Collective Punishment

There’s an image doing the rounds on Twitter, wherein a girl, asked about “things my teacher can do better,” replies with “collective punishment.”

“It’s not fair,” she says, “on the many people who did nothing wrong.”

I get it. I do. I understand the unfairness; I also understand that for a certain type of pupil, the meek and the geek, it can be particularly difficult. Maybe they didn’t even know that the event occasioning the punishment happened; or maybe they did, and feel pressure from the more dominant members of a class to keep quiet, whether or not that pressure is articulated.

And yet I’m not convinced.

Yes, I know, I’m a monster, unfit to be responsible for the education of the young.

But is this always and everywhere the case? Really?

Let me give you a case study. It happens to be a true story of something which happened earlier this term.

Imagine a class of fourteen-year-old boys. They’re in a Chemistry lesson, doing a ‘practical.’ And one of them, in direct defiance of an explicit instruction, pours water over a chemical compound, thereby causing a minor incident.

No, the school did not blow up. There was a fizz and a stench, a little disorder and a number of angry Chemistry teachers and laboratory technicians.

And no, none of this is the teacher’s fault. I know that’s what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong, because even if you think that there’s no way what you just read could possibly be true, I didn’t ask you to believe that I’m telling you the truth. I just asked you to imagine. So imagine.

Now. I want you also to imagine that this happened on one of those long science-lab benches, with a third of the class gathered around the incident. One boy knows who committed the offence, because he did it. Several others know who committed the offence, because they witnessed it.

Still with me? Good.

Right, a little more imagination is required. I want you to imagine that the Chemistry teacher then asked the boys around that table who was responsible for the incident, and that all of them shrugged and indicated that they did not know.

Do you believe them?

Nor do I.

Look – in the real world you’ve won on this one. I know. As it happened, the Chemistry teacher kept those boys back at break and detained them for some time while they refused to identify the malefactor. As the boys’ tutor, I confined them to the form room at lunchtime while they persisted in their observation of omerta.

I’ll tell you what I told them, which is that in being so unreasonable I was actually giving them the opportunity to be the perverted heroes they clearly considered themselves to be, standing by their preposterous little Code of the Schoolyard in not ‘grassing’: for this to be morally praiseworthy, I said, they did actually have to suffer somewhat for their principles.

No, I don’t think they were persuaded either.

And sure enough, nor were their parents. Or at least nor was one mother, who angrily telephoned me that afternoon, complaining that her son had been punished for something he hadn’t done. I don’t think she liked it when I told her that actually he had at the very least concealed the identity of a boy who had been at the very least grossly negligent in what must be one of the most dangerous parts of the school. Fortunately I have a terrific Head of Year to support me, though (as far as I’m aware) it never got that far: I conceded on the telephone to her that while I did not consider this punishment to be wrong, I was well aware that this is no longer the conventional wisdom, and that consequently I would not be extending this period of collective punishment.

This means that the offender has essentially got away with it. He had a few minutes in a classroom instead of the full school detention which his conduct would, if uncovered, have incurred.

You disapprove of me, I can tell. But what’s your answer here?

It’s better that a hundred guilty men go free than that an innocent man is unjustly punished?

Well, you say that. But if you’re going to rely on comparisons with criminal justice then be careful. I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know if, had this behaviour constituted a criminal offence, the entire group would been liable to prosecution under the principle of ‘joint enterprise’. I’ll bet, though, that there would be some principle which would enable some punishment: if a group of people are known to have committed a crime, and are covering up for each other, the law does not shrug and allow them all to escape punishment.

Ah, but it’s unfair on those who didn’t do it for them to be punished.

Is it?

They know who did it. They’re covering up for him. Are they scared of the consequences of informing on their peers? Maybe, but they can do it anonymously, and in this the electronic age that has never been easier.

Let’s not kid ourselves. This incident isn’t one of those issues which – however reasonable the rules and their justification may seem to us – a pupil can tell himself is a piffling school rule which has no moral or logical backing. I’m not asking a pupil to reveal the identity of the owner of a packet of cigarettes, or of the artist who drew an unflattering picture of me on my whiteboard, or of the idler who bunked off a cross-country run. Mucking around with chemicals is a quite different matter. The pupil who refuses to disclose his knowledge of it is doing something dangerous as well as morally wrong, and the more we as teachers accept such behaviour as normal – which, like it or not, is what we’re doing when we see it happening and do not intervene to punish those who do it – the worse it’ll get.

So sure. Congratulate yourself on being better than the dinosaurs who impose collective punishment. But I don’t think you’re as morally superior as you think you are.

Good Innovation

Education is particularly vulnerable, I think, to snake oil. However short schools may be of funds, this is a multi-million-pound sector. State provision of primary and secondary education may be free at the point of delivery, but private tutoring isn’t, and nor are pre-school and tertiary education. At least a very significant minority of people have therefore paid at least something for their children’s education, or for their own.

Outside of this, there are innumerable companies selling allegedly educational products.

Now where you get a market, you get charlatans. And a customer – especially one buying for his children – must be aware of this.

When I say this to classes, they take a sharp intake of breath, and I get accused of being some kind of soixante-huitard socialist. Quite the reverse, I tell them. For a free market to work, the consumer must be sceptical and discriminating. So yes, of course I’ll tell my children that advertisements are not to be trusted, and that products can disappoint them in all sorts of ways. That’s not being anti-market: it’s being profoundly pro-market. If free markets really are just a way for the businessman to rinse the general public then perhaps we really should embrace full-blooded socialism … but do you really think that your local curry-house proprietor is ripping you off every week? Do you think the state would do a better job? C’mon. Of course you don’t. Markets are essential.

In the Friedmans’ Free to Choose the authors explain that there are four ways of spending money:

You spend your own money on yourself;

You spend someone else’s money on yourself;

You spend your own money on someone else;

You spend someone else’s money on someone else.

With the first being the most efficient, and the fourth the least.

Now I’m not on Team Anarcho-Capitalist. I’ll concede that there’s a place for expense accounts and for gifts. And I accept that sometimes the state must spend our money. No one really thinks that roads or armed services should be privatised, do they? Not outside of thought experiments.

And clearly education can thrive in a free market: the Head Masters’ Conference will smugly remind you, just as they’ll remind you that the right to buy their products is a human right. But there are some obvious problems with the operation of a pure free market in education. And this isn’t just about the inequities that can arise: a supporter of free markets must appreciate that information is particularly asymmetrical when it comes to buying education. How do you know if your children’s school was the right investment decision? And when? Good luck answering that one.

