The Prophet’s Party Piece


Moses tries to shoot a snapshot – and gets one,
just – yet being unable to multi-task this isn’t of

the parting of water best known for his sleight
[one assumes even prophets need both hands]

and instead he bifurcates a ripple of orange,
a ribbon of near-red dissipating in the foreground.

What’s worse, god looks on from above, the
spectral stare of a mentor disappointed one more

time, ruminating on how expectations have
altered since those early days of total faith and

delivery. It is a ghost-look soon to wane
into the cliff-face, haunted by a demise of miracles.

Moses, left to think, knows what follows fame
is one big burden when the party piece fades.

[picture by artist and photographer Nick Dormand]

Strong Standards?

Here is a quick context to the newly announced two-tiered GCSE grading system lest anyone reading my last two posts are uncertain about my feelings and reasons for these:

What those of us in education know only too well is that once you establish a faultline [default line?] in the GCSE grading ‘hierarchy’, you have cemented a good/bad dichotomy that will be forever embraced as definitive by, firstly, the media, then employers and naturally parents who will be influenced by the fear and panic generated from this measuring of educational achievement and the prospects for students thus measured. This also feeds into the target culture that rules education and schools these days.

As a GCSE examiner of 30 years’ experience I accept there has to be judgement in assessing and recording student achievement. I also recognise that levels of that achievement need some form of explanation/articulation. But that is quite simply a first principle of the process of assessment. Everything else that informs this – type of examination; suitability/sensibility of the syllabus studied; conditions of examination; conditions of teaching; condition of student, and so many more variables – impinge on the act of that assessing and subsequent awarding [this latter itself subject to the most aberrant of statistical manipulations at times].

I have explored this in more detail elsewhere in this blog.

The grades announced by the DfE today, and language used to describe these, only hint at the beginning of what I see as an inevitable problem. The definition of a Grade 5 pass as ‘strong’ and a Grade 4 pass as ‘standard’ is of itself seemingly innocuous and/or so simplistic as to be meaningless. The problem will be how a Grade 3 pass becomes perceived as it cannot be deemed as ‘standard’ – and therefore becomes below standard – and we are in the other nasty area of judgement which is judgemental. Again, this can bear considerable unravelling, but not here.

The biggest new development and impact on this in my subject English is the changed nature of the GCSE examination itself. It will from this summer be entirely terminal examination and that is a significant factor in the way we facilitate students to demonstrate their understanding and skills. The syllabuses have also changed dramatically, a consequence of former Education Secretary Michael Gove’s involvement in and interference with the type of learning and engagement students will have when studying.

All of this matters critically when an underlying motive behind the new system of grading is the claim it is about raising standards – about introducing a more robust curriculum and assessment. When it is the regular case that standards are so often manipulated by statistical norm referencing, this is essentially a political ruse. And there is the rub. Like so much about the education system in this country over the last 20 years, under varying governments, it is about the negative restriction and measurement and targets and arbitrary standards. So little has been done to positively develop curricula and teaching and learning. The announcement today is more of the same negativity dressed up by emperors.

A Standard Passing

To avoid
compulsory employers
currently asking
for the passport
to a future
the ‘standard pass’
will only be awarded
to pass,
that is,
pupils who achieve a middle
must achieve a
grade 4.

The education secretary
it was
credible achievement
for individuals to
distinguish their middle
and grade 4
will continue to pass

One in five
will no longer
receive a low C
you see
and this is progress
that they do not
and it is the greening
of the land
you under-

Toodlepip Sonnet

[for a friend – Drama teacher – when he left the job]

I’m off, I’m leaving, it is time for goodbye
My powder’s depleted; my bull’s pizzle dry.
But I won’t go down without a final fighting
In each following Teacher-Shakespeare flyting:
To Peter Principle school senior managers
I do hope we become much better strangers;
To those who shape teaching by a crass Politic
Thou art as Gove-like as a mis-shapen dick;
To teachers who Inspect so can’t give a fuck
You wear our blood like a vile standing-tuck;
To those who set targets to snare and enmesh
May flabby ideals rot in your huge hills of flesh.
I’m off, I’m leaving, I enjoyed this last quip –
Tot ziens, Tschau, Tot wederum, Toddlepip.

Robert Frost – ‘Acquainted with the Night’

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain – and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-by;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Here is the News

[Westminster, London, 22nd March, 2017]

Here is the News and here are the
realities: on the BBC, reporters

refer to catastrophic injuries while
cataclysmic scrolls along the screen –

language perhaps at its most sadly
tautologous, but already gone astray

[CNN reporting the former accurately
thousands of miles away, then explores

terrorist threats as a certain surmise]
and the news isn’t fake but dubious.

What do we really know? Excusing
the profundity of that question,

we know people have been hurt and
some have died. We know these did not

make it across that everyday bridge.
We know no one needs to ask how

eyewitnesses feel, but they will.
We know there will be no intentional

lies, but await characters from signals
beyond reasoning, and then poetries

too risk footholds their finite words try
when walking carefully side-by-side.