Do we still need grammar schools? (Part 1)

I’m going to say something controversial today. I’m probably going to come under attack from several angles. I may be vilified and I may never be welcomed into many social circles again, but I’m going to say it anyway. It’s this: I’m in favour of grammar schools [straps on hard hat and ducks below the parapet].

Why am I in favour of them? In my mind the question is, “Why would anyone be against them?”

I have heard people say the 11+ is unfair because you can’t tell at such a young age who the brightest children are. I have also heard people complain that the grammar schools cream off the brightest children. Well, I’m sorry but they can’t have it both ways. Either the grammar schools are creaming off the brightest pupils, in which case you can tell at 11, or you can’t tell at 11, but then the grammar schools can’t be accused of depriving the comprehensives of the brighter children.

Then there is the argument that grammar schools are unfair because they put non-grammar schools at a disadvantage in the league tables. Well, that’s a great reason to abolish them, right?

“We have a school here full of children who really want to work, and who study hard, and it consistently outperforms all the other schools in the area. What should we do with it?”

“My goodness! It sounds like a terrible school – let’s close it down!”

Does that sound sensible? What would happen if the top three football teams in the Premier League had to be closed down at the end of every season? Would the teams try as hard? What if Manchester United was abolished just because it does so well, so that the players could be distributed amongst the other teams?

If the school league tables put non-grammar schools at such an unfair disadvantage, then it’s the league tables system that needs looking at – not the top performing schools. But that’s a whole other topic for a blog post.

Related posts: Do we still need Grammar Schools (part 2)   Do we still need Grammar Schools Part 3

The 10 Step Cheat’s Guide to Writing a Poem

I had a panicked phone call from my niece the other day. She’d been off school for a few days, and she’d just had a text from a friend telling her that they had to hand in a poem about sweets the next morning. It was already almost bedtime, so time was short.

Usually when teaching poetry, I’d have a selection available so that we could look at the structure of them, and choose one to use as a framework. There was no time for any of this however, so we had to bluff it. This is how she wrote a poem in 15 minutes…

  1. She chose the sweet she was going to write about – Turkish Delight
  2. She wrote down as many words to describe it as she could: lovely, jelly, pink, yellow, sugary, chocolate, flavours, strawberry, lemon, rose, cubes, sweet, tangy, nice.
  3. She wrote down words to describe what it felt like in her mouth (chewy, like heaven) and how she felt when she ate it (happy)
  4. She used a thesaurus to replace all the boring words (nice became enjoyable, lovely became delicious, happy became joyful)
  5. She grouped together words that started with the same sound (alliteration) so we got “joyful jelly (an example of personification) and “chewy, chocolate-covered cubes”.
  6. She mixed up the senses so that feelings and colours had tastes (tangy yellow)
  7. She was insistent that this poem had to rhyme, even though poetry doesn’t have to, so she chose some words she thought it would be easy to find rhymes for (jelly, rose, sweet, pink) and made a list of all the words she came up with that rhymed. She also looked at her initial list of words to see if there were any rhymes or near rhymes.
  8. She looked at the words she hadn’t used from her initial list, and picked out a couple of her favourites.
  9. She kept moving the groups of words around until she found an order she was happy with.

10. She wrote the final version out in her book in neat.

This is the final poem:

Strawberry-flavoured, joyful jelly
Feels delicious in my belly.
Chocolate-covered cubes of heaven
Sugar-coated, rose and lemon.
Tangy yellow, pink so sweet
Makes an enjoyable evening treat.

Ok, it’s not going to win any literary prizes but it’s not bad for a late-night, ¼ hour Skype video chat.


Heroes of Olympus – The Son of Neptune (Rick Riordan)

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure about this one when I started it. It doesn’t work as a standalone book as the beginning makes no sense unless you have already read The Lost Hero. However, if you have read The Lost Hero first, then there is no suspense about why Percy Jackson has lost his memory or whether he will regain it.
In fact a second book in a row where the hero has amnesia is tedious in places. Camp Jupiter is also less welcoming than camp Half-blood, which makes it harder for the reader to invest in the characters. I can’t help but feel that the first two books in this series would have been better had the events happened simultaneously so that they could have been entwined in one book.
Fortunately, Frank and Hazel from this book are strong enough to win the reader over, and the second half of the book is enjoyable. There are also enough teasers at the end to promise that the third book, The Mark of Athena, will be a good one.