Still. We have a real problem in the education market. There is far too much Category Four spending going on. People are spending other people’s money (be it the taxpayer or the feepayer) on other people (our pupils). And so, just as the Friedmans predicted, some dreadful decisions are being made.

Consultants, of course, of all kinds. Interactive Whiteboards. Virtual Learning Environments. Tablets. The latest wheeze to come to my school has been companies flogging software which purports to identify pupils at risk of mental health difficulties on the basis of their answers to questions like ‘imagine you’re in a space – do you want people in your space?’ Thousands of pounds, that one costs. Extraordinary.

All accompanied with the usual hard sell and with no hard evidence. Do you think mental health is important? The school which isn’t moving forward is moving backward. This is twenty-first century learning, preparing pupils for jobs which haven’t yet been invented.

Are decision-makers in schools uniquely gullible? I doubt it. Is it because schools aren’t in a proper free market, but are protected from going bust? Maybe, though that doesn’t apply to independent schools, which have been enthusiastic adopters of some of the costliest of these innovations.

I’m inclined, I’m afraid, to attribute quite a lot of the preposterous new initiatives under which we mere grunts in the classroom groan to the incentive structures in place in too many schools. Our headmaster, in his wisdom, has deemed that it is not enough for each year group to have a head of year: each must also have a deputy head of year.

Heads of Year tend to like this. They can pass off all the tedious jobs which they don’t want to do. Deputy Heads of Year tend to like it too: they’ve got a promotion and, therefore, a headstart when it comes to preparing their own applications to become real pastoral ‘leaders’.

I don’t like it. The new deputy heads of year all know that when they come to be appraised, or apply for another promotion, they will be asked about their record. Now were I a Head Master, I’d ask the question about initiatives, and I would appoint on the spot the candidate who said ‘you know what, Head Master? I haven’t introduced any initiatives, because proper pastoral care isn’t about innovation: it’s about getting to know the pupils, pre-empting any problems that can be pre-empted and handling those that can’t, and introducing an initiative is no substitute for spending that time developing relationships with the pupils you teach.’

But I’m not a Head Master, and I’m not going to be one, and unfortunately they tend, outrageously, to disagree with me.

Now, though, we have two pastoral leaders, doing one job. They have time on their hands to prepare innovations. And it’s we ordinary tutors who must carry it out. This isn’t just gimmickry like pupil self-assessment, ‘mindfulness’ and ‘metacognition,’ by the way: my deputy head of year’s most recent initiative was establishing a lunchtime activity of…

…football. In the sports hall. Tutors to supervise.

This is what happens when innovation is fetishised. Someone really thinks that what a bunch of thirteen-year-old boys need is for someone to formally organise a lunchtime game of football.

Anyway. I’m a thousand words in and I still haven’t got to my point.

Except to say that most of the time innovations make things worse, but persist because they suit someone’s curriculum vitae.

Well – this weekend I encountered a different type of innovation, and it pleased me.

The innovation concerned cricket.

Our lower-ranked (B & C) teams played a different type of match. Normally they’d play a thirty-over game: one side bats for thirty overs, then the other side does likewise, and whoever scores most runs wins.

The new style game was different. Instead, Team X would bat for fifteen overs. Then Team Y would bat for fifteen overs. Then Team X again, and then Team Y again. The batting order would be reversed for each team’s second innings.

This, I thought, as our game concluded, was a very good example of how innovation should happen.

Firstly, a problem was identified.

Now I love cricket. But it can be a dog of a game if you’re significantly worse than those around you. A player who’s not all that good goes out to bat, gets himself out, and doesn’t get to bat again. He might well not get to bowl either. He may well spend his time in the field at fine leg where he can’t mess up too badly. This phenomenon is particularly marked when teenage captains are given too much responsibility: most of the boys in a sports team will have worked out what they consider to be the hierarchy of ability in their own minds, they will agree with each other, and they will be brutal to those at the bottom of the pecking order. The result, too often, is that players don’t have much fun, and drift away from the game.

Even without this, there’s a bit of a design flaw in cricket. If one side is significantly better than the other, but the worse side bats first, the game can be over rather quickly, and only a few players will have got to bowl or bat. Coaches will often try to avoid such scenarios, but you don’t always know if one side is going to outclass the other, and it’s generally not a good idea to tell a team before a game that the opposition will be hopeless. I have been involved in cricket matches where one side gets bowled out for thirtysomething runs in a few overs, the other side chases it down easily, and no one gets much out of it.

In response to the problem, an innovation which was designed to mitigate the problems was introduced. With this new format a side which bowls out the opposition cheaply doesn’t just knock off the runs and go home: they get to bat for longer, so individuals have more involvement. The inferior side does then get another crack at batting: yes, they might get bowled out again, but at least they’ll have had a bit more of a game, and the superior side will be able, in the second innings, knowing what they’re up against, to give a bowl to players who wouldn’t normally get one. No one can guarantee that every player will get a bat without turning the game into a taking-turns exercise of the type that people who want to play competitive sports don’t want to play. But at least the new format does away with the phenomenon of the player who gets stuck batting at eleven (or twelve, if – as my school does – you always pick twelve players to ‘maximise participation’) and doesn’t move from that position all season.

It might stay; it might not. It might be extended; it might not. We’ll see. But it’s not being made a big fuss of. There have been no whole-staff meetings in which we’ve been told that This Is The Future, and We Are All Onside With This, as has happened with other innovations at my place of employment. Quietly, someone is making a carefully-planned amendment to how we do things in order to see if it’ll make things better.

This is how innovation should be.

Empathy, Whitby & War

On Twitter, Ben Newmark (@bennewmark, as I’m sure anyone reading this knows) just asked:

Is imagining yourself as a person in the past a useful aim of history lessons in schools?

I wanted to reply, but I had too much to say. Here’s what I think.

Obviously the whole genre of ‘imagine you’re Anne Frank / a soldier of the Great War / a mediaeval peasant’ questions has given rise to some dismal history lessons, and I’m completely on Team This Is A Waste Of Time At Best, And Actively Damaging At Worst.

But I do think the exercise can be valuable.

I’ll give you a couple of examples.

I remember, as an undergraduate, studying the age of Bede, and reading somewhere – and I can’t remember where, which irritates me, but I suppose it doesn’t matter – that there is a great deal of discussion about what was really going on at the Synod of Whitby. Were the advocates of adopting the Roman rather than the Irish dating of Easter motivated by political expediency, or cultural identity, or was there some other reason for people to support one side or the other. And the historian (it so irks me that I’ve forgotten the name) then wrote that while all these things may have mattered, they also missed a very big point, which is that the participants really did care about getting the dating of Easter right.

