Another note on those Chartered College Of Teaching elections

July 15, 2018

Just a quick post here, but something on Twitter reminded me of another problem I’d talked about when the College of Teaching was proposed.

Back when discussions were underway about the Chartered College Of Teaching, one thing I argued for was more controversial than all the others although, of course, even the things that were more clear cut were completely ignored by the non-teachers who set up the Chartered College. This controversial suggestion was that senior managers be treated differently to teachers who weren’t senior managers. I didn’t mean excluded completely. Of course, they should be involved, but I was particularly concerned that the College would end up dominated by headteachers, not the frontline. I thought it vital that there would be some positions, indeed a majority of positions that heads couldn’t run for. I thought the best way of drawing the line would be to have some positions where only senior managers could stand and some where senior managers couldn’t stand. This is in no way a perfect solution. The nature of being a senior manager (or even a head) varies massively between schools. In small primary schools, headteachers, let alone deputy heads and assistant heads, can have a basically full teaching load. But I cannot and still cannot see any way it can ever be fair for a full time teacher to have to compete with a headteacher in an election. The opportunities to campaign, to network and to raise one’s own profile are just not the same. In a post entitled What Would Make Me Join A College Of Teaching? I argued:

Distinction should be made between involvement of SMT and non-SMT in decision-making and representation. So ballots of members should record votes from SMT members and non-SMT members separately. Positions in the organisation should be elected on separate ballots for SMT and non-SMT. This is not a minor point, or SMT-bashing, it is just an observation that there are some SMT (obviously not all) who seem to have such flexible working arrangements and great connections, that no classroom teacher could ever compete fairly against them in an election. Ending up with domination, not just by SMT, but by headteachers, is a a very real possibility and the structures of the organisation should take this into account.

Of course, this concern is perhaps a minor one now that non-teachers have been not only permitted to stand, but massively advantaged in the structures of the College and two non-teachers are now going to be elected unopposed to the two most important positions. But I thought back to this when I read the following reply to me on Twitter yesterday from a headteacher who is standing:

That’s right. This headteacher’s school has paid for all the teachers he is in charge of to join the Chartered College. I am not saying this is corrupt; there is no guarantee they’d vote for him (although people generally tend to like voting for people they know) and if the vote is not close it probably won’t make a difference.

However, this is not a level playing field. An ordinary classroom teacher cannot ensure that all their colleagues join the college for free. If this is allowed, heads have a significant advantage. I suspect that this will be nothing compared to some of the unfair advantages the non-teachers have, and it is obviously better to elect a headteacher than a non-teacher. But this can only serve to make it harder for classroom teachers to have a say. And it raises other questions. How many of the headteachers standing did this? Did any of the MAT CEOs standing pay for all the staff in their MAT to join? Given that the Chartered College has utterly failed to meet its membership targets, how many of the small number of teachers who joined were actually signed up by their schools? And, following other parts of my conversation with this candidate, it’s hard not to wonder how many of the headteachers standing don’t teach a single lesson.

There is a very real danger that the leadership  of the “teacher led” College Of Teaching will be utterly dominated by people who already have a platform; already have power over teachers, and don’t teach a single lesson in the average week.

The government needs to think about empowering teachers, not spending millions on giving a new platform to those who already tell teachers what to do.




I was wrong about the Chartered College Of Teaching. It’s worse than I thought it would be.

July 13, 2018


I keep resolving not to blog about the Chartered College Of Teaching. Obscurity will probably stop them getting public money faster than infamy will. Then some new information comes out, or they do something, that I cannot ignore. It’s now three posts in a row about them, but I couldn’t ignore this.

Just to remind you, this was meant to be a new professional association for teachers. It was made clear right from the start that it was meant to be teacher led, with David Cameron as prime minister promising:

…we will be working with the Claim Your College consortium in support of its proposal to establish a brand new, teacher-led College of Teaching

The heavy involvement of CPD providers in how it was set up always seemed suspicious. Lots of non-teachers were allowed to hold interim positions before there were elections. But the promise always was that eventually it would be teacher led.

