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Do educationalists hate teachers having a voice?

October 22, 2017

I’ve written before about educationalists showing a fairly hostile attitude to teacher bloggers, but I’m starting to notice educationalists dismissing what teachers have to say, or even trying to silence it, on Twitter too.

I wrote here about the intimidating behaviour a new tweeter/blogger faced from an established education writer and a PGCE tutor. After writing about that I found myself on the receiving end of threats of legal action. Yes, that’s right, somebody tried to silence a teacher for daring to suggest that they tried to silence teachers.

More recently I saw this exchange between blogger and tweeter @rufuswilliam and somebody (whose name I have redacted just in case) describing themselves as an ITT lecturer.

I consider the original comment fairly innocuous stuff, and the implied threat of asking what somebody’s employers might make of their views remarkable.

Now I have the dismissive responses to last week’s Twitter thread on behaviour that didn’t prompt exclusions. I wrote about this thread here. After seeing arguments claiming that children are permanently excluded from school unnecessarily, I asked “What is the worst behaviour you’ve encountered where the student involved was not permanently excluded?” and large numbers of teachers responded. The question was clearly about the worst cases, not a representative sample of what is normal in schools. Both in the blogpost and on Twitter I pointed this out and mentioned that I had seen nothing like the behaviour others described in my current school or the two before (although I have seen it elsewhere). Nobody named a school involved in any recent incidents, or identified a child, yet here were some of the complaints from people involved in teacher training / university education departments about the tweets and/or the blogpost summarising them:

…[Is it] an appeal to fear and besmirching the good behaviour of the 8 million kids out there in our Pri[mary]/Sec[ondary] schools?

Is this a good forum for this? I mean, I’m all for teachers sharing experiences but the limited presentation of context makes this an uncritical exercise & potentially unjust for both the teachers & students involved. What is the aim here? Surely the aim in these situations is to seek some kind of justice – and since it involves children to seek restorative justice. In serious situations this will involve the judiciary. I am very concerned that these stories are being used politically which is irresponsible…  it’s just education’s alt-right playing dog-whistle toxic culture & identity politics again.

…the believability scale should be kept LOW on that one … it’s well known that T[eacher]s & Principals inflate 2 build cases around children..

I think it’s unethical and unprofessional to be discussing personal examples of pupil behaviour online. Parents and pupils use Twitter too.

[In response to an edu-twitter troll saying “Andrew Old should NEVER have encouraged this kind of behaviour. VILE”] Absolutely agree. It seemed to almost become competitive. It struck me as being like the four Yorkshiremen sketch by Monty Python… [In response to the same troll saying “This gave teachers a very poor press”] There are a little group that constantly do this: Bennett, Old, Didau etc. I despair sometimes.

Ironically, some of these individuals complaining about confidentiality, honesty and negativity had previously had no issues with joining in with social media shamings of named schools. It appears to be only failures in progressive education policy that teachers are meant to keep silent about. But if teachers cannot discuss openly some of the worst things that they have experienced in their careers, what incentive will there ever be for anyone to do anything to prevent them happening again and again? And if teachers are being trained by people who think that assaults and rape threats are the sort of thing that the profession should just endure without public comment when nothing is done, what kind of training are new teachers getting?

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The debate over feeding kids when their parents refuse to

October 21, 2017

There have been a couple of school shamings – one in summer 2016 about a secondary school and another in the last few weeks about a primary school – about school policies which involve feeding kids when their parents refuse to but in such a way as might deter parents from relying on this. The secondary school took students whose parents refused to pay out of lunch and fed them a cold meal in isolation. The primary school (which apparently had never actually used this sanction) gave students bread and fruit but warned in a letter to parents that this might be embarrassing for the student.

In both cases, much of the shaming imagined that the parent was unable to pay, and the school had ignored this, rather than the parents had simply refused to comply. Many critics seemed unaware that FSM existed, that schools make a real effort to help families claim them or that schools help in cases where parents don’t qualify for FSM but have other problems. Of course, a school cannot talk openly about individual cases, and if students are being fed by the school or out of a teacher’s pocket, this is unlikely to be declared openly in case it encourages parents to refuse to pay, so there was plenty of room to imagine the schools as indifferent to the issues in individual cases. There were often quite imaginative fantasies about how the schools were deliberately starving the poor. I will ignore this stuff and assume, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, that these schools acted humanely, offered help where it was needed, and the policies were only ever to be applied where parents refused to co-operate with the school.