This was, for me, a salutary lesson which I’ve tried to remember, and to pass on to the pupils I teach. Just because the occupant of a twenty-first century classroom finds it hard to believe that people found something important doesn’t mean that they didn’t.

For me, ‘Imagine you’re an Irish cleric at the Synod of Whitby. What are your feelings?’ is not a terrible question. Pupils will get the answer wrong. They will implicitly assume that what motivates them is what motivated the people they’re trying to empathise with. If the teacher doesn’t correct them, then I agree that this is unhelpful. But a teacher who explains that actually no, that’s not what these people believed, and this is why, is doing an important job.

It’s going to get more controversial.

This is why I don’t think that ‘who had the best claim to the throne in 1066?’ is a terrible question either. Of course what the pupil in the modern classroom thinks will be a long way from the actual considerations of the mid-eleventh century. But I think it can be very helpful to say ‘Well yes, today we would think of Edgar as having the ‘best’ claim. This wasn’t the case in 1066, and here’s why not. It wasn’t really the case in 1199 either, though perhaps the murkiness of the rules of succession contributed to King John killing his nephew Arthur who, according to the strict application of male-preference primogeniture, had a better claim to the throne. But it was the case by 1377, by which time no one thinks that Richard II isn’t the rightful king despite being younger than Arthur and Edgar. Why? What changed?’

Now maybe that’s a discussion to have when considering 1377, not 1066. But perhaps considering the issue in 1066, and in 1199, and then again in 1377, is no bad thing.

I’m going to go even further.

Sometimes trying to put yourself in an historical figure’s shoes is worth doing to understand why things happen the way they do.

Niall Ferguson, in The Pity of War, writes about how in the last year of the First World War the British take a decision to try to take German prisoners and to treat them well. Why does this make a difference?

At that point I ask a class to imagine that they are a soldier. They are to prioritise the following outcomes:

Your country wins the war, you survive;

Your country wins the war, you die;

Your country loses the war, you survive

Your country loses the war, you die.

Now it might not quite be an iron law of military history, but I’d be so bold as to say that it’s as close as history gets to one, to say the following. In war, everyone can agree that Outcome One is the best, and Outcome Four the worst. But for individual soldiers, Outcome Three is preferable to Outcome Two, whereas for rulers and military leaders Outcome Two is preferable to Outcome Three.

Now I could, as they say, just tell ’em. And sometimes I do just tell ’em. But this is one of those areas where I think it’s fair to say that the dilemma, such as it is, is – well, I don’t want to say universal. But nearly universal.

And I think it helps young historians to think about this when they think about how and why military training, and social forces, act the way they do. The USSR gave its soldiers a grim (and very ‘materialist’ in the Marxist sense) choice: advance and risk dying, or don’t and guarantee it because you’ll be shot by your own officers. Pals’ Battalions were a rather different way of getting men to set aside their own interest and prioritise Outcome Two over Outcome Three. Social stigmas could help too: what is The Battle of Maldon but an Anglo-Saxon way of telling young men that there could be no greater honour than to prefer Outcome Two to Outcome Three? Or those Spartan mothers telling their sons to return with their shields or not at all?

Sometimes people in the past had very different outlooks to us. Sometimes they didn’t. And I think carefully exploring that in the classroom is, as Sellar & Yeatman said, A Good Thing.

Study Leave

Soon my Fifth Form and Lower Sixth pupils will be going on study leave.

I am amazed that study leave still exists. Especially in the private sector. I do occasionally hear of parental complaints about study leave, but reading between the lines of the only ‘official’ (and perhaps pre-emptive) response to these complaints it seems that they are centred around the principle that it is rather cheeky for a school to charge a full term’s tuition fees when the consumer is sent home to revise before even half of that term is completed.

It’s easy for me to say, because I’m not paying the fees, but were I one of these parents the money wouldn’t be what animated me. (I suppose I’d expect that my status as a paying customer would lead my children’s school to take me more seriously though.) I’d be sceptical about the idea that sending teenagers home to work independently on their revision would result in them using their time more wisely than would be the case were they still under their teachers’ supervision.

But this isn’t what they think.

(Well. Discuss. It may well be that actually the majority do think this, but that they aren’t prepared to make a fuss about it, and so the noisy minority prevails. It’s possible. This seems to be what happened with smoking in public houses. By the time it was formally banned smokers were a minority even of pub-goers. Yet the market had not responded. Did the smokers care more about smoking than the non-smokers cared about their dry-cleaning bills? Or was grumbling about smoking socially unacceptable, in the way that lighting up in a restaurant would now be considered socially unacceptable? I don’t know. But that’s my best guess.)

So to be more precise, perhaps it would be better to say that independent schools are clearly not under irresistible pressure to scrap the institution of study leave: were they, more would have done so.As a mere teacher I suppose I also have a skewed view of this. I do not receive missives of complaint about my employer’s policy on study leave. I do, though, and it’s starting already, notice increasing numbers of pupils who will soon be sitting public examinations effectively granting themselves early study leave. The number of pupils who are appearing on registers as absent through illness is always entertainingly high in the last period of study leave.

Why do parents connive in it?

Presumably some of the illness is designed to fool parents.

Some of it may, indeed, violate Richard Feynman’s famous injunction. “You must not fool yourself,” he warned, “and you are the easiest person to fool.” It occurs to me that there are plenty of pupils who have successfully kidded themselves that they really will work more effectively at home, and if they have to feign illness to their parents, well, they’ve had the better part of a decade’s practice at that particular trick.

But much of it is pure cynicism. A pupil tells a parent that he will work better at home than at school. He’ll craft a plausible patter. It’s an hour on the bus each way, plus break and lunch times, so I’ll have more working time here; revision lessons are too hard/easy, or they focus on things I haven’t started revising yet, but I worked out my own revision timetable just like I was told, and you’ve seen it, haven’t you? No point in me going in for lessons I won’t get / things I already know really well. And Mr Grumpy isn’t even in school today, he’s on the First Form Religious Studies trip. Or a course. Or paternity leave. Or he’s off sick. And I also have a free – I mean a study period – and one of my other lessons is Spanish and I know I’m dropping that anyway and the exam isn’t until after half-term.And the parent believes him.

You know what I did on study leave?

I did some studying. But not, truth be told, a great deal. I spent more time reading.

Why? Because there was no internet. There were computer games, but they were limited, and a normal teenager would get bored by his collection within an hour. (I think my family bought its first console when I was around ten. It had a football game and I remember drawing up complicated World Cup tournaments. But I never finished a tournament: the game just couldn’t hold my interest for long enough.)

