ACT - The Association of Christian Teachers

for Christians working in education

Serving, inspiring and equipping Christians working in education


The extra curricula café is a favourite venue for education professionals. It’s a place where they can share their frustrations, let off steam and air their quirky views. And there isn’t a parent, a pupil or politician in sight.

Cappuccino and Latté are season ticket holders. They say it’s worth it because it keeps them sane, although that itself has been contested by other patrons at the extra curricula café.

The extra curricula café

The improvement myth

overhead Friday 15th August 2014

Cappuccino:  Well, I must say that you are looking more relaxed than usual.

Latté:  That’s not surprising since it’s the middle of the holidays.

Cappuccino:  How did the end of term go?

Latté:  Oh, the usual student farewells.  Tears, hugs and handshakes.  And, as usual, a few staff leaving too.

Cappuccino:  Including your nemesis, the redoubtable Mrs Bennett, head of history.

Latté:  Yes, indeed. ‘The one thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history’.

Cappuccino:  What’s she going to do?  Guide folk around National Trust properties?

Latté:  Oh no!  She’s off to invest her lump sum by opening an English tea room in the Algarve.  Fulfilling a life-long ambition.

Cappuccino:  You’ll have to visit her.  Ask if there’s a staff discount.

Latté:  And I must brush up on my Portuguese.

Cappuccino:  Have you appointed a replacement?

Latté:  Oh, yes.  A very different character.  No more Mrs Bennett bursting into my room in a theatrical rage.  I will sleep more quietly at night.

Cappuccino:  So, that’s definitely a school improvement?

Latté:  Ah, that mythical concept of the early twenty-first century.

Cappuccino:  Mythical concept?  It’s how many of us earn our living.  How can it be mythical?

Latté:  Because schools cannot improve.  It’s people who improve.  And when people like Mrs Bennett leave for the Algarve, a lifetime of experience and wisdom leaves with her.  And then someone else comes along and has to learn all the same things.  The newcomers are destined to make the same mistakes all over again.  It’s the same truth that keeps all us schoolteachers in business.  It’s also an argument against the theory of evolution.  If evolution were true, we’d all be getting PhDs by now.  School improvement is a myth.  A nice idea, but a myth nonetheless.

Cappuccino:  You paint a rather dystopian picture of the future.

Latté:  Ah, that is why we have to teach our students why they need to learn, and how to learn.

Cappuccino:  Yes, I agree, but of course there is a real problem with that.

Latté:  Is there? What’s that?

Cappuccino:  The answer to the question why will differ according to your worldview.  It all depends on whom or what you worship.

Latté:  Secularists say they don’t worship anything.

Cappuccino:  Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A person will worship something, have no doubt about that.  We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will come out.  That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character.  Therefore, it behoves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping, we are becoming.”  Rather perceptive, don’t you think?

Latté:  Yes.  And that’s the unique advantage of Christians working in schools.  They know whom they worship.  They should know what they are about and they should get on with it.

Cappuccino:  As far as they can within the tangled web which is called a legislative framework.

Latté:  That’s another myth.  Christians in education should be confident in their beliefs and just get on with being good and conscientious teachers.

Cappuccino:  Yes, but they need training, just like anyone else.  You’ll find that in Deuteronomy 11.18-21

Latté:  You would say that.  I’ve spent a shed-load of money on training for my staff, and I am afraid that some of it has had opposite outcomes to those intended.

Cappuccino:  I read a notice on display in a training department once: “If you think training is expensive, try ignorance”.

Latté:  Education will always be expensive because it can only be done with teachers, even in this age of digital technology.  It’s labour intensive and always will be, because it’s fundamentally relational.

Cappuccino:  That’s what makes it the best and probably the most important job in the world.

Latté:  That reminds me.  I went into a supermarket in early August and looked through the reduced section.

Cappuccino:  As you always do.

Latté:  Yes.  And I found a load of stuff for pupils and their parents to give to their teachers at the end of term.

Cappuccino:  Like what?

Latté:  Mugs, ties, desk tidies, stationery, badges even.

Cappuccino:  Badges?