This actually leaves us with 3 main complaints and I will address these in turn.

  1. Children are being “punished” for their parents’ actions. There is some irony in that plenty of those who applied the word “punish” to this situation would probably quibble over applying it in cases of classroom discipline, where words like “sanction” or “consequence” are often preferred. But even if we consider the schools’ policies to involve a sanction or consequence rather than a punishment, this is the strongest complaint. The immediate problem with using this as a complaint is the extent to which schools allow the actions of parents to have consequences for their children already. Children are expected to turn up to school on time, in uniform and fully equipped. Schools do not have policies that seek to rule on the extent to which this is a child’s responsibility and to what extent it is a parent’s responsibility. They simply have a policy of applying sanctions (although, we can assume they make exceptions for exceptional cases). Perhaps there is a case for ending this in principle, for having rules that always assume parents are feckless and that expectations should not be set for children if their parents could be the ones undermining those expectations. But such a reform would be an enormous shift in responsibility from families to schools. This doesn’t make it wrong, but those who advocate such a change, need to admit outright they want a massive reform of almost every school, not pick individual schools to attack, or single out schools that have rules about lunch money and ignore those with rules about uniform or maths equipment. A similar kind of hypocrisy happens with regard to school uniform; people whose actual agenda is to abolish school uniforms know they cannot win that argument and instead shame schools that actually enforce their uniform policy. People who shame individual schools for ignoring a principle that almost every school ignores should, in my view, be opposed. This is not because they are necessarily wrong on the substantive point of principle – that should still be debated – but we should object to the bullying method they are using to advance this agenda.
  2. The policy is harmful. It takes about 2 seconds for the words “child abuse” to appear on Twitter once a school shaming has begun. In this case the assumption was that the schools being shamed were doing something that would be more unpleasant for children than what other schools do. This showed a remarkable ignorance about what happens in schools. In most secondary schools there is usually no formal way to check kids are being fed. That’s not to say teachers don’t look out for neglect, or that a child that was obviously hungry would not be a concern, but lunchtimes are usually not structured in a way that monitors that every child has eaten. In the average secondary school, if a parent does not hand over dinner money, it is assumed that a child has a pack lunch, and, if they don’t, they would simply go hungry. In primary schools, it is easier to monitor if a child is not eating, but even then the action taken to feed them may not be part of a formal policy. The schools being shamed over this policy are unusual in that they have an explicit and open policy of making sure every child is fed. The primary school says they never had to apply their policy of denying a student a school meal, implying that what actually happened in practice, was the same as usually happens in primary schools and the policy was there to deter intentional non-payers and had worked. The secondary school was feeding kids who would go hungry in most other schools. Neither school appears to have caused harm.
  3. The sanction was disproportionate. This to me was the oddest claim. People talk as if being given a free meal was torture and eating apart from other students was false imprisonment. The flip side of this is the assumption that failing to pay your bills is a minor misdemeanour. I’d like to challenge this. Social time at school is not actually a human right. Being deprived of it is an irritation, not an atrocity, and children are deprived of it or choose to forego it, on a fairly regular basis. A child might be embarrassed to have a different lunch, but it is not worse than any of the many embarrassments that childhood is full of and we expect children to cope with. On the other hand, the expectation that one can simply ignore one’s debts is absolutely toxic. People wreck their own lives by failing to pay their bills. Businesses go under due to bad debtors  and people failing to pay up. It is a form of promise breaking. Somebody who runs out of a restaurant without paying is seen as a thief, not a victim. The attitude that treats failing to pay bills as a trivial matter, is one that sees working class parents as perpetual victims, unable ever to fulfil their parental obligations and schools as having endless resources to subsidise the undeserving. The attitude that sees denial or disruption of social time, or having a different lunch, as a huge sanction, is one that sees schools as egalitarian babysitters, more concerned with the minutiae of kids’ social lives rather than their learning.

Whether you agree with these arguments or not, and please note I have not advocated all schools introducing these policies, I think the above at least makes their position a reasonable one for some schools to hold. I think the school shamings over this issue were the acts of cowards. They came from people who find it easy to humiliate and abuse teachers. It was also made worse by those wait until teachers are under this kind of attack, and then start drawing attention to it, while claiming to be only “asking questions” or “trying to debate”. It is not the way to have a debate.

Two footnotes.

