Pre PGCE reading

My PGCE course starts imminently, and I’ve had a lot of paperwork from the University, College, and Faculty to fill out. I’ve also decided to complicate matters slightly by changing my student bank account. When I signed up for my current student bank account 4 years ago, banks weren’t offering any incentives. That’s a little different now and, after comparing several accounts, I’ve decided to switch to HSBC. They’re offering a £60 Amazon voucher as well as more interest than my ISA offers.

Apart from all that I’ve been trying to get ahead with course related reading. I’ve read both of the booklets that we’ve been told to read:

  • Towards Dialogic Teaching: Rethinking Classroom Talk 4th Ed by R. Alexander
  • English Inside the Black Box: Assessment for Learning in the English Classroom, Ed B. Marshall and D. Wiliam.

I’ve also been reading:

  • Why don’t students like school? by Daniel T. Willingham. This has been a really interesting read. It’s by an American cognitive scientist, analysing how education works and how the brain works.
  • Why are you shouting at us? The Does and Don’ts of behaviour management, P. Beadle and J. Murphy. I got hold of this book earlier this year, when I was teaching 6 lessons a week and struggling with one of them. This and “Getting the Buggers to Behave” by S. Cowley really helped me get to grips with one of my classes (just in time for the school year to finish.)
  • Mindsets in the Classroom, by M. C. Ricci. This book discusses the implementation of the growth mindset in an education context, specifically how it can be used to change both student’s and educator’s perceptions of learning and achievement. It should really be read along side the seminal book on the growth mindset.

I’ve also been building on areas of weakness in my subject knowledge. I’ve been re-reading:

  • Rediscover Grammar by D. Crystal
  • Beginning Theory by P. Barry
  • Eats shoots and leaves, L. Truss
  • Introduction to English Poetry, J. Fenton.

My previous school was also having a clear out, and I was lucky enough to get copies of two anthologies of poetry for different exam boards. I am unsure of whether these specific anthologies are still used, however the poems and extracts are likely to still be used.

Till next time!

Intro to the PGCE blog

I’m going to be blogging about my PGCE experience, here’s the start!

I’m leaving my job in August to be a student on the University of Cambridge’s Secondary English PGCE program.

Over the course of the program, I aim to publish a blog a week covering what I learn and ideas on the pedagogy learnt and my experiences.

I’m starting the blog now because, in some ways, the course has already begun: I’ve been sent two extracts, details of two more, and instructions for other pre-course tasks.

The extracts detail the journey of several readers and writers. They are rather interesting, and I connected with the extract about the journey of reading. I remember not being able to read, learning to read, and then delving into the world of books. I’m pretty sure that I read most, if not all, of my local library’s children’s section. Then I progressed to YA and eventually adult fiction.

An extended reading list was also sent, and I’ve started to obtain copies of some of the books. We’ve also been told to begin to develop any gaps in our subject knowledge, and we have to hand in a subject knowledge audit at the start of the course.

I have also received initial confirmation of where I shall be undertaking my Initial Primary Placement. As part of the Cambridge Secondary PGCE course, students observe and undertake several exercises in a primary school.

Finally, I have been notified of my two professional placements – both were classified as Outstanding in their last OFSTED inspections, and they represent two contrasting placements.

What does a Teaching Assistant do?

Although my job title isn’t “Teaching Assistant” – it’s the much cooler “Student Motivation Assistant”, much of my job is the same as a teaching assistant’s; I am slightly more specialised and teach small classes.

I usually get to work at about 8:10am – the bell for registration goes at 8:30am, and I use this twenty minutes to get a coffee and catch up with other staff; once a week we have a whole-staff briefing at 8:10am.

During registration I take out my mentees to talk about any issues they have, both at home and at school. Sometimes these issues can be minor, sometimes they are serious. The chat gives students a chance to clear their mind of any issues so that they can give full attention to their lessons.

Lessons start at 8:45am and stop for break at 10:25am for break; this is two 50 minute lessons. At my school we aren’t based solely in one department, so I might move from an English lesson to an Art lesson, or Geography lesson. We have been given some influence over our lessons, and attention has been given to our particular skills – I have an English degree and a broad humanities background so I spend more time in these lessons; I have not been in any Science lessons.

Break offers a chance to recharge with coffee and catch up with other teachers and chat about any issues that need addressing.

