Archive for March, 2008


RELOADED: The Cast of Culprits Part 3. The School Leaders

March 28, 2008

Despite my criticisms of teachers and students I’m still confident that the majority of teachers remain hardworking, dedicated and capable and the majority of students still wish to achieve academically. Although there are excellent secondary headteachers out there – looking for schools where results have improved from nothing to the top of the league table might help you find some of them – there is a widespread problem of heads that cannot make a difference to the problems of their schools and more importantly heads that do not believe they should be solving the problems of their schools.
The reasons for this are probably down to the following:

  • A funding system, inspection system and management systems that are based on paperwork and navigating bureaucracy that conspire to keep heads busy but disconnected from the day to day running of the school.
  • A conservatism that convinces heads that all problems their schools face can be dealt with by traditional methods: good teaching; reminding staff of expectations; letters to parents; telling middle managers what to do, rather than new methods and new distributions of responsibility.
  • Promotion of the weak, ineffectual and visionless. Managers who are committed to the education system as it is rather than towards rescuing schools from the system who would never dream of standing up to pushy parents or incompetent LEAs seem to have a career advantage.
  • The continuing persistence of discredited ideologies. In particular, a belief in mixed ability teaching in as many subjects as possible, and a belief that children from deprived backgrounds cannot be expected to learn or behave.

In practice this means that teachers often encounter the following behaviour from senior managers that undermine them and their ability to teach:

  • Blaming teachers for all discipline problems. This includes disorder in the corridors, and around the site, problems faced by all new teachers, and worst of all verbal and physical abuse of staff. (The key phrase used is “Discipline is all about relationships”). This is made worse when those head teachers do not teach and have had the power and status of being senior management to protect them for years.
  • Delegating discipline to middle managers, and worst of all to departments. If large groups of students work together to disrupt lessons, or if detentions are not attended there is little or nothing that departmental managers can do. Even heads of years have only limited time to deal with discipline problems and do not have the power to exclude, which is often what is required.
  • Appeasing students, parents and LEAs. It’s hard to believe how many headteachers seem to believe that they are representatives of interest groups rather than leaders in their own right, attempting to achieve their own clearly stated goals. Nothing is more damaging to staff morale than having no idea what SMT want, but knowing that they are subject to random complaints and unreasonable demands from management.
  • Bullying management techniques. Some heads ignore statutory conditions, intimidate trade union reps, routinely lie in references, and never keep their promises.

There are a few changes that could be made to improve the situation.

  • A change in school funding so that heads no longer have to become full-time form-fillers in order to ensure a good deal for their students. A general reduction in bureaucracy will make management positions more appealing to teachers.
  • A change in discipline so that the responsibility for discipline (and, in particular, sanctions) falls squarely on Senior Management Teams and cannot be delegated. Discipline systems must state consequences and responsibilities exactly. Any responsibilities that fall on classroom teachers cannot involve unpaid overtime, or be unspecified by their contracts. Failure for managers to comply with their own systems should be considered a breach of contract.
  • INSET for senior management to consist of doing a day’s supply teaching in a neighbouring school. Managers who are disconnected from the realities of teaching life are a huge problem in schools.
  • A statutory duty for heads to permanently exclude pupils who assault or verbally abuse staff, deal drugs or bring in weapons and a corresponding end to all targets and financial incentives to reduce exclusions. No head should be able to say their hands are tied on exclusions.
  • An end to:
    1.  mixed ability teaching (which still persists in the vast majority of subjects)
    2.  inclusion
    3.  the tolerance of poor schools in deprived areas.

Perhaps the worst part of poor management in schools is that a long history of failure is no obstacle to a further career in school management. As I said before there are heads that turn round schools and make a name for themselves as “superheads” and experts in “school improvement”. What there is less publicity for is the army of “not-so-superheads” and “school destroyers” who after turning a good school bad go on to serve for many years as LEA advisors and quangocrats, helping other headteachers to follow their bad example.


RELOADED: The Cast of Culprits Part 2. The Teachers

March 27, 2008

This is a rewritten version of an entry that has appeared previously but is no longer available. Apologies if you have read it before and also for the fact that some of it covers the same ground as one of my more recent posts.

Until the mid 1970s, the acceptable degrees for secondary mathematics teachers were “mathematics” or “mathematics with physics”. Combined degrees in two or three subjects, including mathematics, then became acceptable. Today the range of acceptable degrees has broadened further still. In our own institution we look …. in cases where degree content is borderline, for good mathematics A-level results or a higher degree in a numerate discipline.

Tikly et al (2000)

However, even if it is unclear whether teachers with better personal academic records or qualifications are necessarily better teachers, there is concern about the difficulties experienced in recruiting teachers from the top end of the ability distribution. There is some evidence in the UK (Chevalier et al 2001; Nickell and Quintini 2002)….that current teachers are being drawn from further down the educational achievement or ability distribution than they were in the past.