Latté:  Yes.  I bought one as it was only fifty pence.  It said “World’s greatest teacher”.  And not only was there an apostrophe, but it was in the right place!

Cappuccino:  A badge.  For yourself?

Latté:  Of course not!

Cappuccino:  Then for whom?

Latté:  I would have thought that was obvious.  Jesus, of course.  I’ve put it on my notice board for now, though.

Cappuccino:  Don’t forget to take it with you when you leave.

Latté:  When I leave?

Cappuccino:  Yes, on that day.

Latté:  What day?

Cappuccino:  On that day when, “the skies will thrill with rapture,  And myriad, myriad human voices sing,  And earth to heaven, and heaven to earth, will answer:  At last the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is King.”

Latté:  Ah, yes.  Meanwhile I’d better get on with preparation for the new term.  I have to inspire my staff, young and old.  We have a training day on the first day of term.

Cappuccino:  What are you going to tell them?

Latté:  I’m just going to tell them that they are a great crowd of people making a real difference in the lives of young people, and to go on doing that life-changing work.  And ...

Cappuccino:  And what?

Latté:  I’m going to take in a large tray of cream cakes, and for the weight-obsessed, a basket of fruit.

Cappuccino:  Well, in that case, especially as Mrs Bennett is safely overseas, I might join you!

The improvement myth printable version


Nokia nightmare*

overheard Friday 18th July 2014

Latté:  Hey, don’t creep up on me like that.  Shocks like that can be very dangerous.

Cappuccino:  I did not creep up on you!

Latté:  Yes, you did.  A shock at my age could cause a heart attack!

Cappuccino:  You did have your head buried in that device of yours.

Latté:  Device?  It’s just a ‘phone.

Cappuccino:  Ah, that’s where you are wrong.  It’s a Smartphone.  It’s a camera, a computer, an address book, a Sat Nav and you could probably persuade it, if you knew how, to fill in your tax return.

Latté:  All I was doing was trying to discover if anyone had sent me a text message.

Cappuccino:  And had they?

Latté:  No, I don’t think so.

Cappuccino:  Don’t think so!  Why have you got a phone which you cannot operate?

Latté:  The other day I went into the kitchen to find my son had made one of his periodic unannounced visits.  He had dismantled my dumb phone, extracted its heart, that’s the sim card, and transplanted it into a Smartphone.

Cappuccino:  And how much have you paid for this service?

Latté:  Nothing. I didn’t ask for it.  I was quite happy with my old phone.  We had a simple but fruitful relationship.

Cappuccino:  Like you could make and receive calls and texts?

Latté:  Exactly.

Cappuccino:  But now you have discovered that there is much more to mobile ‘phone life?

Latté:  I must say that it did seem very interesting when my son was demonstrating it to me.  You can even read the Bible on it.

Cappuccino:  So what’s the problem?

Latté:  Seeing something demonstrated, and doing it yourself, are two very different things.

Cappuccino:  Yes, like bricklaying and plastering.

Latté:  Exactly.  I have been reminded of one of the foundational truths of pedagogy.

Cappuccino:  What’s that?

Latté:  Learning is a strange blend of fun, delight, fear - terror even – and anxiety; ending sometimes in despondency and other time in elation.

Cappuccino:  Well, that’s certainly more profound than some of the dodgy pedagogy that I have heard lately.

Latté:  I tried to read the instruction booklet that came with the Smartphone.  I got to page 29 before it told me how to make a call.

Cappuccino:  Isn’t learning like that sometimes?  Long periods of not much happening, then all of a sudden, ‘eureka’.

Latté:  I haven’t reached that ‘eureka’ moment with this Smartphone.

Cappuccino:  Consider then, how school life appears to some of our pupils: long periods of confusion which lead to darkness, loneliness and, ultimately, disaffection.

Latté:  Interesting you should say that.  We have a pupil at the moment, rejoicing in the name of Brook, who is really disaffected.  I had this bright idea.  I asked Brook for some advice about my phone.  She took one look at it and had it working in a few seconds.  I asked her if she had one herself.  She hadn’t but had experimented with other people’s phones.

Cappuccino:  So you are now au fait with your device?

Latté:  Well, Brook and I agreed that she would give me a five minute tutorial after school each day.