Then it’s two more lessons before a recharge at lunch. I have a duty once a week, which means I patrol a designated area at break and lunch to keep an eye on students. Other teachers and TAs run clubs during lunch.

Depending on the TA’s timetable, there could be up to three more 50 minute lessons after lunch, meaning a 3:40pm finish. Students in Year 10 upwards finish at 3:40pm, those in the years below finish at 2:50pm.

Once a week we have a team meeting after work, finishing at 3:40pm to discuss any SEN news and any concerns. This also provides a chance for our SENCO to award the TA of the Week certificate and chocolate.

Extra-curricular clubs are imperative to a good education, and TAs contribute to running these; I co-run the Debating Society, while others run a Minecraft club and others.

And to those who are thinking about becoming a TA to test the education water before applying for teacher training: Do it. It’s hard, but incredibly fulfilling.

Lecturers, please!

I’ve had enough of lecturers striking. I’m in my third year of University, and they’ve striked too many times now. We’ve had two 2-hour strikes last semester, a full day strike today (admittedly there wasn’t much of an effect), and a further 2 hour strike planned for Monday. But during each of these strikes, we’ve been unable to contact those striking, unable to recieve feedback for work and unable to ask for help; some people have even had cancelled lectures and seminars – as students we pay for all of this.

Perhaps I’d feel differently if the strikes had any effect, or were being noticed by the University’s. But they aren’t, and the Unions aren’t being listened to. The only being harmed by the strikes are the students, the one group that have little ability to fight back. Even though students at Warwick have put on their own lectures, they shouldn’t have had to, and I bet they weren’t reimbursed by the University. It isn’t as though students can respond by striking and not paying their tuition fees – cutting off the money supply for wages – because, for many of us, the payment is automatic.

I’m all for fair pay, as are most students, but alienating us isn’t the way to go!

The snail has left the building: The Demise of letter writing

English students aren’t the only people who read the letters of the deceased, nor are historians. Many people are nosy and enjoy the insight into people’s minds and lives. As I write this, the collected letters of Kingsley Amis are next to me – a huge mammoth of a book; Alan Bennett’s collections of autobiography and letters are on a bookshelf downstairs, and I recently returned a volume of H. G. Wells’ correspondence to my University library. I’ve loved reading all of them, and fear that future generations will not be able to experience the thrill of prying into the lives of today’s great authors.

Photo of a handwritten letter.We live in a transitory, digital world, where digital communication is the norm and snail mail is used rarely, even by businesses.

That email and instant messages are the norm is horrible for the art of letter writing, and for the art of handwriting. Gone are pages of flowing, cursive script, scrawled and blotted – replaced by lines of regimental font on a screen. But the problem, in this case, lies in the nature of modern communication: it’s not permanent. Phone calls aren’t recorded (normally), texts not saved, emails deleted and hard disks failing.

In twenty, fifty, a hundred years time, scholars won’t be able to relate an author’s writing to their life experiences, and won’t necessarily be able to delve deep into political mysteries. Those other people, who just want to know, or just enjoy reading the intricacies of people’s lives won’t be able to.

Either we all look to the future and print off all our emails, or constantly back them up or we revert back to physical letter-writing.

The Freedom Claus

“Wake up y’sloth.” A worn leather boot hit the elf’s green-clothed backside. The elf snapped to attention, grabbing a hammer with its pudgy hand.

“Sorry Father.” The elf squeaked. Father Christmas grunted and stamped away each step sending vibrations through each elf’s skeleton. Christmas marched his way through the sea of regulation uniforms: lime green pants and shirts, pale green hats for the workers, red for the foremen.

Christmas left the warehouse, entering the blistering cold; hats flew off several elves, causing them to stumble forward, as a gust entered the building. He paused outside, tapped his pocket, and pulled out a fat cigar. He cupped a hand to his mouth and lit the cigar. Blue smoke drifted out, curling in the cold air. Christmas puffed on the cigar, tucked his hands into his coat and walked to his mansion, his thick red cloak dragging in the snow.

It was a short walk to his mansion. With an army of elves continuously mining, Christmas’ mansion extended deep into the snow. The lower reaches of the abode provided home to a vast ice window, through which Christmas would watch the Artic fish. The door to his mansion opened with a creak, the movement causing snow to fall onto Christmas’ woollen hat from the overhang. He shook it off and walked into the mansion. An elf, waiting next to the door, clambered onto a stool and took Christmas’ cloak. Christmas walked down the hallway, leaving the elf submerged under the cloak, struggling to put it on its hanging peg.

