Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The house that Jack Tom built...

Tom Harris has a splendid rant about the teachers banned from using red ink to correct work "in case it upsets schoolchildren".
In the 1980s, the right-wing press had a field day with the antics of left-wing councils allegedly banning the words blackboards, black coffee and “man” in manhole covers, etc. In fact, a lot of it was made up, but the damage was done and Labour paid a heavy electoral price, particularly when our cadidates were drawn from the alleged “loony left” section of the party.

Yet today, it’s almost as if Labour (and other) councils are looking at their archived press cuttings from the ’80s and saying: “Hmm, that’s a good idea - why didn’t we think of that before?”

Take this latest nonsense about red ink: where is the empirical evidence that using a red pen on a pupil’s work will have any detrimental effect whatever on his development? Where is the research? Where are the numbers? Where are the “victims” of red ink, and do they blame their own failures in life on the colour of the pen their teachers used?

Well, if they do, they’re morons. And so are the half-wits who came up with this latest idea.

Quite right, Tom: welcome to NuLabour's Britain—a land where what the school is called matters greatly, but no one gives a fuck that the children leaving it are illiterate. You helped to build this country, Tom: you and your NuLabour cronies created an atmosphere where this kind of crap can happen.
All of this obsession with “non-threatening, non-offensive” language is simply a distraction. It gives succour to the right wing and their allies in the media. But worse than that, it doesn’t matter. Teachers and (I hate this word - ) educationalists should be concentrating on teaching kids to read and write, to learn stuff instead of worrying about whether the wee souls are going to burst into tears because there’s a red instead of a green cross on their jotter.

Quite right, Tom; someone should do something about it. Actually, Tom, as an MP (one of only 646 people who can make law in this country) and a member of the majority party in our Parliament, why don't you do something about it? After all, that's why you were elected, wasn't it?

Of course, if we adopted a voucher system for schools—rather than forcing children into education and giving the parents no choice about where their kids are educated—then the parents could simply (should they so desire) threaten to withdraw their child and send them to another school. In short, the market would sort out this nonsense.

How about advocating such a system, Tom: how about advocating that the state get the fuck out of education? After all, it works in that left-wing paradise, Sweden...


Jon said...

Where to begin with our state education system? It's a sewer. The statistics on illiteracy are a disgrace.

The Left long ago identified teaching itself as a key ideological battleground. I used to know a girl attending a teachers' training college; though she was inclined to socialism, even she was shocked by the college policy of teaching teachers to propagandize children.

Then of course we have the arch vandals, notably Tony Crosland and Shirley Williams, who condemned succeeding generations to the comprehensive experience and hence to ignorance and consequent powerlessness in the face of an overweening State -- maybe that was the original intention.

No wonder so many parents beggar themselves trying to educate their nippers privately.

Anonymous said...

I'd be far more inclined to get agitated about this if I thought the red ink ban was true. None of the half-dozen teachers of my acquaintance have heard of this.

Anonymous said...


You use red ink because it's hard to miss. I have marked papers (and had papers marked) in black ink, blue ink and pencil; red ink is *always* the easiest way to draw a student's attention to something.

Old BE said...

The thing about "black" coffee is no myth. Labour's favourite copper, Ali Dizaei, is well known for accusing a colleague of racism for asking if he had his coffee black or white.

Anonymous said...

Colour me entirely unsurprised. When I was a graduate teaching assistant, taking 2nd year undergrad tutorials, I was told I wasn't allowed to mark essays with a red pen due to 'negative connotations'. If students aged 19 and up can't handle red ink, then it stands to reasons that poor ickle children can't either.

Unknown said...

Actually, it's entirely probable thy can't make a law about it, as they may well have given that "competence" to the EU as well - under Yuman Rites maybe? After all, they can't even legislate io wheter to burn rubbish now.

Anonymous said...

Yes - the state should get out of education. Then teachers can concentrate on teaching rather than having to deal with violent/disaffected children, mountains of paperwork and political correctness.

Trixy said...

Reminds me of that episode of 'Yes, Prime Minister' (which was clearly a documentary):

"And we all educate our children privately."

Pearl said...