Chevalier et al (2005)

In some ways teachers are probably better than ever. I am not accepting the often heard claims that using an interactive whiteboard and knowing how to plan a three part lesson represent major improvements, but I do believe that the climate of secondary education at the moment is such that teachers have to be exceptionally committed not to move to a profession where they will not be treated with contempt and anger for the entire working day just for doing their job. (For instance they could become traffic wardens.)

However, there are a few ways that teachers are part of the problems we are facing:

The trend over a number the decades has been for teachers to have ever lower qualifications each year. Accordingly many teachers can’t spell, have poor subject knowledge and aren’t familiar with developments in education. More critically we are no longer trained in anything much beyond the day to day business of teaching. This change was a reaction to an excess of theory with teachers being taught the sociology of education rather than how to control a class. This has now reached the extreme point where those training to teach no longer have any opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a teacher. Academic, ethical and theoretical knowledge are no longer the norm. A quick way to demonstrate this is to look on any teacher’s forum on the internet for discussions of what “professionalism” means. You will find that most correspondents have no idea of what is pretty much a fundamental of the philosophy of education. You will also find that roughly half of those discussing it can’t spell it either.

Secondly, more and more teachers now see the current state of education as normal. Poor behaviour, mixed ability classes including students who won’t access any work, and classes that cannot be directly taught are part of their experience of every year of their teaching career, their training course, and increasingly their own education as well. Every year more and more teachers enter the profession believing that their job is to entertain children in an educational way in a chaotic environment, rather than to actually teach. In fact it’s debatable how many of us even know the dictionary definition of the word “teach”. It means “to give systematic information about (a subject or skill)” – nothing there about colouring in. I don’t think the “culture war” within teaching is lost yet, but there is a strong need for teachers to stand up for the belief that students should be expected to behave and teachers should be expected to teach in the literal sense of the word.

Finally, there is the behaviour of some the survivors of the current system. Many teachers have managed to carve out their own enclaves of civilisation in their classroom where the traditional assumptions still hold. However, many of the most ambitious teachers, including many school managers, have adopted other survival strategies. The key strategy is appeasement. The key aspects of this strategy are:

  • Lavish attention on the worst behaved students. Give them attention and praise, not just for their work but for anything that might win them over to you.
  • Make friends with the students. If they like you, then it won’t matter that they aren’t learning. This is easier to do in subjects where there is no formal assessment.
  • Don’t push the students too far with difficult work. In subjects which aren’t often assessed the students can believe they are doing well continually if thy never have to do difficult work.
  • Don’t follow the school procedures for discipline, particularly those that will involve other members of staff. It will antagonise the students and lead to management thinking you can’t handle your classes. Instead “swallow your smoke”.

Now imagine the effects this strategy has when employed across the school. Badly behaved pupils will always want attention, there will be low expectations of work, and teachers who set difficult work or maintain professional distance will be drawn into conflict with pupils. Moreover any teacher expecting outside support with behaviour will be seen as part of the problem.

These trends have created a significant “enemy within” for the teaching profession. There are strong signs, however, that within the normal teaching ranks they remain a minority. The dangers are that this is not the case within school management, and that the situation will get worse as more and more teachers with a solid professional ethos either leave the profession or eschew seeking promotion.


Chevalier, Arnold; Dolton, Peter and McIntosh, S., Recruiting and Retaining Teachers in the UK: An analysis of graduate occupation choice from the 1960s to the 1990s, London School Of Economics, 2001
Chevalier, Arnold and Dolton, Peter, The Labour Market for Teachers, in Machin et all (2005)
Machin, Stephen and Vignoles, Anna, What’s the Good of Education, Princeton University Press 2005
Nickell, S. and Quintini, G., The consequences of the decline in public sector pay in Britain: A little bit of evidence, The Economic Journal 112, 2002
Tikly, Clare and Wolf, Alison, The Maths We Need Now: Demands, Deficits and Remedies. Institute of Education, 2000

Details of teacher qualifications can be found here  Discussion of this entry and/or teacher qualifications can be found on TES


RELOADED: The Cast of Culprits Part 1. The Students.

March 26, 2008

This is a rewritten version of an entry that has appeared previously but is no longer available. Apologies if you have read it before.

And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.

2 Kings 2:23

I now intend to explore the individuals that make up our education world. First on the list are the people it’s all about: the students. To listen to some teachers you’d think today’s children were without historical precedent. However a quick look at the quote at the start of this entry reveals that delinquent youths have been around for as long as written records survive. Even distinctly modern problems, like rising divorce and illegitimacy, are unlikely to result in stresses on family life greater than some other eras (such as those during the world wars) have dealt with.

There are however factors that make recent generations of students stand out:

Age. There is a historical process by which the maximum age of the school population seems to be rising. It is only since 1973 that the school leaving age has been 16, and since then the law and regulations have changed further pushing the point at which students leave later and later in the year. There is now talk of raising the leaving age further. This process means that students are trapped in school to a later and later age. This has massive consequences for discipline – effective punishment is more difficult with 16 year olds than with 11 year olds. I am sure that I am not the only teacher that shudders when the media report suggestions that the school leaving age be raised to 18.

