So, what's wrong with school?

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How schools fail children

A recent article in the Times Education Supplement points out that the focus in schools on literacy makes it difficult for those with other talents to show what they can do. I believe the problem is worse that that – the very bright, scientifically minded kids who hate writing and analysing poems but love fiddling and messing with real things, are turned off learning and can be labelled with ADHD because they need to be doing stuff instead of listening to stuff. This problem extends beyond school, where “writing about” scores more points than being able to do something. Access to higher education is on the basis of performance in written exams – now even more so since the practical element of many exams has been removed by the toxic Govean changes.

A friend’s son, hugely gifted in 3D visualisation and practical hands on skills to make or mend anything, struggled in school as the requirement to show everything in written form to get the marks meant he hovered near the bottom. He did get to university at some point to study design, and was brilliant on the actual process of designing using computers and other means, however he failed his second year because he couldn’t get his ideas onto an exam aper in the required format in the required time.

This has an effect on all aspects of society, where being able to bullshit on paper, and parade your grades from written exams, gets you the interview whether or not you can actually do the job. “Evidence of doing” has become more important than actual doing. Many children are failed by this – not just the potential engineers who never get to do.
Tens of thousands of potential engineers missed due to exams’ focus on literacy
Helen Ward 25th May 2017

Children Should Have The Right to Vote

In England and Wales, children aged 10 are deemed criminally responsible and can go on trial in adult courts for serious offences. Yet it is not until they are 18 that they are deemed to be capable of having a say in the laws to which they are subject. Arguments against children having a vote don’t hold water when the same arguments could be used against many adults. Saying children will vote for the parties that give the most sweeties, ignores the fact that many adults vote for their own personal best interests. This does not disqualify them.
Arguing that children are not yet rational beings should let them off the hook over crimes, but many adults are not rational either: they vote for the handsome guy, the sweet talker, without ever looking at policies and evaluating them.
But children will be influenced by their parents and their peers and will be easily manipulated, say some. This seems to assume that adults are immune from these influences. Many people simply vote for the party their parents did.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children’s views should be taken into account in everything that affects them. Having a vote would enable them to voice those views in the same way adults do. Children voting would focus policies and politicians on the needs and wishes of children to enable us to become a truly child-friendly society. Examples of democratic schools, with pupils and teachers deciding the rules together, such as Summerhill, do not lead to chaos and rebellion. On the contrary, by having a say in how things are run, there is a greater commitment to the community.
If the consequences of children’s political participation is the reform or radical overhaul of schools, or even their abolition, then that is the message we must hear. If children vote in their millions to do away with homework, we need to acknowledge their right to leisure. Political participation in the young could be an antidote to political apathy later on. Being involved in decisions that affect you is a right for all, no matter how young.

This Article was published in Education Outside School issue 9 Autumn 2013

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Lessons in democracy

In the UK budget last week, George Osborne announced that all schools in England would be forced to become academies. What does this tell us about democracy? That a party that received votes from 24% of registered voters, but with a majority in the house, want to force upon schools, parents and children something that was not in their manifesto.

Parents, teachers (and of course, pupils) will not be able to object, parents will not be on the board of governors (because we need professional ideologues in that job) and teacher’s contracts will be “negotiable.” Sponsors choose the majority of those on the governing body of academies already (1) eliminating any pretence of democracy.

The academy report card is hardly glorious. In 2014 half the schools in one large academy chain were failing. (2)
This model is ripe for corruption, with little true oversight. One academy chain paid consultancy fees of £800,000 over 2 years to companies that the sponsors and trustees had a financial interest in.(3) Public money is being used to line the pockets of dodgy folk who see children’s education as a way to make a quick buck. Head teachers’ salaries are also soaring in academies and “free” schools.(4)

There is a possibility with academies to ditch the stifling National Curriculum and offer something else, but parental choice (never pupil choice) is a fallacy. (see The Myth of Parental Choice) When a leading arms manufacturer is running a school, we have to question the ethos that will be promoted. (5)

Measurement can become the problem. “Good” schools get “good” exam results. “Good” teachers have students with “good” exam results. But when 4 out of 5 of the exam successes going to university have mental health problems (6), with one third contemplating suicide, what exactly have our “good” schools produced?

Academisation is, of course, one step on the way to total privatization of education. Removing schools from local authority control destroys local democratic accountability. One person (Secretary of State for Education) becomes the dictator of all schools with regional commissioners overseeing thousands of schools (7), if all become academies. Pupil money flows to private organisations, who can make a profit out of warehousing kids, reduced to economic generation units in the industrial model. Public money goes to private hands to redefine children.

Each pupil will have a price tag/ profit tag on their head. Accountability becomes, instead, accounting. “How can we save money?” becomes how can individuals make more profit from imprisoning children against their will, inflicting upon them something neither they, their parents or even teachers have chosen

All mainstream schools are undemocratic – pupils have no say, parents have limited say, teachers too do not play a major role in decisions in most schools (they may be able to decide who to punish)

Maybe, after all, it is a model of the type of democracy we have – the illusion of having a say in all aspects of your life by being allowed to put a cross on a paper every 5 years. In the UK, where only 24% of the electorate voted Tory, this is hardly the will of the majority. So schools may be a perfect preparation for life in a democratic society but it doesn’t have to be like this or limit our view of the possible in this way. Democratic schools like Summerhill (8), where the rules and decisions are taken jointly between staff and students, point the way towards what true democracy can look like. It isn’t braying men in suits in an antique “house” inflicting their toxic ideology on us all.

Posted on twitter   @McewenB   , a lesson for us all:


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Children should have a right to resist education

Janusz Korczac, a Polish-Jewish paediatrician ran an orphanage for Jewish children in the Warsaw ghetto during the second world war. In his diaries and books he listed the rights he believed children should have. Many have made their way into conventions such as United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) with one notable exception. Children, he said, should have the right to resist education that conflicts with their own beliefs.
Concerns worldwide are with a right to education, rather than rights in education and it is never matched with a right to resist or refuse that education if it is inappropriate, damaging, remiss or just plain boring. Children have no right to demand an education that better suits them.

Adults can choose not to exercise their human rights, but children cannot. In fact the right to an education is really a duty on parents to ensure their children receive an education and a duty on children to access whatever education they are told to.

The rights of children are limited by the concept of their best interests as decided by adults. The UNCRC states that children’s wishes should be taken into account in all decisions that affect them. Truants and school-refusers are stating clearly and categorically that they do not want to be in school. We need to respect the statement these children are making.

Children have no say in whether they go to school, which school they are forced to attend, what curriculum they are made to study while there, who teaches them and what educational and behavioural policies are inflicted on them.

If schools were places where children wanted to be, where they felt safe and cared for, and had their needs met then truancy and school-refusal would not be a problem. When truancy is criminalised and refusal is medicalised the blame is shifted. Schools are let off the hook as the problem is seen as feckless parents and mentally ill children.

By naming refusal to go as “school phobia” it creates a psychiatric condition to be treated. Children’s voices are silenced and ignored, their distress dismissed. This labels children saying NO to school as having a medical condition in the same way that drapetomania was a mental illness exclusive to slaves who showed an “irrational” desire to run away. Similarly, dissidents in Soviet Russia were hospitalized as insane.

A phobia is an irrational fear. Although children may be made ill and driven mad by school, school-refusal is not an illness or madness. To refuse to enter a crocodile pit is not crocophobia, but discretion as the better part of valour. To refuse to go to a prison when you have committed no wrong is not prison-phobia.