“What’s that?” Christmas called, his nose wrinkling as his moustache lifted to provide a barrier to the smell.

“Dinner Father.” An elf’s voice said, drifting out of the kitchen. Christmas entered the kitchen.

“Get that outta here.” An elf rushed past, pointing up at Christmas’ cigar and the blue plumage twisting around the kitchen.

“Chef?” Christmas called.

An elf popped out from behind a pot, a spoon almost as tall as him in hand. “Father?”

“Hell’s goin’ on in here?” Christmas gestured at the elves running around. “Chaos. And that smell.” He waved his cigar over at the pot, hot ash falling on a passing elf.

“Minestrone soup, Father. Forgive me.” The elf ran over to a microphone, kicked a switch and said: “Please remember to walk not run, when in the kitchen.”

Christmas nodded. “Get it done soon. I’m hungry.” He turned to leave, and said over his shoulder, “Find that elf and fire him.” The Chef glanced at him. “How dare he tell me to put out my cigar.” Christmas said, fixing the chef with a glare.

The kitchen door swung shut with a click and Christmas stood in the hall, watching as the elf finally managed to hang up Christmas’ cloak.


Ice was beginning to form on the conveyor belt, causing it to shudder and crunch as it the black fabric rotated. Despite the elves asking, Christmas limited the heating to certain times throughout the day, he reasoned that the warm water he provided during the daily five minute break was enough to keep the elves warm; he thought nothing of the machinery, it was the mechanics that had to try and keep it working all year-round.  Many of the elves contacted others in the haberdashery or the wrapping departments, getting them to send additional insulation to wear under the uniform. As the ice crept along the conveyor belt slowed until it eventually stopped.

The elves paused from manufacturing the toys, stopped adding little bits of plastic to larger ones, and stopped placing even bigger bits of plastic into brightly coloured boxes. They looked at their foremen, who looked back at them. Elf 451 looked at the elf opposite, the sprayed stencil on it’s chest telling him that it was Elf21B.

“What do we do now?” He asked. 21B shrugged and pointed with a finger to their foreman.

Around the warehouse other elves were muttering and shifting their weight from foot to foot, trying to stop the cold from setting into their bones.

A whistle blew and the foremen all walked into a huddle. They spoke for several minutes, during which time murmurs grew amongst the elves. Those near the pipework began to communicate with the other departments, utilising their variant of morse codes, tapping quickly and lightly on the copper pipe. Messages came back, the kitchen elves reported that Christmas was working them hard, forcing them to redo many dishes; the haberdashery reported blunt needles – nothing out of the ordinary, and the miners complained of working in the dark.

The foremen broke their huddle and one stepped forward, blowing on his whistle. The elves stopped talking and looked over. The chosen spokesperson, elf 48F climbed onto a pile of packaged gifts and looked at the crowds.

“Fellow elves, a message has been sent to Christmas, informing him that there will be delays to the production of this year’s gifts. However, continue we must, and innovate we must. It’s our duty to ensure that the good children receive their presents, that we make them happy.” He paused, allowing groans to emanate from his audience.

“I know we aren’t all happy, but we must continue to work. If we don’t-” He shuddered. “We’ll make Christmas angry.”

He clambered back off the pile of boxes. His audience didn’t move, remained quiet until 451 called out.

“We lost three elves yesterday, three good elves.” A few of the elves turned to him, and 48F paused.

“That was just on this line, more throughout the warehouse, and the miners are dying every day.” 451 looked at the elves around him, 48F turned back to watch.

“Yeah we can make the kids happy, we can try to make Christmas happy.” The crowd sniggered. “Yeah it’s unlikely, but we can try. But-” 451 paused. And pushed himself onto the conveyor belt so he could see more of the warehouse. He raised his voice.

“But, are we happy? Day in day out, the same toys, the same cold, same food.” He pointed at himself and then the crowd.

“I’m not happy, are you?” He pointed now at the conveyor belt, at the ice that was forming on its surface.

“You know as I do, Christmas won’t fix this, that once we remove this ice more will form.”

The foremen’s spokesperson, 48F raised his arm and spoke.