Attitudes Towards Knowledge. We now have developed a generation with very little respect for expertise. It is quite normal for adults, let alone students, to give no regard to expert knowledge. Look around you in the media for examples of

  • Painstakingly compiled statistics being dismissed as lies (almost any Government statistic is dismissed as fraudulent despite the mass of expert statisticians employed by the civil service). The fact that the methodology is publically known, the shortcomings openly stated and the research extensive does not stop people dismissing crime or unemployment figures as complete invention.
  • Journalists interviewing other journalists, rather than experts, about highly complex topics.
  • The blurring of the boundaries of expertise (eg. biologists commenting on religion, linguists commenting on politics, scientists commenting on ethics).
  • Opinions voiced by those with no expertise of a subject appearing alongside the opinions of experts. (“Next we’ll be discussing the role of religion in society with the Archbishop of Canterbury and Shannon from Girls Aloud”)
  • The use of Vox Pops, i.e. interviews with random members of the public, as journalism. I can’t be the only person to react badly when a news broadcaster says “and now to find out what you think…”. I know what I think, thank you very much, I’d like to know what somebody better informed than me thinks if it’s all the same to you.

Now secondary teachers should be subject experts (degree level with a decent classification) imparting knowledge to the young. What hope do they have of gaining respect for that knowledge if expert knowledge is considered by society to be on a par with uninformed opinion? It is perhaps an irony that teachers who are so shocked that students don’t respect their expertise are as equally likely as others in society to disrespect the expertise of others.

Personal Responsibility. Children today live in a world where the traditional consequences of selfish, inconsiderate or even harmful actions have been neutered. The political right don’t hesitate to draw our attention towards the idea that the welfare state has helped save the poor from their own fecklessness. However even for those not on the brink of poverty there are obvious signs that misdeeds and the price of misdeeds and misdemeanours no longer need be paid:

  • Shame. Behaviour that would once have scandalised communities is now beamed directly to our houses in soap operas and reality game shows.
  • Blame. A wide array of newly discovered syndromes (like Oppositional Defiance Disorder) has, along with the pervasiveness of pop psychology explanations of human behaviour, let it be known that people in general, and children in particular, are not to be considered to be in control of their own actions.
  • Conscience. An emphasis on feelings, have informed us all that feeling bad about doing bad things, is a psychological problem rather than a moral one.
  • Moral authority. Those institutions that might once have been seen as embodying morality such as churches, teachers, or the police have been either sidelined for being no longer relevant, or reformed so as to be less judgemental.
  • Commitment. Personal integrity is no longer held to be important. The most obvious example of this is “no fault divorce” whereby individuals can arrange to stop keeping their promises without any suggestion that this suggests bad faith on anybody’s part.
  • Punishment by parents. A no doubt well intentioned effort to stop abuse has left parents absolutely baffled as to how to chastise their children. Parents feel that a smack is anssault, that disapproval is blackmail and that withdrawing treats is neglect.
  • Punishment by the police. I hate to think what would happen to a police officer that gave a naughty child a clip round the ear in public. For details of the morally neutral, non-judgemental character of modern policing methods see Copperfield (2006)

Without these forces then the pressure on individuals to take responsibility for their actions is far less. This is not just a moral problem, the ability to take responsibility for what is happening around you has also been identified as a key attribute for being effective in achieving personal and professional goals (Covey (1989)).

Now combine these three factors together and before we even start looking at the other players in education, there are reasons to suggest that the culture that influences students outside of school is often not one that equips the young with the values that will enable them to acquire the full benefits of full time education.


Beck, John and Earl, Mary, Key Issues In Secondary Education, Continuum 2003
Copperfield, David, Wasting Police Time, Monday Books, 2006
Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Free Press, 1989
Lowe, Chris, Pupils, Their Education and the Law, The Questions Publishing Company, 1999


A Few More Words About Appeasement

March 23, 2008

… treat the worst kid in the class like your favourite student. The nice kids are bright enough to not mind as they know you’re taking the piss and the other naughties think if she’s that nice to dominic who’s worse than me she’ll be really nice to me assuming im half ok. its odd but seems to work.[sic]

Poster on the TES website explaining their preferred behaviour management strategy.

I talked before about “The Appeasers”, teachers whose survival strategy is to win over the worst kids. Last time I characterised their personality types, here I am going to look at the effect they have on schools and students.

The Appeasers are the living embodiment of the idea that “discipline is about relationships”. For those students who work well and want to learn then there is no need for The Appeaser to build a good relationship. Abigail will come into the classroom first sit down and work. She will only talk if she is left waiting, and even then she is likely to talk respectfully and politely to a member of staff rather than her peers. She is too easy for anyone to need to win her over. She is of no concern to The Appeaser. Other students, like Reece, come in late demanding attention and he will not be satisfied until he gets it. Often that attention is automatic from the other students; they know they will risk violence, theft or being ostracised if they don’t let Reece have his time in the spotlight. The only real challenge is the teacher. It is at this point that The Appeaser comes into his or her own:

“Lovely to see you, Reece. Is that a new hat? How was your weekend? Where would you like to sit. Here’s your book and a pencil. You’ve sat down without being asked. Well done that’s excellent behaviour. Here have a merit.”