The treatment (for if it is a disease then it must have treatment) is to send refusers back to school as soon as possible. Accounts of this treatment are harrowing and tantamount to child abuse. They aim to break the child or drug them into submission and total denial of their own needs. Giving children the right to resist and refuse education would ensure that schools and parents listen to the needs and wishes of children and make a more humane world for us all.

To buy my book in paperback, click on the book cover on the home page or visit   To order a PDF use the CONTACT form on this site or the BUY PDF page or email jmwanzia ( at) Not available on Amazon

I am an extremist


5th July 2015

Proposed ‘extremism’ legislation should terrify us all. David Cameron said in May:”
“For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.” We should all worry how the thought police are going to define extremism.

“Asserting our system of values” (as Cameron stated on Radio 4) is, of course, fascism. Being “intolerant of intolerance”, while being a quirky paradoxical sound bite, stinks of Orwellian Newspeak and redefining words. If obeying the law is not enough, the “intolerance” can be applied in a partisan way.

Our unjust wars are legitimised and violence by the other is labelled terrorism. The US government set up research groups to come up with a definition of terrorism that could exclude their own violent expansionism. Easy – states cannot be terrorists because they have a legitimacy. That is why there is concern about the term Islamic State – oh dear, if it is a state it can’t be terrorism. Back to using ISIS or ISIL or something now that the idea it is Islamic is firmly rooted in people’s minds.

So what are these British values?
Democracy? – the will of the majority? Well, 24% of the electorate voted Tory, yet we have an unjust extremist government thrust upon us. I’m against that. I’d prefer a proportional system where every vote counted. A bit extremist of me. What if the majority of the population don’t want democracy?

Rule of law? Well, I’m critical of a legal system that fails to prosecute: bankers who destroyed our economy; ‘law enforcers’ who kill prisoners in custody, abusers of power and the rich and powerful, while sending a young ‘rioter’ who stole a packet of crisps to jail for 4 years. Cuts to legal aid mean justice for the poor under the law is compromised further. I’m not convinced – the rule of law seems to be one rule for the rich and another for the poor. I’m against that too.

Individual liberty? Yes, I am in favour of that in a way that this proposed legislation seems to attack. Freedom of thought? Freedom of expression? Surely they are an intrinsic part of individual liberty that is attacked by this. Again our language is being redefined. We have freedom of speech so long as you, or your child in school, does not say anything against the government or contrary to “British values”. How is that any different from the dictatorships we justify invading?

Mutual respect? I want to stand alongside my Muslim friends and neighbours and proclaim that I am an extremist. It is safer, at the moment, for me – a white Westerner of no specific religion, than it would be for them, That is how fair and just our society has become. Of course Muslim people are fleeing the persecution they can see coming here.

Schools will be the thought police in this scenario – your children utter innocent statements and the stasi turn up to interview you and put your children on the at risk of radicalisation list. Your daughter wears a headscarf? Oh dear they will have to unradicalise her with exposure to page 3. Your son goes to the mosque? – maybe he is being radicalised there so they will close the mosque and re-educate your son.

Here are some questions asked of primary children in Waltham Forest :

“The survey asks children as young as nine living in Waltham Forest, east London, detailed questions about their beliefs and poses several leading statements for them to assess, concerning the strength of their feelings and how far they might go to defend their religion.

They include: “Religious books are to be understood word for word”, “I believe my religion is the only correct one”, “God has a purpose for me” and “I would do what a grown up told me to do even if it seemed odd to me”.”

Doing as an adult tells you is extreme in school? Such as filling out a stupid questionnaire when asked to?

First they came for the Muslims and I did not speak out because I was not a Muslim. Then we were all called extremist for protesting.

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Cheating and dishonesty in schools

15th June 2015

An article in today’s Guardian indicates the extent of cheating in schools and universities. This is not a new phenomenon. As I wrote in my book (Reason 33. Schools promote dishonesty), dishonesty and cheating occur at all levels and are part of the culture. Schools and teachers cheat and collude with students to cheat as the stakes for all are set so high and are dependent on a young person ticking enough boxes. League tables. performance-related pay and achievement awards for schools all put pressure on to get the grades. Ofsted reports are also often a fictional representation of what actually happens. At a nearby college Ofsted visited during A level mock week when no lessons were taught and all students were off site. Specially selected students were bused to speak to inspectors. In one adult class, where only 5 out of 13 had passed the first assessment, 4 of the “successes” were told to talk to the inspectors about their experience.

In a culture of dishonesty. lying and cheating to survive or gain advantage becomes acceptable. In a punishment based system (with reward as a shade of punishment) young people learn to do whatever they can get a way with.

The problem is not that students cheat, but that the pieces of paper are seen to count for more than any other criteria in the job market and in deciding whether someone is a success or a failure in life. The pursuit of qualifications, regardless of their intrinsic worth or the knowledge they may represent, contaminates education systems world wide. The incentive and rewards of cheating outweigh the risks of getting caught.

Schools exist to create winners and losers, successes and failures to feed into the machine. Dishonesty is not a problem in this scenario. We need human beings, honest,insightful humans, to navigate our way out of the mess that has been created by this way of being.

See Book Extract 33. Schools promote dishonesty

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School makes teachers sick

Radio 4 file on 4  Sick of School

I wrote about this in my book, how teachers are overwhelmed and undermined, stressed and distressed, falling sick and becoming absent with more leaving than ever before, now standing at 4,000 leaving the profession every month (one in 12)

In an online survey of 3,500 teachers in UK the NASUWT found 68% seriously considered quitting and 48% had visited a doctor in the last 12 months for physical or mental issues related to their work.

Nigel Utton, by all accounts a brilliant head, quit in  2014:

The measurement and testing of special educational needs pupils is “disgusting”, a head teacher has said. Nigel Utton, head of Bromstone Primary School in Kent said he had decided “enough is enough” and he would be leaving his job.29 Apr 2014 He argues that schools are about statistics and data and not about children.

Schools are inhuman places with added burdens of bureaucracy and “accountability”. Those taught by stressed, distressed teachers are also damaged. Humans need to come before the numbers generated to satisfy pointless targets.

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So, what’s wrong with maths teaching?

6th February 2015

Recent announcements from Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary, include ensuring all children know their times tables up to 12 by age 11, with schools being penalised if all children do not pass tests in them. Yet when quizzed on air, she refused to answer maths questions under duress. What if children refuse to answer questions because of the stress of the test? And for those schools which fail to get all their students through this:
Headteacher Bernard Trafford, in The Journal asks:
“well, what will happen? Ah, I know. The primary school will be placed in special measures, the head sacked, and the school will become an academy.What if it’s already an academy? The Department for Education didn’t tackle that question. The maths doesn’t add up.
Times tables are not maths, though they can be useful, but in a world where everyone has a calculator on their phone or computer, this focus on the mechanics of calculation is backward-looking, tedious and will turn many off the glory of true maths for life, as when high stakes tests are given, that become the main focus of teaching.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers said:
“Our schools need to be accountable, but the current system stifles creativity, leads to ‘teaching to the test’ and does not promote sustainable improvements in education,” .

