Excuses, Excuses – This Time from the Grown Ups

April 13, 2008

I wrote before about the excuses the kids always use. I think, for the sake of balance, I should suggest the excuses used by teachers and SMT to explain poor achievement ad behaviour.

Excuse: “This is a deprived area.”
Used: To explain to OFSTED inspectors, interview candidates, parents and anybody else who will listen why the school results are terrible and the kids are organised into feral gangs who engage in drawing graffiti, shoplifting and heavy drug use.
Notes: You don’t actually have to recruit students who live in the area or even be in a deprived area to use this excuse. It is just something teachers and headteachers say. I’m sure even the headteacher of Eton has spent lots of time explaining that a lot of the children there come from broken homes (and that’s just the members of the royal family) and that past students have included many who ceased to be respectable through taking drugs or becoming leader of the Conservative Party (or, in some cases, both).

Excuse: “Families here have no educational aspirations.”
Used: When the Careers Service notices that the two occupations they get most questions about are “single parent” and “gangsta”.
Notes: Schools despair that their students have no academic role models. If only they could find people who were highly educated, widely respected and happy in their jobs, who would then be introduced to the kids and thereby encourage them to have similar aspirations for themselves. But where would you find anybody like that in a school?

Excuse: “We don’t have the support of parents.”
Used: As a standard formula for explaining poor behaviour.
Notes: It is the ironic that as schools are required to perform basic parenting tasks, like telling children about sex and drugs, teaching them good manners, or monitoring their happiness they seem to become more convinced that parents are the key to discipline. While, of course, parents can help, it seems somewhat strange that schools are convinced what happens at home is more important than what happens at school. Parents are actually likely to be at a disadvantage when disciplining children as they have an in-built bias towards believing the best of their off-spring, they are likely to have to live with them afterwards and they usually hope to remain in contact with their children even after they reach school leaving age.

Excuse: “The children here aren’t academic.”
Used: To lower expectations.
Notes: There are two things to notice about non-academic kids. Firstly, they are never your own children. Not all parents value education, but if they value it for themselves then they value it for their children, no matter how unpromising the child’s prospects actually are. Teachers who proudly deny that the kids they teach have academic potential will talk incessantly about the prospects of their own treasured off-spring and their efforts to get them into the best schools. Secondly, non-academic kids are always reputed to have a host of non-academic skills to fall back on. Every illiterate is a potential plumber, soldier, beautician, carpenter or architect. The possibility that their low level of education will limit their potential even in the non-academic career planned for them is not even to be considered. After all there’s no point casting pearls before swine (unless they come from your own litter).

Excuse: “They are turned off by all the preparation for tests.”
Used: To explain why students aren’t enthralled with their lessons and to suggest that it is somehow the fault of the Government
Notes: This is a variation on the suggestion that learning should be interesting, which has always been an unlikely claim when you consider that knowing things is not always interesting. However, unlike the conventional version which claims teachers should be more entertaining this version suggests that if students didn’t get tested on what they had learnt then suddenly their lessons would be a cross between Think of a Number and Dead Poets’ Society. While revision lessons are often boring, nobody seems keen to point out the obvious fact that it might actually be necessary to go over what you’ve learnt even if there weren’t tests. In fact the possibility that in the absence of tests pupils will be left to forget everything they’ve learnt previously is probably a good argument in favour of frequent testing.


  1. Brilliant. Mind if I borrow this to send to all my faculty and administration? We are chock-full of excuses at my school, especially as our students are ALL trouble-makers and delinquents. (It’s why they’re at our school.) It’s nice to read your response to the excuses, even if they are excuses I’ve used from time to time…

  2. Feel free to borrow, just so long as you give credit where it is due, thanks.

  3. Although I agree almost 100% with what you post, you’re very observant and thoughtful, I can think of a few university educated parents (1 a teacher) who quickly come to mind as people who don’t think vocational qualifications are for “other peoples” kids, who are sending their children on voccational courses. However in none of these cases are the pupils concerend badly behaved.


  4. “the possibility that in the absence of tests pupils will be left to forget everything they’ve learnt previously”

    Unfortunately for some, the necessary gap of 24 hours between lessons is ample time in which to approach any subject as though for the first time.

  5. […] We’ve all heard excuses before; these however, are from the adults. […]

  6. I really like the phrase ‘personality clash’ when used to describe the relationship between a an out-of-control child and a teacher who insists on having some rules in the classroom.

    It’s a phrase usually employed by Senior Management or one of the schools hand-wringers when in discussion with the child’s parent, and is a handy alternative to having to admit that, yes, the child is a bit of a nutter.

    Because that would require taking action.

  7. […] This was excused by computer errors and students removing incident reports from desks’. The excuses that SLT come up with to explain poor behaviour have been extensively catalogued by […]

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