Following David Crystal’s appearance at the Hay Literary Festival (where he was brilliant, by all accounts), The Guardian published an article outlining Crystal’s view, that ‘Exam board rules on punctuation are wrong, wrong, and wrong.’

In the article, David Crystal criticises the ‘latest guidance’ aimed at teachers, which allegedly bans the use of the Oxford comma.

My first thought was immediately as to the whereabouts of this ‘latest guidance’. The article chooses (conveniently?) to utilise the passive voice and omits the subject from the sentence, thus rendering the task of being guided rather troublesome.  Which is a concern. Mostly because, this year I started teaching an English Language GCSE in which 40% of marks are awarded for ‘technical accuracy.’ So, with this in mind, I really need to know: is the Oxford Comma a goer, or not?

A few other things:

What’s the deal with quotation marks? I instruct my students to use inverted commas to delineate quoted material, but I know for a fact that students, even at KS5, still think it’s okay to chuck speech marks all over the place. Presumably this is because they haven’t been told otherwise by every single teacher they’ve had before me.

And ‘quote’ is a verb right? Because I’ve been telling my students to write, ‘In the article, the writer uses a quotation from Gordon Brown to convey a sense of…’ but I’m quite sure that others are happy with, ‘In the article, the writer uses a quote from Gordon Brown to convey a sense of…’

Going back to The Guardian’s article, there seems to be some ambiguity as to who is to blame for this…er…ambiguity. Is it the fault of the Government, or the exam boards? Let’s start with the exam boards. I teach AQA. I love AQA. They give me qualifications when I need ‘em, and they can be very helpful. But, as far as I’m aware, what they haven’t given me, is guidance on punctuation and grammar.  A style guide is what I’m after. An ‘AQA Style Guide for Key Stages 3, 4, and 5’. Perhaps there’s one about, I thought, and I just haven’t seen it. I asked Twitter:

 Teachers of AQA English. Have you ever seen a document outlining accepted spelling, punctuation, and grammar forms?

As I write, there’s 5 hours left to vote and so far I’ve had 77 responses. 95% of respondents replied in the negative. That is, of 77 English teachers, 73 have never seen any official guidance on what is correct, and what is incorrect, in terms of the SPaG element of the English course.  Granted, this is a really small sample, but that still equates to 2190 students being taught by teachers who, to be frank, don’t know what they should be teaching with regard to SPaG, myself included. Incidentally, of the people who replied ‘YES’, only one of them responded to my pleas for advice as to where they found this guidance, and this she said, was found in an AQA textbook. I’ve not found any guidance in my own AQA textbooks.

I’ve asked AQA for some advice as to where I might find some official guidance. So far, they’ve not replied to my tweet. Serves me right for not wearing a tie in my profile picture. My own search for guidance on the AQA website was fruitless. I could find no official guidance, other than what’s outlined in the mark schemes. Which isn’t very useful. The new English Language specification tells us students must be able to ‘use grammar correctly and punctuate and spell accurately’, but offers no advice as to what is classed as correct.

So that’s the exam boards. Now, the Government.  Guidance on Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar for the KS3 National Curriculum implores teachers to build on the knowledge acquired at KS1 and 2. The expectation of what is to be learned at KS1 and 2 is outlined in this document:


The second half of the document, specifically the glossary, is very useful and I urge all Heads of English to do whatever they can to ensure that their staff are familiar with the terms. This can only be a good thing.


Is it fair to ask Secondary Teachers to base their teaching of SPaG on the knowledge that kids should have acquired at Primary?

Is it fair to ask Secondary Teachers to sift through documents aimed at primary school teachers just to find the slightest whiff of guidance relating t SPaG at  GCSE and A-Level?

Is it fair for the government, the exam boards, or whoever, to tell David Crystal the Oxford Comma is banned, and not me?

I don’t think it is fair.

So, this is what I want.  I want exam board guidance on exactly what’s allowed. I want exam board style guides aimed at Secondary Teachers, telling us exactly what’s right and what’s wrong. Who’s up for it. AQA?


Teachers Awards: Who’s Missing Out?