  1. This week I saw a journalist from Schools Week, discussing on Twitter, a practice in one school that made me very uncomfortable: giving kids badges marked “more able”. I suppose as somebody who writes a regular blog review for Schools Week, I am biased, but I was really impressed by the decision to raise the issue without (so far) naming and shaming the school. I think this, rather than trying to get schools demonised in the Daily Mail, is responsible journalism. It is the issue that matters, not the name of the school.
  2. I used the word “undeserving” above. I am well aware of just how controversial that word is in middle class political discourse. I am quite happy to debate my use of the word; I did give it a lot of thought. Please don’t bother just being outraged that I used the word.
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What happens when schools don’t permanently exclude?

October 15, 2017

Recent figures showed a welcome increase in the number of permanent exclusions. This shows that schools are moving in the right direction, by putting the victims of the poor behaviour first.

This invariably results in lots of very liberal people condemning schools for just not being understanding enough. Don’t teachers know that poor behaviour is just children trying to communicate their “unmet needs”? Recent reports about the hundreds of rapes and thousands of sexual assaults that happen in our schools don’t seem to have affected the willingness of those who argue that children are natural saints, corrupted only by their circumstances, or their unsympathetic teachers. “Inclusion Machismo” where virtue-signalling headteachers boast about how they never exclude because that would be “giving up on children” can also help to discourage exclusions.

When somebody told me yesterday that children are permanently excluded for “persistent aggravating behaviour” and that before supporting exclusions I should accept that it’s hard to concentrate if you are hungry, cold or worried, I thought it worth looking into what behaviour teachers actually face by asking the following question on Twitter and Facebook:

What is the worst behaviour you’ve encountered where the student involved was not permanently excluded?

The thread is still being commented on and can be found here. Note that many of these responses go back to the height of “inclusion” and may not reflect how schools now behave. I can say that I’ve seen nothing like this in my last 3 schools. However, these are a fair indicator of what happens when schools are discouraged from excluding. (I’ve tried to include only those from mainstream schools in the UK but may not have done this perfectly).

In my NQT year a pupil tried to burn down the blinds with an aerosol can and matches, then tried to headbutt me when I intervened.

Confiscated a knife whilst on PGCE placement.

A reception class child; tried to throw a child out of a window; choking; spitting; constant swearing; punching; stabbing; scratching I walked him around in an armlock most of the time. Lasted 2 months before the Ed Ps[y]ch got top see him. Left school. Next school instantly excluded. I tried my best but I wasn’t a 1 man referral unit. Looking back I should have taken a day off …In another school I “took” 8 yr old into the hall after he punched a helper. He lifted a chair to throw at me and fell backwards. Hilarious.

Mimicked a teacher, backed them into a corner and blocked escape with a chair. Detention given and rearranged to allow for a football match.

can of Coke opened in my face and was threatened with rape on my pgce placement in M[ain]stream.

Loud racist comments at teacher and other students. “Well, you have to understand, he’s going through some things…”

A student making gorilla sounds to the face of a black teacher

A girl spat in my face a few years ago.

Student repeatedly came into my class and called me a c*nt. so I locked him out. He went crazy, he and another student tried to break the door down and almost succeeded. [The[ doorframe had to be replaced. My crime I stopped him talking to someone in my class by closing the window.

Wow, worst is a big shout. Not sure how to define this. Just in 2017:

  1. Yr 8 Punched HT in belly
  2. Yr 7 White supremacist Graffiti
  3. [Year] 10s Homophobic attack
  4. [Year] 11s Racist attack on EE kid
  5. [Year] 11s Organising gambling on yr 7 fights
  6. [Year] 11s Dealing canabis
  7. [Year] 8s Theft from a T[eacher]’s Wallet
  8. Chair thrown at staff with intent

That’s just off the top of my head, incidents I have had dealings with

A student threatened to rape a female member of staff. Result? No punishment at all.

Pupil took gulp of water and spat it all out over my face & chest. Not even internal exclusion- was expected to teach her next lesson…!

On pgce, child tried to strangle me with my own tie. I got blamed. School head was later disposed off and sch[oo]l massively improved.

As a student tchr, was thrown against wall by large & angry Y8 boy who threatened to make me “bleed & scream”. He was put in detention

Pregnant supply teacher told by kids they were going to cut her baby out and kill them both. Nothing.

False allegation that my colleague had hit the student during class. (Many witnesses said they hadn’t!) No consequence for student.