Is there a better way to do maths, a better way to learn and be inspired by maths?
ProfessorJo Boaler, never learned her times tables. She was educated in that glorious time when understanding numbers in a context was more important. My son never memorised them either but could, like Prof Boaler, tell you the correct answer pretty quickly. When I asked him how he did it he replied “I just learned the fundamental interconnectedness of the individual numbers and extrapolated it onto a larger scale.” It seemed to work.
In 1964 The Nuffield Foundation developed an approach to primary mathematics which had the aim “I do and I understand.” It enabled a generation of kids to get to grips with the world of maths in a fun and accessible way. Here is what their website says about what happened to their 5 – 11 approach:
The publications sold extremely well over a long period. The first National Curriculum featured many of the mathematical ideas explored and tested by Nuffield Maths 5/11. However high-stakes testing and later the national numeracy strategy brought about a marked change in classroom priorities and practice. The Nuffield slogan: ‘I do – and I understand’ faded into history.

Michael Gove implemented changes to the primary maths curriculum to over burden young minds even more, even forcing those who “fail” GCSE maths at age 16 to keep re-sitting it until they pass or reach age 18. Jo Boaler argues that the idea that some people are good at maths and others aren’t, hinders many from grasping and enjoying maths. Those that are labelled failures see themselves as incapable.
In Anchor Maths, Leslie A Hart tells us that maths needs to be practical, investigative and projective (involved in planning). In the average classroom: “Early arithmetic focuses on “naked” numbers (numbers on their own and not in any context), operations and algorithms. That can seem very dull and useless pretty quickly. Students spend many hours putting numbers on paper but there is no outcome. Nothing happens…apart from getting a grade. This diminishes both math and science.”

Conrad Wolfram argues that we do it all wrong – focussing on hand calculating (when computers do that so much better and quicker than we do) and losing sight of the many real world uses of maths, of concepts and practicalities that would make maths more relevant, creative and fun.

What stops schools taking up any of these approaches? The tyranny of exams and backward looking politicians. The desire to climb up international tables and compete with nations where rote learning increases marks on exams but stifles minds. “All together now Six times Seven equals something or other.”

For more on this see

Click to access 14_Boaler_FORUM_55_1_web.pdf

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Economic Eugenics in the UK

30th December 2014

Staks Rosch coined the phrase “economic eugenics” in 2011 to refer to policies that aim to kill all poor people.1 This is being done by economic means, all seeming less messy than piles of bodies on the floor of gas chambers but just as lethal. Terms such as “welfare scroungers” have echoes of how Nazis described those they considered sub-human: Jewish people were called Weltparasit – world parasites. Similar language is used to describe those unable to find work or unable to work through ill health. Social cleansing of poor people out of cities into ghettos through housing benefit changes, also has resonances of fascism targeting those deemed sub-human.

This eugenics imprisons many in degrading poverty, with people unable to feed themselves, keep warm or maintain basic human dignities. Jobcentres now seem to have changed their remit from helping people find suitable jobs that make them better off, to a weapon to punish the poor with sanctioning targets2 and an aim to reduce the welfare budget, whatever the outcome for the human beings pushed into absolute poverty. The primary meaning of “welfare” refers to the health, happiness, prosperity and wellbeing of a person or group. It is not a dirty word. Everyone’s “welfare” is served when we treat each other with humanity.
Those who are sick are deemed by ATOS to be fit for work after a brief tick-box “assessment” by strangers. Jobcentre staff then say the sick person is not looking for work or is not available for work and stop all money. GPs who know their patients best, have limited power to intervene.

The biggest problem is the defining of human worth by the ability to sell our labour on the market. If we can’t, we are deemed worthless and may as well die. Those who are unable to work through mental or physical health limitation are not seen as fully human by a system that only counts in pounds not people. The unpaid work upon which every society depends (raising children, caring for relatives and friends, unpaid charitable and social work) is also invisible because it doesn’t show up in GDP.

But growth can be toxic. One of our biggest exports is arms, sold to anyone who will buy. We should not be proud of an economy based on death. John Major, when he was Prime Minister, said we should understand a little less and condemn a little more. That condemning has stretched beyond crime to condemning to destitution all those our society has no use for. What we need is more understanding of the human lives blighted by an economic system based on greed and not need.

Suicides increase in economic hard times, but each death of a claimant saves the country money. Those who only look to the bottom line see positives instead of the misery they have induced. Cuts in services to help those suffering as a result of job loss or from the extreme mental and physical stress of poverty, merely make such deaths more likely.3
It has been known for decades that the poor die younger than the wealthy, and that in greatly divided societies like our own, the life expectancy of all is reduced. The accountants see a reduction in those living to the ever-increasing pension age while those who need to claim benefits to exist are less likely to get there. But our government wants to put the onus on health professionals to tackle inequalities that are caused by fiscal policies.4 Giving people nutrition advice when they can’t afford to buy food is mere victim-blaming. Referrals of sick people to employment advice when there are no suitable jobs further victimises.

We need a radical rethink. The Green Party policy of a citizen’s income,5 where each person gets enough for basic living and earnings are on top of that, would be a great step towards a more compassionate society. No-one is promising full employment, but there is a huge amount of work to be done. By allowing people time to do what needs doing – creating communities where we all want to live and valuing unpaid work – we can create a fairer and more humane society. To those who say we cannot afford to care, I would argue that we cannot afford not to.

Jessica Mwanzia is the author of So, what’s wrong with school? 125 reasons not to send your kids

References: accessed 2nd August 2013. He is primarily referring to the situation in the USA
see John Domokos and Patrick Wintour (Tuesday 26 March 2013) Hodge demands explanation for DWP denial of jobcentre sanctions targets The Guardian
Sarah Bosely (Tuesday 14 August 2012) Rise in suicides blamed on impact of recession
The Guardian
BBC news (18 March 2013) NHS told to do more to ‘reduce health inequalities’

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HESFES 2014: What is Education For?

11th August 2014

A wonderful week at Stonham Barn with lovely people and weather.

As promised, I have typed up my notes on the talk “What is Education and what is it for? I have summarised the responses I received to my open questionnaire and included the responses of the audience on the day. I was fascinated by the variety of responses and how we all have different ideas about the purpose and content of education – but then variety is the spice of life. How boring, and somehow totalitarian, if we all thought the same.

Summary of HESFES talk

It is more important to ask pertinent questions that to have all the answers
4 year olds ask 400+ questions a day – then what happens?

the hardest to answer but most important to ask
reflect upon the Why of education as this is what sustains you
what is the purpose?

Important because
Why ➭ What ➭ How

The purposes you see influence what you see as education and how it is to be done.
The GOAL shapes the means

e.g. If state education is seen as a way to produce economic generation units, that shapes what is considered education and the how becomes rigidly defined too.

There can be a gap between the why and the what.
e.g. a quote:
“I believe education allows individuals to become authors of their own life story.”

This was Michael Gove in 2009:

The why is influenced by:
-values and beliefs about children, society, the future, God
-own experiences

When a group of American high school students were asked the question:
What is the purpose of education? Here are some of their responses:

The future of our society
Get a job you enjoy
Get a better job to provide for your family and help others around you
For better communication skills
Happiness in what you do
Can’t do what you want without it
Teach others what you learn
It’s something to do
To feel accomplished
For a better country – to out compete other countries
If no-one is educated, the government can do pretty much whatever they want

source Youtube video

A wide variety of responses from HE parents, HE young people and others have similarities and differences from these.