So it’s not that I was some sort of model student. I wasn’t. I didn’t see the point of the sciences, and I didn’t revise them much. I thought I knew everything anyone could possibly know about history, and everyone knows you can’t revise for English exams.*

But I was in the house all by myself. Once done with schoolwork, the only thing to do was make a cup of tea, have a biscuit … and read. You couldn’t telephone people for long: the bill would be astronomical. There was no text messaging. (Those of us who did Politics knew what a ‘pager’ was, because New Labour made them notorious, but none of us had ever actually seen one, never mind possess one.)

At the end of my study leave I’d done a lot of reading. It might not have been as effective a form of revision as actually doing Physics past papers, but it was certainly better than what the twenty-first century learner is doing.

The twenty-first century learner can play Call of Duty, or Fifa, or whatever the most popular game de nos jours is, all day. Because computer games are that much better. They can hold the attention for that much longer. They can go onto social media – where they’ll find everyone else who is also on study leave – and gossip, or cyberbully each other, or share films which might be funny, scurrilous or pornographic.

I am amazed that parents appear not to be wise to this. Maybe they are, but they don’t want to make a fuss. After all, the institution of study leave is welcomed by teachers (don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted that it’s happening, and the utter tedium of going over past papers yet again will soon be over) and pupils alike. But I do also wonder if it’s not time to scrap it.

*Yes, I know.

The School Trip

I’ve just read this. Which reminded me of my best school trip story.

Our (I)GCSE History course begins with the First World War, and so, in common with many schools, at the beginning of the October half-term we take a group of Fourth Form pupils to the battlefields of the Western Front.

We start very early on the Saturday, and if I didn’t have a four-year-old and a two-year-old I’d be able to use the six o’clock meeting time as an excuse for what happened one year. Unfortunately I do, so I can’t.

I’m a generally helpful sort of bloke, so as the pupils arrived I ticked their names off. All present and correct. As we settled on the coach I carried out one more register. Yes. Every name called, every boy present.

Okay, I told the tour leader, all present and correct. Ready to go.

Off we went.

The first leg of the journey was unexceptional. It being six o’clock on a Saturday morning there was no traffic, and we made it to the Eurotunnel terminal with plenty of time to spare. So we went in and had a full English breakfast. Right, I told the boys: back on the coach in forty-five minutes.

Forty-four minutes later I’m standing at the coach door counting them on.

Forty-seven, I told the Head of History and the tour leader.

Forty-seven?

Forty-seven.

There are only forty-six on the list.

Okay, I said. I must have miscounted. Easily done. I’ll recount.

I walked up the aisle. Counted them from the front of the coach to the back. Forty-seven. Then from the back to the front. Forty-seven.

Right. We appear to have one extra.

I will always appreciate these colleagues of mine for never once asking me why on earth I didn’t count them back at school. I would, I suppose, have defended myself by saying that missing pupils are to be expected, whereas whoever heard of someone trying to stow away on a school trip? Even so, they must have been cursing my feckless irresponsibility.

So up I stand, and address the boys.

Please don’t make me have you all stand up, then read out your names, and see who’s the last one standing. Who is not supposed to be on this trip?

A boy sheepishly raises his hand.

“You didn’t call my name sir. I think it might be me.”

Pupil lists are checked. It was indeed him.

Do you have your passport?

Yes.

EHIC card?

Yes.

Wellington boots?

Yes.

But we don’t have a consent form. We don’t have a dietary requirements form. We don’t have a medical form. Are you allergic to anything? What don’t you eat?

Nothing sir, I’m fine. No allergies. I eat everything.

All right. But what are you doing on this trip?

Well. I thought everyone who did History was on it?

(That’s what we recommend. But it’s during half-term. Families have other plans. It’s not a Geography field trip. They don’t have to come.)

But where are your forms? How did your parents know to drop you off at six o’clock this morning?

Well, they asked Jim’s mum. She knew all the details.

Oh.

Out come the smartphones. No, his parents weren’t sent the emails which went to everyone who’d signed up for the trip. We’d had no communication with them at all.

And because we don’t have his paperwork, we don’t have his parents’ telephone number to contact them and ask what on earth is going on.

But he’s got a mobile phone, right? All teenagers do. And it’ll have his parents’ numbers.

“No sir. My mum said I couldn’t take my phone. She didn’t want me racking up data charges or making calls abroad. Said I’d be fine without a phone for three days.”

But you know their mobile numbers, right?

No. I don’t need to. They’re on my phone.

What about your home number?

Oh yes.

(By this stage we’re about to go through passport control.)

We call his parents. No answer.

“No sir, there wouldn’t be. They’re going away for the weekend.”

As the alternatives were leaving him in Folkestone or abandoning the trip we took him.

Leaving

This is my forty-second and last term as a teacher.

I don’t want it to be. But last year’s referendum means that it will be.

My wife is an EU national. German, since you ask.

She came here eight years ago, to marry me. She’s a lawyer, and thereby entitled to practise law in the UK because EU law requires mutual recognition of such qualifications.

Since then she’s worked ‘in house’ for a bank. She has just been promoted.

But she’s also been offered a relocation to Frankfurt. And she’s going to accept it, and I’m going with her.

Why has she been offered this relocation? Her firm already has a Frankfurt office, and they are, of course, making contigency plans for the UK’s withdrawal from the Single Market.

Does she have to go? No. She could continue in her job here. I don’t really think, much as our Prime Minister loves a good deportation, that in the absence of a deal there will actually be a repatriation of EU citizens. Mrs Grumpy is the mother of two British citizens, the wife of another, and in permanent full-time employment. I’d like to think that if anyone is safe, she is.

Can we apply for permanent residency? The Home Office is discouraging it. Mrs Grumpy has been here for more than five years, but it might be that she cannot satisfy the now-infamous health insurance criterion: she has twice been on maternity leave. Does that count? We don’t know. I expect she’d also struggle to provide a comprehensive record of absence from this country: she has returned to the Fatherland on both business and pleasure several times each year. Perhaps we could use bank and credit card statements to establish just when and for how long. Hopefully. We don’t know.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has now twice emailed its members to say ‘we know lots of you are worried about whether you’ll be able to be registered with us after the UK leaves the EU: we can’t give you an answer at the moment.’ So there is at least a chance that she will no longer be able to practise law after Brexit. This might make it difficult for her to find another job. Not that she’s looking for one at the moment, but it may be that her firm does rather less from this country in future, and again the answer is that we don’t know.

Could we take the hit if an officious border guard, post-Brexit, decides that Mrs Grumpy should be detained at Heathrow after flying back from a meeting, or seeing our family? I suppose so. I’m well aware that many people who don’t have the advantages of coming from a wealthy white country have to worry about this. If she’s coming back with our children, would their British passports make a difference? We don’t know.

