School holidays: Gove is doubly wrong

Last week, the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove made a speech saying that school hours and holiday plans were based on our agricultural past and that we were being left behind by the work ethic of the East Asian nations who had longer school days and shorter holidays.

Colleagues in teaching may be shocked to hear this, but Mr Gove is wrong on both counts.

Liberal England the TES team up to prove that the pattern of school holidays is not derived from our agrarian heritage.

In fact, schools took their holiday plan from… politicians! In the 1800s, longer summer holidays became a feature of parliament and the courts, and at the time, many in education were the sons of lawyers and politicians so it suited all concerned for the holidays to match.

The TES reports parents have been kvetching about the length of school holidays and how teachers have it easy, since at least the 1890s:

A letter to the Daily News in 1892 noted: “Little by little, the holidays at most of our schools have increased from an average of eight weeks in the year to something like 14. This gradual change has been entirely in the interest of the masters, for the school fees have not decreased in corresponding ratio.”

Another correspondent wrote: “I am convinced young boys, especially those with no real love of learning, lose in the long holidays much of the knowledge and discipline received in the short terms.”

That last complaint from 1892 is the rationale behind Nottingham city’s attempt to introduce a five term year with shorter summer holidays.

Just as Gove is wrong about the reason for school holidays, he is also wrong about the comparison between the English education system and East Asia. A blog post on the Local Schools Network crunches the data available and concludes:

English pupils spend more hours in the classroom than those in Korea and Japan. They spend about the same as those in Singapore, less than in Hong Kong and Shanghai (although pupils in Shanghai get a longer lunch break and more holidays which offset the extra hours).

Indeed, as a commenter later points out, most of the nations that beat the UK in the PISA rankings have less contact time with students than we do.

Of course this latest is just one pronouncement on which Gove is clearly, factually wrong.

Other interesting thought experiments teachers have been trying out on Twitter this week: if performance related pay for teachers is the answer for school improvement, why isn’t it the answer for secretaries of state? If parents are to determine teachers’ pay, perhaps teachers should determine Michael Gove’s remuneration package? And more generally, perhaps constituents should set MPs’ salaries.


Words (and concepts) of the day

Three fun new things to cross my desk recently. Sometimes you can go days without learning any new words, and then sometimes there will be a flood.

1) Reuleaux triangles

A query arose in a game playing household about some game tokens, that looked almost but not exactly like plectrums. Puffy over-inflated equilateral triangles. Turns out they have some interesting mathematical properties, including about how they roll, and that if you make manhole covers this shape, the removed cover does not fall into the hole left behind.

The thing I found most interesting was that Reuleaux triangles are part of a series of mathematical shapes called Reuleaux polygons, and the shapes with seven sides are the shapes that are better known in the UK as 50p and 20p coins.

There are also Reuleaux tetrahedrons that are like puffy, round edged pyramids.

2) Obliquity

Now here’s an interesting word. in astronomy it describes a relationship between a planet’s north poll and its equator. Or something. But it came up in a meeting in a more social sciences context and it turns out it’s a book. The idea is that instead of being too goal-oriented, you can achieve what you want by taking an indirect route. Presumably there’s a personal goals angle there, and a few linked thoughts about personal productivity. But there’s also a research aspect. What do you find out on the way from A -> B? Sometimes C and D turn out to be the more useful research goals.

Clearly obliquity is related to oblique, a type of angle we learned about in secondary trigonometry. I thought it was a specific one like obtuse or reflex, but apparently it’s just one that is not a right angle. The wikipedia page for angles gets very heavy very quickly and there’s not a lot on the page I can easily get my head around.

NB obloquy is something else entirely. It’s a fancy word for abusive language.

3) Chthonic

What an amazing word. Are there any other with a chth right next to each other? It comes from the Greek, who apparently have no difficulty putting chi and theta next to each other without a vowel in between. Ooh, there’s also autochthonous – a synonym for indigenous. A Scrabble word finder has a list of 70 -CHTH- words including ichthic, which I think means fishy, although ichthyic is more common.

Chthonic means pertaining to the underworld.

It came to mind because my vegan friend is in the middle of a project of blogging every day and has a chosen to run each post under a new word ending -ic. (Apart from the first, where she sets out the laudable aim of commenting on others’ blogs pour encourager les autres)

Let’s end with a recipe: chocolate chip orange cookies. Easily vegan but doesn’t have to be if you prefer milk chocolate.

In an ideal world

In an ideal world, I’d be in bed at 9pm on a school night, reading for pleasure for an hour before lights out at 10pm, eight hours of sleep, and up-and-at-’em at 6am the following morning.

In an ideal world, I’d be cooking Sunday lunch every weekend, timing it so that I can listen to the Food Programme on Radio 4 and take a sip of sherry every time Sheila Dillon says “provenance” or “street food” and finishing the glass for “Chorleywood bread process”.

Two simple things I think would make me happy that I barely ever achieve. I didn’t manage them before switching careers, but they’d be even harder to do now. And why not? I’m in charge of what we eat on Sundays and when I go to bed and yet those simple steps seem a long way from possible. Perhaps Sundays might be easier but week nights – my current routine means finishing at school at 6pm, so the three hours from then to bedtime simply includes too many things to be done in time. Driving home, shopping for food, cooking and eating a meal. Any further preparation for the next day at school. Any sort of life maintenance like tidying and cleaning the kitchen, putting things away or any of the stages of the laundry process. Tending the chickens or defleaing the cats. My trainer is on at me to try and get more than one gym session a week but I’m really unsure how to fit that in. Go straight from school, starving? Or eat first and risk hurling all over the TRX frame? There’s no time in that skedz for watching TV, checking email and Facebook or the hours that I could spend trying to read everything now in Feedly. (Maybe reading blogs will be my reading for pleasure?)

I’m sure eventually I’ll be able to work more on having the life I want whilst still getting enough done but it’s a struggle right now. At least with a bit of a simple vision about where I want to end up I have a chance of getting there.

It turns out a simple vision is what’s necessary for those oh-so-long teacher holidays too. Two glorious weeks of Easter freedom fly by and as we near the end now I’m starting to feel guilty about the marking and planning is still to be done. Whilst I have got some things done I planned to – including topping up the balance on my sleep deficit, catching up with some of the TV waiting for me on Tivo and doing a small bit of reading for pleasure – it’s amazing how the time flies past.

Pudding club: raspberry chiffon squares

A meeting of the pudding club again this evening. Today, however, I am a few days into a somewhat radical, no carb diet. The diet I am on is supposed to be no carbs – no rice, no pasta, no bread, no cereal. Which is proving challenging, but not nearly as challenging as the no-alcohol rule. It’s the holidays! I did choose to start during the holidays as I wasn’t sure how eating like this would make me feel and I didn’t want to be too far off my game in the classroom, but I hadn’t quite factored in how many social occasions there would be.

A no carb, no sugar dessert that isn’t plain fruit is quite a challenge. Next to impossible if you also avoiding highly chemical artificial solutions like sweeteners.

A bit of googling took me to this dessert idea. Blend cream cheese into sugar free jelly and use it, with fruit as a topping for an ersatz cheesecake. Since a biscuit base is out, replace it with blitzed nuts bound by melted butter and maple syrup.