Abigail will sit in silence with her hand up waiting for help with the work during the five minutes it takes to get Reece started with complements being paid to him all the time. For the early part of Reece’s time at secondary school this will have a positive effect on behaviour management in his classes. Reece is more likely to cooperate for the teacher who appears to admire him as much as he admires himself. He may even disrupt Abigail’s learning less than he would if he was still fighting to get that attention.

Of course, the problems that have been created by this temporary fix are numerous:

  1. The whole class has been taught that Reece is more important than Abigail. They will, over time, seek to follow his model rather than hers. By year ten there are very few Abigails left and many, many Reeces. The Appeasers have no chance to appease an army of Reeces. This is why Appeasers always seem to teach young children, very small classes or withdraw to positions in senior management. It is also why they often seem to believe that all problems in education could be solved by smaller class sizes.
  2. The situation is unhealthy and repellant. Justice has not been done. Abigail will have been punished for being good. Reece will have been rewarded for being bad. Both will have internalised that message. Reece loves himself even more. Abigail has had her self-esteem lowered. Tough schools always have lot of evil children with high self-esteem and lovely children who hate themselves. Ironically, there is still a lot of talk about raising the self-esteem of students with behaviour problems. Selfishness is not seen as a behaviour problem, it is seen as a route to good behaviour.
  3. The system and procedures of the school have been thrown out. It’s bad enough ethically that Reece has been rewarded rather than punished and Abigail punished rather than rewarded, but it is also in violation of the rules of the school. Whenever the rules are ignored they become weaker.
  4. Reece will expect the same treatment from every teacher. Any teacher who does not behave in the same way must be picking on him. If they punish him according to the school rules it is particularly cruel and unfair, and his mother, who is in no small way an Appeaser herself, will be phoning in to complain. He will expect to be able to do what he likes, whenever he likes, with only positive encouragement from the teachers who are already treating him like he’s the boss as a constraint on his behaviour. By the time Reece is in year 9 new teachers to the school won’t have a chance with him.
  5. Morale among staff suffers as they become split between The Appeasers and The Educators. An Educator troubled by Reece’s behaviour will be told by an Appeaser “he’s always fine for me”. Educators who try to enforce discipline will have their time wasted, and or even be victimised, by Appeasers in management. Questions will be asked such as “Why do you give so many detentions?” and “Have you tried asking Reece why he walks out of your lesson?” Teachers will get judged by the amount of punishments they issue. Support won’t be given with serious behaviour problems because staff must have brought them on themselves by not appeasing. Worst of all, because appeasement doesn’t work in the most difficult situations Appeasers will always try to dump the worst children on other members of staff and then blame them when there are problems.

A culture of appeasement with the kids is the flip-side to a culture of blame among the staff. Appeasers believe they have cracked the behaviour problem in the school. According to their perspective it is only those old fashioned and inexperienced teachers who believe that children shouldn’t be rewarded for bad behaviour who have problems with behaviour. Only when the last staff member has accepted the message that the bad kids rule the school will there be peace and harmony.


RELOADED: How To Find Out If Your Teacher Is Gay

March 21, 2008

This is a rewritten version of an entry that has appeared previously but is no longer available. Apologies if you have read it before.

If you are a boy in year ten then (for reasons quite beyond me) it will be very important to you to find out if your male teachers are homosexual.

The main method used to find out is to repeatedly ask personal questions. Here are the usual questions:

“Are you married?”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

“Do you have any children?”

“Who do you live with?”

“Does the person you live with have a girlfriend?”

“Is the person you live with gay?”

“What music do you listen to?”

“Do you listen to Elton John?”

“Do you listen to the Village People?”

“What clothes do you wear when you aren’t in school?”

“Have you ever gone to The Village?” [the local gay bar]

This is all fairly standard. But be careful, you risk getting so carried away with the investigation that you will accidentally ask something that isn’t very polite, like “Do you have any mates?”.

At a bad school the questions “Do you like girls?”,“Are you gay?” and “Do you take it up the arse?” may also make it into the list. If you are going to ask a question that does go too far it is best to start by saying “Sir, can I ask you a question?” (Ignore the reply, as all sensible teachers will say “No” as any question that needs permission to be asked should never be asked.)

Apart from making very stereotypical assumptions about gay men, this approach is also completely hopeless against the openly gay teacher. At Woodrow Wilson School one of the staff was not just Out but Out To The Kids. He taught a lot of the PSHE modules on Relationships to different classes and would out himself to each class in turn. Very confusing for those students who assumed it must be a secret. It did seem to pay off. Whereas most teachers would at some point experience homophobic abuse, report it and nothing would get done, he would go straight (no pun intended) to his union rep, report it as discrimination and harassment, and the child would be excluded for a day or two.