I would like to see the documentation regarding red ink and the damage done to young minds myself...
What a shock their first job review/appraisal will be!
I pity people who grow up without criticism, honestly.
"How will you grow to be polished if you are never irritated?"

Jules Wright said...

so it's taken this daft wanker 12 years to realise that his party is jam-packed with throwback communist tossers unable to hold down a proper job but perfectly able to fuck things up thanks to their idiot ideology?

too little, too late. ooh, is that a general election year i hear approaching ... ?

Anonymous said...

The Spectator item on Swedish schools makes it sound very interesting.

Having said that my daughter achieved x9 grade A GCSEs (including x5 at A-star) thanks to the state system.

Parental support (plus the odd tutor along the way) will almost always produce decent results in the majority of children.

My Mrs helps out in the classroom from time to time - she was very struck by the amount of energy required to support a disruptive minority.
It was also her view that in some respects schools are bogged down by their glorified child minding function.

Why can't kids go to school for just 4 days per week for example, perhaps with Wednesday afternoon's off ?

Dick Puddlecote said...

Tom seems a decent sort but just can't seem to grasp the fact that his colleagues are responsible for this mentality amongst teachers. In fact, for this mentality amongst just about every area of the public sector.

He has railed against overbearing healthy & safety before, but done nothing about that either.

Pogo said...

"the a&e charge nurse" - "Having said that my daughter achieved x9 grade A GCSEs (including x5 at A-star) thanks to the state system."

So? My stepdaughter, who used to attend one of the state system's "superschools" has 6 "A" Levels, yet although one of them is in English, can't construct a grammatical sentence or punctuate and despite another being in Geography is convinced that Hawaii is in the Caribbean.

"Grade inflation" - not a proper substiute for education IMHO.

Anonymous said...

the a&e charge nurse said... "Why can't kids go to school for just 4 days per week for example, perhaps with Wednesday afternoon's off ?"

Perhaps because they need to learn to write the plural without the possessive apostrophe?

Anonymous said...

Are you Libertarians all handbags at dawn people?

Anonymous said...

So the little darlings are hard enough to survive the playground, other kids and puberty but can't hack a bit of red ink on their work? Baffling. If I were the kids I'd be mighty insulted that some think tank twats thought I was this pathetic.

Anonymous said...

Pogo - we are as likely to get agreement on what constitutes good 'education' as we are between DK & OH on the Israel/Palestine question.

But even allowing for your 'grade inflation' concerns children can only play the cards they have been dealt (during any educational era) and all I was suggesting was that many do reasonably well in the state system PROVIDING they are supported at home - I have absolutely no doubt this is the most important factor, especially amongst those children who do not attain even the most basic academic standards.

Incidentally, there are very many children attending private schools who, despite 'grade inflation' will not attain x9 A's, but some might argue that they have still received a better 'education' compared to what's on offer in most state schools ?

Verity, thanks for your comprehension master class, now, do you care to comment on the resource issue associated with disruptive and parentally unsupported children because I think that's rather more important than where to insert an apostrophe, don't you ?

Neuroskeptic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Neuroskeptic said...

Verity: Grammatical nit-picking is the last refuge of the out-argued. Or in this case, the first?

Neuroskeptic said...

How do we know that Red InkGate even happened? You cannae trust the Telegraph these days!

as we now know...

Bill Haydon said...

I was told on my PGCE never to mark in red: and at a recent staff meeting half the staff "just knew" it was wrong to mark in red and never had done.

Whether this story is true or not, it is true that there has been a general pseudo-psychologizing of the use of red pens in education.

Anonymous said...

DK, you're closing paragraph states
"Of course, if we adopted a voucher system for schools—rather than forcing children into education and giving the parents no choice about where their kids are educated..."
It's a load of fucking bollocks.
I know you don't have kids, but surely you must know that people can apply to different schools. It's only in a few extreme cases like parts of London where some schools get full up that it doesn't function fine (and if you think vouchers would fix that then you're a bigger fool than you seem).

By the way, what was your point regarding prions over at bad science? I'm genuinely interested to know ifgoldacre has been spouting rubbish about them and refused to accept the evidence. I doubt he has, but if so, please do tell.