What happens if we divorce? Or indeed if I die? Does she get to bring her new German spouse to live here? Or can my mother-in-law move here to help bring up our children? We don’t know.

Fortunately, we have a relatively easy way out.

Eighty years ago my Jewish grandparents arrived here as refugees. They were German citizens, and as part of its determination to atone for the past the Federal Republic has a policy that it will restore the citizenship, not just of those who lost it during the National Socialist period, but their descendants too. So after the referendum I filled in a few forms, procured a few documents, and presented them to the German Embassy in London; and by the end of the year I had received my certificate of naturalisation. (Or, to use the German term, of Wiedereinbürgerung – becoming a citizen again.) So we’re lucky actually: I can emigrate to Germany without difficulty.

I’m pretty peeved that it’s come to this. Our family is, or at least we thought it was, a settled part of our community. It’s not just that my wife works, obeys the law, and pays her taxes. She volunteers at a local primary school, listening to children read. The birth of two children has embedded her, through those groups of new mothers which are forged by health visitors, in village life.

In some ways she’ll never be fully English, of course. Her tea-making is still shocking. And, having arrived in 2009, she doesn’t quite ‘get’ the feeling that an Ashes victory over Australia really is a cause for massive celebration: she can, of course, intellectually grasp that this isn’t traditionally a contest of equals, that people of our age spent their entire adolescents getting a hammering off the Australians, and that we remain convinced even from the most commanding of positions that the England team will somehow manage to foul things up – she understands this when I explain it to her, but I know that secretly she just can’t quite see why we get so worked up about beating a mediocre Australian side.

In some ways, though, she really is. Her German accent is nearly gone: it only really emerges when she watches the Six Nations on television, and shouts, like a female Brian Moore, “Referee! From the side!” (Yes, she knows the laws of rugby union. I told you. She’s integrated.) She’s a monarchist who proudly showed her parents around the royal sites of London, and spent William & Kate’s wedding day glued (as they used to say) to the television. And she has become very attached to the Church of England. Perhaps we don’t appreciate this sort of thing enough, but when she’s told that ‘all communicant members of Christian churches’ does indeed include her (she’s Catholic) and that of course she is welcome to take Holy Communion in our parish church, then yes, she feels very much part of this country.

But not any more.

Before the referendum campaign it seemed that there were two types of Leaver: the souverainistes and the Faragists. I can remember when eurosceptics were obsessed with sovereignty and intensely relaxed about immigration.

There is still a clear distinction, of course. But as Vote Leave embraced the anti-immigration agenda there was a distinct change in approach from souverainistes. They appeared to discover – or to voice – for the first time the dangers of immigration.

I don’t think we’re a threat to social cohesion. I don’t think that our Leave-voting friends think so either. But they had a choice to make.

Am I disappointed that they voted as they did? Of course. I wish they’d thought of us and our situation and made it a higher priority. Can I blame them? Of course not. I celebrated Labour’s 1997 General Election victory – I’d have voted Labour, but was just too young – even though I knew that Labour’s education policy would deprive my best friend’s youngest brother of an assisted place at our independent school. I’ve no moral high ground to stand on.

Some Leavers are, I know, embarrassed that they associated with Nigel Farage and his anti-immigration agenda. But not that many, actually. To win the referendum it became necessary to argue that immigration from the EU was bad; and so a fair number of people conveniently found that they believed the arguments they were making. And faced with the difficulty of explaining how the Westminster system was more democratic than the institutions of the European Union, they fell back on the only explanation which made sense: democracy depends on the nation state.

Is it an intellectually coherent position to hold that immigration is bad? Of course it is. I don’t agree with it, but nor do I claim that those holding it are racist, or ignorant, or wicked.

(I am, though, a little suspicious of those who argue that free movement of people does great damage to the social fabric of the community, even if on aggregate it brings economic benefit, and that it should therefore be restricted, if they don’t also accept that free movement of goods and services and capital do too.)

I don’t think the 52%’s views are illegitimate. I accept that the UK will be leaving the EU. I see that there is a mandate for a ‘hard Brexit’ or, if you prefer, a ‘clean Brexit’. The people have spoken. I don’t like referendums, but we’re about to elect a House of Commons which will have an overwhelming mandate to take the UK out of the EU.

And yet I’m somehow cheered by my fellow Remoaning Remainiacs. It does provide me with some solace to go on to Twitter and to see that others are as distraught as I am.

Because much as I agree that the will of the people is clear, my family can’t be part of this society any more. It’s not just that all sorts of things might happen in years to come, though they might, and if they do then the longer we leave it the worse it’ll be for our children (currently four and two): at the moment they’re young enough to adapt easily to a new country, a new culture, a new language.

No, it’s more that we’re not wanted here. Eight years ago my wife left her country to come here. Now it’s time for me to return the favour. I can’t expect her to stay here while we discuss just what position in society she ought to be permitted.

So we’re off. This summer, we’re moving to Frankfurt. I have a TEFL course lined up and hopefully I’ll pick up some work teaching English as a foreign language. Maybe I’ll write a book: I’ve produced enough of my own teaching resources over fourteen years to think I might be able to produce a decent textbook or two. I’m hoping to join a rugby club (yes, there are some). I’m going to work on my German. And we’ll see what happens.

I’ll miss teaching History and Politics. I’ll miss coaching rugby and cricket. I’ll miss my colleagues and my pupils. And I’ll miss England.

Just One Paragraph

I’ve been reading this and this.

Like everyone with a blog, I’m convinced that everyone wants to know what I think about things, unless they’re suffering from the sort of false consciousness which might be dispelled if only they were to discover my oeuvre. And although I don’t have much to add to these blogs, I can’t condense it into a tweet, so here we go.

I entirely agree with both Cox & Quigley that issuing past papers to pupils, especially towards the beginning of a two-year course, can be counter-productive.

I like their sporting analogies. I’m not the right shape to think about running a marathon, but even I know that I wouldn’t train for one by running marathons. And I know enough about coaching young footballers to know that while there’s plenty of easy popularity to be had by saying ‘today let’s not do any drills at all, let’s just play a match’ (which is, I suppose, where a comparison with doing a past paper in class breaks down) this isn’t the way to helping them improve their football.

While Quigley & Cox refer to GCSEs, I’m going to talk about A Level History, in which many papers consist of nothing more than a few essay questions.

There is, in History, a big jump between GCSE and A Level. Much of this is because of the amount of reading a student has to do. But there’s also the nature of the writing.