My position was that a new professional association could only develop us as professionals if it empowered ordinary classroom teachers, rather than simply giving another platform for those who already tell us what to do. I thought there were real dangers that it would end up formally run mainly by teachers who were senior managers (and particularly heads) and that the non-teacher associates would be able to build up a lot of informal influence, through networking and through encouraging teachers they have influence over to get involved.

I was wrong. The take over by the education establishment has been far more blatant than that.

First non-teachers were appointed to the board of trustees. Then a category of members called “fellows”, which included non-teachers, was created. Then the majority of the positions on the ruling council were reserved for fellows.

And this is where we are now. The organisation that was meant to re-establish us as professionals, is selecting its officers and council members under rules that favour non-teachers.

The candidates list is here. It’s remarkable how far away the Chartered College is from being a teacher led professional association for teachers.

The position of president (reserved for fellows) has one candidate. That candidate is the chief executive of a MAT and an executive principal.

The position of treasurer (there was some confusion over whether this was reserved for fellows or not) has one candidate who is an accountant and makes no mention of ever having been a teacher (and no, I don’t know how that is possible under the rules).

The position of internal vice president (reserved for fellows) has 4 candidates who based on their own descriptions are:

  • The founder of a MAT who implies they are not currently teaching.
  • The managing director of a school improvement company who makes no mention of ever having taught.
  • An author and founder of an education organisation (which appears to be another consultancy). This one I think is a teacher, assuming that’s what they mean by “I am an accomplished member of the Senior Leadership Team” but that’s inferred rather than stated clearly.
  • A leadership consultant.

The position of external vice president has 7 candidates who, based on their own descriptions, are:

  • The CEO of a MAT.
  • A National Leader of Education/Headteacher/director of a MAT.
  • Somebody who has been a school leader and implies they might still be.
  • The Executive Director of ITT for 126 primary and special schools.
  • Somebody who doesn’t state what job they do but implies they are involved in research (they are actually a professor of education).
  • A teacher.
  • A Lead Practitioner and Research Lead in a school.

The other 8 positions reserved for fellows on the council has 60 candidates who, based on their own descriptions, are:

  • 12 working in ITT/education research/lecturing in education and either not school based or not based in a single school
  • 8 members of SMT (but not headteachers)
  • 1 barrister
  • 2 consultants
  • 11 headteachers/principals
  • 1 director of music at a school
  • 3 CEOs of MATs/executive headteachers who aren’t identified as being headteachers as well
  • 1 retired teacher
  • 1 teacher/ITT lead for a teaching school
  • 11 teachers (mostly in promoted posts, but not obviously SMT)
  • 1 founder of a MAT
  • 1 “works across” a MAT
  • 1 former headteacher
  • 4 unclear (including 1 who explicitly says they are no longer a teacher)
  • 1 professor in a teaching hospital
  • 1 CEO of a (CPD) charity

There are 33 candidates for the 10 members’ positions. Again, this is SMT heavy and there are a few in there who don’t actually appear to be what you would normally call “teachers”, but it is a bit more reflective of the profession than the other categories.

But looking across the candidates, this is not looking like an organisation that will enable teachers to reclaim their professionalism. This looks like an organisation run by people who already tell teachers what to do. Beyond that, there is the issue of people who are allowed to stand because they are fellows, who seem to have very little connection at all to teaching, while actual teachers who aren’t fellows would be banned from standing. Worst of all, there can be no excuse for consultants, people who have an explicit commercial interest in CPD, being able to vote, let alone stand, in these elections. This is an organisation receiving substantial public funds to spend on CPD. That seems like a clear conflict of interest.

We already know that the top two leadership positions will go to non-teachers. It will be up to the electorate to decide the rest. But there is no clear path from this mess to a genuinely teacher led organisation that is based on advancing teacher autonomy. Worse, those of us who remember the GTCE will live in fear of politicians giving this education establishment quango some real power and claiming they are giving it to teachers.