“451, we can’t do anything, return to your post and resume work.”

48F laughed. “But we can. Together we can.” He knelt down and picked up a hammer. “Together we can become free, together we can avenge the deaths of the miners, make children different toys each year, rather than the same things.” He pulled at his uniform. “Together we could get rid of this.”

A cry came from the crowd. “Get rid of Christmas?”

“Exactly.” 451 said, “Get rid of Christmas himself.”

The crowd began to murmur again.

“What say you?” 451 said to the crowd, “What say you?” he said, pointing at 48F.

A few of the elves broke away from the group and began tapping furiously on the pipes, making them vibrate with messages. Heads began to shake up and down throughout the elves. 48F turned to the other foremen, who looked at him and shook their heads.

“451’s right you know.” One said.

“I know, and that’s what scares me. Christmas will kill us all if this goes wrong.” 48F replied.

“Then we’d better make damn sure this works.” Said another foreman.

The chandelier that hung from the carved stone ceiling was the only source of light in Christmas’ study. Hundreds of little candles burnt on the chandelier lit, at Christmas’ command, by an elf. Christmas sat at his desk, a large mahogany construction, checking through a list. His body cast a dark shadow across the desk, darkening the stacks of paper and the scattered biros. Christmas alternated between sipping at whiskey from a crystal tumbler, and scratching through names on the good list. He grumbled as he did so, groaning about bad manners and insolent children.  The remains of the minestrone soup lay drying in the bottom of a china bowl, breadcrumbs littering the desk around it.

“Freedom!” A thousand tiny voices cried as one, a mass of bodies thundering forward across the thick rug. Christmas turned from his desk, his eyes widening in shock as the carpet of elves ran closer. He stood up and grabbed his chair, holding it out in front of him. He swung it from side to side, swatting at the advancing elves. He struck several of them, causing them to fall back onto their comrades, but still the army pushed forward. Hearing a cry from above, Christmas looked up. Elves dropped from the chandelier, swinging themselves down on string ropes. He dropped the chair, crushing two elves, and batted at the elves falling towards his face. Christmas felt himself wobble as he battled the airborne threat.

The elves on the ground parted round his legs, looping sparkly tinsel around the back of his ankles. As more elves dropped from the chandelier, the ground force pulled on the tinsel, causing Christmas to fall. His body crashed to the ground, his head resounding from the floor with a crack. Christmas was knocked out for several seconds, which the elves used to their advantage, dragging coil after coil of tinsel around his wrists, before driving the tinsel into the carpet with wooden stakes.

“I told you to put that out.” An elf said, pulling the cigar that was still clenched in Christmas’ fingers. The elf rotated it, slamming the lit end down into Christmas’ palm, twisting hard. The smoke stopped seeping from the end, and the elf dropped the dead brown log. A ring of dark pink smouldering flesh was left on Christmas’ limp hand.

A group of elves scaled the desk, lifted the tumbler and dropped it. Christmas’ eyes widened as he saw it fall, then he shut them tight. The crystal tumbler shattered against his face, crystal embedding into his skin, tearing it open. He roared and writhed in pain, throwing elves across the room. He tried to stand, pulled against the tinsel, but the elf army held them tight; he collapsed back to the ground.

Christmas woke to find elves sawing at his beard, hacking his hair off with axes. Hundreds of wooden hammers cracked at his bones, with sharp snaps resounding from his shins. The kitchen elves clutched at their forks, stabbing them into his legs. Christmas cried out as beads of blood dropped from the incisions that mazed across his skin. Three elves from the haberdashery clambered onto his head, scrambled over his face, and held his lips together, whilst another punctured his lips with a needle, sewing his mouth shut. An elf swung a hammer like a golf club, slicing it through the air; Christmas’ nose split to the left, blood instantly spraying out, covering some of the elves.

Elf after elf swarmed over Christmas’ corpse, until his breathing no longer caused them to rise and fall, until the carpet around was drenched with his blood.

Until they realised that they were free.

The End.

It’s never Sunny in Hull

I believe that every member of Hull University Union has a choice. They have the choice to purchase and read The Sun, to buy one of its competitors, or not to buy a newspaper at all. This is a choice that exists for as long as each of the newspapers is sold in the Union shop. Removing the nation’s most popular newspaper from sale destroys this choice.