"Well it works alright in sweden"and just look at sweden lol.

monoi said...

tom p,

Yes we can apply to different schools, but the decision is ultimately not the parents.

As to say that vouchers would not fix that, how would you know? Since the onus would be on school to attract parents by bettering themselves or fail, it would give REAL choice to parents because there would be more good schools available.

You obviously do not understand the concept of vouchers.

I imagine that you must be somewhere in that bollocks load you're mentioning.

Roger Thornhill said...

tom p,

I am in London and it is possible to live in a street with NO likelihood of getting into a surrounding school because there are now just so many more primary age kids 'all of a sudden'. Ealing, btw.

There is only one decent school nearby (the next nearest good school is on the other side of the catchment to the nearest good school). The next choice is poorly performing*. It has NO real need, funding-wise, to do better as it will always get kids because no more schools are being built by the LEA. Even the expansion in Ealing (plan to be performed in 2014) will be late and not enough. In 2008, there were 20% more babies born than last year london-wide. Think about that - in 4 years we will need 20% more school places. The State takes too long. A private company, knowing that figure, will get investment and expand/set up schools under a Swedish system.

As for funding the disruptive units, I heard that it costs about £40,000pa. Given that 30% of money is absorbed in the running of the LEA - not buildings, teachers pay, books or facilities, just admin - then I am sure if the LEA put their mind to it they could find the funding for each school. Given the disruption not having such a facility in a school would bring, even if the funding were not available, I would think any school would cut something else - I imagine not having a room would absorb £40,000 in lost time and extra staffing costs just to handle the kids in situ.

* don't you DARE say I should throw my kid in there to "raise standards".

Anonymous said...

I can't believe I wrote "you're closing paragraph".
What a twat. I think I'd wanted to start off with an insult (such as you're talking bollocks) and then changed my mind, but left it in. I can only apologise to everyone for this fuckwittedness.

roger Thronhill, I was pointing out London is the exception (ie it doesn't work fine) rather than the rule. I couldn't care less where you throw your children.

monoi (nice francophonic username there, by the way) - the decision would not necessarily be the parents' under a vouchers system. Schools can't forever be building new blocks so they'd have a natural limit on their size, which would mean that the best schools are oversubscribed and it's the school's decision who they accept, which is the case now.

Wakefield Tolbert said...

I don't know about red ink.

Except the "red ink" that government creates for us on our side of the Pond here in the US.

(being in the "red"--overbudgeted)

I'm sure you Brits have a similar term. Or is it just the same?

But we have had our ninny and nanny state politicians who've complained about "black ice"--a term for a dangerous road condition where a thin layer of ice overlays the ashpalt pavement.

So the ever watchful PC minions of State Power, whether in the schools or in legislatures, surely have made themselves a corner.

Even if some of these stories are.......little WHITE lies...

Anonymous said...

Anyone seen Obo?

The wanker

Unknown said...

Just the tip of the iceberg...

Neuroskeptic said...

The government has slightly annoyed me in some way.

Anonymous said...

'Welcome to Sweden, sounds a bit like Eden, but it ain't even'

Spent five years there, its no utopia, but I did have fun...

Anonymous said...

To expand a little on what Wakefield Tolbert said earlier...

Whatever faults Sweden has, its students sure kick the crap out of the ones in the Teachers' Union Paradise of America in literally every category of academic performance.

I live in the U.S., and my sympathy goes out to anyone who is forced by geography to go to one of our Godforsaken inner-city schools. Those provide an education in drugs, violence, and raising a child when you're 16 goddamn years old.

The liberal bastards in control of congress want two things: a voting bloc of Unionized "educators," and a voting bloc of poor, ignorant minorities continually churned out by our deplorable public schools. The circle is complete, and that's why we'll never have a voucher system here. Welcome to the machine.

Devil's Kitchen said...


What you have outlined describes education policy in Britain almost exactly. However, unlike us, some parts of the US have actually started to trial and adopt voucher systems.


Wakefield Tolbert said...

Over on mine and Steve's side of the Pond, while vouchers are legal, there is some renewed attack on the idea for several reasons. Not about quality. No.