The Chartered College of Getting It Wrong

July 7, 2018

Last week I wrote about how, after repeated promises that the new professional body for teachers would be teacher led, the upcoming election to its council would not only allow non-teachers to stand (and to vote) if they were “fellows”, but that most of the positions on the council, including that of president, were restricted to fellows. A category of membership that includes non-teachers is being advantaged over ordinary teachers.

There were a variety of responses. As ever there were plenty of people who aren’t currently teachers asking to be recognised as teachers which perhaps says something about the strange culture of education. There were people who interpreted any suggestion that non-teachers shouldn’t be fully involved in the professional body for teachers as representing personal antipathy towards non-teachers. To them, it was a personal insult that teachers could ever ask for something to themselves or to be treated as a distinct profession. Perhaps most bizarrely of all, were those who suggested that all organisations were flawed and so objecting to the flaws in this one – one that is being subsidised by government to the tune of £5 million – was unnecessary.

None of this seems to adequately explain the fact that by removing any expectation that the organisation be teacher led the College has abandoned a key commitment. As far as I can tell it seems to have done so without any consultation with its members. When I was criticising the College for allowing non-teachers to join, I was repeatedly told by enthusiasts for the College that they would only be non-voting “associates”. None of the people who told me that have apologised for misleading me, although I think some have said that they do object to the new system and have promised to vote for teachers in the elections.

The Chartered College Twitter account did start a thread on Twitter defending its position, and explicitly arguing that the powers and privileges of fellows are about “recognising their contribution to their profession”. Of course, this makes sense if the point of the Chartered College was to recognise the great and the good in the education sector, but originally the purpose was to empower ordinary teachers, not recognise those who already had power and influence.

During this thread, the account pointed out that:

The Council is going to be split with 10 Members & 8 Fellows. While the President and two Vice Presidents will be a Fellow, the Treasurer can be a Member or a Fellow

This is about the most positive spin that can be put on a system that means 13 positions for fellows, 10 positions for ordinary teachers, and 1 position that can be either. Previously I had been under the impression that the treasurer also had to be a fellow, so I asked if this was a change and was told it wasn’t.

It does indeed say in one place on the website that the treasurer can be a member. However, this also contradicts what was being said by the twitter account a week earlier.

Q) How many positions will be elected?

A) Council will be made up of 10 members, 4 elected officers (who must be Fellows – President, 2 Vice Presidents and Treasurer) and 8 other Fellows

And on another page on the website it said.

To be honest, it doesn’t really matter whether the split between fellows and ordinary teachers is 13:11 or 14:10. Muddling up the rules in an election where the rules are already outrageously biased against ordinary teachers, is a minor mistake. But again, and again, one of the justifications for giving non-teachers a role in running the Chartered College has been that they have “expertise” in running organisations that teachers don’t have. Yet under the control of the experts, the College seems particularly error prone. As well as messing up communication of the rules for its own elections, it has badly missed its membership targets and the peer review system for its journal turned into a farce. I would have thought these were the sort of things that outside experts would get right, even if they failed to represent the profession the College was set up for. At the moment, we seem to have the worst of both worlds. Teachers are sidelined for not having the expertise to run their own professional association, but those who do run it are making amateur mistakes anyway.

It will be interesting to see who runs for the council positions, and who wins. There seems to be an optimism among teachers in the membership that they might be able to gain control, at least for the first year. And no doubt, if plenty of the elected fellows are teachers, people will say that the organisation is teacher led after all. However, this is still a system where most teachers who are members were excluded from leadership positions and those who weren’t excluded will have been pre-approved as fellows by the College and had to stand in elections where non-teachers could stand. Even if every position is held by a teacher, this will still not be about empowering teachers; this will be teachers asking for permission to be treated as a profession.


The Chartered College Of Not Actually Teaching

June 30, 2018

You may be aware that there is a government subsidised “Chartered College” that was set up to help develop teacher professionalism.

However, unlike some professions, the teaching profession’s biggest obstacle to being treated as professionals, has been working in a system that treats non-teachers and managers as the experts about teaching, and teachers as in need of being told what to do.