I’ve been attacked with a hockey stick. Physically attacked on parents evening by a child and his dad…also had several chairs thrown at me and been punched several times…Worst thing I’ve seen with no exclusion is heavily pregnant colleague kicked in the stomach. Never been so angry in my life…

being assaulted with the student’s crutches, he had a broken ankle at the time. I ducked the bag he threw though.

Head butted as well and felt like the guilty party . I was trying to prevent the child from attacking their HoY.

In a school I worked in a pregnant female teacher was punched in the stomach. Had his lunchtimes in isolation and had to return back to her lessons.

In my first school – punched in the face by a student and then her mother slapped me. No sanction given.

Threatened to assault me and other members of staff. He eventually left the college only because he got jailed for attempted murder

Rec[eption] child bit part of another child’s ear off. ( bit two others also) was spat at,bitten and scratched. Used to empty water trays on floor Used to get into water trays. Forced another child’s head into full water tray. We had to get 1-1 support. Child left at end [of year]

Punched in the face.

Repeated teacher assaults and two attempted murders.

Year 11 pupil threatened me with a cricket bat in front of my yr 7 class because he wasn’t happy with his GCSE mock result.

A colleague had her thumb joint fractured when she intervened in a fight. The girl she was trying to remove did it with intent. Three w[ee]ks.

Throwing a razor blade into another pupil’s face. The on-call HoY brought him back after 5 mins asking “How hard did he throw it?”or bringing a knife in as an escalation of a fight the day before. Got half a day in isolation. or punching a TA in the face. No sanction at all. All at the same school.

Child bring a hammer into class and ‘wanting to some damage’

Stabbed in the hand with a pencil because I dared to ask the child to come sit on the carpet for story time.

Called me a “white c**t”. Didn’t get excluded immediately but incident did add to the tower of paperwork necessary to eventually remove.

Student pulled down a Turkish flag and set it on fire. Apparently she was Kurdish. Saw her on front of Guardian that summer [at] the Turkish embassy in London. Head reported as sa[y]ingcshe was a model student. Same school same term – tear gas released in a maths lesson

The majority of the above have occurred in my career, but the worst I’ve seen is a child filling a cup with urine and waiting for an LSA …. whose face he threw it in without provocation

A lad once set fire to his desk in one of my English lessons. That was interesting!

Threatened to have me ‘twatted’, threated by a parent, threatened to have a fire extinguisher thrown at me. Questioned what I did to….Antagonise the student/s. Nothing done Also questioned about why I repeatedly challenged the poor behaviour – rather than ignore

A Y[ear] 7 child attempting to leave classroom without permission or a reason charged at me, pushed me into a wall & I dislocated my shoulder no action taken as the child was looked after & foster carers wouldn’t hav[e] him back if excluded. SLT leant on me v[ery] hard not to complain.

I was punched in the face after stopping a boy who had already punched a girl. I had to teach him the next year because he was a ‘G5 target’

Had white spirit thrown in my face!

Physical intimidation (blocking exit from desk) + verbal abuse over report. 5 day exc[lusion]. Had to push to get removed from my tutor group!

Years ago when I did consultancy, a student lunged for me twice in lesson after making racist comments. Other students heard him threaten to ‘Get me’. Long story short, my account of events was dismissed, nothing happened to student so I terminated the support I provided to school

Had a chair thrown at me week 2 of NQT year. Caught it (ninja skills / blind luck) – rest of class cheered.

Throwing chairs, setting fire to the classroom carpet with lighter fluid, smoking cannabis

Replica gun brought into classroom (did not recognise it as a fake at the time).

student poured acid on a classmate ‘by mistake’. SLT just had a chat w/him. V[ery] unsettling to have him in my class the next day.

Had my finger broken by a student. Deputy said there was no proof that he intended to hurt me

Arson. Not a little bit. About quarter of a building. 7 fire engines, school closed for week.

Year 11 boy using a can of lynx to set fire to year 7 school bags..while yr 7s were wearing them…1 week suspension…

Kicking his TA in the shin, standing on a table throwing chairs, shoving a student into a desk unprovoked, punching a student in the face…

*very very tall* yr 11 grab me by hair *had longish hair at the time* and threaten to “end me”. 2 day exclusion. Did a year in a secondary. Oh also got headbutted by a boy with ASD in my NQT year. He was on the floor so I will leave it to your imagination where he got me.

I’ve had chairs/tables thrown at me. Friends of mine have been bitten so badly that they’ve bled. Internal exclusion at most.