That said I can understand why most of the gay teachers I’ve known like to remain in the closet to the kids rather than be the subject of gossip. But they do have to be discreet. The other gay teacher I knew of at Woodrow Wilson School, despite keeping his sexuality from the kids, thought it would be safe to put his picture on a gay dating site. It was found, read, and within a couple of days every child in the school could quote the blurb from the advert “My name’s Dave, and I like Geography but I’m not just interested in work….”. A few days later they were also quoting several sentences that were not in the original advert, that had been added as the story spread throughout the school. Sentences I couldn’t possibly repeat.


RELOADED: Five Incidents That Didn’t Result In A Permanent Exclusion

March 18, 2008

This is a rewritten version of an entry that has appeared previously but is no longer available. Apologies if you have read it before.

It’s pretty hard to get kicked out of school these days. Here are some incidents that didn’t make the grade, even where considerations of safety and justice were calling out for it.

  1. Leon Greyson rarely attended Woodrow Wilson School, even in year 8 he popped in no more than once a month, assaulted a teacher or two and ran off. One day he came in and started telling the white boys in his form that it was time to get “the Pakis”. That lunchtime he and his friends went round assaulting any Asian pupils in the year group, until they started ganging up together and fighting back. Gary, the Headteacher, was so shocked at what had happened that he got the whole of Year 8 to go to a special assembly in the hall.
    “This is completely unacceptable. We will not have this kind of racism happening in this school. Leon Grayson will not be back in school for a very long time”, he told the assembled students. Leon was excluded for a week and a half.
  2. Also at Woodrow Wilson School, Tommy in year 7 was discovered to have brought in a knife. Other students found out about this and reported it. He was sent home for the day and told that bringing a weapon into school was incredibly serious and if he ever did it again he would be kicked out. A month or two later he brought an airgun in. He was sent home for the day and told that bringing a weapon into school was incredibly serious and if he ever did it again he would be kicked out.
  3. Another racially motivated incident occurred in Year 11. Raj, an Asian boy with a long history of getting into trouble, managed to get into conflict with Malcolm, a white boy, apparently over nothing more than his skin colour.. He dealt with it by picking up the nearest blunt instrument and bludgeoning Malcolm around the head. Malcolm ended up in casualty with serious head injuries. The overwhelming majority of children in his year group were outraged. Raj was sent home. He looked like being the first permanent exclusion in the school for a very long time. A few weeks later he was allowed to come back.
  4. At Stafford Grove School, James Black was a special case. He’d been in very few lessons since the start of year 8. His habit of wandering off to throw rocks at nearby buildings helped minimise his attendance.. One day, having been taken out of lessons he ran off from senior management and returned on a mini-bike and rode it (illegally, of course) all around the school site. I don’t think they bothered with any type of exclusion. It’s not as if he was going to attend school twice in one week.
  5. At the Metroplitan School, Lemuel was one of those tiny year 9s who was always getting into fights with any student small enough to feel threatened by him. The new year 7s must have seemed like a dream come true. His victim, Connor, was a quiet boy and a convenient target. Lemuel pushed him down the stairs, splitting his face open. Connor ended up in casualty having stitches. After that Connor never came to school regularly again. He was constantly absent, or walking out of school complaining he was scared of the other children. He had no previous history of truancy. His educational chances may well have been ruined, only time will tell. Lemuel on the other hand is still in attendance.

I’m sure other people have worse tales. I await the responses.

Discussion of this entry has now appeared on TES.


I Have a Bad Relationship with the Kids

March 16, 2008

It is best to be both feared and loved; however, if one cannot be both it is better to be feared than loved.

Machiavelli (1532)

I have a bad relationship with my students. Well not all of them. In fact I could come up with many examples of the exact opposite (some examples of kids liking me have even appeared on certain teacher rating websites). However, I have been informed, implicitly or explicitly, more than once in my career that I have a bad relationship with certain classes. These classes have always had the following characteristics:

  • A history of poor academic performance (they are always year 9 or older, usually year 11)
  • No expectation of listening.
  • No expectation of working.
  • No respect for authority.

Typically such a class will have arrived at their first lesson expecting to sit wherever they like and continue their conversations from break/lunchtime/before school. They will have become annoyed that I have planned where they can sit (usually this is so I can learn their names, sometimes it is to spread them evenly across the classroom). Further irritation will be caused as it emerges that I expect them to:

  • Put away everything they are not meant to have in class. (Food, phones etc.)
  • Stay in their seats.
  • Stop talking when I am addressing the class.
  • Listen.
  • Work.

These expectations are seen as unreasonable and hostility will manifest itself within the first week. Usually a student will make a big performance of defying me or flat out verbally abuse me. I will then enforce the school rules (I can’t emphasise this enough, my actions will never exceed what all teachers are officially meant to be doing anyway, and often practicalities mean that my actions fall a lot short of that.) Then the battle begins. Because of the lack of support in schools I can’t deny the fact that some of my expectations have to be lowered. My minimum demand for being in front of a class is that they will be quiet during a short period of explanation and that those who want to work will be able to. Anything less than that is a waste of everybody’s time and I can’t bring myself to allow anything less. For students who still have more than a year of schooling to go I will fight for my full set of expectations. (If you want to know how unpleasant the resulting battle can be then I’ll refer you to the entries I’ve written about “Terroring” and “The Fuck Off Factor”).