At GCSE, there are questions which pupils call ‘essays’. But they aren’t really essays. They’ll ask a ‘yes/no’ question, which can be answered with a one-sentence introduction, a paragraph arguing both sides, and a conclusion which, ideally, plumps for one interpretation or the other. They get twenty minutes to do it.

To progress from that to producing an essay with four or five central paragraphs in addition to an introduction and a conclusion, often ‘thematically’ structured, is something which many sixteen-year-olds find very difficult.

For a long time I used to go ahead and set them essays anyway. They had to learn, after all. When I studied A Level History I was writing essays from a couple of weeks in, and if it was good enough for me it was good enough for them. And the material to be covered at the beginning of the course was just as important, and to be assessed in just as demanding a way, as the material to be covered at the end of the course. I had to set essays on the ancien régime because the exam board might do so.

And it was a bad use of our time. I received lots of bad essays, which in their turn received lots of red ink, and if the education blogosphere and Twittersphere has taught me anything, it’s that when I thought that my ungrateful pupils seemed to be learning absolutely nothing from the hours I put into marking their essays, I was onto something.

So I started taking another approach, and it’s one I still do today.

I’ll set an essay, to the whole class.

I’ll get each individual to jot down a plan. A brief plan. So if our question is ‘why did William of Normandy succeed in conquering England’ then a plan might look like this:

-Because of his military skills;

-Because Harold Godwinson fouled up;

-Because of the treachery of certain Englishmen;

-Because of Harald Hardrada’s intervention;

-Because he got lucky.

Pupils will suggest other approaches. Some of those will be sensible, and we can talk about why. Some won’t, and we can talk about why. This, I think, is quite important. It ought to stop at least some pupils from pouring their energies into doomed strategies.

Anyway. We agree on a common approach. Or, if I’m feeling generous, I agree that two or three approaches would be acceptable.

We then agree on a line we’re going to take. (Occasionally a pupil will vehemently disagree with this line. This always pleases me. I might let him disagree or I might tell him that this time he’s going to do it my way, because I’m right and he’s wrong. It doesn’t really matter.)

I’ll write them an introduction on the spot. Turn on the computer and the projector, open up Word, type it out in front of them. Don’t bother to write it down, I’ll email it to you. Perfect Introduction Dot Doc. Good name for a document.

And then I’ll tell them to write just one paragraph of the essay. Yes, right now, because once you think you’ve written it, bring it to me, and we’ll talk about it.

I don’t get through all the paragraphs in a lesson. But I’ll get through some, and the rest won’t take me long to read, because they only consist of one paragraph. So I can give much more effective feedback on a small part of the task.

But if they’re getting something wrong about the techniques of writing essays (rather than about the history) it’ll probably show up in that one paragraph. They’ll pick a paragraph which they think they can tackle, after all. They’ll probably be able to state a case. They’ll probably be able to explain it. They might well know what factual evidence to supply in support. They might even have a caveat to deploy. (And if they can’t, that’ll show up too.) With just one paragraph it’s realistically possible to provide ‘surgical’ marking which identifies precisely where and how the technique can be improved.

Seems to work for me, anyway.

The Grammar School Question

Declaring one’s own educational background appears to be a prerequisite for participation in this debate, so I was privately educated and I teach at a private school. Both were, a little over forty years ago, direct-grant grammar schools, before politicians made them choose between comprehensivisation and independence. I’m not entirely convinced that this was an improvement.

It used to be a cliché – perhaps it still is – that the French Minister of Education could consult her chart in the Ministry and see what every pupil in every classroom in France would be studying at that moment. The principle of la carrière ouverte aux talents, one which was embraced both by the eighteenth-century revolutionaries and by Napoléon, remains a republican principle to this day. And stereotypically French schools provide a traditionally republican ‘level playing field’ for their pupils: everyone gets exactly the same education, delivered in the same way. Differentiation is rare and, when it happens, summary: a pupil who can’t keep up has to repeat the academic year. The bright and the industrious succeed, while the dim and the lazy don’t.

The bourgeoisie accepts this system. Private schools are only for the very rich and the very religious.

I doubt that French schools actually conform to this stereotype. But there is quite a bit to be said for it, even if it is only a model: it conforms to a reasonably widely-shared view of what constitutes ‘fairness.’

(Historians tend not to like models. But they’re very popular in other disciplines, aren’t they? My entire GCSE physics course took place in a parallel universe where there was no friction or air resistance, and I nearly took A Level physics just to find out what happened when we finally acknowledged that such things exist.)

But we all know this isn’t on the cards for English schools. We’re not getting rid of independent schools. We’re not getting rid of faith schools. We’re not getting rid of Montessori schools. We’re not getting rid of the Royal Ballet School. And part of the justification for the creation of free schools was to allow a thousand flowers to bloom so that parents could exercise meaningful choice when it came to their children’s education, and we’re not getting rid of those either.

Why, then, shouldn’t parents be able to choose to send their pupils to grammar schools?

Yes, I know, it’s the grammar schools that do the choosing, not the parents. But that’s true of any oversubscribed school.

Because it’s bad for those left behind? That’s what the data (allegedly) says. And because grammar schools don’t select the cleverest: they select the children of those who can pay for independent preparatory schools or private tuition, never mind all the other advantages which the children of prosperous parents have.

I get this. I do. And yet I’m not convinced.

I accept that the data is persuasive, though I also know how grievously data can be abused and accepted by those who wish to be persuaded. And yet there’s a part of me which says you know what … if this is true, then this is a problem for the secondary modern schools to fix. How does the presence of bright children make a difference to those who wouldn’t be able to get into the grammar schools? What is it about them that makes a difference?

I’ve taught in a school which selected only by parental income, and it certainly didn’t appear to me that the relatively small number of clever, hardworking pupils set the tone for the rest of the school. Quite the reverse.

Is it the middle-class parents who, in pressing for a better deal for their offspring, thereby ensure that all the other children get a better deal too? This suggests that the middle classes are sufficiently sharp of elbow to make a difference to their children’s schools, but insufficiently so as to be able to target that difference so that it was in the interest of their children above all, which strikes me as being too convenient to be true.

Is it that the ‘best’ teachers gravitate to grammar schools, leaving secondary moderns with inferior pedagogues? On the basis of the teachers performatively denouncing selection on Twitter, and proudly announcing that they would never work in one, it seems unlikely.

I put scare quotes around ‘best’ not out of some trendy conviction that on the award of Qualified Teacher Status all teachers become equally effective. Teachers have their strengths and weaknesses. Some – often the teachers with the most impressive academic qualifications themselves – are better with cleverer pupils. Even in selective independent schools there are Oxbridge DPhils who struggle with younger pupils in lower sets. This seems somewhat less offensive than saying that teachers with a weaker grasp of their subjects are often those who struggle with discipline even with usually-well-behaved top sets in selective schools, but that doesn’t stop it being true. Different teachers are often suited to teaching different pupils, whether they consider saying so to be an insult or not.

