in blocks of 4 years and profit is a higher priority than the welfare of the people. Why plan or worry any further when there is a good chance you will be voted out after that, and you need the money to cover up the holes in the budget caused by overspending on pointless projects. So when local authorities saw a dip in the number of children all they saw was money. Not bothering to see if there were trends in birth rates or considering there was a high chance that the number would increase again they jumped at the chance of closing schools and selling the ground for housing. Secondary schools now had double the amount of children, but buildings were not double the size. And much to the surprise of local authorities’ birth rates rose again.

This of course means not enough places for children, and the problem is only going to get worse.

As a parent this makes the very first step on choosing a new school extremely hard. With less choice available in some places of the UK you may not have a choice of more than 2. But if there are more children than places available then you are pure out of luck! What are the council going to do? Admit they made a big mistake and rebuild the school they closed down? Oh wait, there are houses there now! And they can’t extend the current schools because they sold off most of the playing fields for more housing. Wonder if they have enough space in their shed for a class of 30 kids we could rent?
So even though the form asks for 3 choices of schools you can only pick from 2. But which one do you put as your first choice? You have heard that the kids at that school have knife fights in the playground on regular basis, whereas someone told you the other school only use sharpened sticks!

And then what if you live in an area where there are still grammar schools? Do you put down the grammar school as first choice but then little Johnny or Suzie flunks badly? Will the other schools already be filled with children who put it as their first choice, or will the schools laugh and slam the door for putting them down as the second chance? What about if they fail by only a few points? Do you appeal and hope that get in and struggle to keep up for the next 6 years or pray the other school forgives you for thinking them as second rate and take your child? Maybe send the head teacher a lovely fruit basket and a bottle of wine?

But the trouble does not stop there. As part of the admissions policy there are a number of other factors to consider. Firstly there are children in care or being looked after (all schools must have this as a top priority,) then there are those who have siblings already in the school. Some schools also give priority to children from “feeder schools” and those of a particular faith or religion (schools were told this should no longer be a reason, but many ignore that advice and have it as a high priority.) So you could live next door to a school and still not get in if demand is high, and even then working out if you are in the catchment area can bring new nightmares! Some authorities measure it by a straight line from the school on a map, other measure it on the shortest route from the house to the school (If Johnny climbs Mrs Smith’s wall and nips through her garden we might get a place!)

Even if you get past all the legitimate reasons for admissions you may still have to deal with the more underhand tactics of other parents. For years there has been the very naughty practice of parents registering a grandparent’s or even friend’s address as the living residence of the child if they live close to the school. For the more wealthy parents they buy a house closer to the school that they rent out but claim as their residential address. And in some cases it has been known for better off parents to make a large “contribution” to school funds.

And if you think waiting to find out if you get the school place you want is stressful, wait till you try and buy black trousers and black shoes that don’t look like trainers for an 11 year old boy! You soon realise that hiring a group of mercenaries with weapons and overthrowing Mauritius is now looking like a more achievable target than sending a child to secondary school!

Desperate For Votes? Try Teacher Bashing!

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David Cameron has said that the Conservatives will sack failing head teachers and form a team of “super teachers” who will be sent into failing schools. He says that he wants all youngsters to enjoy the same “brilliant” education his children do and said no children should endure “second-rate” schooling.

Just three problems with his comments.

Firstly. Does he actually think that any teacher or headteacher wants their school to fail?

Secondly. Who decides a headteacher is failing? Is it based on figures or are we relying on OFSTED? As we have already pointed out OFSTED is not fit for purpose and their reports flawed.

Thirdly. If he want to sack failing governors, teachers and headteachers that’s fine. But before you do that you need to make sure that all schools are playing on a level field.

At the moment trying to compare the school his children attend with a school in East London is like trying to compare a night in the Hilton Hotel Presidential Suite with a night sleeping on the street. I doubt the children at the school Mr Cameron’s children attend: a) Live below the poverty line, b) Go out to play on the street when they get home, c) Lack support or help at home, d) Have a troubled home life, e) Cannot speak English.
And I doubt the school that Mr Cameron’s children attend: 1) Lacks funds, 2) Lacks resources, 3) Lacks a shortage of staff, 4) Has many children with special needs, 5) Is forced to keep children who are disruptive.

So before you go and sack any teachers or headteachers Mr Cameron allow them to do a job swap with those at your children’s school and then see how long your children’s teachers last with no resources, children with special needs or behavior problems and having to deal with confrontational parents. I would be surprised if they lasted more than 2 days!

If you really want to improve education Mr Cameron then you need to correct the society you MPs have created and stop expecting school staff to spend most of their time acting as social workers / psychiatrists / councilors and allow them to concentrate on teaching our children instead. As MPs you are not expected to run the country, clean the streets, repair street lights, sort people’s passport applications or asylum applications so.

