Biff Crabbe

I’m a retired teacher who spent his career working with children who either had difficulty in engaging with the education system into which they had been compulsorily enrolled (and who tended to resent that fact) and / or who struggled to learn in the way that the learning process was presented to them, particularly in becoming literate and numerate.

For much of my career – and certainly since 1988 – my sense has been that there is a dearth, or possibly a total absence, of positive reasons as to why formal state education is organised as it is.  Much of it seems to be arranged for the grim satisfaction of government rather than for the primary benefit of children and families.

The longer I taught, the greater the sense I had that I and we have been ‘educonned’.

I taught first in a Community Home with Education on the premises – which would have been designated as an ‘approved school’ in earlier times, a residential institution for children who had committed offences or had been deemed to be ‘beyond parental control’.  Subsequently I taught in a mainstream secondary school for nearly 20 years, many of them as Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) and Head of Learning Support.

Over time  – and watching the very different ways in which my three children found their path to literacy – I became particularly interested in teaching literacy (and numeracy) to those children who, for whatever reason, had not grasped that which the system expected them to have done. Along that path I completed a specialist teaching qualification with the British Dyslexia Association.

For several years I worked for a wonderful charity, IPSEA, initially as a telephone advice line volunteer and subsequently in setting up an email information service.  IPSEA provides parents with free legally based advice about how to manage the SEN(D) system (Special Educational Needs and Disability) in securing the right support for their children.

Thereafter I worked for a Local Authority service coordinating and arranging education for children with (broadly) medical needs – including emotional and mental health challenges – who were unable to attend school, and taught many of them.  What struck me often was that while the default aim was to support each child’s return to school, that aim was not always obviously in the child’s interests.

Teaching children on a one-to-one basis, even those children who are resistant to engaging with learning, is the purest form of teaching that I ever experienced.  This is because it provides the opportunity to tailor the curriculum that you offer almost entirely to what the child most needs to learn at this point in their learning development (and to some extent to what the child is interested in learning about).  In this my approach to teaching could be regarded as happily subversive, because it was completely counter to the essence of the formal education system, which isn’t remotely interested in children’s learning needs or their individual learning development: it has already decided what, when and how they will be taught.

I’m also an enthusiastic photographer. Images that appear on this site may sometimes illustrate the content – and may sometimes just be there because I like them. Any comments suggesting that I should stick either to writing or photography, or neither, will be ruthlessly moderated.