The problems with selection seem to me to be the strongest arguments against grammar schools. The eleven-plus is very far from a level playing field, and it’s tilted in favour of those who are already advantaged.

One solution to this is the German solution (at least in some states: the German Länder, not the federal government, are responsible for education, and some have gone comprehensive). Where there is selection, there’s no 11+. Primary schools make a recommendation, but parents decide whether their children are to attend a Gymnasium or a Realschule.

Doesn’t everyone want to go to a Gymnasium? No. I will yield to no one in my contempt for parents, but they can be more realistic than we give them credit for, which will be a relief for primary heads who don’t fancy telling parents that their children aren’t clever enough to be selected.

Yeah, but what if parents are kidding themselves? Well, those selective Gymnasiums have standards, and if pupils don’t reach them, they have to repeat the year. A small but significant number of pupils will do this every year, but if they’re still behind they won’t stay in their Gymnasium indefinitely.

And what about those late bloomers? Well, pupils leave a Realschule two years before they leave a Gymnasium. Many will go on to take up jobs or, more commonly, apprenticeships. But others attend an Aufbaugymnasium – essentially a sixth-form college – where they sit the Abitur, bringing their qualifications up to the same level as those taken by their peers in the Gymnasium.

Now the German system isn’t perfect – the issue of selection remains a controversial one there as it does here. But it does deal with some of the problems which grammar schools present. And were I introducing grammar schools, that’s how I’d do it. There doesn’t have to be one set-piece high-stakes examination deciding destinies forever.

After all – we’re not using the French republican model. If your parents are practising members of some churches, or are willing to pretend to have that faith, you might well get to go to a better school. If you’re talented enough, you might well get to go to the Royal Ballet School, or indeed get a sports scholarship to a top independent school. If your parents are rich enough then you might well be nowhere near the standard required of a grammar school, but find your way into a school which will ensure that your results are the very best they could realistically be. If your parents think you would be best suited to a free school which offers a rather different ethos or curriculum than your local comprehensive then you can apply for a place at one.

But if you’re fairly clever, and could do well academically if only you were able to attend a grammar school? Tough. Because the existence of those grammar schools damages every other school.

Really?

School Cricket

Tomorrow the long Easter weekend begins. It ends on Monday evening, and on Tuesday I’m back at work. On my first day back I’ve got a games afternoon, which means I’ll have my first coaching session with the under-fourteen ‘B’ XI, and just between you and me I’m rather looking forward to it.

There’s something about cricket which brings out the Jacob Rees-Mogg in me. I know that in the first half of the summer term at least there will be miserable afternoons of standing in the freezing cold; that my team will travel to an away match, win or lose early, and then have to hang around for hours while other games finish; that we will turn up for a fixture, and it’ll rain, but not enough to guarantee a cancellation, and that it might well be a couple of hours before someone finally decides to call off proceedings.

But the summer beckons. I get to don my white suit and panama hat without looking ridiculous. My brand new A6 scorebook (you can’t rely on the boys to do it themselves, and I hate carrying those preposterously oversized ones into the middle) is pristine. I’m looking forward to some good match teas. I might even practice my Aleem Dar -inspired more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger nod just before I raise my finger to confirm a batsman’s dismissal, though we all know that one of the very civilised elements of umpiring a 14B team is that in truth there are rarely many decisions to make.

But cricket has its design flaws. It’s an individual game played in teams, and that gives rise to several tensions.Boys want to feel that they’re playing in a real competitive game. We don’t play that version of cricket where every batsman gets to face a certain number of balls regardless of whether he gets himself out or not. Nor do we retire batsmen when they reach a certain score. I think this is right at secondary level: building an innings is an essential part of the game. For an individual making fifty runs might be a once-in-a-lifetime achievement, and I’m inclined to think that those waiting on the boundary for their turn ought to learn that they are expected to support and applaud him regardless of any personal frustration.

But many school ‘A’ teams, and 1st XIs, have a few players who are significantly better than their team-mates. It is far from uncommon for the same five boys to do all the bowling and to monopolise the opening and middle-order batting positions. Most seasons boys tell me that they are relieved to be dropped into my ‘B’ team because they didn’t get to do anything in the ‘A’ team.

They might well then be somewhat disappointed that they don’t get to dominate their new team in their turn, though I’ve never had a boy say to me ‘hey, I played in the A team, why don’t I get to be a bigger deal in the B team?’ Perhaps I’m too unapproachable.

Look – I see the logic behind that approach to ‘A’ team cricket. Everyone likes to win, and if the best players do the bowling and the batting then a win is more likely. Some of those in what we might label the ‘supporting’ roles no doubt prefer not to have the ‘lead’ roles, whether that be because they don’t want to let the team down or because they don’t want to be given a hard time by their peers if they do mess up. And I have a sneaking regard for the Deputy Head, now a Head Master, a former minor-counties cricketer himself, who once told me with a twinkle in his eye that boys had to learn that some people are more important than others.

And it’s easy for me to criticise the practice, I know. I’m just a history teacher.Even so I think it’s wrong.In my B team, everyone (or nearly everyone – there’s usually a couple of players who genuinely don’t want to, but I’m generally inclined to think that a schoolboy is too young to be ‘just a batsman’ or indeed ‘just a bowler’) gets a bowl. The best bowlers will come back and finish the innings off, if it comes to that, but only after everyone has had at least two or three overs each, depending on the length of the innings.

There will be a batting order, and it will conform to conventional principles. But it will change. If we have bowled a team out in a few overs, the boys who didn’t bowl will start higher up the order. I can’t, of course, guarantee a bat or even a bat or a bowl for every player in every game, but those who don’t get to bat one week will be higher up the order next week.

Do I let the captain have any say? Not really. I’ll tell him that when I’m umpiring at square leg I expect that to be his fielding position; from there I’ll talk tactics with him every other over. I’ll offer him ‘advice’ on who to bowl and when to make bowling changes. I’ll suggest he looks carefully at fielding positions when something is amiss. And if he doesn’t listen, I’ll step in and overrule him.