Responses to What is education for? that were given in the session:
Gain independence and choice later in life
Understand and find your place in the world around you
To enrich your life
To get maths, English science
to get a job
How to look after animals
mental health of person being educated

Summary of home educating parents’ responses to What is education for? from questionnaires.
understand others and how to deal with them – socialisation – communication
understand the world – awareness of environment – seek own answers- find own place in the world
understanding self – emotions – minds – find what you want and what you love – how to get it
create and discover – possibilities – choices – innate talents – expand knowledge – advance the world – share what you learn -experience new ideas and concepts
become a better person – discover innate talents – broaden horizons – learn how to think – develop values – to do what you want to do well – self-development –
make a better world – contribute to society – increase joy, peace and happiness in the world – create a fair, sustainable world
survival – skills – tools for life – means to achieve what they want – fulfilling employment – preparation for adult life – fulfill cultural expectations
motivation to learn – encourage curiosity
leaning how to learn – to research – to evaluate what you learn
pleasure – intellectual satisfaction – enjoyment – happiness – enrich your life
raise next generation
meaning and purpose in life

Home Educated young people’s responses:
survival: skills for job you enjoy- to earn money to fund a positive lifestyle
make a better world: get a foundation to progress e.g. areas of science and maths
understand the world: maths to use in later life
enjoyment; enrich life – fun – interest
inspire to learn more

Note that the 3 lists have some strong similarities.

Using a model to frame the discussion
Models can be limiting and enlightening – use with care
Problems come when try to make the world bend to the model
One worth looking at is Thomas Berry’s : Education is to Survive, Critique and Create on a personal, community and planetary level.

Survive includes: to live a life worth living in the context of a healthy community on a healthy planet
Critique includes: understanding and questioning the world, “crap detecting”
Create includes: making a better world, expressing own creative drives

(O’Sullivan E. (1999) Transformative Learning: Educational Visions for the 21st Century (London, New York: Zed Books A fascinating analysis of education under the headings of Survive, Critique and Create (though not an easy read)

Can we fit the responses we have from all the groups into this framework?

Get a job you enjoy
A job to provide for a family
Happiness in what you do
Teach others what you learn

Can’t do what you want without it
To feel accomplished
fulfill cultural expectations

If no-one is educated, the government can do pretty much whatever they want raise the next generation
survival – skills – tools for life – means to achieve what they want – fulfilling employment – preparation for adult life
Independence and choice
how to look after animals

Mental health
earn money to fund a positive lifestyle

Community and planetary survival:

The future of society

For better communication skills

Teach others what you learn

For a better country – to out compete other countries

Raise the next generation

understand the world – awareness of environment – seek own answers- find own place in the world
understanding self – emotions – minds – find what you want and what you love – how to get it
understand place in the world
evaluating what you learn

Community and Planetary understanding:

Understanding other people and how to deal with them



Understanding the world



Create and discover – possibilities – choices – innate talents – expand knowledge -experience new ideas and concepts
Become a better person – discover innate talents – broaden horizons – learn how to think – develop values – to do what you want to do well – self-development
Enrich your life – have fun – follow interests
Curiosity and motivation to learn
How to learn and research – creating new knowledge
Enjoyment, happiness
Meaning and purpose in life

Community and planetary creativity:

Share what you learn

Contribute to society – increase joy and happiness in the world – create a fair, sustainable world

Advance the world

Make a better world.

Foundations in place to advance in science and maths etc.


For some answers, it isn’t easy to decide where they belong. Is meaning and purpose something we create or something necessary for our survival? Or both?

We need to know our purposes or at least ask the question.

What is worth knowing?
Postman N and Weingartner C (1969) Teaching as a Subversive Activity (New York: Delta) looked at a curriculum based on the questions that learners wanted to ask and answer, prompted by the question “What is worth knowing?”

I asked this of my kids at various times during our home education journey and with their permission will share some of their ideas:
-how to cook:
-history especially horrible histories
-how to behave and be polite
-your rights and the law
-disguises and espionage
-lock picking
-survival and how to defend yourself
-how to spot a bargain
-understanding other people
-looking after your teeth
-how to hop backwards
-having your own thoughts and not doing what everyone else thinks is important

Survival skills and future jobs merge with relating to other people, practical skills and knowledge.

Audience responses to What is worth knowing?
-how to find something out
-different languages
-things to know for the joy of knowing
-finding innate talents
-different ways of making a living
-whatever interests you is worth knowing
-where we have come from
-new experiences e.g. travel that challenges us
-mastering ourselves
-coping strategies
-knowing what you’d like to have happen
-trading without money
-envisioning the future fro ourselves and our society
-self-reliance – ability to look after ourselves
-growing own food
-resilience – being able to swim against the tide
-learning to live within our means
-communication skills
-how to relax, turn off, sleep,
-listening to your own body
-learning what can hurt/kill us and how to avoid it
-how to get our needs met
-preventing society from stopping our positive natural tendencies
-how to sing
-learning to cope outside our comfort zone
-confidence – learning how to be OK with yourself.

There was then a discussion about whether everyone “should” learn anything like singing or only those who found it interesting or enjoyable.

From the questionnaires the answers to What is worth knowing? were wide ranging:

-many said everything, or anything – all knowledge has a value and a purpose
-whatever you are drawn to, whatever interests you, whatever your heart seeks

Many referred to skills and tools for life:
work with the hands and practical skills
dealing with change
using the internet
making and maintaining relationships
how things work including people
how we do things
the 3 R’s
the law
washing up
public speaking
what you need ot know

Many referred to understanding that helps us in our life:
that people aren’t 100% reliable
that knowledge is a common good
that there are multiple truths
that everything is subjective
how the universe works
where food comes from
where babies come from and how not to get them
how to get on with people
not to be bamboozled
how people learn differently
sustainability and ecological awareness
systems that work with rather than against nature
problem solving
history of dominator cultures

Some answers to What is worth knowing? fit into any and all categories. I have chosen to think of them as creative:
vision questing
whatever makes you happy


Other sessions in the conference look at the How? of education.

There is a spectrum from child led to parent led
Learning versus teaching – peer to peer,
Learning without teaching – one laptop per child, internet, technology
Learning to learn

The one-laptop-per-child project gave tablet computers in boxes to kids in remote Ethiopian villages where no-one had ever seen the written word or any technology. Within 4 minutes a child had the box open and the machine switched on. The kids used lots of apps and learned the alphabet and how to hack the security systems. They taught themselves and each other.

This is similar to the hole-in-the-wall experiment in India where computers were placed in holes in the wall and slum dwellers given free access to them. The children learned very quickly how to use them.

Who should decide?
This is the crucial arguments we are having to retain HE autonomy – if the state decides the why and the what it limits the HOW.

Questionnaire responses:
The student: The vast majority said the student should decide but some said you have to pick something
The parent or main carer: a smaller number stated the parent
Child and parent: a few stated that both together should decide e.g. parent sets framework, team of the learner and those who love and respect the learner, individual in the context of society, need to be shown what is available and how to access it.

Other: if not parent then other adults, you and the people you ask, a kinder society, cooperatively, someone without an ideological agenda, people who have lived through all eventualities in life.

Other questions we may want to ask:

The idea of critical periods for learning many things is being challenged by neurophysiological findings of plasticity of the brain (it’s ability to change with new experiences) being maintained throughout life. A fascinating book is The Brain that Changes Itself

Asking questions:

Keep asking those questions.

Quote from Terry Pratchett:

“Albert grunted. “Do you know what happens to lads who ask too many questions?”
Mort thought for a moment.
“No,” he said eventually, “what?”
There was silence.
Then Albert straightened up and said, “Damned if I know. Probably they get answers, and serve ’em right.”

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So, what’s wrong with Amazon?

20th January 2014

Well, I naively ticked a box to place my book on Amazon, only to discover that they undercut me and take every penny. Then I tried to remove it from their listing and they refused to do so. They are collecting emails of people interested in buying my book, when I have no intention of selling there again. This effectively blocks sales, prevents people getting a copy of the book at all and puts small publishers out of business. They bully publishers who try to stand up to them.