Cappuccino:  And what did you do in return?

Latté:  I said to her that if she had any questions, anything whatsoever, about school life, that I would answer them.

Cappuccino:  Very brave of you.  And?

Latté:  Brook’s questions were rather challenging.  They included things like ‘What am I doing here?’

Cappuccino:  Did you answer?

Latté:  I did the best I could, but, more importantly, I got her introduced to our church young people’s group.

Cappuccino:  Isn’t that just passing the buck?

Latté:  No.  Brook and our church group speak the same language, which I don’t.  I see it as an appropriate referral.

Cappuccino:  So what’s the outcome?

Latté:  Brook is more settled.  Learning has its brighter periods.  On my recommendation, she has even joined the school’s IT club.  She’s more relaxed and so am I.

Cappuccino:  Why’s that? 

Latté:  Well, when my Smartphone rings, I know how to answer it, rather than madly pressing every button in sight, and tapping the touch screen in a frenzy like a demented woodpecker.

Cappuccino:  So, it’s a win-win situation?

Latté:  Yes, but there’s just one app I need to master.

Cappuccino:  What’s that?

Latté:  A signal that beeps when you are about to approach.  It might avoid a heart attack.

*NB. Nokia phones are great.  No phone was harmed in the writing of this piece.  

Nokia Nightmare printable version

Celebrity fragility

overhead Friday 13th June 2014

Cappuccino:  Late again!  I hope you realise you are causing me real misery?

Latté:  Am I; how so?

Cappuccino:  Well, when you don’t turn up on time, I am forced the read the newspapers provided so thoughtfully by this café.

Latté:  What’s so wrong with that?  Silent reading has been in and out of fashion in the curriculum over the years.

Cappuccino:  It’s alright when I can get the larger papers, but sometimes I am forced to read the smaller ones.

Latté:  Larger, smaller?  What’s the difference?

Cappuccino:  Quality, veracity and newsworthiness is linked to page size.

Latté:  Really?

Cappuccino:  Everyone knows that.  When you are not here, I am reduced to reading about celebrities.

Latté:  Oh dear. Well I’m here now.  Remember that some of us are busy steering happy ships of learning.  You remember, those jovial communities where everyone is realising their potential.

Cappuccino:  Something tells me there is an element of cynicism in your words.  A bit like the smaller papers really.

Latté:  Anyone who thinks that schools can unlock every child’s potential has no idea of the complex and bizarre aspects of human nature.  And that’s just the staff for starters.

Cappuccino:  The smaller papers seem to me to have double standards.  On one side of the page is a picture of a celebrity sunning herself on a Caribbean beach, whilst on the other side of the page is a disgraced celebrity who has been found to have committed some selfish act.

Latté:  It’s not like that all the time, surely?

Cappuccino:  Well, mostly.  In the paper today there is a 1960s wholesome television personality whom most people adored, whom, it seems, was leading a double life.  Then there’s a well respected pop star who, it allegedly turns out, is avoiding paying tax.  Then there are two school teachers who have been suspended, over, and I quote, ‘an alleged 'sex tape'’.  And most days there is a church minister who has apparently done something incompatible with his calling.

Latté:  That’s just the unending desire for ordinary people to worship something or someone, and then see that their idol is flawed, giving themselves a feeling of self-righteousness.   They can say, ‘Well, at least I’m not like that’.

Cappuccino:  So maybe fame, fortune and flaws go together?

Latté:  Romans 3.23 ‘... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,’.  When we praise and raise people up onto pedestals, their flaws often become more visible.

Cappuccino:  Even squeaky clean celebrities, about which no dirt can be found, can eventually be labelled as bland, boring and out-of date, and consigned to the heap of ‘has-beens’.  I wonder what young people make of this current notion of lifting people up so that they come crashing down again? 

Latté:  Let’s hope that they adopt a more biblical attitude to life, which doesn’t shrink from the facts of the human condition: made in God’s image, fallen in sin, but may be redeemed and restored to new life.

Cappuccino:  Absolutely.

Latté:  Which reminds me.

Cappuccino:  What?

Latté:  Next time you come here ...

Cappuccino:  Yes?