I’m not happy about doing this. I’d rather captains take responsibility for these decisions. But, unfortunately, it has been my experience that standing back and allowing captains to control things gives a quite terrifying insight into the group dynamics of adolescent boys. Every so often I’ll umpire a team which isn’t ‘mine,’ and the coach has put the captain in charge of the bowling & batting order. It doesn’t end well. Schoolboy captains don’t have much sympathy for my attempts at involving as many players as possible. They overbowl the ‘best’ players, or they overbowl their friends, or they are unable to stand up to their peers offering them ‘advice’ on fielding positions and bowling order. Look, no one despises the ‘alt-right’ more than me, but I defy anyone to watch an under-fifteen ‘B’ team in the field on a summer’s afternoon, with a boy rather than an adult in charge, and deny that there are – or can be – ‘alpha’ males and ‘beta’ males.

Does this hamper my team’s chances of winning? Well … yes, it does, somewhat. I don’t care. I’ve never been challenged about this, neither by senior colleagues nor by parents, but my answer would be that actually this approach will help us win – just not, necessarily right now. Players get better through training and practice but they also get better through playing in competitive matches.

What’s the alternative? We decide that Aggeridge, Ankerton, Borby & Bungabine are ‘the best players’ at age eleven, and then they bat, bowl, keep wicket and captain for the next seven years? I used the scare quotes for a reason. Of course some players have more natural talent than others. Those who find themselves with that talent no doubt also find hard training and serious practising more congenial. In a school’s shortest and most disrupted term there is a limit to the amount we can develop young cricketers. But we can do something. And if, instead, we prefer to chase victories, many of those players who aren’t in the magic circle and don’t get to play a full part in the game will give it up instead.

I teach History

Every schoolteacher has come across the faintly smug answer “I teach children” to the question “what do you teach,” usually from the type of colleague who would sadly conclude that it was his professional duty to report you to the Deputy Head for uttering a profanity on discovering that you had forgotten your board markers.

Such people tend to like the idea that what really matters is the child. If the teacher, or indeed the subject, does not suit the child, then it is the teacher or the subject which must change. This is the principle at the heart of the ‘child-centred’ education movement, which would traditional teaching methods and traditional academic subjects with metacognition lessons in which iPads would be used to enable discovery learning.

Well … I don’t teach children. I teach History.

Firstly, I’m not quite so presumptuous as to think that just because I can teach History, I can teach anything. I notice this twice a week when coaching sport. I’ve played rugby for nearly thirty years, though never at a particularly exalted level, and I’ve coached the game for fourteen years, though I’ve never taken an ‘A’ team. So when I run my ‘B’ team it’s usually alongside a PE teacher who takes the lead.

What I’ve found particularly interesting about this experience is that I’m a good coach with a junior ‘B’ team.* I’m good at coaching the basics. I’m good at motivating players. I’m good at refereeing a game so that the participants get as much out of it as possible.

(Yes, it is easy for me to say this. It’s not just that I don’t care if my team wins or loses. It’s that there isn’t really any pressure on me either way. Neither Directors of Sport nor parents care about ‘my’ results, and that frees me – as I know coaches of top teams sometimes, appallingly, aren’t free – to make sure that players all get decent game time, that games flow, and that in my teams no one, including me, has a go at people who get things wrong, including me.)

But there are too many things which I don’t even notice, never mind know how to put right, for me to coach an ‘A’ team. I’ve been trying to think of examples, but the whole point is the ‘unknown unknowns’ – I will look at a player performing a particular skill in practice, and it’ll look fine to me, but my PE-specialist colleague will identify something which I haven’t seen, and give instruction on how to improve it. If I knew what I ought to be looking out for I’d be half-way there, but I don’t.

You can, I expect, see where this is going. I can bring some generic schoolmastering to the games field, and some amateur knowledge, and that’s good enough. But if I was put in charge of the 1st XV, or teaching academic PE, or preparation for pupils’ applications to read Sports Science at Loughborough, then I’d be hopeless.

But that’s not all.

I’m not just here to teach History to the children in my classes. I’m doing something bigger and more important.

I think History is important. (I expect – I hope – you think your subject is too.) As a History teacher I am tasked with the transmission of our knowledge of the past to generations to come. I am carrying out my part in Edmund Burke’s famous social contract, which is between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. I am an infinitesimal part of the preservation and passing on of our collective heritage. This is, I think, a tremendous privilege. But it carries with it responsibility too.

And it’s not just a responsibility to the pupils in front of me. It’s greater than that.

What if the interests of Clio and what are alleged to be the interests of the pupil appear not to coincide? For me, history comes first.

So, for instance, I despise the ‘Hitlerisation’ of the History curriculum. When I have taught in schools which have included the Third Reich at both GCSE and A Level I have made myself unpopular by criticising the practice: when I have been in a position to change it I have done so. If results go badly because of it? That’s a price I’m willing to pay.

Aha, says my previous Head of Department, who arranged for pupils to learn the Second World War and the Holocaust for two terms in the Third Form, to then be taught a GCSE course including a term on Hitler’s foreign policy and another term on a depth study of Nazi Germany, and to then spend the entire Upper Sixth on the history of the Fatherland in the first half of the twentieth century. That’s all very well for you to say. What you really mean is that it’s a price you’re willing for your students to pay. Well, I don’t want them to pay the price. Their parents don’t want them to pay the price. The Head Master doesn’t want them to pay the price. You don’t care about them, not like we do.

Tja. Has he got a point? I don’t know. Does studying the same thing help pupils succeed in public examinations? That hasn’t been my experience, but I’d be surprised if it had no impact, though it’d be very difficult to measure. There are other reasons to focus on Hitler besides results in public examinations: the first half of the twentieth century in Germany is often said to be very popular with teenagers, usually by teachers who themselves prefer teaching it to something more adventurous, and once (as it lamentably does in so many schools) it has the status of ‘the default option’ then considerations of library books, textbooks, other teaching resources and schemes of work all mitigate against reform.**

And you know what? I don’t care if it is in the pupils’ interests (however that be defined) to follow a course like this. There is a bigger picture. History matters. And we are betraying the past and the future if we do not teach it properly.

So I teach History. Not children.

*Yes, you’ll have to take my word for it. I think my argument works even if actually I’m a bit rubbish.

**There’s something else too. Whenever I start off a new season coaching an Association Football team I always line my team up in the conventional 4-4-2 formation. Why? Because the players all know what they’re doing in it; but also because if things go wrong I can then say to them, well, that was a bit of a mess, and I think a change of tactics might help, and they’ll listen. Whereas if at the start of the season I say ‘look, we’ve got three really good centre-halves here, and three central midfielders who all deserve a place in the team, and we don’t have any full-backs, so let’s play 3-5-2; and we then lose, then immediately the players will attribute their defeat to the tactics, and thereafter they won’t listen. Well, I think a lot of Heads of History worry that if they don’t focus on the Third Reich, and results are disappointing, then they have provided their own line managers with one obvious way in which they can be personally blamed.