As with homeschooling (which is also legal in Britain so I hear, but the Germans got rid of that verboten idea a while back as not good enough for the commonweal), the National Education Association says that even IF (har har) vouchers can send inner city kiddies to better schools, they cannot support it.

Of course it IS about unionized jobs. Why rail at the stinkin' business community and money bags over jobs issue when all people want to protect theirs too--including government teachers and their Indian chief admin. staff? That's actually jnderstandable.

The People's Revolutionary Republic of Californication tried to all but outlaw homeschooling with this "parental credentialing" crap from a three judge panel where a legal issue got brought up that had NOTHING to do with homeschooling in the first place.

But back to the point: The NEA and fellow hippie dippy bong hit warriors decided that voucher schools and other alternatives cannot give the "full complement" of education and proper cultural socialization. And it is "not accountable" to various kinds of (government) oversight. Etc.

IE--government workers hate that which cannot be easily controlled.

Of course, homeschoolers and voucher kids ARE under "oversight" and must have minimal standards and materials, and also they must usually join what are called "accountability" groups.

But the main accusation(s), as usual?

You guess it--it is about PC multi-culti socialization and the other crap you see near the lockers.
It is about the NEA training the next generation of urban and suburban zombies to obey government.

The NEA follows up that it is our "social responsibility" to pay for public school via our tax dollars (generally property taxes here in the US) regardless of where we send the kids, so they claim that voucher advocates are "whining" about "double taxation" when you pay your share AND have to plunk down yet more dollars to get your little tricycle motor into another grade school or whatnot.

A visit to a modern high school in the USA, with some in my community banked with barbed wire and warnings about drugs and keeping handguns at home makes this worry about "socialization" all the more laughable.

I figure that the best thing for society is not fussy egalitarianism, but having the best do their duty. This helps all in the long run. Even if not all the students are hip on the baggy-ass clothing and "tong lings" and Goth girls with tattoes that say things like "100% Georgia Snapper"
on the thighs while in chemistry class.

Err, I mean, those idiotic tongue rings.

Wakefield Tolbert said...


also, thanks for the handy link to the M.I. regarding the vouchers.

My only issue, or worry, really, is that with vouchers, they can work but the problem you might run into eventually is when educrats decide that if they are allowed they'll have to follow the same guidelines as the public schools.

The stated reason (other than control) is that in the US the First Amendment has an implied separation of church from state affairs, and as many of these schools are religious in nature, this offends the PC sensibilities of some. The government and the NEA consider it to be "government", or "public" money flowing to the voucher system from the taxpayers.

Ergo--this is government involvement, thus you can't give voucher money to a private religious or parochial school.

Neuroskeptic said...

British education in "not crap after all" shock:

Dave H said...

Figuratively speaking this blog is written in red ink and is all the better for it.

Anonymous said...

Dennis (top comment) is right. it was deliberate.

And where thr f*** are you, Devil? Get writing.

monoi said...

@ tom p,

Obviously schools can't forever increase in size, but the voucher system will give the incentive for other schools to improve or fail because otherwise, someone can open a new school to take advantage of demand. My bet is that it would concentrate minds wonderfully.

The state's role would be to ensure minimum national standards are met through recognised exams.

Personally, I am lucky enough that I am in the catchement area of a very good state catholic school, where I am LEA governor since last June, hypocrite that I am! That said, I am now very well placed to see the amount of shite and changes which rain on a daily basis from the DoE. Just getting rid of those idiots would save untold amounts in money and time.

Anonymous said...

monoi - in certain parts of London some middle class parents would cut the throat of another child if their family home happened to be slightly nearer to the school boundary.

I'm exaggerating, of course..........but only slightly.

Wakefield Tolbert said...


There is also the problem of diminishing returns.

We spend quite a bit per student in creating tomorrow's well versed army of burger flippers.

Are US and UK scores SO high compared to the rest of the world's broods that we can say we're getting our money's worth in educating the little tricycle motors?

Why are some of these other nations even in the running?

I have not graphed it out, don't know all the permutations, but there surely is a point at which the issue is not money or other resources for prosperous societies like ours compared to say, some of our third world pals.