Often management get involved. Normally this is at my request, occasionally a student will initiate this in the hope that somebody senior will tell me: “kids like this can’t be expected to behave or learn. Let them rule”. Anything that causes work for somebody above counts as the main source of truth and so it will soon be fact: “Mr Old has a bad relationship with the kids”. A variety of strategies from above then follow.

Support me: Management insist the kids follow the rules and exclude where necessary. I like this strategy, it seems to work.

Patronise me: Tell me I need to develop discipline strategies. Send somebody in to help me. This is one of the most entertaining strategies. Whoever is sent in, particularly if it is somebody from outside the school, sees that the problem is based on the kids’ low expectations and has to report back to management that this is the case. My own favourite experience of this was when a “behaviour consultant” was sent in to observe me, I insisted that he visit my lessons at random with no advanced notification, and after two brief visits told me I was doing everything right unlike everyone else he had observed and went off to ask to help other teachers instead. Nothing about this whole episode was ever mentioned again by anyone concerned. Often the intervention is more like what I describe in this blog entry.

Tell me to stop teaching: Often this is done by a middle-man rather than directly. Simply put it goes something like this: “Look I know these kids, none of them are going to get their target grades. It’s not worth trying. Just give them old exam papers to practice for the next few months”. I never go along with this sort of suggestion and I never will.

None of this endears me to anyone much but usually something gets done. The key phrase, the one that tells you that you are dealing with an Appeaser rather than a Teacher is: “Teaching/discipline is about relationships”. I’m not advocating poor relationships with students, but all relationships are voluntary. If teaching, learning and a decent standard of behaviour are voluntary in a school then hardly anything can be achieved unless you have the most eager and well motivated students imaginable (and I never do). It is a hundred times better if your class have high expectations and a poor relationship with you than to have a good relationship and low expectations. This is undeniable if you believe that the role of a teacher is to educate the children rather than to make friends with them. You can have a good relationship with the kids once they are behaving and learning, but not the other way round. The most appeasement can ever achieve is a short-term fix that extracts a price from all those who don’t appease.

Before I finish I have one more thing to say. Every class I have ever been identified as having a “poor relationship” with has over-achieved. Targets were met or exceeded far more than in similar classes. In some cases several students hit targets in classes where “none of them are going to get their target grades”. In one particularly tough year group almost three times as many students hit their targets in my classes than all the other classes combined. This is not a shock or a surprise. You do not get kids to achieve in tough schools by being their friend. “You are the adult and they are the children. They are there to do what you say” is the message that needs to be drummed into every trainee before they even enter the classroom.


RELOADED: The Disruptive Girl

March 14, 2008

This is a rewritten version of an entry that has appeared previously but is no longer available. Apologies if you have read it before.

I described Jordan, the archetype of a naughty boy, in a previous entry.

The problem girl, Chantel, is very different. Chantel is older and studying for her Key Stage 4 qualifications. She wears make-up and has modified her school uniform dramatically through a variety of accessories and by losing her tie at break. She has a large group of friends who, nevertheless, seem quite close-knit. They have a strict hierarchy in which each girl has a place signified largely by volume. Chantel’s position is as the leader and this is signified by her greater decibel level.

This friendship group is very dedicated to the discussion of make-up, television, clothes, parties, what Darren said to Chelsie, and who committed what sexual acts with whom. Chantel’s major issue with teachers is their expectation that these conversations will cease during lessons. Anything that prevents the conversation, (eg. a seating plan, a request for silence, the setting of work) is a sign that you have failed to respect Chantel’s World. It is particularly grating if it is a subject where Chantel is not particularly gifted and she risks achieving less than those of a lower social status.

The first priority for Chantel is to establish dominance in class by provoking a confrontation. Not working, and sitting, mirror in hand, doing her make-up is a good first strategy. If this doesn’t work then other back ups include: doing her Design homework (unless it’s a design lesson); asking to leave the room to get something from a child in another class; declaring undying hatred for the subject; complaining that somebody else in the room smells (accompanied by the extensive and hazardous use of aerosols); or accusing a girl who isn’t in the gang of giving blow jobs to a skanky boy in Year 11.

Once the confrontation has been engineered then the argument begins.

You see the thing is:

  • She shouldn’t have to work at school, she’s going to be a beautician.
  • She’s just doing her make up, it’s not big deal.
  • Her Design homework is really important.
  • Your subject is gay.
  • Darren really does smell (and so do you), and unless toxic amounts of deodorant are sprayed into the air she will be sick.
  • And Nicola is a slag.

And she can’t believe that any teacher thinks she shouldn’t be saying this, they should chill out, get a life, get out of her face, and stop being “puh-fetick”.

