Wednesday, 22 October 2014

New Poem: Exam Marking

Here at NormCheck, we are looking closely at the principles

of exam marking. We regret that many people are under the

mistaken impression that exams serve the purpose of enabling

individuals amass a specific amount of knowledge in an

important field relevant to what will be that person’s life beyond

and after the exam. We work very hard to eliminate as much

‘usefulness’ from the exam system as we can. We are also

extremely vigilant in eliminating what progressives have called

‘transferrable skills’. In the world outside the classroom, it may

well be the case that people’s ability to interpret data in unexpected

ways, to invent new ways of doing things, to know how to

investigate something unfamiliar, to co-operate with colleagues

and strangers - are all useful but that’s of no concern of ours.

At NormCheck we are putting a great deal of effort into ensuring

that education - that’s to say exams - are solely concerned with

core facts. Luckily, at the Department for Instruction, we have

people who know what these core facts are. They have all studied

eitherPPE, pure economics or law - and, thankfully, all had some

experience of a private education.

So, to recap, he exams themselves are not for the purpose of the

individual to acquire and retain anything useful. They are solely

for the purpose of us to grade, select and segregate people. This

is why exams aren’t tests of what people know on a given day. They

are a means by which we can draw a line across a group of people

and say, all of you above that line are a success, all of you below

that line are a fail. What we do at NormCheck is move the line.

That’s our job. Each year, we meet up, have an extremely nice

lunch and spend the afternoon working out where we’ll put the line.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with whether this or that pupil

knows anything or not. It is entirely to do with where we decide to

put the line. This depends on such things as what the Secretary of

State at the Department for Instruction thinks, which itself is usually

dependent on what the Daily Mail thinks.

New Poem: Examz Inc. - or why it's important to have exams that prevent you from remembering anything

Here at Examz Inc., we’ve been doing some blue sky thinking

about Projectile Vomiting (PV) . Here’s the definition: “vomiting that

is sudden and so vigorous that the vomit is forcefully projected

to a distance”. We’ve commissioned an extensive study on the

application of PV principles in the assessment field. First reports

suggest that we have a lot to learn from this important work. In PV,

it’s essentially a matter of w.g.i.c.s.o. - what goes in, comes straight

out. It’s the most efficient system known to man of the ‘return’ principle.

Almost nothing is wasted. Our researchers applied this principle to

fact-consumption and fact-delivery.

What would be the most efficient PV replication in the education field?

It turns out that for many years we’ve been nearly there, but not there.

Schools and exam boards have been content with what in the field of

physiology would be, say, spitting out, dribbling and slow vomiting.

In all these cases, there is a lack of efficiency: slow return, inefficient

delivery - and more importantly - a persistent danger of residue,: small

amounts remain inside the person.

If we apply PV to the education situation, we bolt teaching to instruction

and not waste time with any activity that might obstruct PV-type delivery.

So, quite clearly, the best known system of PV delivery in the assessment

field are lengthy exams in which there are only right and wrong answers

and uncomfortable seating arrangements.

Preparation for PV delivery exams should consist of PV delivery practice,

once a week. For four days of the week, the instructor instructs

with the PV material, that is to say, the consumption side. Day five is

PV day, with all-day instruction on how to eliminate repetition, hesitation,

deviation, discussion, co-operation, investigation, invention, interpretation

and compassion followed by a two hour PV exam. Research suggests that

when PV is applied, it is the most efficient way of guaranteeing that pupils

retain as little as possible of what they have consumed. This is part of the new

Empowerment Agenda much favoured by the new Department for Instruction,

who argue that PV style learning is the world’s most proven method of

enabling disadvantaged children to fail exams.

New poem: Exams

A lot of time is being wasted in schools trying

to teach a whole lot of unnecessary stuff. The

point of schools is to pass exams. Exams are

tests in who can write fast. Or put another way,

exams find out who can write slowly. That’s

what they’re for. So, instead of wasting loads

of time muddling this up with writing answers

to questions that no one cares about, school

can concentrate on the business of learning to

write fast. And of course, it’s not just about

writing fast. It’s about writing fast for over an

hour. In hard exams it can be for two hours.