You also need to give REAL powers back to schools to punish children and parents. You’re very keen to quickly enforce the punishment of parents for taking their children out of school on holiday, but you will not back the school quickly when they want to expel a child for violent behavior or punish the parent for not sending their child to school.

You want to win voters back, then stop trying to pass the blame to teachers. Stand up like a man and admit that the problem is really with the way the government wants children taught and what they want taught, a very poor inspection system, the unfair and uneven funding of schools, poor support from social services and other support services and changes in society.

I know this might seem a bit of a radical concept for Westminster, but if you fix the underlying real problems education will improve.

Does Good Design = Good Education

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Building Schools for the Future (BSF) and the Primary Capital Programme were created by the government to build new schools. 96 local authorities had signed up by the end of 2009. Then in 2010 the education secretary Michael Gove announced that the program was being shut down.

There was a large protest from those school down on the list to have their buildings updated. Some even taking the government to court to try and force them to build their new schools.

The programme was doomed before it had even started. To try and save money the government went into partnership with the private sector who created PFI’s (Private Finance Initiative.) While it appeared to look like a good deal for education services it allowed a group of financiers, construction companies and IT companies to take away the construction and facilities management and control of school buildings from the local authority and turn them into money makers for the next 30 years. And anybody who works in school management will tell you that given half the chance private companies over charge as much as possible.

You don’t have to be a financial genius to work out that the private companies over priced everything. This is why the budget went from £683 million in 1997 to £9.3 billion by 2010. So what should have saved money for the government not only cost them more but they also gave up control of the buildings and helped the private sector make money from it.

But bad a decision and management by the government (again!) and over pricing by the private sector were not the only problem.

With an open cheque book architects went mad with designs of the new school. Massive glass and metal cathedrals to modern education and architecture rose to replace the old brick buildings. Old reception desks replaced by ones that would make large companies jealous. Large open spaces were created with natural light and classrooms were replaced with open learning areas.

They were beautiful to look at.

And that was the problem. They looked great, but were they really that practical as a school? A cathedral is perfect for preaching, but is it suitable for teaching?

Schools need to be practical buildings designed for teaching, not just looking good. Classrooms need to be large enough to fit 30 people (not just children) to sit as one or break up into smaller groups with cupboards for storage. It all looks very nice having open planned teaching areas, but where 1 child could disrupt 30 children they can now disrupt 90, so classrooms need to be just that, rooms. Decent storage for P.E equipment, tables and chairs. A nice area for 6th formers to work. Plenty of small rooms to allow teachers to teach special needs groups or special projects. Design technology rooms with plenty of work benches and room for machinery. In primary schools you need proper cloak rooms. And do not forget a large staffroom with sun beds, a personal masseur and its own free Costa counter (Yeh! We wished!!) And large open decorative spaces look very nice, but it’s hard to control the temperature and in reality do children really notice or care about it? Is it just wasted space that is costing the school money to heat and could be put to better use? Children only really care about places that interest them, such as the playground or sports area. And even then it’s not so much the look of the area but the equipment or facilities in it.
There is nothing wrong with having nice quite seating areas with lots of plants or a pond. Or having a lovely grassed area with tables and benches for children to eat lunch outside. Even a nice reception area is a great for a school. But when they building hinders the education of the children, is expensive to run or really lacks being of any real benefit to the school or the children’s learning then are we just wasting money for the sack of image?

Clever Chinese kids! But UK kids can describe horse shit using 10 words!

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It seems that whenever someone wants to criticize British education they compare it to China’s. They point out how China is top of the world table while the UK sits down there in the 20s for reading, writing and science.

I have spoken already about how exams are a flawed method of gauging intelligence or ability. And if you was to speak to the parents of Chinese children they would agree.

Chinese education is more focused. Like the exam factory schools in the UK they are less worried about education and more worried about the end result. Many schools in the UK spend their time teaching children senseless, while our exam factory schools are only worried about league table places and the percentage of children passing their exams. In China they are concerned about preparing them for the real world and work.

In the UK it not just horse shit. It’s a humungous heaped steaming pungent mountain of brown stallion excrement. In China it’s just horse shit. And that’s the difference. In the UK we are more worried about if it will either get the school up the league table more, or how many different words can a child find to describe something simple. Chinese children grow up knowing no matter how many words you use to try and make it sound better, it’s still shit. They prefer to keep it simple and to the point.

So why would Chinese parents envy UK education if their children appear at the top of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) table?

They feel that the way their children are educated deprives them of the ability to learn leadership and problem solving skills. It inhibits their chance to evolve and find out their true potential and abilities. In the UK we worry about a figure on a piece of paper at the end of a child’s education.

So which would you choose? A child with a basic education better equipped for the real world when they leave school? Or a child allowed to express themselves and explore their potential and build their character, but filled with so much education that they are overwhelmed and leave school with a piece of paper and no real planned future?

Bad parenting or bad teaching? Which is to blame?