Latté:  Bring your own reading material.  Something improving.  I know: a book about how to get a fantastic Ofsted report, so that you can have one of those plastic banners tied to the railings outside the school, proclaiming its attributes?

Cappuccino:  You mean, how to achieve celebrity status?  I think not.

Celebrity Fragility printable version

Baffled by Inset

overheard Friday 16th May 2014

Cappuccino:  Whilst waiting for you to turn up, I read in the paper that parents are baffled by ‘Inset’ days.

Latté:  I’m not surprised.  First they were Baker days, then Staff Training days.  I wonder how many parents know what ‘Inset’ is?

Cappuccino:  They probably think it’s something to do with pest control. 

Latté:  Quite possibly.

Cappuccino:  That’s probably what most headteachers think it’s for, although the pests they are thinking of are members of staff.

Latté:  Actually, most members of staff are baffled by Inset days too.

Cappuccino:  I remember when they were first invented, they were rather resented by old timers.

Latté:  You mean staff who knew everything?

Cappuccino:  Yes, I remember speaking at a twilight Inset in one such secondary school.

Latté:  What was that about?  The provision of old people’s homes for retired teachers?

Cappuccino:  No, twilight meaning ‘after the school day’.

Latté:  Not for Mr Chips then?

Cappuccino:  I finished my session and asked if there were any questions.  There was a long silence, so to break the tension I said “Well, if there are no questions, perhaps we can all go home.”

Latté:  And?

Cappuccino:  There was a stony silence, broken by a wag at the back who said, “We can’t. It’s directed time.”

Latté:  What happened next?

Cappuccino:  The headteacher took over and I melted gratefully into the background.

Latté:  Do you remember how staff meetings were filled with frantic calculations about directed time?

Cappuccino:  The phrase ‘twelve-sixty-five’ is full of meaning to teachers of a certain age.

Latté:  Yes.  The notion that hours written on a time sheet equates with effectiveness is somewhat flawed.

Cappuccino:  I knew a school where staff were required to clock in and out, to ensure they did the hours.

Latté:  That’s ridiculous.  What about people who took work home and worked all evening and at weekends?

Cappuccino:  That’s what the staff argued.  They demanded that the headteacher kept the school open until ten p.m. each evening, so they could carry on working.

Latté:  And did he?

Cappuccino:  The headteacher realised that he would have to pay for extra heating and the site manager’s overtime to keep the school open.

Latté:  What happened then?

Cappuccino:  They set up some kind of ambiguous system of record keeping which was impossible to verify, since much of the work was done at home.

Latté:  So the head turned up in the evenings at teachers’ homes with a clipboard to check that they were marking pupils’ work and weren’t watching ‘Waterloo Road’ on television?

Cappuccino:  No.  The system took early retirement along with the head.

Latté:  What do you think about Inset days?

Cappuccino:  The same as I think about coffee shops.

Latté:  What?

Cappuccino:  Some are excellent, like this one.  Others you would not want to be seen dead in.

Latté:  I’ve seem many dead teachers at Inset days.

Cappuccino:  Now you need to explain yourself!

Latté:  Teachers deliberately not engaging.  I remember one art teacher who painted eyes on his eyelids so that he could sleep whilst giving the impression of being wide awake.

Cappuccino:  I suppose you can’t blame them, after desperately trying to engage with pupils every day?

Latté:  Is that a pun?

Cappuccino:  Not intended, but I think that some parents thought that Baker days were for preparing some teachers for alternative careers in the catering industry!

Latté:  Well, the Inset culture has created a whole industry for course leaders and gurus of various kinds.

Cappuccino:  What’s the best Inset you’ve been on?

Latté:  Ah, that’s easy.  Many years ago we all turned up expecting a dull and depressing day.

Cappuccino:  It’s strange how so many talented teachers sound so boring when addressing their own colleagues.

Latté:  Indeed.  Well, after some introductory stuff which frankly I cannot remember, we all put our coats on and walked around the school catchment area.

Cappuccino:  What on earth for?

Latté:  Many of the staff lived miles away, drove in their Volvos to school each morning in their bubble of isolation and had no idea what the environment was like for children to grow up in.