And when I say ‘writing’ this has to be writing

by hand. This is really important. I’m out and

about in the real world, and all the successful

people I meet spend several hours every day

writing fast by hand. So my school of the future

will be full of children writing fast by hand.

And, here’s the innovation: they won’t be

thinking at the same time. To be really fast,

they’ll be copying. In front of them will be iPads

or laptops, with a lot of writing up on screen.

It can be anything, ads for soft drinks, poems

that celebrate a well-known fast food,

instructions for self-assembly wardrobes...and

the children will be copying these. Teachers -

or teaching assistants, or assistants to teaching

assistants can come round and if a child is

slowing down, they can give them a little nudge

to remind them to speed up.

Then at the end of the year, when the child’s fate

is to be decided, the big exam will discover who

can really write fast, who can write not-so-fast,

who writes slowly and who writes really, really


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

New poem: Parrot

We were at the zoo when I heard a parrot

say, ‘I could have been Prime Minister.’ I

told the others to carry on to the Reptile

Room and I went up to the parrot and said,

‘When was this?’

The parrot said, ‘1957.’

‘Which party?’

‘I can’t say,’ it said.

‘Did you have a lot of support?’ I said.

‘Oh yes.’

‘So it didn’t turn out good for you?’

‘Not sure I had the charisma,’ it said.

‘Really? You seem very lively.’

‘That’s very kind but it’s not what people

said at the time,’ it said.

‘How about policies?’ I said, ‘did people

think you had good policies?’

‘Oh, yes.’

‘Can you tell me any of them?’

I said.

‘I’m really sorry, no I can’t.’

‘Shame,’ I said, ‘I would have liked that.’

‘Ah, well, you’ll have to just take it

from me that they sounded really good at

the time.’

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘shame all the same.’

‘Well,’ it said, sounding a bit irritated, ‘you

can’t expect me to remember everything.

Some of us can only remember, “Who’s

a pretty boy?”’

‘And there’s one I knew who used to say

“Shut your face”,’ I said.

‘I don’t know that one,’ it said.

Monday, 20 October 2014

New Poem: Messages

The king’s idea was that there should be a messenger

service all over his kingdom. Whoever wanted to send

a message would hire one of the king’s messengers.

There would be a fee for this of 100 crowns a year which

would be paid straight to the king, into his coffers to pay

for wars. For a hundred crowns you could hire a

messenger any time you liked. The king announced that

the messenger service had begun. Twenty messengers

waited in the yard outside the king’s palace. Nothing

happened. Nothing happened for several days. The

leading messenger went to see the king.

‘I don’t think this messenger thing is going to work,’ he

said. ‘Anyone wanting to send a message- apart from you,

sir - is going to have to come here first.’

‘Yes,’ said the king, ‘that’s why it’s a good idea.’

‘No, sir,’ said the chief messenger, ‘you see by the time the

person wanting to send a message has come here, they

might just as well as have sent someone from where they


‘That’s a good point,’ said the king.

‘Might I suggest that the messengers do routes?’said the

chief messenger.

‘Go on,’ said the king.

‘One of us does route A to B. One of us does route C to D.

Another does route E-F and so on. People who want

messages sent come to the messenger point in A or C or E

and so on.’

And that’s what happened. The people who wanted to send

messages came to the messenger points and the messengers

ran the routes. It became very popular. The money rolled in.

The king waged wars. Everyone was happy. The messenger

system got more popular. The messengers worked very hard

running between the messenger points. Some days, they didn’t

have time to eat. They said that the king had to take on more

messengers. He said he couldn’t do that as he needed more

soldiers. The messenger service stopped being so good. One

day it was because some message-senders gave their

messages to the messenger but the messenger never arrived.

No one knew what happened to him. He just disappeared.

Some said that he dropped dead because he hadn’t eaten for

a month. Some said that he met someone on the way and

decided to stay with her for the rest of his life. Someone said

that he stopped off at a theatre, stole a wig, a false beard and

a magician’s cloak and was now touring the country doing

conjuring tricks. Another day it was because the messenger

had so many messages to remember that he muddled them up:

someone who was supposed to have got a message saying

that he loved her more than the night-sky loves the stars, ended

up getting threatened with having her legs broken for not paying

her rent. A birthday greeting went to someone who was dead.