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The man who should know better, or know to the rest of the world as chief inspector of schools Sir Michael Wilshaw of Ofsted has yet again proved how out of touch he is with modern teaching and life.

His latest attempt at trying to deflect how ineffective OFSTED is has blamed teachers for lack of behaviour in class rooms. He believes too many teachers have come to believe that poor discipline is an inevitable part of life in the classroom and heads need to crack down on the problem.

In the early 1900’s teachers were held in high esteem and one of the pillars of local community. Locals would often ask them for advice or to represent them on matters outside of school. By the 1960’s this was changing. Better education among the working class combined with a change in attitude towards the class system and equality meant that as the years passed the public’s perception of teachers placed lower and lower in the ranks of the working class.

Their status was further diminished in 1987 when the government gave more rights to pupils than to teachers. It did not take children long to realise just how much power this gave them in school, and even worse, in many cases parents were supporting their child’s “rights” instead of supporting the teacher.

But the changes in society did not stop there.

Employers expect more work and hours for less pay. With both parents working and coming home after a long day at work they are sacrificing quality time with their children for either more work, housework, catching up with social media or just relaxing in front of the TV. The change in the work / home life balance means quality time together being replaced with expensive gifts such as tablets, phones or game consoles to keep children quiet and out of the way. There has been a rise in teenagers using motherhood as a tool to secure a house and benefit payments who are still more worried about spending time with friends than spending time with their children. We also saw the creation of the “best friend parent” who treat their children as adults and give them whatever they want as a payment for friendship and love. It has also brought about the Jeremy Kyle society. Parents whose combination of lifestyle and social media create personal problems but lack the maturity or intelligence to solve them. They spend so much time worrying about their trivial problems and turning it into a living soap opera that they stop caring for their children or notice if they need help or support.
And the latest is the “behaviour benefit parent.” The parent who tries the hardest to have their child statemented (A child needs special educational help at school for either learning or behaviour problems.) Not because their child actually needs it, but because it means they can claim extra benefits including a very high subsidy for a new car (for £9000 the government will top it up to £35,000 for a BMW.) These parents are even willing to put their children on drugs to obtain these benefits.

Children are not being conceived for love, they are being created as money makers, fashion items, new best friends or an afterthought. Instead we have created a generation of children where morals, boundaries and caring had been replaced by materialism, self-centeredness and insubordination.

It has also created a breed of parents who see schools as part of the “nanny state” always trying to tell them what to do. This makes them the enemy! Who do they think they are telling them what time their children have to be at school? When they can take their children out of school? Keeping their children behind after school for being naughty, and even having the cheek to imply that their child had been naughty or rude! These parents see it as their duty to stand up against anything the school says to them and automatically take their child’s side irrelevant of the truth.

So not only are schools trying to tackle bad behaviour they have to deal with antisocial outfall of modern life at the same time.

Sir Michael Wilshaw of all people knows that every school in the UK has a behaviour policy. But just because something it written on paper does not mean it will work as planned. For a policy to work it requires all those involved to follow the rules. It also fails if the ultimate outcome of that policy and procedure will always contradict the local authority’s or government’s policy.

In 1997 the labour Government acted on advice of an “expert” made in the 1970’s who said special schools should be closed and the children “integrated” into main stream schools. Despite the objection of the Conservative party at the time they carried on the policy when they got into power, despite the original author of the report, Baroness Warnock doing a U-turn on her policy and saying it was a “disastrous legacy of problem children in mainstream teaching”

As a result of this policy schools were flooded with children with behaviour problems. But local authority and government policies meant that no matter how bad these children were the schools could only expel them for a day or two. Only if their behaviour became really physical or a parent of a victim threatened action would the child be moved. But this often did not solve the problem, it just moved it and made it a problem for another school. By this time that one child had disrupted two classes. All the local authority and government care about are their figures for children excluded, because at the moment they don’t produce figures for children who disrupt a class during a lesson. I wonder how quick their attitude would change if they did?

So after looking at most of the reasons behind behaviour problems and the obstacles faced by teachers you now have to remember that they have up to 30 children in the class. Their main priority is the education of all the children, not to spend most of their time dealing with one child to try and get them to behave. And many schools can’t afford to employ staff or have the room to segregate these children. So what does Sir Michael Wilshaw think schools can do? Is he now expecting schools to take over the role of the social services, psychiatrists and family support and spend more time worrying about a handful of children instead of the majority? Or should he have the guts to stand up and tell the government that the problem is not with schools but with their lack of punishment of companies who flout the employment laws and bully staff, their lack of control of benefits, their lack of punishment for bad parenting and bad policy on closing special schools?

It’s obvious the problem is not with schools but with the government. So is the real purpose of OFSTED to try and shift that blame from the government to someone else? Maybe an easy target, such as education? Is that why Sir Michael Wilshaw seems to have forgotten so quickly what it is like to be a teacher or head teacher? Or at least the teacher or head of a school that can cherry pick it’s pupils and gets plenty of funding!