Cappuccino:  Was it useful?

Latté:  Oh, yes.  Staff could empathise with the pupils’ struggles and lack of aspiration.  Pupils were treated much more sympathetically after that.

Cappuccino:  I wonder what parents thought of that Inset?

Latté:  Just like today: baffled.  Some things don’t change.

Baffled by inset printable version

Spiritual abdication

overhead Friday 11th April 2014

Cappuccino:  You are looking more flustered that usual.  Has it been a hard day at your happy ship of learning?

Latté:  Happy ship?  Very messy ship at the moment.

Cappuccino:  Tell me about it.  I might, of course, regret saying that.

Latté:  It started before 8 o’clock this morning.  Hannah, one of my NQTs was in tears.

Cappuccino:  Oh dear.  Classroom challenges?

Latté:  Not at all.  In fact, I have reason to believe that the sixth form are frightened of her.

Cappuccino:  What was it that upset this fearsome young woman?

Latté:  Church.

Cappuccino:  Church?

Latté:  Yes.  You know, those places where Christians tend to hang out, especially on Sundays.

Cappuccino:  Church, yes I am familiar with the concept.  What was the problem with church?

Latté:  Well, you have heard of Messy Church, haven’t you?

Cappuccino:  I have, although to me that’s tautology.

Latté:  Well, Hannah goes to Wacky Church.

Cappuccino:  Also tautology.

Latté:  You are not taking me seriously.  Hannah’s church leader, allegedly, announced that he was no longer the leader, but that the Holy Spirit was the leader.

Cappuccino:  Innovative, but curious.

Latté:  He also said that if any members have a complaint they should take it, not to him, but to the Holy Spirit.

Cappuccino:  Ah.  I see.  So, since the Holy Spirit doesn’t need a salary, then the church will now save some serious cash?

Latté:  An intriguing point.  I’m not sure that the Rev. No-Longer-Leader will see it that way.

Cappuccino:  So basically he is abdicating responsibility, but not the power or the money?

Latté:  Maybe.  But it gets wackier.

Cappuccino:  Ah, is this where Hannah comes in?

Latté:  Yes. Hannah is a Sunday school teacher and has a Sunday school class of six year olds.  She finds them a refreshing change from sixth formers.

Cappuccino:  Sounds a good arrangement.

Latté:  Yes, it works well, but the Rev. No-Longer-Leader has decided to dissolve Sunday school, and the children must remain in the service.  He says that the Holy Spirit will enable the children to understand the sermons.

Cappuccino:  Probably feasible if the Holy Spirit wrote and preached the sermons.

Latté:  Well, I think that the Rev. No-Longer-Leader thinks that the Holy Spirit does, with a little help from himself, of course.

Cappuccino:  Ah.  So what did you say to Hannah?

Latté:  I told her that sometimes you just have to watch whilst people make silly mistakes, and wait for common sense to return.  I said to her, ‘Meanwhile, get back to frightening the sixth form.’

Cappuccino:  Good advice.  Getting stuck into work can often be therapeutic.

Latté:  Do you want to know what happened next this morning?

Cappuccino:  No.

Latté:  Not about the curious incident in the science lab involving the cheese sandwich?

Cappuccino:  No.  Not at all.  Now drink up and get back to leading your school, making sure that you get a new consultant.

Latté:  Who’s that?

Cappuccino:  God the Holy Spirit, of course.  None better.

Latté:  Priceless! 

Spiritual Abdication  printable version

A sticky business

overheard Friday 7th March 2014  -  by Robert Hall

Cappuccino:  I see there has been a prumpus in Somerset, about a teacher allegedly sticking tape over children’s mouths.

Latté:  Don’t you mean rumpus?

Cappuccino:  No, prumpus is when the press is involved.

Latté:  That’s a new one on me.

Cappuccino:  Yes, I just made it up for occasions when an incident becomes a story in the press; then it’s a prumpus.

Latté:  Yes, I’ve seen a video of poor injured children and their parents, looking hard done by.  And photos of children holding up reels of sticky tape.

Cappuccino:  How very tacky!

Latté:  Ha, Ha.