Same [arson]. At a pre[v]ious school I worked in 60% of the School was destroyed. I had to teach the arsonist French. He was then finally excluded for not following his behaviour plan just towards the end of the academic year. Fire happened on the 1st September.

Once had h2so4 [sulphuric acid] thrown at me. Another pulled a knife. Left and went to FE. Peaceful there.

When I was a student teacher one boy said to another “bend her [me] over the desk & give it to her”. I told HoD. No consequences at all.

student brought a knife into primary school; performed in Xmas production that evening

I had a kid repeatedly threaten to kill me. Followed me round school tracking me. Got 3 days in isolation, climbed out the window… scary

Oh yeah forgot y[ea]r 8 hospitalising another with a chair leg in the face. No sanction because the behaviour AP had forgotten about it next day.

Overt racism to the same teacher, twice, two different students. Both still with us.

A pupil slammed a door into my back as hard as he could after he was sent out while I was doing an exit check. Impact sent me to my knees.

I had a student grab my arm and try to break it. I was stopping him from Re-entering the classroom after sending him out. Causing a lot of pain. I was told that he would not be excluded as I had ‘placed myself in a situation where harm was likely to come to me’.!!! I was leaving at the end of the year and this was May. I point blank refused to teach the class if he was in it and as such he was moved down a group. Absolutely disgusting decision but then again he was a star football team player and we can’t piss those off!

As a cover supervisor, I caught a girl trying to stick a sign saying ‘Suck my d**k’ on my back. The Head had a chat with her and told me, ‘This is a good girl who made a bad decision.’ That was the end of the matter.

A boy once deliberately slammed a door onto my hand, didn’t break but badly bruised. He was told to apologise to me which he did, followed by “but you deserved it.” He was sent home for the afternoon.

Telling a teacher to eat shit.

Being knocked out by a class throwing French dictionaries at my head. Also, two lads sitting in my class three times a week muttering,”[teacher’s name]’s a f***ing C*nt”. For a year. Apparently there was ‘nothing the Head could do’,

Repeatedly called an “Irish c*nt” by student – H[ead]Teacher’]s response? “But you are Irish.”

I am still getting further responses. But I think this makes the point. Treating exclusion as a terrible failure to be avoided puts everybody at risk. Sometimes it is necessary and refusing to face up to that is cowardice, not compassion. This is not intended to put anyone off teaching, but we need to be honest about these things; if we cover them up they will get worse and there are all too many people out there who would silence teachers if they got the chance.

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Managerialism

October 14, 2017

One of the biggest cultural changes in education that has happened since I trained to teach has been in attitudes to management. This impression has been somewhat re-enforced by some temporary work in independent schools (and a grammar school) where the hierarchy more closely resembled what schools were like when I started teaching. Based on my experience, the following trends have concerned me over the last decade and a half.

  1. Excessive numbers of managers. When I started, people doing admin tasks were given “responsibility points”. These were changed to TLRs many years ago, and this led to people who only wanted to edit a spreadsheet being encouraged to line manage a colleague. One source claimed 42% of teachers have management responsibilities. In some schools I’ve worked in that’s been more like 50%. If this is a matter of remuneration and doesn’t reflect a power structure, then fair enough. But if it means there are people being paid to line manage one person, or large departments where there is one main scale teacher and everyone else is a middle or senior manager, then things are unbalanced. The more managers you have, the more likely you are to have managers just creating work for the managed, not actually helping them with their work.
  2. Excessive numbers of formal observations. I genuinely think it is a good thing if senior managers are engaged in monitoring what is happening in their schools. If managers what to look in on hundreds of lessons that’s fine. But formal observations – those where teachers are expected to prepare – create workload. In some schools a teacher can expect to be observed twice a term or more by somebody more senior and every observation is “high stakes”, i.e. if that particular lesson goes badly, no matter how wonderful every other lesson they teach that week is, there will be consequences for that teacher (usually more observations).
  3. The view of managers as the experts about teaching. This may be a result of the TLR system, but for a while schools were encouraged to conflate management responsibilities with teaching expertise. Obviously, those who have been teaching long enough to be promoted may have more experience than NQTs, and there are those who are promoted entirely because of teaching expertise, but in some schools those with management responsibilities will have taught fewer lessons in their career than many of their colleagues because of time spent on management responsibilities. The most expert teachers in a school are often those who have taught a full time table for several decades without seeking promotion. When you hear of somebody who has been teaching for 30 years, getting great results and building a real relationship with the kids and their parents, being told the correct way to teach by somebody who is a middle manager after 3 years teaching, there is something very wrong.
  4. Micro-management. I have to be careful here, as I think consistency, particularly about discipline, is a good thing, so I don’t think teacher autonomy is unlimited. I also think we can learn from adopting the highly effective methods of others. However, classes differ. Subjects differ. Teachers differ. If we change our own approach for different classes, how can anyone tell us the correct approach for a class they haven’t taught? The line between ensuring consistency of approach and micro-management is sometimes an arbitrary one, but if you don’t trust teachers to make some decisions for themselves, then why employ them? Managers should have a clear idea of what decisions they expect teachers to make for themselves, what decisions they would hope to influence but not make for teachers, and what behaviour is required of teachers. Without personal autonomy, you do not have a profession.
  5. Management being seen as the only career path for teachers. Promotion can be seen as the point of teaching. Managers are simply the most successful teachers. If you don’t seek promotion, you can often be treated as a failure. The fact that women teachers are apparently less likely to seek promotion than men is seen as a deficiency in women, who we are told should be braver, not a sign of dedication. A recent slogan told women teachers that they should be “10% braver” in seeking promotion, according to those who apparently believed that only cowardice could explain somebody’s decision to put their time and effort solely into teaching. People I polled on Twitter did not feel the same way.

