My random thoughts, musings, rants and stories will appear here over time.

21st Century Learning

Written by Mark McCourt on Saturday, 30 May 2015.

The children in our schools today will face a world unknown to us. The careers they will follow, the lives they will lead, and the decisions they will take can’t possibly be imagined.

Schools must prepare children for this new, unimaginable world. We need to ensure our education system is reformed so that it is equipping our children for the future they will face, not the futures that we faced.

50 Million

Written by Mark McCourt on Friday, 24 April 2015.

Ok, apologies for the self-congratulatory tone of this blog, but I'm really rather proud of Emaths.

In February 2004, I was giving a speech to a conference of teachers. There I was pontificating on the benefits of collaboration: how we, the 350,000 maths teachers in England are stronger together. That if we could network and share resources and ideas, the system really could improve. I talked about the need for a one-stop-shop, a place where any teacher could add their resources and find support materials.

As the speech went on in my usual evangelical manner, a delegate stood up in yelled – and I mean really yelled – at me "why don't you just do something about it?"

Some things I would change...

Written by Mark McCourt on Friday, 03 April 2015.

Just a random stream of thoughts as I sit in a cold railway station trying to get home...

The People I Respect in Education.

Written by Mark McCourt on Sunday, 29 March 2015.

2015 is the year that Marty McFly arrives in a future of hoverboards, self-drying jackets and pizzas that come as tiny dried tablets.

Robert Zemeckis is a clever chap. When writing the Back to the Future movies, he chose the years 1955, 1985 and 2015. This is not just on the off chance.

A thirty year gap does of course play right for the intergenerational conundrums which befall the hapless McFly family, but thirty years is important for a more important reason. To sell movies (and boy, did that franchise sell), the writer needs to tap into something in an audience – a familiarity, a connection, an emotion. Setting the first movie in 1985 and 1955 is so easy because, effectively, they are the same year.

Hubs, Mastery and other passing fads... (and the Stepford Teachers)

Written by Mark McCourt on Wednesday, 26 November 2014.

I am increasingly concerned of late that the profession seems utterly oblivious to the fact that we are sleepwalking into becoming unthinking drones. Rather than trusting the profession and those who know a great deal about teaching and learning in mathematics, the DfE, and particularly Nick Gibb, are determined to implement their own vision of mathematics education. Teachers seem beaten, seem tired or (so much worse) seem to capitulate because they think Nanny knows best.

The Rising Meritocracy

Written by Mark McCourt on Sunday, 02 November 2014.

Here's a thought: wouldn't it be nice if each head teacher was brighter and more enlightened than their deputy, each deputy more so than their assistants, each assistant than each head of department, and each head of department worthy of respect by each teacher they lead.

Brainwashed Teachers

Written by Mark McCourt on Saturday, 01 November 2014.

Words were repeated time and time again as though deviation from the script was forbidden – perhaps Big Brother was listening. 'Progress', 'Plenary', 'Inquiry', 'Fun', 'Outstanding', 'Kinesthetic'... and on and on it went. I could have played National Strategies Bullshit Bingo and got a Full House every time.

Progressive vs Traditionalist vs Professional

Written by Mark McCourt on Sunday, 09 February 2014.

A couple of decades ago, I found myself standing at a bar in a downtrodden pub on the outskirts of Derry, Northern Ireland. There had been no Good Friday Agreement and the Troubles were still very much alive and real. Not a great place for an Englishman to be whiling away the hours, but the friend I had agreed to meet and who lived locally had failed to show. So there I was, supping a jar, minding my own business.

A hand fell on my shoulder and a voice from behind asked "are you Catholic?"


Non-Specialists Judging Lessons is Wrong

Written by Mark McCourt on Sunday, 17 November 2013.

The past 15 years or so have convinced me more and more that discovering learning through classroom observation is incredibly difficult and nuanced. I am a mathematics specialist, but have inspected lessons of all subjects. My first ever inspection was a PE lesson – the kids were trampolining. All jolly good fun, but I didn’t have a clue whether or not the 12 year olds were bouncing at a height and with an aplomb suitable to their age.

An Ofsted Outstanding Mathematics Lesson

on Thursday, 04 July 2013.

I have this little theory.  The Ofsted criteria is not responsible for most of the dumbed down teaching that I see when I visit schools.  In fact, it is far more likely to be the head teacher's screwed up interpretation of some course they went on 5 years ago.  So I continually see the same old things.

But why can't schooling be better than that?  Why can't we re-instill some intellect?

The Ofsted criteria isn't stopping us.

Below is the criteria for outstanding, alongside what I typically see when inspecting or visiting schools.

But it doesn't have to be this way... why can't the bar be a whole lot higher?  Here are some suggestions:


The Education World is full of Dicks

Written by Mark McCourt on Tuesday, 25 June 2013.

Let me make this perfectly clear, I am not one of those people who think that you must have been a teacher to be allowed to talk about teaching and education. Indeed, some of my senior staff had never taught, yet were incredibly insightful about teaching and learning.

But, in the same way that I think politicians really should have had a real job (preferably a few real jobs) before becoming an MP, I believe that to set the direction of education does require an in depth knowledge of its workings.

The Office Staff

on Wednesday, 12 June 2013.

Too many teachers seem to forget that schools are not staffed purely by teachers. Often, in a large secondary school, the teaching staff are actually outnumbered by all those other members of staff who make the school what it is: caretakers, dinnerladies, cleaners, lab technicians, IT support, playground supervisors, teaching assistants, reprographics, art and technology technicians, the staff room tea lady, and the school office staff.

The Local Authority

on Thursday, 30 May 2013.

Some local authorities are sanctuaries for the unhinged, loopy or incompetent. But, of course, such is the cosiness of local government employment that you can be as stark raving mad as you like without any risk of losing your job. So, as though put out to pasture from the schools from which they came, scores of men and women in ill-fitting cords, checked shirts, shapeless frocks or aging suits, plod around the dusty corridors of county hall with the pressures of a real job long since lost in the memory.

This would all be fine if they were simply left to amuse themselves with crosswords and lovely cups of tea, but alas they are sent out in to the world of schools to irritate teachers.

A Private Education for All?

on Sunday, 19 May 2013.

An argument that bounces around a lot in education is whether schools should be able to be privatised and particularly whether they should be allowed to make a profit (interestingly, this argument often ignores the fact that there are already schools in England that make profits).

As a conservative, I do believe in the market. I believe that individuals should be at the heart of their own lives and should be trusted to make decisions for themselves.

So what if, instead of the socialist, top-down approach, we said that every single child can have a private education? What would this do to education and standards?

It's Behaviour, Dummy

Written by Mark McCourt on Saturday, 27 April 2013.

Working in schools is the greatest job in the world.  But it should not be underestimated how much of a decline there has been in the last 15 years in terms of both pupil behaviour and the attitudes of parents.  If Dr Atkinson wishes to peddle such crap, my personal opinion is that she should first have to endure the humiliation that some teachers face on a daily basis.  She should have to lie awake at night with palpatations, unable to rest, with tears in her eyes.  She should have to lose her appetite and have family life destroyed.  At that point, then feel free to come back to headteachers and make recommendations about how they should deal with the tiny minority of children who cause this distress.

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