Little_Mavis' rants and musings



On the whole, I’m an optimistic sort of person. Or, at least, I thought I was. I have tried not to be, because I always reckoned that if you expected the worst, you were unlikely to be disappointed. But I never quite convinced myself that the worst would ever really happen.

My optimism is being tested to breaking point right now. I’ve been trying, and failing, as I suspect many of you have, to get inside the heads of those who look at the current government, Brexit and Donald Trump as President as positive things that offer a bright future. I just can’t see it. The best I can envisage is that they expect either some personal improvement at the expense of others, or bringing everyone else down to your level which will just serve them right.

The idea seems to be of a life that comprises working hard (apparently starting at 3, 4 at the very latest) and indulging in competitive education where you strive to learn more than the next child in order to succeed at the norm referenced exams. This will be a ticket to more striving at higher education then competing for jobs where you compete with fellow employees to impress your boss in order to be promoted and watch your minions compete.

You do this so you can earn money to buy various things that you buy based on targeted adverts on your social media platforms which are based on your likes, comments and what items you searched for last week. “You bought a bed! Here are some other beds you may like!”. Whether or not you need these items seems to be irrelevant. You are supposed to want them because others want them because they were targeted last month (they are innovators).

If you have a partner, they too will need to work to fuel this aspirational lifestyle. What do you mean, you want time off to look after your children. There are others to do that. In these new nurseries. They’re brilliant. The children there aren’t allowed to slack off like they did in those old-fashioned nurseries, playing with plastic cows and dinosaurs and the like. None of this finger painting rubbish. They will be taught to hold their paintbrushes properly in week 2 and will need to paint a butterfly that meets our precise specifications. (and no, you cannot paint a ladybird instead)

When your parents are old and frail we expect you to take time off to deal with that. No carers paid for by the state to help. We cannot afford such luxuries. Money? What do you mean money? Have you not been saving for this eventuality since you were 16? What do you mean you spent it on iPhones and fashion and games and holidays? Yes, I know we told you to so our friends could make a profit but you should have saved too. You should have known. What do you mean you couldn’t even afford those things? You must be a skiver then. You don’t deserve money paid by hard-working families.

It’s all so bloody joyless isn’t it? I know life often has been but when I was small we were told. Promised almost, that with technology, if would be easier and we’d have more leisure time. What happened? Where did that ambition for life to be easier go? When did we start to fetishise “striving” and “hard work” and why? Is it all just so that a lucky, ambitious & often ruthless few could live in obscene luxury while the rest of us struggle? At least in relative terms.

I suspect this post wouldn’t pass muster at Key Stage 2. I’ve got rhetorical questions, fronted adverbials and subordinate clauses but I suspect my tenses are all over the place, I have sentences that are not truly sentences and the overall structure leaves a lot to be desired but I’m writing quickly and crossly.

Is this all there is? Working, growing up, having children, giving them to others to bring up so we can work more, buying things we may not need to fill the coffers of those who exploit us, fuelled by fear and insecurity without even a quiet retirement to look forward to?

What’s the point? Really? If we aren’t even going to try to make the world a better place?

Where do we go from here?


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Temper Tantrum

I lost my temper (a bit) today. It was over something fairly unimportant in the greater scheme of things, but it left me upset and a somewhat shaky. I have always had a bit of a problem with a short temper. I deal with it mostly by avoiding things that I know will annoy me where I can. I do this by muting certain tweeters, avoiding some people, not watching Question Time, not reading below the line. If I cannot avoid I do my best to walk away. Pro tip here folks. If someone walks away from you saying “I’m going now before I say something I’ll regret”, DO NOT FOLLOW THEM TO CONTINUE THE DISCUSSION. It will not end well.

I realise that some people never lose their temper. I used to think they just had iron self-control but I’ve come round to the idea that some of us are wired differently. So. For those of you who have never had this problem, here’s what it’s like.

Imagine you abooksre carrying a pile of books. Every so often, someone comes & balances another book on top of the pile. They add them, not you, so they don’t do it very carefully but you still do your best to balance them. You don’t go down some roads because you know people with lots of books lurk there just waiting to add them onto your pile. When you get the chance, you dump some of the books in handy spots which are designed to help you dispose of them safely. Places like beautiful countryside, gyms, and cinemas.

But sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the books will topple anyway. It may happen, for instance when you are doing all the carrying with one hand because the other is occupied looking after a toddler or an elderly parent or dealing with a troublesome client or colleague at work. It may happen because you are so busy and stressed you don’t have time to remove any books because life is getting in the way. Sometimes, you are taken completely by surprise by a sudden influx of books. Someone or something comes rushing up behind you and dumps a huge number of books suddenly. You don’t see them or hear them. You’re trundling alpicture1ong, coping nicely with the pile but you weren’t expecting this and you lose balance. That kind is especially frightening and tends to leave you shaken after the sudden and completely unexpected …well…almost an attack really.

The final kind is what I suspect happened today. The pile of books has grown for reasons entirely beyond your control. They’ve been put there by circumstances that are distant and all encompassing. My pile of books just now has built up because I’m worried about my country and the world. I’ll probably be all right, well, unless someone lets Trump too near the nuclear button. I’m worried about global warming. I’m worried about the effects of leaving the EU. I’m rather selfishly sad about that partly because we’ve only really just discovered the joys of overseas travel and I suspect this will curtail future adventures. I’m worried about the apparently rampant racism and xenophobia that seems to be taking hold in the UK, US, France and elsewhere and the sheer nastiness, selfishness and lack of compassion that seems to be all around us. So. Because of this, only one tiny extra book can cause things to tumble and my temper to snap. I’d obviously been carrying this pile around for a while and hadn’t noticed how high it had become. I know now, I’ll carry carefully and make sure I can offload. I’ll make time for minor treats (I know I am lucky I can do this) I will watch where I walk and make extra sure I know when to walk away.

Ultimately, I shouldn’t have got cross today. But then, the person who annoyed me shouldn’t have done what they did either. Almost without exception what makes me cross are people who are rude or inconsiderate. I’m not excusing myself here but I am pleading provocation. I don’t get angry with people who are polite, civil and considerate. (Apologies if you think this sounds like victim blaming) I still agree I was wrong.

Writing this has helped. I hope it might help some of you understand what is happening when someone “snaps”.

As an extra, my advice if someone you know has this problem. Give them space. Let them rant a bit. It will pass. They (mostly) don’t mean most of what they say. They will be upset afterwards too. (I’m not expecting sympathy here btw just describing what happens). And above all, unless you want to drive someone to further fury, never, ever tell them to “calm down”calm





Competition or Co-operation?

Last night, I had a dream.

Doesn’t that make you shudder at the start of a blog? But don’t worry. This isn’t going to be a detailed description of my weird and wonderful dreams. I don’t really have those. This is just what triggered my current musings.

In this dream I was in a strange place; some kind of academic institution I think. (My dreams often include a return to places like this. I think it signals a not very hidden desire to learn something new.) Still, I digress. The noticeable feature of the dream was that I was welcomed and everybody tried to help me find my way and were supportive of what I was doing. This is a good dream. When I was teaching, and to be fair, in previous jobs though to a lesser extent, my dreams were similar in location but very different in tone. I found situations and people frustrating and obstructive, I had a goal, a destination and I was constantly being prevented from getting there in various ways; thwarted at every turn. I assume this is because it was what was constantly happening in real life. I knew what I wanted to do and what was needed, but was prevented from doing it by circumstance (and to be honest often by individuals) I fought against this, and succeeded to some extent for several years but was eventually beaten into submission when a combination of circumstances at home and at work meant I had no more energy to fight.

I’m generally an optimistic kind of person. I don’t give up easily and although I actually try to expect the worst because that way you’re less likely to be disappointed, in fact I don’t do that. I still have a secret core that believes things will turn out for the best. I can find a positive in bad things that have happened and regard setbacks as an opportunity to develop rather than as an end.


Just now I’m struggling to do that. There have been blogs (such as this from Sue Cowley which caused a flurry of comments both pro & con) and comments (for example this conversation ) again recently about the macho language now being used, especially noticeable in education.  (I’ve also just come across this which is making a similar point.)