    It’s quite a common suggestion that there should be some new system for rewarding excellent teachers for staying in the classroom, but even those suggestions seem to be about providing alternative rewards for those management have recognised, rather than accepting that some teachers don’t want trinkets and don’t want recognition; they just want to do the job. We should recognise that the success of a teacher is in how much their students learn.

I believe that management has a disproportionate impact on schools. Good schools have good managers; bad schools have bad managers. However, good management is management that enables teachers to do their job. It is about creating a culture in which the most important work, the teaching, can be done. If a school values management, but not teaching, it will not get far.

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The New Type Of School Shaming

October 8, 2017

I’ve written a lot in the past about school shaming.

I’m a big fan of Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (also available as an audio book from Audible) that explains how individuals can be subjected (often largely unjustly) to a barrage of online criticism and hate that has a huge effect on their lives. A similar thing can happen to schools. Schools are pilloried on social media, subjected to abuse, and often the story lives on for years afterwards. Most of the time there is a huge dose of ideology involved, with schools that espouse strict discipline getting a particularly hard time.

While a shaming can be started pretty much by any criticism of a named school on social media, and has been prompted by everything from job adverts to reports of political bias in PSHE lessons, the most common type of shaming is the one that starts with a newspaper website or facebook post and goes something like this:

  1. A school enforces a rule or follows a procedure.
  2. A parent is upset when this inconveniences their child.
  3. The parent’s complaint appears on a newspaper website, (often with a picture of them and their child) or occasionally just on Facebook.
  4. The school is not is a position to give their side of the story.
  5. The story is spread on social media, alongside commentary and abuse. Comparisons with fascism are particularly popular.
  6. The story then appears on other media.
  7. People on social media start challenging the original complaint or the abuse, but by this point the details of the original case are seen as irrelevant by those shaming the school with people often complaining that the school “deserved it” regardless of the facts of the original case or the disproportionate response.

A lot of schools have been subject to media reports about disgruntled parents this term. Possibly schools are tightening up discipline, in response to some positive OFSTED reports for schools (even one “shamed” school) with effective discipline systems. Warwick Mansell, a journalist who was also the catalyst for the big shaming of summer 2016, has run an extraordinary Twitter campaign against a school in Norfolk that many, including myself, can only interpret as having a strong element of personal vendetta.

However, there has been a new development. Whereas the old type of shaming always seemed to involve one family, and the reporting of their complaints, the new type of shaming seems to involve a close reading of what a school says (looking for their most provocative or badly worded policies) and then speculation about hypothetical children.

So far I have seen:

  1. Condemnation of a policy that suggested children pretending to be sick be given a bucket rather than sent out.
  2. Condemnation of a policy that requires students to make eye contact when they speak to teachers.
  3. Condemnation of a policy of giving bread and fruit to children whose parents do not pay their dinner money.