Cappuccino:  It’s about time someone made a prumpus about the way teachers actions have been gummed up by political correctness for decades.

Latté:  Ah, you’re right.  Whatever we say has to be positive.  No more ‘Dean is bone idle’.  Rather ‘To maximise learning opportunities, Dean requires a great deal of stimulation.’

Cappuccino:  Teachers can’t have opinions, or emotions, or any normal human characteristics really.

Latté:  More like automatons.

Cappuccino:  Exactly.  Which is great a pity for the pupils.

Latté:  Why?

Cappuccino:  When I was at school it was the fiery, expressive, eccentric teachers of whom we took most notice.  The bland, unemotional teachers were uninteresting, and so were their lessons.

Latté:  So, when you think about it, there is one law for school teachers and another law for politicians.

Cappuccino:  Ah!

Latté:  Politicians can say what they want.  The more outrageous the better.  And our Secretary of State for Education is a fairly good example.

Cappuccino:  Meanwhile, teachers and headteachers have to be politically correct.  They have had tape stuck over their mouths for years.

Latté:  That conjures up a picture of a teachers with tape over their mouths – the sort which police use, saying ‘Police, crime scene’ repeatedly along its length.

Cappuccino:  What should this ‘teacher tape’ say?

Latté:  How about ‘teacher: outstanding but not outspoken’?

Cappuccino:  Or ‘teacher: curriculum delivery mechanism’.

Latté:  Or ‘teacher: passionless pedagogy guaranteed’.

Cappuccino:  I’ve got it!

Latté:  Got what?

Cappuccino:  The answer.  Let’s insist that every politician spends ten percent of their time in schools, talking to pupils.  That would be a real dose of reality.

Latté:  Politicians don’t deal in reality, only rhetoric.  Nikita Khrushchev said, ‘Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.’

Cappuccino:  The youngsters would soon sort out the politicians.  Five minutes being responsible for a nursery class would bring politicians to reality.  James Clarke said, ‘A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman of the next generation.’  And other idea!

Latté:  Must I hear this?

Cappuccino:  Yes!  Let’s see if we can smuggle some hazard warning tape into the House of Commons’ debating chamber.  Maybe we could throw it from the public gallery and watch whilst all the politicians tangled themselves in it!

Latté:  Now that would be a prumpus.  Ring your press contacts to make sure that a photographer is on hand.

A Sticky Business printable version

Blue sky holidays

overheard Friday 7th February 2014  -  by Robert Hall

Latté:  Have you booked your summer holiday yet?

Cappuccino:  I never go away in the summer.

Latté:  Why ever not?  It’s the sunniest time of the year.

Cappuccino:  Sunny – maybe;  Hot – perhaps;  Costly – definitely;  Noisy – unquestionably;  Crowded – without doubt.  No-one in their right mind would take their holiday at that time.

Latté:  No-one in their right mind, unless of course they had children of school age.

Cappuccino:  What do you mean?

Latté:  You can’t take children out of school for holidays, so you have to go when school is closed.

Cappuccino:  If it was up to me, schools wouldn’t close in the summer, they would provide all year round provision.

Latté:  So no holidays for pupils or staff?

Cappuccino:  Yes, of course; you’d just have to employ more teachers, so all could have time off at different times, and that would make it cheaper to go on holiday!

Latté:  Well, that sounds a very clever idea, but I have a feeling that it wouldn’t work.

Cappuccino:  Why not?

Latté:  Simple maths really.  If schools are open 52 weeks a year instead of 39, that’s a one third increase in the salary bill, plus extra heating and maintenance.

Cappuccino:  Maybe, but think if the results went up by one third too, to say nothing of the decreased vandalism in the summer holidays.  And another thing!

Latté:  What?

Cappuccino:  It would prepare youngsters for the world of work, where the holidays might be as little as three weeks a year.  It can be a shock to the system for a school leaver.

Latté:  And for a university graduate even more so.

Cappuccino:  If you’ve never had it, you won’t miss it.  And other thing.  No more unauthorised absence, so attendance rates will rise and that will please Ofsted.  And just imagine where we’d be in the PISA rankings!

Latté:  I can’t imagine you could persuade anyone to implement this.