Right from the start, any new professional body for teachers was going to need to exclude non-teachers (particularly education lecturers and consultants) and, while including teachers in management positions, make sure senior managers, and particularly headteachers, could not dominate. It would also need to avoid ranking or classifying teachers. Otherwise it could not hope to represent teachers, only those who already had power over teachers, and most classroom teachers would see it as just another group of people claiming to speak for us but actually telling us what to do and judging us.

In the end, classroom teachers didn’t have a hope of being the dominant voice in the Chartered College. The education establishment was too powerful. The Chartered College of Teaching was set up by CPD providers, run by a former headteacher, and based on tiers of membership with non-teachers allowed to join, not just as “associates” but as “fellows” a category that gives them extra recognition for their expertise.

The one possibility that teachers might still be the main voice in the Chartered College was in the repeated promise that the organisation would be “teacher led”.

When it first looked like there would be government support, this was emphasised by the organisation itself:

When the government announced they would support the organisation the prime minister, David Cameron, said this:

…we will be working with the Claim Your College consortium in support of its proposal to establish a brand new, teacher-led College of Teaching.

However, a couple of years ago they appointed a non-teacher as vice chair (as I reported here). Now they have got round to holding elections for their council. Incredibly, fellows, those in the category of membership which allows non-teachers, are deliberately advantaged in the elections:

The Council will be made up of 4 elected officers who must be Fellows of the Chartered College of Teaching (President, 2 Vice Presidents and Treasurer), 8 other Fellows, and 10 Members of the Chartered College of Teaching.

There are fellows who are teachers (although judging by Twitter on the day when people were confirmed as fellows the teachers who are fellows are either a small minority or just much quieter than the non-teachers). But even those teachers who are fellows have been approved as fellows by the organisation, and I am not aware of one single fellow who has been willing to speak out against the direction of the college and in favour of a teacher led professional body for teachers.

We shall see if actual teachers among the fellows do unusually well in this elections, despite the system. If you are a member, please vote only for teachers. In theory there could be a fight back and the Chartered College may end up being “currently teacher led” if not committed to being teacher led. But as things stand this is not set up to be the “teacher led college of teaching” that was promised. The money given to this organisation has been done so on the basis of the lie that it would be teacher led. That cash should be returned and spent on developing the teaching profession, not on yet another education establishment quango.

Incidentally, while I was looking into this, I saw a tweet from a former teacher saying she had free membership of the Chartered College for being a PhD student. I looked into it, and this did seem to be true. If you quit teaching to do a full time qualification in education, you get free membership. A great plan if this was the Chartered College for Educationalists. An absolute disgrace if you remember this organisation was meant to encourage people to remain in the profession, not reward them for leaving.


The Progressive Narrative on Behaviour Part 3

June 23, 2018

Previously I have discussed two important parts of the progressive narrative on behaviour:

  1. The idea that children are liberated by a lack of discipline.
  2. The idea that children are not responsible for their behaviour.

The third and final strand of progressive thought on discipline can be summarised as “teacher blaming”. The idea is that bad behaviour is caused by individual teachers in the classroom doing the wrong thing for individual students. Slogans used to express this philosophy include:

  • “you make the weather in your classroom”,
  • “good behaviour management is based on good relationships”,
  • “perfect planning prevents poor behavior”,
  • “he/she always behaves for me”.

Teachers do have a responsibility to enforce discipline. We cannot absolve a teacher who refuses to enforce the rules or who undermines their colleagues by lowering expectations. Where a school behaviour policy is clear and workable, any teacher who doesn’t follow it, is making behaviour problems worse, even if only by making life harder for the teachers that do. We all have our part to play if a school behaviour system is to work well.

However, beyond this, you cannot run a school’s behaviour system on the basis that where bad behaviour occurs, it is the fault of the teacher, not the student. There are several reasons for this.

