The Anonymous Questionnaire: Part 2November 21, 2006
“Would you mind having a chat about your behaviour questionnaire?” asked Neville, the assistant head at Woodrow Wilson School.“When you’ve got a minute”.
I readily agreed, although it did strike me odd that he wanted to talk about an anonymous questionnaire. It had asked for the department, and my handwriting is quite distinctive. I hadn’t held back. I’d long since decided I’d be leaving the school at the end of the year. Although I liked the other teachers in my department I couldn’t stand the Senior Management Team, and wasn’t keen on several of the Year Heads, for the simple reason that they would blame the teacher (or even the whole department) whenever discipline was a problem. My decision to leave had already been made by this time. In fact it had been made when I discovered that the Head had been telling at least one set of parents in my year 11 class that it was my fault their son was refusing to do his coursework or his homework.
With nothing to lose there was very little detail missing on the questionnaire. I had mentioned the year groups where all referrals went missing, Gemma in Year 8, Mary in Year 9, not to mention Roger the Head of Year 11 the previous year who had waited for the students to leave in June before returning referrals dating back to November for which no action had been taken. I had mentioned the detention policy (miss two detentions and you are excluded) that had been ignored. I had mentioned the shoddy treatment given to new teachers and to teachers in particular departments and the culture of blame in the school. I had mentioned that members of SMT didn’t even enforce their own policies or keep their promises.
Neville had been slightly more reliable as a Year Head (prior to his promotion) than many of his colleagues so I hoped he would be reasonable. Within a day or two I made it to my appointment in his office.
“The problem is that in some years students don’t do detentions. We have a policy that says if they miss the detention twice they are excluded. However last year some students missed seven or eight detentions and there was nothing done when this was repeatedly referred and those students became uncontrollable. This year the maths department have been monitoring referrals for the last month. Gemma has not returned any referrals at all out of the thirty the department have sent her in this time. Not one. Mary has returned only one or two, all without action being taken. You only get action from Gemma by confronting her. Even that doesn’t work sometimes, when one of her year group was disrupting my lesson she arranged for a chat between me and the girl and then spent that time asking the girl why she didn’t like me.”
“Well”, said Neville, “I can look into that. Let me know next time a referral doesn’t result in action. Now can you tell me what your department has done to support you.”
And so the quizzing began. They wanted me to blame my own department. The department who had stuck by me as an NQT. The department who had shared in my misery as SMT undermined us again and again. Andy, the Head of Department, had been through hell. His response when I told him I was leaving was to say “I don’t blame you, I’m sick of the place too”. However nobody could doubt his heart was in the right place although his health had given out – a particular problem in a school where supply staff couldn’t be retained. I defended him but it was pointless. He was their target and they were only interested in my problems in so far as they could undermine him. They even made it clear that they had studied every questionnaire from members of my department and identified who had written what from the handwriting.
A couple of days later I went to see Neville about the latest ignored referral to Gemma, one about Millie Lee Potter who had missed two detentions and therefore was meant to be excluded. It might not have helped that as I was explaining this Jake, another disgruntled member of my department, overheard and began yelling at Neville “Don’t get me started on Gemma, she’s completely useless” before detailing the three referrals of his Gemma had recently ignored. But Neville promised to look into it.
Later that day Gemma confronted me. She was my Year Head so it didn’t take long for the opportunity to arise.
“What did you tell Neville about this for?”
“He asked to be told about any referrals you failed to follow up.”
“I didn’t fail to follow this up. I spoke to Millie, she wasn’t in school the day of the detention.”
“Yes she was. I’m her form tutor I should know. I wouldn’t have referred it otherwise”
“Well she said she wasn’t”.
“It wasn’t true. And this is the third time she has done this since term began, and you haven’t followed the school policy once.”
“Well you are entitled to your opinion and I am entitled to mine.”
Neville caught up with me later:
“I spoke to Gemma. She didn’t exclude Millie because Millie had been away.”
“That’s what she told me. However it isn’t the case. Also she hasn’t acted on Jake’s referrals either.”
“She explained her reasons for that too”.
“But she hasn’t acted on a single referral from my department all term”.
“Well if you have a problem with a referral, come and tell me”.
“But I just did.”
Later Peter, another member of my department told me the facts:
“A couple of years ago I used to drink in the Metropolitan Arms. Gemma was always in there. Along with Neville. And Mary. And Gary, the Head. It was Gary’s little fan club, That’s why they all got promoted so quickly. They’ll stick together.”
“I’m so glad I’m going.” I replied. ”I can’t wait until next year and the chance to start at a normal school. I can’t wait until I move to Stafford Grove.”
(Incidentally the other anonymous questionnaire, the one that went to students, discovered that overwhelmingly they were fed up of having their lessons disrupted. Questionnaire after questionnaire asked for stricter punishments, stricter teachers and the removal of those students who stopped them working. I always think of this when teachers blame all students in a school for the poor standard of behaviour. Very often what seems like the majority is actually a small minority. There’s a big difference between a school with challenging students and a challenging school.)