Of course, that is the tip of the iceberg in Amazon’s unethical practices. Housemans list their other sins:

Amazon prevent their workforce from unionising for decent wages and conditions, which allows them to treat their staff  badly with no sick leave and excessive work loads. They intend to monopolise the online market, undercutting competitors. This is only possible by robbing workers of decent pay and conditions and robbing publishers, writers, producers and sellers of goods of a fair cut. Their monopoly puts many out of business. By dodging tax (they pay zero tax in the UK in spite of £7.5 billion annual sales) they have another unfair advantage over legitimate businesses that respect the rights of their workers.

The Kindle is an interesting idea – you can only buy kindle books from Amazon and the kindle books you buy REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF AMAZON:

Amazon’s eBook reader, The Kindle, demonstrates Amazon’s “scorched earth” approach to competition. They created an eBook reader that is proprietary. All books loaded onto The Kindle must be “purchased” from Amazon – and they remain the property of Amazon. All other eBook readers on the market allow customers to buy eBooks from a variety of sources, including independent bookstores. (Read more: Kindle: How To Buy A Book But Not Own It)”

All in all, this evil behemoth cares nothing for writers, publishers or even their customers. All they care about is putting competitors out of business by undercutting them and conveniently making no profit so they pay virtually no tax.  (in 2012 despite 60 BILLION dollars of sales, Amazon reported a 40 million dollar loss) They do this by investing in expansionism to avoid paying tax on the huge revenues they take. ) Now there’s an education for us all.

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League tables, ranking and the value of the unmeasurable

10th December 2013

Last week Pisa test results put Singapore at the top of the international league tables for 15 year olds with UK at 26 out of 65. Yet in 2012 UK were in the top 10 for reading and maths in primary schools by a US survey

The Sutton Trust argues that these measurements are misleading.  with politicians using them to back up whatever agenda they already have. Levels going down? We need these market led reforms. Levels going up? That just shows that our market led reforms are working and need to be intensified.

Sir Peter Lampl, chair of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation said “Whatever the average ranking of English education, we need to focus on reducing social segregation which is greater in England than almost all other OECD countries” 

The problem is not whether the rankings are accurate or meaningful, but whether we should be ranking at all. Proposals to rank every child in the country against every other child at age 11 , merely rigidifies what already happens.

In response to the discovery that, shock horror, England and the UK have fallen down the table, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “For children to achieve their potential, we need to raise the bar.” So how does that work exactly? “Raising the bar” would simply ensure more failed to clear it, so more would be labelled as failures from a young age.

The problem is not our position in the tables but the fact that we are relying on one-off test results to come to unjustified conclusions about children, education and what changes need to happen. If we look at the amount of dishonesty by schools that influences Ofsted reports, we have to ask what is the point of all this measuring and ranking? Most of us do not want to live our lives in a “global race” and certainly do not want our small children to have to hit the ground running to keep up.

If we want to see the outcomes of an education system we need to look at the society that is produced. As Nelson Mandela told us “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

The rankings we should be most disturbed by are those that show the levels of inequality and poverty in a society, the injustices and human rights abuses, the wars engaged in and the levels of violent and premature death, of homelessness and mental ill-health. But when we measure social justice as the ability to participate in a market society rather than the ability to live a life of peace and dignity, with access to the resources that are needed to maintain a healthy body, mind and spirit, then we have to question whether the “market” can ever deliver those things to all in society, when making a profit for the few, dictates the terms of engagement. When this flawed market model is applied to the education of our children, is it any wonder that the “market” collapse model can also apply? Our children are not just another commodity to be compared and graded for sale on the global market. The more there are the cheaper they become, with the lowest ranked being considered disposable people.

To truly reflect a society we need to look at the unmeasurables that lead to a quality of life. How much kindness do we experience in our daily life? How safe do we feel about the future? With what sense of self and trust do we greet each day? What is the nature of our connection to nature? To educate a whole person, and not just the bit the market wants us to express, is the real challenge of any education system and most are found wanting.

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Support the right to home-educate in The Netherlands

5th December 2013

In early 2014, ministers in The Netherlands are planning to discuss the abolition of home education. There is a small but active home education community fighting for the right to continue to educate their own children. An international petition about this can be accessed here:

For an inspiring flashmob of Dutch Home Educators see

See world wide attacks on home education     to see this is part of a global trend towards erosion of rights of children and freedom of thought. Parents can’t be trusted with their children’s education but a disinterested, hostile state which sees our children as economic generation units, somehow believes it acts in the best interest of children by separating them from their parents.

Teachers know the problems with targets


11th November 2013

The Guardian’s Secret teacher tells it like it is: the pressure put on teachers and students to “perform” to ludicrous, inhuman targets takes its toll on all in the school system. Teachers are deprofessionalised and mistrusted; pupils stressed and made to jump through hoops. Target-driven education is  bad for everyone’s mental and physical health. Ofsted becomes the driver of it all.

In reason 94: Ofsted: the engine that drives it all I quote The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley. In 1863 he foresaw the ogre of Ofsted:

“Here comes the examiner-of-all-examiners. So you had better get away, I warn you, or he will examine you and your dog into the bargain, and set him to examine all the other dogs, and you to examine all the other water babies. There is no escape out of his hands, for his nose is 9000 miles long, and can go down chimneys and through keyholes, upstairs, downstairs, in my lady’s chamber, examining all little boys, and little boys’ tutors likewise.”

In reason 83. Standards, targets, league tables and other number nonsense

I paraphrase  Clive Harber (2004) from  Schooling as Violence – How Schools Harm Pupils and Society , “The rating and ranking of teachers and schools all hang on the performance of pupils in tests and assessments. The obsession with targets, standards and accountability has led to an escalation of testing. This is not to give information to students but to allow all levels in the education hierarchy, from teachers to countries, to be ranked.”

Teachers can see this. More and more parents are seeing this. How long until Michael Gove, Education Secretary, sees it?

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So, what’s wrong with performance-related pay for teachers?

How do we measure performance

According to these are some factors to consider:

“impact on pupil progress

impact on wider outcomes for pupils

contribution to improvements in other areas (eg pupils’ behaviour or lesson planning)

professional and career development

wider contribution to the work of the school, for instance their involvement in school business outside the classroom

Schools could consider evidence from a range of sources, including self-assessment, lesson observations, and the views of other teachers and of parents and pupils.”

So how are these things “measured”?

Impact on pupil progress usually refers to test or exam scores improving along a certain upward slope.

This is fascinating document if you like numbers. Giving numbers to attainment at GCSE (age 16 exams) various factors seem to have an impact from gender, relative age in a cohort, whether a child has been in care, whether English is a first language, whether the student qualifies for free school meals or lives in an ares of high deprivation, whether they have recognised special educational needs or have had frequent school moves.

And funnily enough those who have “high attainment” at an earlier age make more “progress”.

Males, deprived pupils, those with special educational needs and mobile pupils all progress at lower rates than their peers from Key Stage 2 to 4.

If you are a teacher your ideal school would be a middle-class selective girl-only school with a stable population.

So hands up who fancies teaching in poorer areas with mobile, traumatised children with special needs?

How do we measure “wider outcomes”?

It seems to me that the “outcomes” of education are the young adults who emerge at the end of the process. But teachers can’t hang on until then for a pay rise so schools look at intermediate outcomes.  Proposals for an annual appraisal mean that where there is a bullying head or head of department then only those who kowtow will be rated well. Not much incentive for rocking the boat when you see problems.