My attendance at a recent Year 11 Leavers’ Assembly prompted me to compose the following tweet earlier this week:

Any leavers’ assemblies, anywhere, giving awards to teachers for teaching stuff? Or is it the pastoral efforts that get all the Milk Tray?

This characteristically cynical tweet from me, @PositivTeacha (it was never meant to be ironic), was driven by the realisation that, at my school, it was only the teachers who’d made pastoral impact to students’ well-being that received all the plaudits,  all the candles and and all the Bayliss and Harding.

Awards were given to form tutors for continued support in building community spirit within form groups, and across the year group. One particularly philanthropic teacher was rightly awarded for striving to provide continued support to students going through difficult times. Of course, the pastoral Head of Year was also commended for her work supporting a year group who had experienced a number of difficulties over the course of their 5 years at Secondary School. One teacher even got an award for organising the Year Book.

All of these awards were duly deserved (okay-not the Year Book one) and the public acknowledgement of these teachers’ efforts was a gesture that, whilst kind, couldn’t come close to repaying the emotional cost to the teachers who provided this excellent-and vital- support to students.


I’ve never lent emotional support to a child. Not really. I’ve gone to Heads of Year to report suspicions and whatnot, but I’ve never been comfortable with the Mother Teresa thing. It’s just not me. And, as such, I was never going to receive any award at this assembly.

Neither is Mr Smith.

Mr Smith is frustrated at the fact that CPD always has a pastoral focus. Because of this, he has to take time out of his own schedule-time that could be spent with his own kids-to brush up on his subject knowledge. Last year, he spent three weekends reading ‘Grapes of Wrath’ just so he could teach the context ‘Of Mice and Men’ better than he did the year before.

Mrs Jones isn’t getting an award either.

She had to cancel her private tutoring just so she could run school intervention sessions on the iGCSE for students on a C/D borderline. It took her eight hours of after school sessions and cost her £240.

Mr Harris didn’t sacrifice anything. No sob stories here. He just read books. He read books about learning and books about English teaching and books about Charles Dickens and Jane Austen and Narrative Frameworks, day in, day out, just so he could teach better. He spoke to people about what he’d read and even when they rolled their eyes, he kept speaking about the things he’d read about.  He kept speaking because he wanted the kids to learn more. He didn’t care whether the kids were going through problems at home, or if they were questioning their sexuality, or if they were experimenting with drugs. All he cared was that all students felt smarter, after meeting him, than they did before they met him.

Pastoral support is vital for the well-being of students and teachers who provide pastoral support to students deserve  public acknowledgement of their efforts. But they do get paid for it. It is their job. So why do teachers not get the plaudits they deserve too?





I Can’t Write.

I can’t write about people who upset me in case I upset the people who upset me.
I can’t write about feelings of extreme happiness in case I sound like a madman.
I can’t write about feelings of extreme sadness in case I sound like a madman.
I can’t write about English because @Xris32 has already done so.
I can’t write about things of which I really, really want to-but simply don’t-know.
I can’t write about reading because time spent writing is time not spent reading.
I can’t write about PE teachers, posters, or anything that may invoke feelings.
I can’t write about individuals.
I can’t write about groups.
I can’t write about the constant pressure to jump through hoops. 
I can’t write about engaging lessons because it bores me.
I can’t write about work/life balance because I’ve 43 books to mark and it’s nearly 8.30.
I can’t write about performance related pay because I can’t afford a lap-top.
I can’t write about uniform when my preferred choice of footwear is flip-flops.
I can’t write about progress because to do so would be regressive.
I can’t write about behaviour management in case I make someone aggressive.
I can’t write about Growth Mindset, Attainment 8, Progress 8, PREVENT, SEND, ADHD, G and T, life before levels, life with levels, life after levels, OFSTED or any bloody thing really.
Because I’ve got kids to teach.

Pervy Boys.


Recently, I’ve been thinking  about an anecdote relayed to me by a female friend. She told me that she’d once been followed home by a ‘weirdo’ stalker who posted things through her letterbox.

Scary. Shocking. Downright disturbing.