But it’s not just the language that’s becoming hard and ultimately competitive. It’s actions. Look at the way exams are now graded “to prevent grade inflation”. We’re heading back to norm referencing. Not only in A levels and GCSEs (as far as I can tell) but also in SATs results. I think the fact that “pass marks” are not being published until papers are in is a hint there. ( I suspect this is what Michael Gove was really talking about when he made the all schools can be above average remark) The actual quote from the education select committee

Q98 Chair: One is: if “good” requires pupil performance to exceed the national average, and if all schools must be good, how is this mathematically possible?

Michael Gove: By getting better all the time.

Q99 Chair: So it is possible, is it?

Michael Gove: It is possible to get better all the time.

What he wanted was for all schools to compete to be in the right hand side of the bell curve. And Ofsted had already been doing this for years by only classifying schools as *Good* if they were above average. This is all well and good if schools, teachers and pupils are not then castigated for not being good. And, ultimately, it means that you can only improve at someone else’s expense.

Today, this was again illustrated beautifully by our own dear SMW. First he criticised a local authority being the “worst performing region in the country“. Well, if you rank regions, schools, children, some will inevitably be the worst, whatever the overall standard. Next he claimed children are nor making enough progress after primary school (Odd since the government is currently claiming it’s primary schools who aren’t doing well enough and are hiking up the expected levels) and is reasoning that because of this we should re-introduce KS3 tests.

Last year, 68% of non-selective secondary school pupils who achieved a level 5 or above (which is significantly above average) in English and maths at the end of primary school failed to attain either an A* or A in these subjects at GCSE; 27% failed to achieve the minimum expected progress, a grade B.

Now, I don’t know the details of this, but I do know that to avoid grade inflation GCSE grades are pegged Jack Marwood knows much more and if he calls foul, I trust him.

The part that really worries me now it that this is not just in education, or even just in the workplace. It’s everywhere. The far right narrative which is currently in vogue seems to want to rank everything and everybody then specifically praise those who succeed at the expense of others.

Does everything need to be about competition rather than co-operation? Do we have to divide schools, the country, the world into them and us? Does your success have to come at someone else’s expense? Is co-operation a dirty word?


Is Patriarchy throwing a final tantrum?

There is a general adage in childcare manuals (see pg 12 here pdf) that if you take steps to correct bad behaviour, things will get worse before they get better. This seems especially noticeable if it is a behaviour they have been previously getting away with. You can imagine the mental workings on this.

“But they let me do this yesterday, why won’t they let me do it today?”

“That’s not fair. I like doing it.”

“They don’t mean it do they? They love me. Why won’t they let me do what I want?”

So. They repeat the behaviour. And you carry on with whatever form of discipline you’ve chosen. If the behaviour persists, you may step up your discipline a notch. You may move from 5 minutes time out to sending to their room. (Not my approach but a popular one)

Sometimes this appears to work. Behaviour settles, you relax on the discipline and things seem to be progressing just fine.

Then They go to school, or make a new friend and they discover that their friend appears to be allowed to do the thing you have successfully stopped them from doing. So they begin a campaign to return to their previous, preferred state where they could demand toys or hit their little sister, or whatever. And you repeat your original reaction, But now, they’re older, and bigger and they have their new friend egging them on. It’s harder this time round, and it isn’t helped by their friend’s parent telling you that this behaviour doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s just fine, children need to stand up for themselves in this hurly-burly world.

Ultimately, if you believe in a world where children (not all children) do not go around taking anything they want and hitting other children they do not like, you need to persist. Sometimes in the face of criticism from other parents.

So. Where am I going with this?

Just now, women seem to be fighting many of the battles that I thought we had won ages ago and part of me wonders if it is just that men (not all men), or patriarchy throwing their renewed tantrums to try to regain what they believe they have lost. They have been forced to accept equality in so many ways but they are still fighting back in a different way. For women to be equal we must become like them, because that is how you become successful. I honestly thought we had gone through all of this, as I said, years ago. I remember discussions and articles about how having women in business and in charge would change the narrative. I thought it was happening but somehow we are being dragged back to this.