And now the routine has begun. Techniques honed over years of bullying other girls are now to be used against an adult. You are the pathetic teacher who has given her a detention “for nuffink”. She is not going to work in your lesson ever again. Neither are her friends who also hate you. Any complaint you make about her is a lie and all her friends will back her up. You don’t understand the rules. Everybody else lets her do her make up, talk to her friends, listen to her iPod, text message her mother in lessons, turn up twenty minutes late and tear up her book. Nobody believes you anyway as you are a rubbish teacher, everybody says so even other members of staff. She is not going to work (and neither are her friends), if you get in the way they’re going to shout at you, or walk out, and they’re all going to do it because you are in the wrong.

And puh-fetick.

Of course, it’s all your fault, she doesn’t have a problem with anybody else. You are the only one that gives her detentions or complains about her behaviour.

Except for Mr Canning.

And the teacher who taught her your subject last year.

And Miss Everitt. And Mr Peters

But other than that she’s fine for all her other teachers. And it’s all your fault, you can’t teach and your breath smells. And even if you manage to get her moved into another class she will come to your classroom anyway to talk to her friends and verbally abuse you.

There’s one benefit to Chantel’s routine. You can use it to test the quality of a school. In a good school then somebody in authority (be it Senior Management or a good year head) will get to the gang and threaten them with parental involvement if they ever cross you again. Chantel, for sake of her position, will comply with this request, after all the fact that Chantel has to be asked to behave by somebody important just shows what an important person she is. In a bad school you will be told it’s your fault for having a bad relationship with the students and you can do nothing but count the days until Chantel leaves at the end of year 11 (or becomes a perpetual truant). The implicit message from SMT in these cases is clear:

Chantel’s right. You are puh-fetick.


RELOADED: A Good Class

March 9, 2008

This is a rewritten version of an entry that has appeared previously but is no longer available. Apologies if you have read it before.

“I can’t have this book, it’s retarded”
“Please take the book, Wayne, it’s not damaged or anything”
“I didn’t say it was damaged I said it was retarded”
“Can you take the book please, Wayne?”
“It’s retarded”
“There’s nothing wrong with it, please take it.”
“Are you saying there’s something wrong with being retarded?”
“I thought you were complaining about the book when you said it was retarded”
“You’ve upset me now, Sir. My sister’s retarded.”

Conversation with Wayne, Year 11

It gets easier in the second year at a school. It stops feeling like a struggle for survival. It is less of a fight to teach with most classes. You are more likely to be given some good classes.

However, in a tough school a good class can still mean behaviour beyond what should be tolerable.

Here are some of the delightful happenings of just a term and a bit in my second year at Stafford Grove with one of my nicest classes, a Year 11 set of above average ability, that I’d just taken over from Mr Peterson, a very able and experienced colleague, who had inevitably left to go to a different school. His comment to me was “they’ll be fine you just have to make sure Kerrie-Ann and Wayne are moved to the class below”. This was advice that Mertha, my head of department, refused to take. (She may have been influenced by the fact she was the teacher of the class below.)

Behaviour Management Database Entries for Kerrie-Ann:

  • Failure to do any work, sitting in the wrong place, talking while I’m talking. Told me she won’t attend her detention. Have talked to her mother.
  • Kerrie-Ann left the lesson. (I haven’t set a detention as she still owes my department detentions)
  • Kerrie-Anne refused to sit where requested. Eventually removed by Deputy Head She has still done no coursework. I have been told she doesn’t do detentions. Please advise.

Behaviour Management Database Entries for Abbi:

  • Abbi arrived 11 minutes late then sat in the wrong place. She ignored repeated requests to move and wouldn’t even pick up her book from the correct seat. Finally I asked to speak to her outside and when I explained politely that she should sit where I’d requested she said she didn’t see the point and if I was bothered by where she sat I must be “a weirdo, a schizophrenic weirdo”.
  • Abbi came into the lesson arguing that she had never received the detention slip I gave her before half term (despite the fact that she’d previously discussed it with me), that it was unfair that I sent someone to collect her for the detention, and unfair that I’d informed her parents that she’d missed the detention and that she wouldn’t do the detention or any work. She then didn’t do any work. The original incident was for verbal abuse that I referred to Head of Department and Head Of Year, I’d welcome details of how this has been followed up.
  • Abbi began repeating the words I said and then asking repeatedly where I was from. I Said “Abbi stop ……” and she interrupted me with her impression of me saying “Abbi”. I asked her to leave the classroom. She didn’t go after 3 requests. She only left after I had gone to get help to remove her.
  • Abbi arrived 7 minutes late, ignored instructions to take her coat off, wouldn’t open her book and work. I encouraged her to work. She began complaining about being isolated from the lesson yesterday “for no reason”. I said that it was important she understand what that was about and offered to explain it outside. She declined to move. Then she began complaining that she never got into any trouble before I sat her on her own, I reminded that where she was sat was a result of her behaviour and the rules of the classroom. She said “you must have a crap memory”. I sent her to Mertha, she said it was pathetic to send her out, that I was pathetic and she refused to go to Mertha and went to find her Head of Year.
  • Abbi started taking photos in the lesson. When I spoke to her outside she insisted that there was nothing wrong with this. I suggested she talk to her year head. She took this as an invitation to walk off while I was dealing with some year 8s who were invading the corridor. Gemma left at about the same time.
  • Abbi repeatedly interrupted me (at least 6 times) to argue about Wayne being sent out of the lesson.When I refused to discuss it with her she called me “pathetic”. When I went for help to get her and Wayne removed she left (with Kerry-Ann and Gemma) but came back at the end of lesson stood in the corridor and (one of them) kept pushing open the door. This is the fourth time Abbi has verbally abused me this academic year.

