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Tom came to teaching with one goal in mind – to be an inspiration. He continues this mission by providing workshops for students and teachers in all aspects of learning to learn.


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What is possible - or f**k the forecast and do it anyway!

Tom Barwood


Yesterday I was working at a school in Milton Keynes delivering a two hour workshop to 200 Year 12 students as part of their Immersive Learning Day. In rather hackneyed style (which I admitted to) I began my presentation with a story but one which involved one of the teachers in the school whom they all know well.

This teacher (call him Mr. H)  and I used to teach in the same school. One day I was standing in the queue for my break time cuppa when another teacher asked me how my teaching was coming along (I was an NQT at the time). ‘Not that well’ I replied ‘I have just spent all of the last lesson trying to get through the curriculum whilst Jimmy Blogsworth (not his real name) tried to argue me into submission on the existence of UFOs’.

As I stood there sipping my tea contemplating how far I seemed to be from my original intention of ‘being an inspiration’ Mr. H sidled over to me and with quite a serious tone said ‘Mr. Barwood, there is a reason why Jimmy needs to believe in UFOs’. All ears I waited for the next line. ‘They are his likely grades at GCSE!’ and with that he left.

As I stood there absorbing this quip. I started to grin and then laugh which I did for most of the remainder of the day.

Harsh though you may think this comment was you had to bear in mind the background to the school we were teaching in. The kids were challenging to say the least and as a staff we were being bullied into improvement with seemingly little support.

Currently we seem to be caught in a plethora of predictions which is doing nothing but making us all unhappy. As a Geographer I can tell you that it is all based on extrapolation which is about looking at a line and then continuing it into the future.

I do believe in the power of predictive data in as much as it produces a call to action or it is used responsibly. One school I worked with made it very clear to all students that predictive grades were simply the lowest possible grade they expected from the students and were no more than a benchmark or starting point of what was possible.

I am also a great fan of the thinking engendered by Pascal’s wager. Therefore it is immaterial in some ways whether the predictions on climate change work out to be true or not. What is important is that if we assume it is true and we therefore take massive action to clean up our way of living and then it finally works out not to be true we will still have created a much cleaner, healthier and more sustainable environment.  The same could be said of so many things.

Right now I am fed up with three things – forecasts, forecasting and forecasters. Whether it be the weather or the economy these forecasts are delivered with such sureness and deep gravitas that you assume that it must all be true. Unless they are visionaries or true prophets they can’t be. And hey, guess what – if it is true then there is a good chance that you will survive.

Weather forecasters talk about the likelihood of rain as if it is going to kill you. Of course it rains in the UK, we are a maritime climate and that is why we are such an agriculturally productive nation and why coats were invented. Humans are also not soluble in rain water either.

What my colleagues comment did, which made the story worth telling to the 200 students, was to puncture the harsh balloon of significance which I had attached to my teaching and let me enjoy my teaching again. Our current state of ‘miserabilism’ seems to be fueled by dire predictions. I would like to counter it with some ‘youneverknowitmightjustworkoutism’ – hopeless optimist that I am!