Archive for April, 2007

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The Appeasers

April 30, 2007

As the authority of teachers is continually undermined in schools, a new type of teacher is coming to the fore. This type of teacher is less preoccupied with rules and respect. The new type of teacher never needs to enforce their will on the class because the class has already enforced their will on the classroom. This teacher is The Appeaser. They model themselves on three archetypes: Your Mother, Your Lover and Your Mate.

  1. Your Mother: This is a variation on a teaching style more common in primary schools and is probably more effective there. This type of teacher is typically an ample, middle-aged woman. She lavishes affection and sweets on her students, all of whom she talks to as if they were five. Teachers of this ilk are often respected for having good discipline skills as even the worst behaved boys may be reluctant to upset a substitute mother and (being unusually immature) are often the most compliant if singled out for affectionate expressions of disappointment. The main downside to this approach is the size and scale of the secondary classroom. Even the most giving of matriarchs will struggle to treat thirty year ten students as if they were all Mummy’s little boy or girl. As a result the mother hen has to treat some of her chicks as more important than others. The worst behaved boy will become Mummy’s favourite helper, always praised, always talked up, while better behaved students are neglected. This act of appeasement doesn’t just begin and end with the classroom. A maternal affection for the most immature of boys, and a habit of speaking to others as if they were not yet toilet-trained will be carried through into the life of the school. Mother will patronise other teachers, defend delinquents from the consequences of their actions, interfere with punishments given by other teachers and be the first to tell any teacher struggling with Jordan that “He’s never a problem for me”.

    In the best case scenario Mother will move into SEN and be able to use strong interpersonal skills to good effect in the small group environment. In the worst case scenario she will move into Senior Management and become the worst kind of work place bully, considering every member of staff who doesn’t like being patronised as an ungrateful child, to be constantly subject to expressions of public disapproval.

  2. Your Lover: This type of teacher is good-looking, approachable and friendly. Lover-Boy (or Girl) is willing to make inappropriate comments about the attractiveness of the students in their care. This won’t be aimed at the most attractive child, it will be aimed at the dominant personalities. The subtext is clear, co-operate and my attentions will continue. As so much poor behaviour (particularly from girls) is about getting attention of an unsavoury kind this approach may often work. This type of teacher is usually a man. Teenage boys are less likely to show respect to somebody they fancy (quite the opposite in fact). These teachers are also usually young (attention from a near peer of the opposite sex is more welcome than the leering of a middle-aged letch). The exception to the dominance of this form of appeasement by young males is the practitioner of cleavage based teaching. There exist female teachers (not always so young, not always so good looking) whose clothes are picked to appeal to the breast obsession of your average 14 year old boy and whose main interaction with the class is to lean over to help any boy that asks often to the horror of any adult in the classroom.

    I don’t suppose it’s necessary to point out the downside of efforts to teach through flirtation. The countless times where boundaries are irredeemably crossed can be seen in any good tabloid newspaper and the GTC tribunal reports in the education press.

  3. Your Mate: The most common type of appeaser, this kind of teacher attempts to win over the class by sharing their interests. Of course it’s probably a good thing when teachers can chat to their students about football, music, make-up and boyfriends. The point at which this becomes appeasement rather than sociability is the point where it starts to take up actual lesson time, students who want to learn have to sit and wait while Sir discusses the score line from the match yesterday evening, or Miss contemplates the best colour of lipstick. (It can even reach the level of unprofessional behaviour when teachers are discussing their colleagues or inviting their students to chat on MSN.) The Matey-teacher is easily identified by their colleagues. They dress like students when they’re on Inset days. They know the names of the most popular R ’n’ B artists (no educated person over the age of twenty five should know this). They put on the radio in their lessons. They seem to flinch if another teacher looks in on their classroom. An inappropriate number of students know their first name.

    When teachers are asked inappropriate questions, students are quick to defend their rudeness by saying “Steve, I mean, Mr Mate told us about his favourite music/girlfriends/underwear/drug habit, why don’t you?” To which, of course, you can’t answer “because I’m a professional not a wannabe adolescent who thinks it’s okay to wear shorts in public at the age of forty-five”

Of course this last point is the real issue with appeasers. They create the expectation that all members of staff will pander to the students rather than educate them. Students become shocked when they encounter teachers who won’t pretend to be their mate, their boyfriend or their mother and who seem more concerned with teaching. They are even more appalled when school rules are enforced and poor behaviour punished rather than shrugged off in a friendly fashion. After all, being expected to listen and behave is just a short step away from being expected to learn.