Yes, women can be tough. But we shouldn’t need to be tough in the way that has been defined in the past by men. I’m not an expert on feminism or history but I want to be allowed to be who I want to be. And I want men to have that option too.

I don’t want to see life solely as a competition and like it or not, for historical reasons we do see competition as masculine and cooperation as feminine. And even if you reject those labels, in an evolutionary sense, it makes sense. We need to embrace both aspects to be successful as a human community.

This blog was prompted by Twitter discussions and by this blog and its follow-up from @sue_cowley

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Is Traditional the new Progressive?

The first thing that irritates me about all of this is simply the labels used. For a start, surely if there are supporters of new methods of teaching that becomes progressive? (I have the same trouble with post-modern. It’s just a contradiction in terms)

Anyway, that’s something of an aside. What I’ve really been pondering is why I am so bothered by the push for “traditional teaching” including all of the imparting of knowledge, teacher talk and discipline. For one thing surely it’s far easier than all the hoops teachers have been made to jump through in the name of pleasing Ofsted. I actually prefer to be taught that way. Nothing makes my heart sink more than being made to do role-play or group work when I’m being trained. I just want to be told stuff, make notes then go away and sort it all out. I also rather liked teaching. It was easy. I hated having to work out how to fit meaningful group-work into an IT lesson for an observation . So why do I feel so strongly about the current push to return to “traditional teaching”? After all, it’s the way I was taught and I was fine with it.

What I have found is that different methods of delivery were appropriate for different topics, or even the same topics with different classes or at different times of the day/week. Also different teachers work in ways they feel comfortable.

Before its sad demise I taught Key Skills IT to post-16 students across college. Teaching A level kids was a doddle. They accepted they needed to do it as part of their course. You told them stuff, they learned, they produced work. Sorted. Other groups provided more of a challenge. They’d come to college to do Sport, or Performing Arts, or Hairdressing and saw no reason why they should also have to do IT, English or Maths.

Sometimes we had to be more inventive. When I taught databases to some groups, (notably Performing Arts) they became the database and sorted or filtered themselves (engagement). That approach wouldn’t have gone down quite so well with a science A level group. I based their portfolios on work they were doing for their main course. Some teachers were wonderfully co-operative with this and gave me copies of the assignments so I could work out how I could make sure all the criteria for the key skills portfolio could be met while they were doing coursework (transferable skills). Others, sadly, not so much so I had to create additional assignments. (Relevance!)

As a co-ordinator I provided all the teachers on the course (there were many as it was used as a timetable-filler) with a scheme of work, lesson plans and resources. Some used them, others not so much.

Overall I feel the problem is that many teachers feel they are being pushed to replace one set of forced methods with another,when what they really want to do is use the right method for a particular subject, topic, class, time, place and personality.

The other worrying aspect is the conviction of some who have hardly taught (maybe in one school for a couple of years) that they have the answers to everything. Actually, I know how they feel. My first child did not have tantrums. Parents around me were suffering while I sailed through. I thought it was because I had done everything right. I was a brilliant parent. Then my second child reached, oh, about 15 months. I discovered that the reason the first hadn’t had tantrums was because she wasn’t the tantrum-throwing type. The younger one was. We learned to deal with it but I learned a little lesson in humility.

I just wish some people could accept that their method may not be the only method that works or even the best method in every circumstance. And even if it is, aren’t kids going to become bored with and habituated to it and it will therefore lose its impact? I’m not at all convinced that replacing one orthodoxy with another will help with the perceived ills of our education system.



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Things I Don’t Understand #3

How do the Current Government get away with behaving the way they do?

In general, I am stupidly optimistic about life. I try not to be, as optimists are often disappointed. One alternative is to be a pessimist with no surprises except pleasant ones but existing in a perpetual state of misery. The sensible approach is a sort of positive realism. Knowing what things are likely to actually be right but looking on the bright side as much as possible. This avoids the general misery but gives you the impetus that comes from being positive.

This is all increasingly difficult to do just now. Every time I think things must surely start to look up, they don’t. I’m sure you will realise that the cause of my constant disappointment is the current Government. I still manage to be regularly amazed by their arrogance, hypocrisy and lack of empathy. Below are just a few illustrations.