  1. We all make mistakes. We are only human; we all mess up on behaviour management sometimes. If you are relying on every teacher to get it right every time, for 23 lessons a week, you will be disappointed.
  2. Kids coordinate their behaviour based on more than what a teacher does. A teacher may get bad behaviour because they are new, because they are the wrong race/gender/sexual orientation, or because they teach an unpopular subject. Sometimes a teacher will get a lot of bad behaviour just because one ringleader among the children randomly takes a dislike to them.
  3. Some classes are just tougher than others. Your bottom set of 30 year 9 boys is not usually going to be as good as your class of 5 girls doing A-level. Blame the teachers for the bad behaviour, and you create incentive for those with power to use it to get the easiest classes and dump the tough ones on the powerless.
  4. A lot of the strategies for “avoiding” bad behaviour, are actually forms of appeasement. If you get good behaviour by winning over the ringleader among the kids, by making sure the content of the lesson is fun, or by never asking a kid to do something they don’t want to do, you may avoid confrontation, but it will be at a significant cost to their learning. This should not be encouraged.
  5. If teachers will be blamed for bad behaviour they will live in fear of a child “kicking off”. Kids will notice this and exploit it. In the worst schools, kids set the expectations not the teachers, and teachers are deterred from trying to raise expectations.
  6. Many “behaviour management strategies” are only useful at the margins. No matter how skilled you are with them, they cannot change the whole culture of the school in one lesson. If a sufficient mass of kids want a classroom to be in chaos, no amount of phrasing your instructions as a choice, or meeting the kids at the door with a smile will change that.

Working behaviour systems come down to making it easier for all teachers to enforce the rules. If all teachers know exactly what to do about behaviour and the school has the capacity for them to do it, behaviour improves for everyone.

When it comes to behaviour management, the most common criticisms of teachers (other than enforcing rules in the first place which has been covered by my first post) are:

  1. Shouting (and/or showing your emotions). We have all been there, either losing one’s temper, or just raising one’s voice and when that doesn’t work, having nowhere to go with it. No advice is worse for teachers than “remain calm”. If you still have a choice about being calm, then you are calm. This is all just a way of criticising teachers who are upset by bad behaviour, in order to blame them for the bad behaviour. And we all know at least one “shouty” teacher who has perfect behaviour.
  2. Having boring lessons. It may well be the case that if you just showed the kids cartoons instead of making them do quadratic equations, their behaviour would have been much better. So what? We are there to teach, not to entertain. And even then, it’s a lot easier to make a lesson enjoyable if you can trust the kids to behave.
  3. Having “bad relationships” with kids. Some teachers rely on being able to charm the kids into submission. This works to an extent, but often only by appeasement. However, most of us actually find that for the most part it is good behaviour that leads to good relationships and bad behaviour that leads to bad relationships. You can’t take the effect and make it the cause.

Things do differ between contexts. Primary teachers spend a lot more time with the same kids and have more of a chance to set expectations than secondary teachers. Also, the length of time you are at a school seriously affects the chances of being able to set expectations for your classes regardless of what happens elsewhere. Starting at a new school is often enough to quickly learn how little difference one teacher can make to behaviour. It is staggering how often those who claim that an individual classroom teacher can get perfect behaviour in their class without a supportive behaviour system are not themselves classroom teachers. Anyone who thinks they can turn around 9Z6 on a Friday afternoon just using their own personal classroom management skills and good relationships, has a moral obligation to be a classroom teacher in a tough comprehensive in the place of us mere mortals.

Strangely enough, they rarely are.



June 16, 2018

There is a lot of debate in teaching around who speaks for teachers. Classroom teachers are often given very little freedom to express opinions. At times, believing a particular ideology is treated as almost part of the job description. Often union leaders, educationalists and headteachers are treated as if they speak for the profession, even though there are often huge differences between their perspective and those of somebody teaching year 9 on a Friday afternoon.

At its absolute worst we have:

  • Attempts to silence teachers who dare express views that aren’t those of the education establishment.
  • Organisations who are set up to represent teachers, but are actually dominated by non-teachers and/or managers.
  • “Gatekeepers” who may allow teachers to play a part in public debate or in educational research, but only if they are the right sort of teachers.
  • A culture where leaving the classroom, or taking on other responsibilities, can be seen as evidence of having greater expertise about teaching than is possessed by those who have spent the most hours actually teaching.