Cappuccino:  We’ve had far less attractive ideas – like the national curriculum and league tables, yet we all assimilate them.

Latté:  Well, I suggest that you write to Mr Gove to suggest this could be a new bandwagon for him.  When things are going badly, you need a constant stream of new ideas to distract attention from the failure of the old ones.  But just don’t forget … .

Cappuccino:  Forget what?

Latté:  Don’t forget to quote your Conservative party membership number on your correspondence.

Cappuccino:  Are you suggesting that Mr Gove only wants ideas from the Conservative party?

Latté:  I’m not suggesting anything, but it might just help.  I wonder who will succeed Sally Morgan as Chair of Ofsted?

Cappuccino:  Now that this conversation has degenerated into politics, rather than the high ideals of pedagogy, I’m off.  I’ll see you next month.

Latté:  Don’t forget to bring Mr. Gove’s reply for me to see, unless of course I read about it in the papers first.  It brings a whole new meaning to ‘blue sky thinking’.   

download pdf printable version

Finger-licking good.

overheard Friday 10th January 2014  -  by Robert Hall

Cappuccino:  My granddaughter tells my that she pays for her school lunch with her finger.

Latté:  What?

Cappuccino:  Yes, her parents credit her account online, and in the dining room a machine recognises her fingerprint and debits her account accordingly.

Latté:  Ah, ‘The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,  Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit  Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,  Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.’

Cappuccino:  Back in the old days I spent at least half-an-hour every Monday morning collecting and counting and recording dinner money.

Latté:  And some child would insist that their mum hadn’t given them any.

Cappuccino:  Ah, I was wise to that.  I would tell them to bring their coat from the cloakroom and we’d search for it in the pockets.

Latté:  What if you didn’t find it?

Cappuccino:  Well nine times out of ten we did.  And if not, a distressed and apologetic mum would come to the classroom door with the missing envelope, which she had found on the kitchen table when she got home from bringing her child to school.

Latté:  What if that didn’t happen?

Cappuccino:  It was a phone call home, if they had a phone at home, which in those days they may not have had.  By then half the morning had gone.

Latté:  What if they didn’t have a ‘phone?

Cappuccino:  The headteacher would dictate a letter to the secretary who would type it out and the child would take it home.

Latté:  What if the letter went absent without leave, or got forgotten under their sandwich box?

Cappuccino:  Then a copy would be sent by post.

Latté:  By which time more money would have been spent on admin. than the cost of the dinner!

Cappuccino:  Very possibly, but back in those days there was a set way of doing things.

Latté:  Not like today: the Ofsted goalposts come with wheels as an essential accessory.

Cappuccino:  Back then was a golden age where headteachers were gods. There was no national curriculum and it was quite possible to get through an entire career without seeing an inspector. And the nearest we got to an attainment target was the staff darts team.

Latté:  I don’t believe there ever was a golden age.  Every age is a mixture of hope and fear, triumph and disaster, joy and sorrow.

Cappuccino:  People say that our present Secretary of State for Education is creating an education system from fifty years ago.  I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing?

Latté:  Well, if it was appropriate for the nineteen fifties, than it won’t be appropriate now because society has changed.

Cappuccino:  But everything was much better then.  Everybody knew their place.

Latté:  They did, and it’s called social immobility!  Could your view, and that of politicians, be coloured by the fact that the nineteen fifties is when you were growing up?  Doesn’t everyone want to recreate their childhood days?

Cappuccino:  But surely things have deteriorated over our life time?

Latté:  ‘All may change but Jesus never; glory to His name.’  This notion of a golden age is fool’s gold;  like the end of the rainbow – you can’t ever reach it.

Cappuccino:  Maybe you are right, but I used to quite enjoy adding up the dinner money, all those florins in piles of ten.

Latté:  Florins eh?  Not a very efficient use of time.  Ofsted would disapprove.

Cappuccino:  This was long before Ofsted was born.

Latté:  Think of all those valuable teaching hours you lost.  Probably twenty hours a year.

Cappuccino:  Which means that children every year now get the equivalent of four extra days of education!

Latté:  So standards must have risen – and all down to new technology.

Cappuccino:  There’s one thing that concerns me though.