Posting on Facebook, Union President Richard Brooks writes:

“The reason UEC proposed and voted in the way it did was because we have a Zero Tolerance to discrimination policy…We put to UEC specifically to get more student consultation.”

Now, I’ve done some searching and this appears to be the only statement put forward (so far) by the Union about the rationale behind the proposed ban. The first I knew about the proposed ban was the article by The Hullfire, and I expect this is the same for many students. That much of the student body was unaware of this proposal suggests that there has been a distinct lack of engagement by the Union Council and other Union members with the student body. In fact, this statement by Brook’s was actually a comment on a post: not a formal public statement on behalf of the Union Exec or anything like that.

The decision to locate the Union Council at the Scarborough Campus also exemplifies this problem. The vast majority of the student body resides at the Hull Campus. By right, each student is allowed to attend the Union Council and have some engagement; locating the Council where the minority resides cuts off all those at Hull. (This issue would, to be fair, also exist if the Council were to take place at Hull, although to a much smaller extent.) There are a couple of reasons why this location cuts off a vast number of students: Cost and time. Many students have commitments to clubs and societies, or simply can’t afford to jump on a train to Scarborough.

Given that there was no prior engagement with the student body, and the previous point, it seems reasonable to suggest that the Union Council were aware that this proposal would be controversial, and were trying to brush it under the carpet, hidden from the view of the student body.

Now, what reasons does the UEC have for banning The Sun? Brooks argues that “The Sun regularly… stigmatises and discriminates” and that this in some way violates the “Zero Tolerance to discrimination policy.”

I’ve been reading the Zero Tolerance Policy and can find no way that The Sun breaks it. The policy, as Leon French has pointed out, “applies to people, not inanimate objects”. These people should also be members of HUU – I’m 99% sure that we have no Sun journalists at Hull.

Now, given that The Sun doesn’t break the Zero Tolerance Policy, is there any other policies that it might break? The only one that it might even verge on breaking is the Harassment and Bullying Policywhich “prohibits the display of offensive material, for example pin ups and posters.” If we accept thatThe Suns “Page 3” breaks this policy, then we need address the nature of other magazines for sale in the Union: Viz magazine is for sale.

Viz Fat Slags Bumper Special Screenshot

I’d like to point out that I’m not a reader of Viz, I have merely seen it for sale within the Union. However, there is one newspaper that is availablefor free within the Union: The Hullfire. Whilst I’m grateful to George Allen for exposing this debacle,  I think that some of the content withinThe Hullfire is also offensive: namely the current issue.

I may be in the minority, but I chose to come to Hull, it was my first choice University. The general tone of the Fresher’s issue of The Hullfire is one that I personally find offensive. I’m sorry Hullfire, but “Hull not your first choice? Was it anybody’s?” is offensive to those students that did work hard to achieve their place at University.

Ignoring the several spelling errors (Geroge Allen anyone?), the attitude of this specific issue is one that actually harms the University in a multitude of ways. The newspaper is available in a number of outlets around campus, for free. There have recently been University open days. For a prospective student to see this material is damaging – why would they want to go to a University which the students aren’t proud to be at? A University where the student’s admit they are only there because of a phone call in Clearing. A University where the student publication can’t spell correctly.

So if the aim of the proposal is to remove offensive content from the Campus and make it more inclusive, other media should also be banned.

In Allen’s article about the proposal, we can find a further reason given by Richard Brooks:

“The content of [The Sun] and the values that it espouses are not appropriate for a Higher Education institution.”

I may have voted for you Mr. Brooks, but I can’t disagree more here. No matter what The Hullfiremight imply, students at any “Higher Education institution” are going to be intelligent. They are going to be well informed, they are going to have the ability to understand and process information. They have the ability to make the decision about what they want to read.

Throughout our education we are told that University is supposed to be place were new ideas are developed, where we develop individual thought and learning capacity, where we make our own judgements. It is simply impossible to do this when we are unable to access certain media.

The majority of students at the University will be 18+ – they are legally adults. We can decide what we find appropriate and whether we want to access that content.

Thank you Jamie Boote for voting against the proposal, thank you very much indeed.

I’ll finish as I started: Every member of Hull University Union has a choice. It is their right to decide whether they want to read The Sun. Not the Union’s and especially not an minority that has explicitlynot liaised with the student body.

The Hullfire article by George Allen