Learning is acceptance of the rendering of both "real word" sensory information and proposition knowledge and logic, and not always requiring of the best pension funding.
Better equipment for presentation helps, yes, but why are kids in, say, Chicago (our new Messiah's political machine) unable to stack up a little better next to the kids of say, Beijing?

Is there a surge in property taxes all over the Great Dragon's domain that no one was aware of?

Sometimes you actually can achieve more by attempting LESS.

I doubt the Third World nations on that handy list in the study infuse their populations with subservient attitudes and multi-culti mess.
And some things are just not comparable. Hong Kong teaches English because Hong Kong used to BE English. The Afghans know some English,
but as English is truly the international language of trade and diplomacy and general understanding of the world, the converse is not true. We shan't
need to teach kids to count in Punjabi in Belgrade, London, or New York or the backwaters of Charleston.

The multi-culti mess can be jettisoned. About right now would be good.

Neuroskeptic said...

I don't know much about multi-culti, I prefer tutti-frutti myself.

All I know is that according to that data set, England is better than such rivals as Holland, Denmark, Sweden & New Zealand in Grade 4 & Grade 8 mathematics (page 7), and we are the nation most improved over the period 1995-2007 (page 8). Smashing eh?

Looks like ZaNuLabour didn't Break Britain after all. (They broke Iraq - two countries is too much.)

Wakefield Tolbert said...

Smashing indeed, NS.

BTW--that brain with eyes logogram is fantastic. Kinda funny.

A disembodied brain with the eyeballs still attached and surveying the world of the living IS an interesting notion.

As far as tutti-frutti, I think that part is what you have on pancakes over at the local House of Pancakes.

Well, local to ME anyhow.
But still--better than Blueberry.

Speaking of international, I thought Sweden's neo-vikings, the mamby pamby guys who lost their horns--was kicking tail in education. Or so the advanced sages of social sclerosis tell us...

But no matter, as the original article indicated and others followed up with, the problem is not the factoids, but the triad issues of cost per student and multicultural crappola, and the mod flop psyche mess disguised as compassion, to assuage the feelings of budding kiddies so as not to "offend."

As with the "self-esteem" movements in the USA, counting in Punjabi in Britain, or other Edu fads, yet more recommendations from Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Neuroskeptic said...

I take the view that if it works, it works. Unfashionable, I know. British education works - at least that's what that data suggests - so I don't really mind if some kids are being taught a bit of Punjabi (a beautiful language by the way) or even "self esteem" (nonsense, but fairly harmless).

Anonymous said...

monoi - I just don't see loads of new schools being built that would justify the additional expense and difficulty that a voucher scheme would represent (and would you trust it to be properly administered?).
The worst problem with over-subscribed schools is in London and other fairly affluent parts of the country. This means that if you want to build a school you've got to buy a load of land (including that for a playground and maybe even a sports field if you really want to attract loads of pupils) in a very expensive area. Then you've got to build the school, poach a v. good head and similar heads of dept from other schools (which will mean paying over the odds since it's a speculative venture) and all the other stuff.
It won't be cheap, it won't be easy and it won't be done more than a very few times. The only people with a real incentive to do this will be people who want to have schooling of their own special interest that isn't already catered for. One such example would be muslims who want a specifically muslim schooling for their kids. I'm pretty sure that we don't need any madrassas in britan.

If you exclude the fantasy that loads of new schools will be built, the scheme offers nothing that is not already extant in the system.

DK - you haven't made any comment on goldacre and prions yet. I'm genuinely interested to know where that line came from. If it referred to something else and was just a throwaway comment that I'm reading too much into, please do say.

Wakefield Tolbert said...

The "self esteem" crappola is neither warranted nor harmless, and in fact, in giving the little tricycle motors a false sense of acheivement, positively negates for them later in life the need to cross examine their own assumptions.

Course, in public education's tactic filling the head with fluff in the first place, maybe these days it makes little difference.

I guess people will continue the Coalition of the Cockamamie all the same.

As to Punjabi, that too is a waste of time and effort and resources. It is akin to bilingual education in our so-called "border" states in the U.S. It is a make-work program for the teachers of this.

Anonymous said...


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