One day, one of the message points was full of people wanting

to send messages but there was no messenger to take them.

The people ended up telling their messages to each other. At

least four people ended up getting married as a result but for the

rest it was a disaster. In the end the chief messenger went to see

the king.

‘The message system is not working,’ he said,‘you haven’t got

enough messengers.’

‘That’s where you’re wrong,’ said the king.‘It’s not “not enough

messengers”, it’s “too many messages”. Yack, yack, yack,’ said

the king, ‘that’s all you do. What’s the weather like where you are?

How’s Auntie? How’s the little one? Did you see so-and-so last

night? What are you wearing? Where are you? I’m on the chariot

on the way to the sea, where are you? On and on and on and on.’

‘But you’re still collecting the hundred crowns off people,’ said the

chief messenger.

‘Of course, I am,’ said the king, ‘I’ve got wars to do.’

Sunday, 19 October 2014

New Poem: Bins

I said to the dustman, ‘You’re taking my stuff.’

‘Yep,’ he said.

I said, ‘Everything in this bin matters.’

He said, ‘C’mon pal, we’re on a tight turnaround here,’

I said, ‘You’re taking my stuff.’

He called to his mates, ‘We’ve got one here.’

I said,‘That’s my past you’re taking.’

He said, ‘Uh-huh.’

I said, ‘I haven’t got any other past. I can’t go out and

buy someone else’s past and pretend it’s mine. All

the stuff in here happened to me.’

He said, ‘Am I taking it or not?’

I said, ‘Why are you asking me? This is all much

bigger than a yes/no thing. It’s about identity. And


‘And bins,’ he said.

‘We are what we throw away,’ I said, ‘and you’re

a cog in a machine that is cutting us down to

size. The machine doesn’t want us to know who

we are. And the way it’s doing this is to cut us

off from our pasts. It’s not your fault,’ I said, ‘you

have to earn a living, but you’ve become a tool

in their hands.’

He said, ‘I’ll just do next door’s. If you change your mind

in the meantime, I’ll come back and get yours. ‘

Saturday, 18 October 2014

New Poem: Pizza

We ordered in a pizza and when it came

we talked about how we'd divvy it up.

He said that because I didn't eat as much

as him, I should have less. I said OK but

it wasn't much less than him and after all

it was me who had bought the pizza. He said

that was besides the point. This was about

eating not paying.

I said, 'Is it?'

So he said, 'How about thinking in eighths?'

I said, 'Go on, I can run with that.'

He said, 'How does five eighths and three

eighths sound to you?'

I said that I thought I was hungrier than three

eighths, and he said but 'hungrier' would be


I said, 'What's wrong with that?'

And he said, 'Four eighths is the same as a half.'

I said, 'Is it?'

He said, 'Well let's talk sixteenths, how about

I have nine-sixteenths and you have seven?'

'Does that add up to the whole pizza?' I said.

'Yes, it does,' he said.

'Well then that sounds a bit more like the way

me and you eat pizza,' I said, ‘yes, you probably

eat one sixteenth more than I do.'

'Two,' he said.

'Two what?' I said.

'Two sixteenths,' he said, 'which is the same as

one eighth.’

‘Is it?' I said, 'why have you gone back to eighths?'

'Because that's how you do the divvying up,' he


'Fair enough,' I said, 'so let's carve it up.'

I went over to the drawer and looked for the big

knife we use to cut up pizzas and it took me a

moment or two because it had got caught under one

of those strainer spoons you can buy in France.

When I came back, he was breaking chunks off the

pizza and eating them.

'Have you divvied it up into sixteenths?' I said.

'No,' he said, 'I was getting hungry so I've started


I looked at him.

'Great, you've got the pizza knife,' he said, 'do you

want to divvy it up into sixteenths, or shall I?'

I said, 'Hang on a mo. If you've started on it already,

doesn't that affect the way the divvying up works? I

mean…I mean…'

'No, he said, 'it's just the same.'