There are certain features to all three of these shamings (two of which are based around that one school in Norfolk). Firstly, they all hinge on something written by the school, that  could have been phrased a lot better, but would not have been written with the expectation of being interpreted by a hate campaign. Secondly, the shamings seem unsupported by any reliable reports of any specific child being affected by the policies. No reports of children being given buckets have occurred in the first case. The school specifically denied that an exclusion had anything to do with eye contact in the second case. And the school in the third case has stated that no child has been denied a school meal. Thirdly, the criticism often seems to ignore what actually normally happens in schools, i.e. people ignore that kids pretend to be sick, turn their back on teachers, or go hungry when their parents don’t give them their dinner money. Fourthly, there has been extensive discussion about hypothetical kids being treated cruelly. What about the kid who looks and acts as if perfectly healthy immediately before vomiting? What about the autistic child who should be in mainstream, but cannot avoid ignoring their teachers, or is physically pained by any eye contact? What about the child of a parent who does not qualify for free school meals, but nevertheless has no money to feed their children? The noticeable thing, apart from the fact that none of these kids are actually real, is that the discussion of these situations always assumes the school would not be able to make an exception if that hypothetical example actually happened. Finally, in the rhetoric of the school haters, the hypothetical kids are treated as real. Kids are really vomiting in buckets. Autistic children are really being punished for being autistic. Kids of disadvantaged (but somehow non-FSM) families are really being humiliated by fruit and bread.

School shaming is unfair right from the start. It does not solve a problem, it does license abuse of teachers and allows bullies an excuse to put the boot in, while claiming to be on the side of the children. But this latest wave of school shaming, based on protecting hypothetical kids, is the most ridiculous yet. It is bad enough when the grievances of one disgruntled, and usually unreasonable, parent are uncritically accepted in thousands of tweets, without bringing in imaginary victims to defend. People are using these hypothetical children to argue against rules, the point of which they don’t even understand. School rules cannot be designed in order to cater for the unusual children in an edu-Twitter troll’s imagination. We should just let schools do the best for the children they actually have, without asking them to design a discipline system for children who haven’t been invented yet.

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Nick Gibb on Grammar Schools and Secondary Moderns

June 13, 2017

Since Theresa May became prime minister, the Conservative Party has turned back to its 1990s policy of returning to a grammar/secondary modern system. I suspect this created difficulties for Nick Gibb, the schools minister, who had previously opposed the policy, who would have been given a choice: support the policy and continue to influence policy or oppose it and return to the back benches. I’ve never particularly wanted to point out his previous record of opposition to grammar schools, as while this could be used to embarrass him, it would hardly make things easier for those hoping to dissuade the government from going down the route of selective education.

Now, however, following the loss of the government’s majority, it is unlikely that the government has any hope of passing legislation on the matter and it has already been reported that the policy has been torn up. On top of that, I suspects that the Prime Minister can’t last much longer and, if we are fortunate, her replacement will be less interested in the issue. So I thought this would be a good opportunity to remind ourselves how far the Conservatives had moved on before May turned the clock back.

This is what Nick Gibb had to say in 2012, back during his first stint as schools minister, when asked about grammar schools on Any Questions:

When people talk about the grammar school issue, I never get people asking the question “why don’t you bring back the secondary modern?” And in fact most people would go to the secondary modern – most children would go to a secondary modern school – if we brought back selection at the age of 11.

Now our job is to improve the standards in the three thousand comprehensive schools in this country and I believe it’s not getting rid of the grammar schools that was the issue. It is some of the progressive teaching methods that came into the country in the 1960s and 70s such as mixed ability teaching; moving away from traditional subjects rigorously taught; the way reading has been taught in  primary schools that doesn’t use the traditional phonics method of teaching children to read, so now we have…one in ten boys leaving primary school with a reading age of 7. These are the issues we are trying to grapple [with].

…we have to go on the evidence and the evidence that we have when we look around the world at those high performing jurisdictions that have high quality education systems producing young people who will be competing for the same jobs that our young people will be competing for in the global job market. What those countries have in common is that they have teachers from the top quarter of their graduate output; they have autonomy for their schools so that the teachers can run their schools as they see fit, and they have very rigorous external accountability and testing. When you look around the world – Finland, South Korea, Japan – they don’t have selective systems and yet they have very high performing education systems… The things they all have in common – the top jurisdictions – is those three things I’ve just said and that’s where our education policy is geared.

…Our whole raison d’être in our education policy is to close this attainment gap between those from wealthier and poorer backgrounds. We want to improve the standard of behaviour in those comprehensives that the questioner thinks can’t provide the kind of education that some children need. We want to ensure that our three thousand comprehensives do provide that kind of education.