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Bad Idea for Dealing with the Behaviour Crisis #5: End Parental Choice

April 27, 2007

The leftwing option for dealing with the collapse of the secondary school system is to ensure that parents of well behaved children can’t all send their children to the same school. Instead there must be “good social mix”. The plan is that if enough middle class pupils are forced into sink schools then standards will rise. Some will even suggest closing private schools in order to bring this about.

Of course this is one of those fantasies that flies in the face of human nature. While having a challenging intake will make a school more challenging, intake is never the whole story. Middle class students forced into a school with an ethos of non-achievement and loutish behaviour will not change that ethos. They will either become withdrawn and quiet, scared of their new peer group, or they will go native and behave as badly as any other kids. In my experience it can take as little as a term at a poor school for a student who arrives wanting to learn to adopt the attitudes of the majority. The lowest common denominator will always prevail in schools because the attitudes of the worst behaved kids are enforced with intimidation, social pressures and the every present threat of violence.

Also it is incredibly difficult to stop parents trying to get their children into the decent schools. End private education and the wealthy will educate their children overseas. Use catchment areas as the admissions criteria and middle class parents will buy new homes to get into the catchment areas. Force schools to take a mix of abilities and we will soon see students encouraged by their parents to underperform in tests.

Simply put, forcing middle class kids into bad schools would take considerably more effort than it would to deal with the schools directly, and would have little effect on the school.

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Bad Idea for Dealing with the Behaviour Crisis #4: Have More Vocational Subjects

April 26, 2007

Some commentators claim that behaviour is poor because education is too academic. For some “too academic” means teaching kids to read, write and add up. Others labour under the misconception that a large proportion of pupils are still learning grammar in foreign languages, still writing essays, still learning the quadratic formula or still learning about oxbow lakes. No wonder they are rowdy, why don’t they learn useful skills instead, like plumbing?

There are two obvious flaws with this argument. The first is that the curriculum is already becoming less and less academic with no improvement in behaviour. Every year traditional academic subjects are pushed aside for easy options that push schools up the league tables. Every year the curriculum is dumbed down and existing qualifications become easier to pass. It is now possible to get the equivalent of 4 GCSEs on a vocational ICT course which is assessed by coursework. It is now possible to get a grade C in maths without even being taught trigonometry. More and more non-academic options are offered every year while academic subjects are abandoned. There has been no noticeable improvement in behaviour as a result of this process.

The second problem is in the nature of vocational education. Not all forms of education that equip you for the workplace are considered vocational. Nobody considers law degrees or doctors’ qualifications to be vocational education. The term is usually saved for skilled manual workers, or sometimes office workers. This is where we run into difficulties. A good plumber, gas fitter or builder will be highly numerate and will also need a reasonable standard of literacy just to cope with the regulations that govern their trade. A good typist will also need to be able to spell and use grammar to a high standard. Almost anyone who uses a computer effectively will need a good standard of maths and English. If somebody is receiving a good level of vocational training they will need to develop certain academic skills as well. Of course, there is a constant effort to dumb down vocational qualifications, often concentrating on taking the maths out of them, but this has the effect of making them worth less and less to employers. The net result has been the closing of more and more jobs to non-graduates and the increasing use of migrant labourers, The simple fact is there is simply not the demand in the economy for uneducated manual labourers whether they have a GNVQ or not. For a vocational qualification to be any use it needs to be as demanding as academic qualifications, not a second tier aimed at the innumerate and illiterate. If students were unable to behave for demanding academic qualifications they will be equally unable to behave for demanding vocational qualifications.

Vocational qualifications should be a way of passing on a wider variety of skills, not a way of dumbing down the curriculum even further. They certainly can’t be a way of improving behaviour.

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Bad Idea for Dealing with the Behaviour Crisis #3: End Compulsory Education

April 25, 2007

There is some appeal to returning to the nineteenth century and making education optional. While there is a case that the system should make more allowances for those who are not learning in school, but nevertheless might learn in another environment, it is greatly over-estimated as a panacea for behaviour.

Secondary education is close to optional at the moment. Local Authorities are reluctant to fine parents who aid truancy and even those who do take parents to court are still slow to set the wheels in motion. For the worst behaved students there is very little that would actually get them into the classroom if they didn’t want to go. The suggestion that compulsory education is the cause of poor behaviour in schools ignores the fact that lots of badly behaved students want to be in school. Where else would they find a ready supply of adults to torment and peers to impress? More than one teacher has suggested to me that “EBD”, the current term for students that seem unable to behave, stands for Every Bloody Day because that’s how often they turn up. Conversely, there are a lot of well behaved students who would be the first to disappear if school became optional (often to escape the kids that won’t behave).