How can you measure an individual teacher’s “contribution” to improvements in other areas, when most improvements will require cooperation rather than the competition created by these measures?

Here is an interesting blog from a head teacher pointing out some of the problems with this from his perspective:

Here is a quote from the blog

“it is almost impossible to isolate a single variable and eliminate all the other variables when conducting research in schools. Singling out teacher effectiveness as the variable solely responsible for student outcomes is a hugely complex business and way beyond the scope of even the best performance-related pay policy for teachers.”

Performance related pay rewards or punishes teachers for the performance of their pupils. This puts huge stress onto teachers and pupils. 

This has an impact on:

  • morale – miserable teachers create miserable children
  • teacher cooperation – like their students, they will be competing and this competition will reduce cooperation. See
  • pupils – who wants to teach those who don’t “progress” enough for a pay rise?

And is inherently unfair

For example,  the lone parent teacher who has to pick his/her own kids up and can’t run a drama club.

What really determines good measures in these measurables? It is about turning education into a market place where we are all valued according to the numbers we have attached to us. Our children are more than income generation units – but not to economists, politicians or, when this becomes the norm, schools.

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Do we need schools?

7th November 2013

We only need to look at  the One Laptop per Child project , where preliterate, unschooled Ethiopian children were given tablet computers and taught themselves, to realise that direct instruction is overrated. Children can learn to read without being taught

With Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs ) offering a huge variety of courses for free via the internet, and now The Alison Project joining in , The Khan Academy and multiple online sources of information, maybe we should focus on how children and the rest of us acquire knowledge and skills and move away from the daft idea that this has to happen in a classroom at a particular time of day, orchestrated by a teacher. The nonsense that school attendance is the key factor in learning has to be challenged.

Sugata Mitra, professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, argues that with self-organised learning environments children can learn without instruction.

We need to question the dominant educational paradigm and challenge the idea of everyone learning 15 identical poems to answer questions on and towards something that embraces the accumulation of information and knowledge that is accessible at the press of a mouse. Want to know how to do anything at all? Chances are someone has uploaded an instructional video to Youtube that can be accessed anywhere at any time.

Then of course there are those old fashioned things called books and even the antiquated concept of libraries…We need  to fight to keep them open and providing valuable resources.

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Eugenics and education

13th October 2013

So its all genetics.

Dominic Cummings, adviser to the Education Secretary Michael Gove, claims it is a waste of money to provide Sure Start and other programs because of course the poor have defective genes, otherwise why would they  choose to be poor?

Steve Jones. geneticist, had this to say in his Reith lectures back in 1991:


“The idea that the human condition can be explained by events that took place long ago is central to psychoanalysis, to religion and – for that matter – to much of politics. Recently, some psychologists and politicians, but not many geneticists, have claimed that we’re controlled by messages from our ancestors. They promote a kind of biological fatalism: humanity is driven by its genes and our biology is a sort of original sin. The poor are victims of their genes; their predicament is due to their own weakness and has nothing to do with the rest of us. Such nouvelle Calvinism suggests that as human life was programmed long ago there is no point in trying to change it, which is convenient for those who like things the way they are.”

The assumption of superiority by the rich and privileged (meaning private law – if you are privileged the common law does not apply to you) and that this is genetic, is the beginning of the ideas behind eugenics:

  1. Assume genes rule
  2. Assume some genes are better than others – usually the one’s of the assumer
  3. Policy follows genes to favour the “better” to the detriment of the “less good.”

( for information on eugenics see

Those three small steps have begun journeys in apartheid, mass murder, and coerced and forced sterilisations. They have tainted social and educational policies the world over.

As soon as we create the idea (and it is created) that some people are born superior to others, and deserve to be treated differently, because something invisible inside every cell produces a better sort of person, we have started on the slippery slope.

The Grammar school system, which tends to select on the basis of class, uses IQ tests as a proxy for “intelligence.”A token one or two “poor bright” kids pass to give the impression of a meritocracy and egalitarianism. I was one of those “poor bright” kids.

My Grammar school had nicer premises, better equipment and bigger playing fields than the secondary moderns and of course it was an elitist education. Our minds were immersed in Latin along with elocution and deportment. This fed into the idea that we were somehow better than everyone else and should walk and talk in ways that reinforced that idea in others. It was in your genes and just needed a little tweaking. Our blazers bore a badge that proclaimed “The utmost for the highest.”We were blessed.

IQ tests were based upon the ideas of eugenicists such as Francis Galton, who developed his ideas of superior and inferior races with a view to “improving” human stock. Unexamined, the pronouncements of overt and closet eugenicists can seem reasonable, I mean who wants a child with problems if it can be avoided? Who wants a population of ill people if there is the possibility of wellness? Given the choice, wouldn’t we choose genius children over those who struggle with life?

But lying, skulking beneath the veneer is the belief that some humans have a right to life, to reproduction  and all that is good in society while others do not. Wherever the line is drawn between the worthy and the unworthy, the drawer of the line is careful to include themselves and their family in the ‘worthy’ side.

This is the philosophy being fed into the eager ears of those making education policy.

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Gove versus Reality

29th September 2013

Fascinating blog Gove versus reality about how Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education tries to fool us all into believing the nonsense he spouts about education and children.

However much he may wish it, reality isn’t giving in anytime soon. Gove tries to bash it into submission by use of partial truths, distorted statistics and outright lies. But then, if he gets his way, the general populace of the future will be unable to question any of his lunatic pronouncements. Or think. Minds crammed full of meaningless facts in long school days and even longer terms, with no time or space to process or think, overlaid with fear of failing the next test and the next one and the next one….Hey and let’s make a profit out of children’s agonies too. Push them harder to “succeed” because our pay and profits depend upon them performing the meaningless tasks we set before them over and over. Play is a waste of time of course – in fact why don’t we get children dressed in business suits or overalls or prison uniform (depending upon their class) and set them to the jobs they are destined to – cold calling potential customers, gambling on the stock-market, cleaning the toilets or sewing mailbags…We could even call it play. With the lack of investment in renewable energy and the energy companies blackmailing governments, we will generate a need for chimney sweeps. Schools could bid for the franchise to send the smaller agile children up the chimneys to raise money for the shareholders. Small fingers could be set to work making rugs and trainers to raise money too. Call it work experience if you like. Or life lessons in the powerlessness the 99% are required to experience.

An Independent article claims Gove is creating a neo-Victorian curriculum.

So let’s go backwards to the time when poor children had no choice but to work

But then what is compulsory schooling but forced labour with punishment for those who can’t or won’t. Another good lesson  for the life ahead where there are no real jobs, only work that is forced and unpaid.

“Physical Slavery requires people to be housed and fed.  Economic Slavery requires people feed and house themselves.”

So today on the anti-austerity march in Manchester along with challenging the murderous austerity regime that costs lives and our children’s future, let’s shout against the privatisation and profiteering that is eating away at the education system. See you there?

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Worldwide attacks on home education

26th September 2013

Like Nicaragua, home educators are the threat of a good example.

How dare we enable our children to thrive without the relentless testing and soul destruction of state-approved schooling? So here comes the big foot:

Sweden: In 2009 Dominic Johansson was forcibly removed from his loving parents as they were on a plane to leave the country. The law had recently changed top forbid home education for religious or philosophical reasons and his family planned to return to India – his mother’s home. In 2010 a law was passed to effectively ban home education and all alternative schooling.  Many families have fled.