As it turned out, this event occurred when the teller of the story was 14 years old and the thing posted through the letterbox was a note from the ‘weirdo stalker’ (a 14 year old boy in her year group) clumsily apologising for the fact that he’d followed her home. What was initially relayed to me as a story about the sinister actions of a warped individual, actually turned out to be a story about the rather awkward, quite temporary, actions of a 14 year old boy too scared to approach the object of his teenage crush. Little did he know that his attempt to apologise for his awkward behaviour would later be used as further evidence of his dangerous creepiness.

As a teacher, I’ve heard myriad misnomers used to describe boys’ entering the world of relationships. A boy who ‘goes out’ with a girl in the year below is denounced as a ‘paedo’; boys who can’t help but stare at the girls they harbour affections for are derided as ‘pervs’; boys who message girls on social media are automatically deemed to be ‘stalkers.’

I’m not saying that girls don’t need to be vigilant and that there aren’t issues surrounding the inappropriate sexual behaviour of both boys and girls towards one another. These things happen in schools all the time and they need to be firmly dealt with. However, if we, as adults and parents and teachers, allow terms such as ‘paedo’, ‘perv’ and ‘stalker’ to be bandied around inaccurately, the real perpetrators of deplorable crimes such as paedophilia, stalking, and abuse of positions of trust are at risk of not being taken seriously enough. And that is something that should scare us all very much.

I’m too good for this CPD.

I’m great at behaviour management. I rarely have any issues, and, on those rare occasions when I do, I know how to write the appropriate level of sanction into a student planner and record that I have done so in 8 different computer systems. In fact, I’d say that of all the things required of me, behaviour management is a real strength. I’d say that behaviour management is something I’m gifted at. Talented even.

Because of this, I don’t want to sit through any more staff meetings about how to deal with classes that don’t keep quiet. I don’t want to sit through any more staff meetings about how to deal with confrontation. I don’t want to sit through any more staff meetings about how to record detentions in 8 different computer systems. I don’t need it. I know it all.

That’s not to say I’m gifted and talented at everything. I’m not. In fact, there’s a few things I need to work on: I’m not happy with the way I explain onomatopoeia. I keep talking about the Divine Right of Kings when I teach Macbeth without really knowing what I’m talking about. And, I’m absolutely convinced that there’s more to persuasive writing than AFOREST. So, instead of sitting in the hall and rolling my eyes as somebody explains that moody teenagers hate being shouted at, can I work on one of those things instead? I think it’ll benefit the students I teach. I think it’ll make me a better teacher.

I understand your concerns. What if I am faced with a behaviour incident that I haven’t been trained for? What if colleagues who require behaviour training resent the fact that they’re having to take part in training, which I am exempt from? What if I take advantage of your trust and instead spend my time doing a minimal impact activity like putting up display board or marking books?

What if? What if? What if?

I’m a teacher. Thinking about ‘What ifs’ is not the best use of my time. The best use of my time is thinking about what I can do in the here and now to improve the learning of the students under my tutelage. So trust me.

You see,  I teach students who already know a lot of what is being taught. Some kids just know more about particular subjects than others. And you ask me to differentiate for them. You ask me to give them something else to do. You ask me to provide learning opportunities that go beyond what everyone else is doing for their benefit. So, I’d like you to consider the same for me.

Subject knowledge is too often assumed to be something that teachers should work on in their spare time, when the reality is that, after a day’s teaching, many teachers lack the energy or the intuition to do so. Sometimes we just want to watch crap. So, next time a meeting is scheduled, ask yourself this:


What can we provide to individuals that will improve the learning of the majority?

Worth a shot no?

An Insight Into the Male Experience

Geezers need excitement
If their lives don’t provide them this they incite violence
Common sense, simple common sense

(‘Geezers Need Excitement’- The Streets)

 In a previous post, I argued that the English curriculum is hyper-feminised. Since writing the post, I’ve become more sensitive to the way we discuss masculinity in the school environment and the post that follows is written with the hope that, having read it, people may be more aware-or at least more sensitive- to the complexities of the male experience.