Furthermore, it doesn’t take too many bus journeys or walks through my local park, to realise that the propensity of groups of adolescents to misbehave is not dependent on being in school. Many of the students who are out of control in school are equally out of control on the streets. While teachers might well cheer if their behaviour was moved out of the school and became somebody else’s problem, it is unlikely that anyone else would be happy, making an end to compulsory education a political non-starter.

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Bad Idea for Dealing with the Behaviour Crisis #2: Bring Back Selection

April 24, 2007

This is the option that I most often hear from teachers. If our schools are hell-holes how about we get the good kids out of them? Under selection the most able twenty percent of the population were chosen at 11 to get an academic education in grammar schools while the majority went to secondary moderns. Modern advocates of selection will vary the formula: different percentages; new ideas about what secondary moderns should be like; changes in the age of selection, but the basic idea remains the same. Education is wasted on the swinish multitudes, reserve it for the elite.

Of course the teachers who suggest this aren’t volunteering to teach in the secondary moderns, nor are they volunteering to send their own children to them. They have simply given up on saving the education system, and instead wish to save a small part of it.

The reason I don’t accept this is a solution is because the majority of schools will remain pretty much the same as ever. The only difference is they will have lost some of their brightest students and most academically qualified staff. That clearly does not sound like a solution for most people, and while I have quite a lot of sympathy for how the brightest do lose out in the current system, I can’t think of any other public service where people would seriously suggest providing a decent quality of service to only a small elite. Imagine suggesting the police should concentrate their resources on investigating burglaries affecting the people who had most to steal. Or if the National Health Service declared that the best medicine should be provided only for those who were the best examples of physical fitness.

Rejecting the possibility of providing a worthwhile education for all is an idea that I genuinely believe would only be accepted in a society as class bound as England.

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Bad Idea for Dealing with the Behaviour Crisis #1: Make Lessons More Fun

April 23, 2007

This is the favourite suggestion of educationalists, bureaucrats and other commentators that wouldn’t dare set foot in a classroom. The argument here is that if you make sure your class are being entertained then they won’t have any incentive to tell you to “go suck your mother”. All we need to do is have more games, group work, discussions, computers, interactive whiteboards and entertaining teachers and Jordan and Chantel will sit enthralled.

The obvious flaw with this argument is that discipline has gone out of the window at a time when teachers have come under more and more pressure to make their lessons fun. If we look at countries with better discipline than the UK (i.e. everywhere but a few bits of the US) we don’t see more interesting lessons. Similarly, if we go back a few decades to a time where students would be less likely to tell their teachers to perform sexual acts on their mothers we see no indication that lessons were any more fun, quite the opposite. Besides which, the biggest obstacle to lessons being enjoyable is student behaviour, and you can only experiment successfully with more enjoyable ways of learning if you have a class that are able to follow instructions and are willing to work.

Finally, I present to you the evidence from my local multiplex. Teenagers in the cinema audience have plenty of entertainment right in front of them. Yet somehow they still manage to chat, throw popcorn, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. If the latest Hollywood blockbuster can’t entertain them into good behaviour, what chance does any teacher have?

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Bad Ideas for Dealing with the Behaviour Crisis

April 22, 2007

Unlike most areas of policy, everyone has an opinion on education, apparently hardwired into their heads from their own school days. This means that a lot of the debate that gets started on various forums about entries in this blog looks a lot like this:

Oldandrew has described how bad discipline is in schools. He is wrong to think that the answer to this is to improve discipline. Bad behaviour in schools is actually a result of …..

.

Because people have such entrenched views about education they see everything written about the state of the schools as merely confirming what they thought all along, no matter how obscure the connection to school discipline, allowing the writer to suggest a panacea to behaviour problems that just so happens to be what they wanted to happen all along anyway. This writer on the TES website is even able to blame behaviour on …spelling!

The following are the main suggestions that are presented as a way of dealing with behaviour despite having little or nothing to do with the issue:

  • Make Lessons More Fun
  • Bring Back Selection
  • End Compulsory Education
  • Have More Vocational Subjects
  • End Parental Choice

In the next few days I intend to look at each in turn and discuss whether they would actually improve behaviour.

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