We have Mark Hoban telling us that the £500/week benefit cap will encourage people back into work and in the following sentence justifying it by saying that working people have to manage on less than that.

We have Iain Duncan Smith telling people he could survive on £53/week after apparently previously attempting to claim £39 on expenses for a breakfast

We have Michael Gove insisting that his new curriculum is designed to enable poor children to progress and improve their lot while ignoring the obstacles that the current wave of welfare reforms are strewing in their path like modern day caltrops. Laura McInerney wrote eloquently about it here

The implication is that if you go to school, work hard (leaving aside the additional effort and dedication required to do that if you come from a deprived background) you will be able to go to a “good” university (don’t worry about the enormous debt you will build up to cover the fees and assuming your accent and/or lack of smart clothes and social capital don’t reduce your chances of a place too much) Of course, even if  you do get a place at a top university, you still  have to follow this up by actually getting a job. These days it really does seem that you need to know the right people to get into some of the high flying positions that Michael Gove wants all our children to aspire to.

Gove talks a lot about the value of Cultural Capital. I’ve been reading up on this since it has been talked about so much and I understand and agree that it is important. I come from a working class background and went to an old fashioned Grammar School and then a “good” university. I acquired cultural capital along the way (although there is a lot I still don’t know about the Arts). However, what I also read about was Social Capital and that is where I start to get really cross.

Recently posts were written about this statement and focused on what an unpleasant man IDS was and how he had arranged for his wife to be paid a salary for apparently doing very little. However, what struck me most about it was some of the incidental information. For example

Mr Duncan Smith had chosen to move his previous Private Secretary, Miss Annabelle Eyre, the daughter of Lady Monica Eyre, a long standing family friend of Mrs Duncan Smith, to become Head of Planning and Tours.”


“Mrs Watson was given responsibility for finding a replacement private secretary for Mr Duncan Smith’s constituency office and Miss Cara Walker, a graduate who had left university that summer (2002) and is a friend of Mrs Watson’s daughter who is of a similar age, was immediately appointed.”

Well, that’s all very cosy isn’t it? I have no basis on which to judge their competence at the job or their qualifications for it but I doubt that someone brought up on a council estate in Basildon would have connections they could use in this way. Social Capital not cultural. And no amount of fiddling around with the curriculum will fix that!

So. What is my point? To be honest I’m not sure I can put it into one sentence. The current politicians seem to be blinkered and unable to see anything outside of their tiny, over-privileged world. They have no embarrassment about wanting everyone to tighten their belts while claiming still ridiculous amounts of expenses, and they think this is acceptable! Does anyone think this is OK?


Things I don’t understand #1

I’m beginning to think I must be far more intellectually limited than I previously realised. There is so much I  just don’t understand.

The first issue that puzzles me at the moment is the “economic crisis”. I realise that there are more people around than (say) 10 years ago, although we have coped quite successfully with population increase in the past. I also realise (unlike many) that natural resources are ultimately diminishing, but again, that doesn’t seem to be where the problem lies. So let me work through this.

We still have the same amount of money (slightly more since we seem to have printed more) We have a few more people, but suddenly the country can’t afford stuff, and as a consequence lots of us can’t afford stuff.

I know why I can’t. I left a reasonably well-paid job and have taken a far less stressful but worse paid one. I know why other people who are in poorly paid jobs can’t. They have had reductions in the benefits which they used to top up income from even more poorly paid jobs. There are also the people who have been made redundant, either through public sector job cuts or through reduction in profits of private companies because all the rest of us can’t afford to buy things now.

What I really want to know is WHERE HAS ALL THE MONEY GONE? It was there before; it doesn’t seem to have been destroyed. Where is it?

I don’t believe it’s all being drunk, smoked and gambled by the poor. Admittedly, I have some (diminishing) savings that were put away for my old age, and although it now looks as if I may need that more than ever, there may not actually be much left by then but that’s not enough to explain the current crisis. So people WHO HAS IT? And why can’t we get it back?

I know I’m over-simplifying, it’s one of my vices but the question is still out there.