I want to tell you two stories.

When I was 14 years old I found myself sitting in a fast-food establishment of questionable quality, eating what was advertised as a ‘meat kebab.’ I was minding my own business and eating a kebab. That was all. As I was half way through my meal, a group of boys from my school entered the shop. They were about 4 years older and about 4 stone heavier. One of the boys took an instant dislike to me and proceeded to, as I remember it, ‘rip the shit out of me.’ Totally unprovoked, these four lads rounded on me, a boy 4 years younger, for absolutely no reason at all. I was scared and I was upset and I left. The kebab stayed on the table. I vividly remember getting home; I was fuming. I was humiliated and angered by the injustice of it all.  Since that incident, I’ve grown older. I aced my GCSE’s, nailed my A-Levels and worked damn hard to get a damn good degree at a damn good University. I read prolifically. In fact, I’m so well educated that society has deemed it okay for me to educate other people. So how do I feel when I think back to that incident in the kebab shop, 16 years ago? I feel shame. And anger. Burning anger.

Last week, I was in the gym and another bloke in the gym took an instant dislike to me. He couldn’t stop shooting aggressive stares in my direction and later on he shoulder barged me as I passed him. That is, he rammed his shoulder into my chest for absolutely no reason. Some time after, friends of his turned up and they all tried to intimidate me any way they could. If I haven’t told you already, I’m well educated; I read books and I watch films and I go to the theatre. I know what to do to avoid smashed teeth and a criminal conviction: Flight, not fight. So that’s what I did; I walked away, when all I wanted to do was smash some faces up. I went into the changing rooms, sat down and rationalised the situation. My thoughts went something like this:

  1. I’m more educated than they are, obviously. Educated people don’t go round picking on people.
  2. It’s brave, walking away
  3. Walking away is the right thing to do
  4. I’ve got lots of good qualifications and they, presumably, haven’t
  5. Aren’t I brave…walking…away….

And there’s the rub. There I was, hiding in a changing room, angry with myself for walking away, humiliated and emasculated,  and they were out there, laughing at my flight, blithely unaware of  any harm or upset they might cause to anyone ever. And I still feel it now. Walking away has left me ashamed. I don’t feel morally superior, nor do I feel as though I did the right thing. What irks me more, is an awareness that it is more than likely that my education-the fact that I read lots- has rendered me more susceptible and sensitive to the injustices of the situation.

I will always walk away. I like my face too much and I never want to go to prison. But, as a man, I feel an acute sense of shame-genuine shame-every time I think back to a time where I’ve ‘walked away.’ And I’m educated and well-rounded and my parents have done a sterling job in raising me. As teachers, we need to be aware of the complexities of the male experience. In the playground, its the boys who fight who rule the roost and those that read books hold no sway. Unless they can fight also. And this counts for adulthood too.

What does this mean? If I’m honest, I don’t know. But I’m open to suggestions.

I will always tell the boys I teach ‘to walk away and be the bigger person’ and I’ll tell them this because  engaging in physical fighting can kill. It can end lives. But can I sincerely and honestly tell these boys that they’ll feel good for walking away? Not at all. Quite the opposite.



POST: Telephone coach

WANTED: An educationalist (teacher/blogger/consultant), with a leaning towards a traditionalist or evidence-based approach.

JOB DESCRIPTION: You will be required to take part in a one-off 30 minute phone call with a frustrated teacher who feels increasingly isolated in a world of progressive teaching methods based on little else than intuition.

JOB REQUIREMENTS: The frustrated teacher wants to discuss a number of things with you:

  • Dealing with resistance to research or evidence-based methods because they’re ‘too didactic’ – How do you cope?
  • Time management- how do you allocate time to teaching/planning/reading research/ blogging.
  • Career prospects- is the frustrated teacher destined for a career in a profession resistant to traditionalist methods? Is Michaela the only school that espouses a knowledge-centred approach?
  • Tips on how frustrated teacher can encourage other teachers to share his passion for evidence-based / traditionalist approach to teaching and learning.

If you would be interested volunteering for this post, apply within.