Netherlands: Last week this post appeared on Home Education sites:

“The minister for education has written to parliament stating his wish to ban home schooling (which is currently permitted as an exemption from compulsory schooling). The political machine is moving fast… We are gathering signatures on an international petition. We need as many signatures as possible. PLEASE can you spread this far and wide (i.e. if you can forward to other lists you are on we would really appreciate it) – every signature counts.

“De Kampanje school in the Netherlands, based on the Sudbury Valley model, has been declared “not to be a school” in a recent court judgement. Parents who continue to send their children to the school now face criminal prosecution.” Alan Thomas

Germany: Home schooling is generally not permitted in Germany. According to

Article 7, Section 1 of the Basic Law, the entire education system is placed under state supervision.

Last month, four children aged 7 to 14 were forcibly removed from their family because their parents refused to send them to school or let them be subjected to testing. There are no claims that the family mistreated their children.

They were only returned 3 weeks later when the parents agreed to send them to school and after outcry from the international home education community.

United Kingdom:

An attempt in 2010 to make autonomous home education almost impossible was narrowly defeated in the run up to the last election following sustained pressure from the HE community. The Badman Report tried to argue, from dodgy data, that home educators were all just hiding our children away from public scrutiny because we are all abusers. NSPCC joined in the misinformation campaign.

With Gove in charge it is only a matter of time before he makes another ill-informed pronouncement making home-educators subject to anti-terrorist legislation.


New South Wales leads the way in making life difficult for home educators:

“The new, federally-imposed national curriculum will commence in NSW in 2014, and accompanying its rollout will be changes to homeschooling policies established by the NSW Board of Studies (BOS). These changes would effectively stamp out any possibility of home-educated children receiving an individualised education geared to their needs.”

Where will it be possible to raise children without the state dictating what every child should learn? Check this space in 5 years time and see if enough people have said “enough!”

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School start age debacle

16th September 2013

A letter to the Telegraph on 11th September 2013 signed by 127 academics, researchers, early years specialists, teachers, union representatives, children’s service specialists and the children’s commissioner among others, asks the government to stop interfering in early education. It begins with these words:

We are deeply concerned about the impact of the Government’s early years policies on the health and wellbeing of our youngest children

The concluding paragraph sums it up:

Instead of pursuing an enlightened approach informed by global best practice, successive ministers have prescribed an ever-earlier start to formal learning. This can only cause profound damage to the self-image and learning dispositions of a generation of children.”

Of course “expert” ministers Gove and Truss rejected it. Both are Oxford educated where Gove read English before becoming a journalist and Truss studied Politics, philosophy and Economics. This of course makes them “experts” on children and an education system that fails the poor more than it fails the better off. Truss even uses the argument that poor children are the one’s who should be schooled earlier.

Simon Jenkins in the Guardian  points out that authoritarian states remove their children from family influence and other influences not sanctioned by the state.

There are some interesting comments to this article:

One comment from biglampbitter:

It’s very complex. In a Reception class there are about 4 children who are still in a dream world, 4 who cannot sit down, 4 who could do the weekly shop unaided and 12 who want to chuck paint at each other play in the sand and eat pva glue. Hmmm let me think. Who benefits most? ;-)”

Another from Raptou

I have some experience of this, having been a primary teacher in the UK and now having kids going through the system in another country where formal education starts at 6.

Forcing kids to start reading at 4 is a disaster. There’s no need for it, no sense to it, and some kids just aren’t ready – so it risks putting them off for life.

Here they don’t do anything beyond very basic letter recognition and pattern repetition (to help with writing) until the equivalent of Y2 (in the non-compulsory infant classes). And barring SEN kids, they’re literally all reading and writing (cursively) by the end of that year. That’s because it’s the right time to start.”

Child-friendly, curriculum-free-spaces are what is needed. For those for whom home education is not an option, children need care that is free and optional, based on play and building all aspects of the child, free from contamination by the dogma of testing. This would benefit all children, not just the young.

These policies separate work from play, denying children their birthright. Here is what I say in reason 32. School separates work from play:

“Children’s play is their work. It’s their way of learning who they are, who they could be, how the world is and how they can affect it. It happens to be enjoyable too.

In school the day is segmented into work time, which happens in the classroom, where children are directed in tasks, (often boring, monotonous, and meaningless), called lessons by a teacher, and break or play time when they are allowed to play. Play in the classroom is called ‘messing about‘, ‘attention seeking‘, ‘not staying on task‘, ‘bad behaviour’ or ‘disruptive ‘. This separation results in work being seen as a chore, as toil unchosen, limiting and often soul-destroying. This separates learning from pleasure.”

We learn from everything we engage in. Unfortunately for many children, what they learn in school is that they never want to learn like that again.

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Students beware – don’t criticise your school

8th September 2013

In a world where free speech is being curtailed and the right for charities and small folk to lobby for political change is being eroded, the case of Kinnan Zaloom says it all

Kinnan wrote an article on a blog criticising his school’s lack of investment, failure to listen to pupils and poor results. In response, his head teacher banned him, contacted the police and his prospective university claiming he was developing into an anarchist and that he was: ‘duty-bound to prevent “violent extremism”‘

Rather an extreme reaction to criticism. Is this an example of the power of words or of the fascism of some school authorities?  This attempt to stop bad publicity certainly seems to have backfired.

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Life’s unanswerable questions

A longish life has taught me the answer to many of life’s imponderables. How long is a piece of string? (about 2 inches shorter than you need it to be) Riding a motorcycle in Kenya taught me the answer to: why did the chicken cross the road? (…because it is a stupid animal with a death wish) Being a parent taught me the answer to: how many beans make five? (…please stop whingeing and just eat them) But I have never solved the question: Why do seemingly intelligent people, when given charge of a countries education system, so often screw it up.

Let’s take the great initiative of forcing those who fail GCSE maths and English to keep retaking them until they pass…(assuming they ever do) Dead horses do not begin to canter just because we flog them, to paraphrase  Michael Duane

First we have the assumption that literacy equals English GCSE at C or above, and that numeracy equals maths GCSE. Last night on Radio 4 PM programme a very wise teacher of Further Education said that at post 16 with those doing vocational courses, the literacy and numeracy was contextualised and young people realise they can actually do things school has told them they are incapable of.

But that is very different from GCSE.The syllabuses are boring, out of context and turn many off. They tell us who can pass exams not who is capable of functioning in the world beyond the classroom, beyond neat essays and well-structured equations.

Inspired teachers do try to put the learning into genuine, rather than contrived, contexts. A local short-stay school, with a small number of disaffected boys used to take them to the local park each day. When hundreds of trees were being felled as part of “renovation,” these boys were really upset by what was happening. They chose to design a poster for the protest- a beautiful banner proclaiming “save our trees”. They wrote letters to local councillors and learned about the political process. (Unfortunately they also learned that these things don’t work and they were deeply traumatised to see their beautiful park decimated as hundreds of healthy trees were felled for no good reason.) They learned to ask questions: why are the council destroying our park? They wanted answers to questions that were important to them. Unfortunately, these were unanswerable.

But they didn’t get GCSE English for engaging in writing that was important to them. They didn’t get GCSE maths for counting each felled tree as a friend.

Then we have those highly educated people such as economists and bankers, who seem to forget that, as Michael O’Connell points out,  our money is created out of debt by banks and that as 97% of money has been created as debt, there can never be enough to pay it back.   Somehow that doesn’t seem to have made it onto the GCSE syllabus.