We are changing the curriculum. We are changing the exams. We brought in the English Baccalaureate to try to undo the damage done over the last ten years where students have moved away from things like modern languages and these more traditional subjects. Now we’ve seen a huge uptake in history geography and languages as a consequence of that policy.

I thought then, and I think now, that this is the right answer. Let’s hope that as things settle down after recent events, no more energy is wasted on finding escape routes for the middle class, rather than providing an academic education for all.

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The Chartered Teacher Programme: Another stick to beat teachers with

June 5, 2017

Yesterday, the following details of the latest from the Chartered College Of Teaching were leaked to me. I assume these are genuine, if not, please let me know and I will remove this post as quickly as possible. This is, as I understand it, a draft of the principles that will be used when awarding the status of “Chartered Teacher”.

The Chartered Teacher Programme – Professional Principles Framework – Draft

The Professional Principles Framework will define the level of accomplishment across three key domains which teachers will need to achieve in order to be awarded Chartered Teacher status. The framework will:

  • provide clarity to all teachers of the competencies that underpin excellence in teaching as supported by a body of evidence;
  • enable all teachers to self-assess their values, knowledge and practice against the competencies and use this to guide their professional development;
  • provide a structured career path for those teachers who wish to progress within their career whilst remaining in the classroom;
  • encourage collaboration between teachers and their peers, and between teachers and the wider teaching profession.

The three key domains of the Chartered Teacher Professional Principles Framework are:

  1. Professional values.
  2. Professional knowledge and understanding.
  3. Professional practice.

These domains are set out below.

Professional values

Chartered Teachers embody five core professional values:

  1. Sustained commitment to critical self-evaluation and career-long professional learning.
  2. Commitment to, and advocate for, all learners, their learning and their wellbeing.
  3. Commitment to education for social justice.
  4. Demonstration of the highest level of integrity and professionalism.
  5. Professional engagement to create a strong community for learning.

Professional knowledge and understanding

Chartered Teachers have a developed knowledge and understanding across five key areas:

  1. Pedagogical knowledge.
  2. Subject knowledge.
  3. Learner development and context.
  4. Enquiry and research.
  5. Curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.

Professional practice

The classroom practice of a Chartered Teacher is characterised by five key elements:

  1. Extending pedagogical knowledge continually through engagement with evidence and research.
  2. Creating an optimal environment for teaching and learning for all learners.
  3. Planning and preparing effective, inspiring learning opportunities.
  4. Teaching high-quality, engaging lessons for learner progress.
  5. Critical evaluation of own practice for improved impact on learner outcomes.

Most of this is what you’d expect when a bureaucracy writes about education: lists of aims and values without any sense of priority. If theories of learner development conflict with research evidence about pedagogy, then which should chartered teachers follow? If “an optimal environment for learning” isn’t one with “inspiring learning opportunities”, which should come first? Like the old lesson observation checklists with 4 dozen items on, where contradictory principles are piled together like this, we get a situation where all judgements can be justified. Anyone could be judged to have met or to have failed to meet these principles, just on the basis of which principles those making the judgement prioritise.

On top of that, a number of items are heavily loaded.

Do we really want teachers to be judged on whether they have a “Commitment to education for social justice”? How could that ever be anything other than a judgement as to whether they have the right politics? How about being “advocates for” the “wellbeing” of all learners? “Wellbeing” can refer to being an amateur therapist or substitute parent (and why are they “learners” not students, pupils or children?) Finally, there is a huge step backward towards judging lessons for their entertainment value. “inspiring learning opportunities” and “engaging lessons for learner progress” sound like something from an OFSTED report from 2012. Why would any teacher whose priority is the learning of their classes want to be judged on that basis? I’ve written before about the misuse of engagement (as have many other bloggers) and inspiration. These terms have been used to condemn teachers for not being entertaining enough.

Of course, at the heart of this is a problem with a professional body set up by non-teachers. It is a body that will seek to judge, classify and assess teachers rather than support them. Like many teachers, I always want to learn more about teaching and would welcome a professional body that can provide knowledge and support, but I will oppose any body that tries to judge teachers. Being a “chartered teacher” will have the same value as having your lessons rated “outstanding” by OFSTED or qualifying as an AST did, it will mark somebody out as “playing the game”, having a willingness to do and say what some authority figure wanted them to do or say. It is not what teachers need; it is a stick to beat teachers with.

Update 5/6/2017: I have now been sent, but not given permission to release, a later draft of this, with most of the contentious parts removed. The later version and some explanatory material can be found here.

 

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