A Disco in my Classroom

What do Black Lace and sentences have in common? Verbs, that’s what.

Teaching children how to use capital letters and full stops is not as easy as it sounds. Most of them already know that they go at the start and end of a sentence – the problem is that some of them don’t understand what a sentence is (see Why do they do that?).

A basic definition of a sentence is ‘a group of words that contain a verb and make sense on their own’. So far so good, but what if the children don’t understand what a verb is? That’s about where I was with my group, and that’s where Black Lace came in. We cancelled the English lesson, pushed the tables and chairs back and had a disco. We listened to Superman and joined in. We walked and we sneezed and we skied and we sprayed and we swam. And then we listed  all the actions from the song with illustrations for each one to makeverbs a display of verbs. By now the children were able to suggest other words that they thought might be verbs – all of them correct – and we added them to the display.

sentences and phrases Then we agreed that perhaps we should go back to the English lesson, so we sorted some groups of words into “Sentence” and “Not a sentence” by deciding whether or not they had verbs and whether or not they made sense. Now that they knew what verbs were they found this quite easy. Result!

Now that they knew what a sentence was, we were able to go back to the original LO of being able to use capital letters and full stops.

D is also for… Division

D is for...Sometimes in maths it’s really useful to be able to look at a number and tell quickly what numbers it is possible to divide it by. There are a few tricks you can use to tell whether one number is divisible by another , so I’ll share them with you.


How can you tell if a number is divisible by 1?

It’s simple. All numbers are divisible by 1.

How can you tell if a number is divisible by 2?

This is simple too. If it’s an even number, it’s divisible by two; if it’s an odd number, it’s not.

How can you tell if a number is divisible by 3?

Add up all the digits until you get a single digit number, If it is 3, 6 or 9 then the number is divisible by 3. For example: 462         4 + 6 + 2 = 12           1+2 = 3. So 462 is divisible by 3. 729          7 + 2 + 9 = 18          1 + 8 = 9. So 729 is also divisible by 3.

How can you tell if a number is divisible by 4?

Look at the last two digits. Halve them. If you get an even number then it’s divisible by 4. For example   13,564         the last two numbers are 64. Half of 64 is 32 which is an even number so 13,564 is divisible by 4.

How can you tell if a number is divisible by 5?

This one’s a bit easier. If it ends in a 5 or 0 then it’s divisible by 5.

How can you tell if a number is divisible by 6?

If it’s an even number, and it’s divisible by 3 (see how can you tell if a number is divisible by 3) then it’s also divisible by 6.

How can you tell if a number is divisible by 7?

This one is a bit tricky, so bear with me. Take off the last digit and double it. Take it away from the rest of the number. If the answer you get is divisible by 7, then the whole number is divisible by 7. If you’re not sure then take off the next digit and repeat the process. This method definitely needs an example!

833             take off the last digit (3) and double it = 6

83 – 6 = 77

77 is divisible by 7 so 833 is also divisible by 7.

3192          take off the last digit (2) and double it = 4

319 – 4 = 315

Not sure whether 315 is divisible by 7, so take off the last digit (5) and double it  10

31 – 10 = 21 which is divisible by 7 so 3192 is divisible by 7.

How can you tell if a number is divisible by 8?

Look at the last three numbers. Halve them and halve them again. If you get an even number then it’s divisible by 8.

How can you tell if a number is divisible by 9?

Follow the procedure for telling if a number is divisible by 3. If the single digit you get is 9, then the number is divisible by 9. In the example given in how to tell if a number is divisible by 3, 729 is divisible by 9, but 462 is not.

How can you tell if a number is divisible by 10?

If it ends in a 0 then it’s divisible by 10.

How can you tell if a number is divisible by 11?

Alternately subtract then add the digits. If the answer is a multiple of 11 (including 0) then the number is a multiple of 11.  This one needs an example too!

6425936 –> 6-4+2-5+9-3+6 = 11, so 6425936 is divisible by 11.

How can you tell if a number is divisible by 12?

If it is divisible by both 3 and 4 (see above for how to tell) then it’s divisible by 12.

Related posts: C is also for…  E is also for….

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