Latté:  What’s that?

Cappuccino:  I am told that all the initiatives of the last forty years haven’t made a significant difference in standards overall.

Latté:  Yes I know.  It’s an inconvenient truth if ever there was one.

Cappuccino:  What’s the answer?

Latté:  I don’t know, but government could have saved itself a shed-load on money by not doing things.  No literacy strategy.  No numeracy strategy. No national curriculum.  No league tables.  No Ofsted.

Cappuccino:  Ah hah!

Latté:  What amusing about that?

Cappuccino:  It sound like you’ve put your finger on it, so to speak.   n

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Nativity – the nice and the nasty

overheard Friday 29th November 2013 by Robert Hall

Cappuccino: You look a little flustered. Is everything all right?

Latté: It never ceases to amaze me: the variety of jobs a headteacher has to do.

Cappuccino: What? You’ve finally been persuaded to sweep the playground?

Latté: Oh, no. We have a machine for that. No. I had to take a pupil home.

Cappuccino: Why didn’t you send for the parent?

Latté: It’s a long story, but basically there isn’t a parent.

Cappuccino: Ah. A complex home life?

Latté: Yes.

Cappuccino: So, taking a pupil home is no big deal, surely?

Latté: It’s just the reminder of the environment that some students live in. There was an abandoned settee in the front garden, an enormous dog barking at me from behind a fence which looked as it would collapse any minute, and once the front door was opened, a smell which knocked me back two steps.

Cappuccino: I see. But surely you’ve been in that kind of environment many times before?

Latté: Yes, I suppose so, though in recent years I’ve usually got someone else to do it. You forget.

Cappuccino: We spend so much of our time sorting ourselves into like-minded communities, creating comfort zones for ourselves, that we forget there are other worlds out there.

Latté: It’s true that location is so very significant.

Cappuccino: People will always sort themselves into categories, and pay a lot of money for it. A nice area, a quiet tree-lined neighbourhood, a good school catchment area.

Latté: We all want to live somewhere where we are comfortable. Talking of which, I was visiting an elderly aunt in a care home the other week.

Cappuccino: You might need one yourself one day.

Latté: My aunt was asleep much of the time, and I got talking to a little old lady sitting nearby.

Cappuccino: How delightful. What did you talk about? Knitting patterns and strawberry jam?

Latté: That’s just it. She didn’t fit the stereotype.

Cappuccino: Oh?

Latté: She was complaining about the meals. She said they were – well she used a word you are more likely to find written up in the boys’ toilets.

Cappuccino: So that’s two brushes with reality then. An untidy front a garden and colourful language.

Latté: In school we don’t allow swearing and we keep the place reasonably tidy, which is very different from many pupils’ everyday lives. I sometimes wonder if we do enough to prepare pupils for the more repulsive aspects of life?

Cappuccino: Well, you have the nativity to look forward to. That’s all very pleasant, little barefoot angels, shepherds in nice clean tea towels. And the parental audience will love it. The ooh and aah factor never fails.

Latté: That’s exactly my problem. We have gentrified it. The biblical story is just not like that. It’s about teenage pregnancy, disapproving neighbours, a brutally oppressed and occupied country. It’s about heavenly messengers who, let’s face it, must have been terrifying. It’s about shepherds, who were virtually outcasts, the lowest of the low. It’s about eastern mystics whose religion probably involved the occult.

Cappuccino: And into that world God introduced His Son. Vulnerable, weak and helpless. If that’s not moving out of your comfort zone, I don’t know what is.

Latté: I’ve had a brilliant idea.

Cappuccino: Time to go, I think.

Latté: No, wait a moment. I’ll talk to my staff and see if we can come up with a more realistic nativity play, portraying it like it was, not what gentrification has made it.

Cappuccino: No little infants with white frocks and aluminium foil wings? The parents won’t like it.

Latté: I don’t care. If I can move out of my comfort zone, so can they.

Cappuccino: This I cannot wait to see. And next morning the queue of angry parents at your door complaining at your disruption of centuries of tradition.

Latté: Maybe it’s time that we teachers told it like it is, not like how people think it ought to be. Now I must leave this comfort zone and get back to work.

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