I am very interested in what expertise we can find in the classroom, and particularly in those who are not seeking to leave the classroom, or to take on much in the way of management responsibilities. Often it is difficult to draw lines. Plenty of lower management positions involve only a minimal loss of teaching time. In a very small school, even senior management positions can be combined with an almost full time table. Yet at the same time, so much debate about teaching seems to have minimal input from the unpromoted teachers who make up the majority of the workforce. The debate over the role of non-teachers in the Chartered College of Teaching; the criticism of researchED for allowing ordinary teachers to speak, and the attempts to silence teachers on social media, all show many people in education believe that classroom teachers need “experts” to tell them what to do, and cannot be experts themselves.

I’ve been thinking for a while about ways to redress the balance. Even a one-off demonstration of what the plebs of the education system can contribute, might have an impact. As a result I recently suggested an “#Unpromoted” conference. This would be an education conference where anyone could attend, but only unpromoted teachers could speak. Those who have moved down from management positions would be welcome to speak, and such a format would not be intended to imply criticism of those who have taken on some management responsibility, or imply that even a TLR 2c makes one into a different species, but to redress a balance and to celebrate those whose only interest is the classroom. This is intended as an experiment, and hopefully as an example, rather than an ongoing series of events. If all it did is remind people that the unpromoted are out there and they matter, I would be happy.

I have a lot of other things to do in the next few weeks, but I would really like to start giving this some serious thought over the summer, with a view to organising it for the half term of summer term 2019. If you are an unpromoted teacher with some relevant expertise (not just as a potential speaker, but anything to do with conference organisation) please get in touch. Similarly, I’d love to hear from potential venues or sponsors.



The Progressive Narrative on Behaviour. Part 2

June 3, 2018

Last time I discussed how discipline is seen by progressives, and looked in detail at the view that children needed to be liberated from adult authority.

However, I also touched on another aspect of discipline:

We are responsible for our actions. While there must be exceptions to this principle, they are exceptional. Schools are not psychiatric hospitals; children are not insane and discipline is not therapy. Refusing to hold children responsible for their actions can only stunt their moral development. We all need to know we can make the right choices, and we all need the structures that encourage those right choices.

This part, is perhaps the most disputed aspect of discipline. Again, in the progressive tradition, denying personal responsibility goes back at least as far as Dewey. In Experience And Education, right after the passages I quoted last time about how the right sort of activities could reduce the need for discipline, he describes the limits of this approach in this way:

I am not romantic enough about the young to suppose that every pupil will respond or that any child of normally strong impulses will respond on every occasion. There are likely to be some who, when they come to school, are already victims of injurious conditions outside of the school and who have become so passive and unduly docile that they fail to contribute. There will be others who, because of previous experience, are bumptious and unruly and perhaps downright rebellious. But it is certain that the general principle of social control cannot be predicated upon such cases. It is also true that no general rule can be laid down for dealing with such cases. The teacher has to deal with them individually. They fall into general classes, but no two are exactly alike. The educator has to discover as best he or she can the causes for the recalcitrant attitudes. He or she cannot, if the educational process is to go on, make it a question of pitting one will against another in order to see which is strongest, nor yet allow the unruly and nonparticipating pupils to stand permanently in the way of the educative activities of others. Exclusion perhaps is the only available measure at a given juncture, but it is no solution. For it may strengthen the very causes which have brought about the undesirable antisocial attitude, such as desire for attention or to show off.

He then goes on to argue that while progressive schools have often struggled with these students, the right sort of planning would address the problem (something that I will look at in a future post) . This passage illustrates two key progressive beliefs.

  1. Bad behaviour, or lack of motivation, is considered the exception in children.
  2. Where it occurs, it has a cause that can be addressed on an individual basis.