Behaviour Management Database Entries for Gemma:

  • Interrupting. I moved her and she refused to go until Mertha had come to the room and repeated the instruction. Left the classroom part way through the lesson and didn’t return. Left the lesson. This is the second time she’s done this, am still chasing up the first time due to absence
  • Arrived in the classroom said, “Can I move classes I don’t like you?”. Gemma is friends with Abbi, her latest spate of appalling behaviour seems to be a response to Abbi’s ability to repeatedly verbally abuse me with minimal consequences.
  • Interrupted me. Laughed when I asked for quiet. I then warned her outside, The Deputy Head also warned her. When I told the class that if coursework deadline wasn’t met they’d being catching up after school next week she said that shee wouldn’t be attending. Then she began shouting out “they should bring Mr Peterson back”. Was asked to leave the classroom and refused. Finally removed by the Deputy Head

Behaviour Management Database Entries for Wayne:

  • Repeated interruptions while I was talking and when asked (after several warnings) to stand outside for a minute said “You’re an idiot”.
  • Wayne kept throwing things across the room, including one thing that hit me. When I sent him out he walked back in saying that he would get his trainers so he could clean them, he then flicked dirt from them over a number of other students,
  • Interrupting, throwing things, arguing. Called me an idiot.
  • Arrived late and instead of sitting down in the right place stood at the front and started a conversation. Eventually went to his seat but interrupted me repeatedly even after 5 warnings. I asked him to stand outside and he wouldn’t go. Removed by Mertha.
  • Repeated interruptions, arguing, refused to leave when sent outside. Had to be removed by Mertha

The above is not an example of a particularly bad class. Most of the students were able and keen to do well. This was, however, a target GCSE class for the school’s results. In terms of how the school would be judged this class would affect the schools results. Yet somehow in that class the same students could disrupt and disrupt again, up to and including verbal abuse, and I’d be waiting weeks for action and it would not include exclusion (temporary or permanent). Now I worked in a large department, and others were having a far worse time with year 11 than I was. So we can assume that there were many other classes with about the same level of behaviour or worse in the school. OFSTED had said the school was Very Good with only a small amount of poor behaviour, so we can probably assume that such incidents are repeated up and down the country to a greater or lesser extent in most schools.

We can be confident that vast numbers of GCSE students are being taught in classes where it’s a relatively frequent happening for students to refuse to work and to verbally abuse the teacher. Politicians, both locally and nationally, make a big deal about GCSE passes and are quick to claim credit when they rise. Well here’s a suggestion for making the results rise – how about doing something about behaviour? Does anyone really believe that an environment where verbal abuse and disruption are common place can really be the best place to learn?


Doctor What?

March 8, 2008

“Okay, year 11, can you turn to page 315 in the textbook, please?”

“What page?”

“Page 315. It’s written on the board.”

“What page?”

“315. It’s on the board.”

“What page?”

“Look at the board. It’s page 315. It’s easy to find, it has a picture of a Dalek on it.”



“A picture of a Dalek”


“Say that again.”


“What’s a Dalek?”

“You know, from Doctor Who. You must have all heard of Daleks”.

“Don’t watch it.”

“They’re quite famous. You should have heard of them, they are a great bit of British culture.”

“Never heard of them. Don’t watch it.”

“You’ll be telling me you haven’t heard of the Tardis next”.

“What? What’s a Fardis?”

“Tardis. The blue telephone box which he travels through time in. It’s very well known”


”Did you hear what Sir said? He said Doctor Who travels through time in a telephone box.”

“Doctor Who is sad”

“I guess you are just the generation that weren’t the right age to watch it. I grew up with Daleks.”

“I’ve seen them on TV, they didn’t look like that, They were bigger”.

“The book was probably printed from before the new series so it’s probably an old version of a Dalek. They’ve been around for many, many years. They first appeared in 1963.”

“Oh my God did you see it then?”

“I’m not that old.”

“Yes, you are.”

“If you didn’t see it how do you know that?”

“I read it in a book.”

“Oh my God! You read books. Sir reads books.”


“Books are sad.”

“Okay, I think we should get on with the work.”

“What page is it?”

“Page 315. It’s on the board.”

“Is it this?”


“What page is it?”



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