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Dishonesty in school data – a teachers perspective The Guardian blog on Saturday 24th August 2013 featured a “secret teacher” revealing the distortion of truth and of the act of teaching that data-driven schools foster. This primary school teacher from London tells us that more time is spent inputting data than engaging with children. To quote: ” But the biggest and baddest lie of all is the continued pretence that our education system is about children.”

For more on dishonesty in school see Reason 33: Schools promote dishonesty

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Are bullying injunctions just more institutional bullying?

The government have triumphed again, coming up with a sledgehammer approach that no-one wants. This time it is bullying injunctions. If the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing bill  goes through, headteachers will get the power to apply to courts for injunctions, which will replace Asbos. Breaching the injunction could mean a six-month supervision order and even prison.

Criminalising bullies isn’t the way forward. Giving head-teachers power to bully the bullies won’t help – and anyway, it seems nobody really wants these changes.

These moves are opposed by anti-bullying charities, The Association of School and College Leaders and The  National Association of Schoolmasters/ Union of Women Teachers.

Bullies are deeply damaged people. Here is what I say in my book:

“ So who are the bullies? The 70% who admit to bullying? Often they are just normal kids whose frustration and powerlessness in a huge system becomes displaced aggression. Most young people believe they cannot attack or change the system they are forced to be a part of, so they re-channel their aggression against weaker targets, usually their classmates, those they are forced to be with every day… Alice Miller points out that violence emerges when the experience of humiliation is not healed. Our child-hating society sees humiliation of children as reasonable correction.”

Bullies need healing, not criminalising that pushes them further into the alienation that caused the bulling in the first place.

Who are the bullies here?



Injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance

Power to grant injunctions

A court may grant an injunction under this section against a person aged 10 or over (“the respondent”) if two conditions are met.

The first condition is that the court is satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the respondent has engaged or threatens to engage in conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person (“anti-social behaviour”).

The second condition is that the court considers it just and convenient to grant the injunction for the purpose of preventing the respondent from engaging in anti-social behaviour.

 (my emphasis)

This has serious implications for the erosion of human rights. So on the balance of probability only,  a young person who is believed to have threatened to engage in behaviour capable of causing annoyance to any person can receive an injunction preventing them from acts or compelling them to acts. Now, in our child-intolerant society, there is a belief that anything a child or young person does could be considered annoying.

Yes, there is serious bullying in all parts of society that wrecks lives. But this is not going to help.Destroying local support systems through funding cuts, increasing families in distress and poverty with nowhere to turn – these all increase family stress and increase the disaffection of children.  Saving money on social support mechanisms is a false economy. This move simply increases spending and bureaucracy in the criminal justice system.

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To order a PDF use the contact form on this site or email jessica.mwanzia125(at)

Young children’s brains

Gove plans to require all young children to be subjected to a curriculum based on ideology and not evidence. Nothing new there, but this time it’s about more of this, more of that, more, more, harder, harder. He said that our children are in a global race…Is that all our children are?

For an interesting perspective looking at research into how young children’s brains work seeTED talk:

Alison Gopnik: What do babies think?

Putting 3 and 4 year-olds into school, getting them to ‘focus’ on one thing at a time goes contrary to their brain function and their needs.

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New and improved “I” levels or repackaged Victorian values?

Gove’s new plan to replace GCSE’s with I levels, reducing course work and forcing all to compete on the uneven playing fields of our schools, is misguided at best.

Qualifications do not represent competence and our society is poorer because we continue to believe they are a measure of a person’s worth. Gove, with his Oxford education, has been trained to believe in the elitist mantras of the priviledged: if everyone competes in the same race for pieces of paper then the best candidates win. This lie of  meritocracy ignores the huge disadvantage of many in society, for whom the curriculum is just so much meaningless, boring pap. It is mostly meaningless and boring pap but some gain kudos and rewards from pretending that it has worth and strive to convince the rest of us.

Selection for jobs on the basis of qualifications has, at its heart, the assumption that the exam-passer has skills, knowledge and qualities lacking in the exam-failer. There is also the central assumption that tested skills, knowledge and qualities have greater worth than any other qualities not tested for.

For more on this idea see Book Extracts reason 37: Myth: everything is measurable

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Gove rewriting history

If ever there was any doubt that the school agenda is driven by ideology and not evidence, read about Michael Gove’s claims that teenagers now have little grasp of history.

Inspired teachers could, before the National Curriculum, arouse a passion for a subject.  Reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, or the marvellous Horrible Histories books and magazines by Terry Deary gives a better grounding than lessons on what our grandparents did in the war. Historical novels enlighten us on how life was lived in times past. Visits to museums without tick-box worksheets enables us to engage with that which fascinates.

As Julian Barnes told us, history isn’t an account of what happened, it is simply what historians tell us. Their gendered, war-mongering, elitist messages shape how we view ourselves and our future.

I hated history at my elitist girl’s grammar school in the 1960s. Memorising boring lists of dates and kings and queens seemed pointless and as soon as it was possible I dropped the subject. Reading John O’Farrell’s Utterly Impartial History of the Last 2000 years confirmed for me the patterns of history are that we do not learn from it. It goes like this: king (occasionally queen) has expansionist ideas, raises taxes from the poor and forces them to go and fight in wars that have no meaning to them. Win – repeat. Lose – another king (or queen) takes over then repeat. All  that has happened in recent times is that we have replaced kings and queens with prime ministers and presidents, with dictators (democratically elected and otherwise).

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Michael Gove and more odd pronouncements

Apparently our children aren’t spending enough of their lives in classrooms.

Extend the day! Extend the term! Fewer hours to think their own thoughts. Again and again, the “solution” to a failing school system is…to have more of it. Hmm. That will work and no doubt thrill the already overworked and undermined teachers.

For one interesting discussion of why Gove’s suggestions are way off beam see

Proposals to introduce abstract maths concepts at an earlier age in primary school  fly in the face of common sense. The mantra ‘This is what we want adults to be able to do so we’ll get three-year-olds to learn it” contaminates the lives of young children, with no evidence it does any good and much that it is positively harmful. In 2009 the Cambridge Primary review recommended formal teaching be delayed until age 6. But no matter what evidence is produced, the political ideology wins in the end. Our children are collateral damage.

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The quote George Orwell’s estate refused me permission to use

I originally intended to use a quote from George Orwell’s 1984 as an opening to my book, but his estate refused me permission. He is probably turning in his grave. The quote, about liberty,  is here:

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Paperback now available

A paperback version of So, what’s wrong with school? is now available.

Click on the image to buy.

For more information about the book visit the Book Contents, Book Extracts or Book Synopsis pages.

PDF version now available – you can convert it to Kindle for free

If you would like a PDF version of So, what’s wrong with school? sent to an email address, this is now available for £4.80.

Start reading it now.

If you have a Kindle you can send an email with the pdf attached to your amazon kindle account email with the subject heading CONVERT, this will convert it into kindle format for free. Let me know if you have any problems with this.

Join the discussion

Please visit the Discussion pages to have your say.

Was your school experience particularly awful or did you have a great time? How are your kids getting on? Share your personal stories in : Your School experiences

Things change. Rules, laws initiatives are constantly being revised. If you have any news of changes at national or local level, positive and negative, please share them in:  Updates

If you have ideas and examples of positive initiatives to improve the lives of children please share them in: The Way Forward 



Mounting disquiet about state education in the Uk needs a focus for challenge. Does it truly serve our children as we have been convinced to believe it does, or is it intrinsically damaging?

How does it shape and limit the world we live in?

So, what’s wrong with school? is a comprehensive attack on our school system that encourages us to look for better ways to raise our young.