Dealing with the first point, in reality we are all capable of doing wrong and we all do wrong for no good reason other than we felt like it. Moreover, children, particularly teenagers, are social animals. Most will behave badly if it is normal to behave badly. The problem in our schools is not that a small number of children are caused, by circumstances, to behave badly, but that behaviour which obstructs learning is often normal and most children are part of it. We often talk about “low level disruption” to describe behaviour that, far from being “low level”, is massively harmful but extremely common. You cannot deal with bad behaviour if you assume that it is exceptional, rather than something that our systems and methods have to address every day in every lesson.

The second point is probably the most contentious there is in current education debates. Teachers are frequently encouraged to treat behaviour problems as having a cause that can be treated that goes beyond the fact that children had an opportunity to misbehave, and not being natural saints, they took it. This perspective is so unhelpful to running a classroom, that it is mainly advanced in the form of slogans. There are two key slogans I see used most often. The first is “all behaviour is communication”, encouraging teachers to find some message behind the behaviour which will uncover the causes that can then be addressed. The other slogan is “unmet needs” which refers to causes which are specific to a child and something that can be addressed in order to “cure” the behaviour. These two slogans are used to deny human nature and in particular the facts that a) we all feel the temptation to do wrong and b) we adapt our behaviour to match those around us. Instead, bad behaviour is to be located in the child but treated as not under the control of the child.There are several flaws with this approach.

Firstly, with the possible exception of the very youngest children, if a child was genuinely unable to restrain themselves from misbehaviour, regardless of the consequences, that child would be insane. If  you cannot stop yourself from doing something, not for any reward or in response to any threat, you would have gone mad. This is not a pejorative term for mental illness, this is what insanity has always meant. It is what we mean by “diminished responsibility” in criminal trials. It is clear that this is not the normal situation for children. What it is even more clear, is that while such a condition might absolve a child of responsibility for their actions, it would not be something that schools could reasonably address or treat. The argument for specialist provision outside of a mainstream school would be unarguable in the case of a genuinely insane child. To do anything else would be unfair both on the child, and to anyone who could be harmed by their behaviour.

Secondly, if a child isn’t insane then it is likely that their behaviour is best addressed by holding them responsible for it and no “cause” can actually be found. What is particularly problematic for teachers is that the fruitless quest for causes has become almost an industry. There is a widespread belief that bad behaviour can be explained by a special educational need, which can then be addressed. We end up with children being labelled as having a special need because they are badly behaved, and their bad behaviour is then excused because they have a special need. We also end up writing off children with special needs (even special needs that have nothing to do with behaviour) as basically incapable of behaving. You will find people in education who simply cannot separate the concept of having a special need, from the concept of being badly behaved. This is absolutely toxic and entirely dehumanising for children with special needs who can only be disadvantaged further by being written off in terms of behaviour. You also have a proliferation of “theories” to explain bad behaviour. When I started teaching I encountered those who thought all or most bad behaviour was caused by low self-esteem (it isn’t). Nowadays you will find people who think all or most bad behaviour is caused by attachment difficulties (it isn’t). One of the founding fathers of British progressivism, A.S.Neill thought that sexual repression was a key cause of bad behaviour, and claimed that arsonists could be cured by encouraging them to masturbate.

Finally, if bad behaviour is caused by “unmet needs” not bad choices, we then have a tendency to avoid punishment and instead find some other way of addressing bad behaviour. Inevitably this results in pressure to simply let children get away with it, and where necessary, elicit good behaviour through appeasement. If a child kicks off when made to work hard, then their “need” is addressed by not expecting them to work hard. Standards are repeatedly lowered where this ideology is accepted. If a hypothetical child with hypothetical unmet needs could not live up to certain expectations, then the answer is to lower expectations for everyone. Instead of setting rules that almost everyone could follow, and treating the exceptions to that as exceptional, schools are encouraged to set standards so low that we would never even be able to tell the exceptions from the kids that simply couldn’t be bothered to behave better because the school expects so little from them.

The progressive beliefs about behaviour I’ve outlined here are very often just assumed. Teachers are encouraged to believe that they are simply how things are, and that any teacher who does not accept this must be lacking in compassion or sanity. We need to challenge them. We need to argue for realism and honesty about behaviour.

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