Archive for June, 2008


The Appeasers’ Creed

June 29, 2008

A recurring topic here is that of The Appeasers, those who believe that the best way to get bad kids to behave is to treat them better than other kids.

Here I intend to discuss the beliefs that underlie this course of action. These beliefs are theological in nature, dedicated as they are to describing their God: an object of worship and obedience known as The Child. These are the key doctrines of Child-Worshippers:

Dogma 1: The Child is born without sin. Unlike teachers, who are clearly tainted by Original Sin, all children are basically good. To suggest otherwise, particularly to suggest that there are bad kids out there, is to commit a form of blasphemy known as “labelling”. Because all children are good then all rewards provided for children are inherently deserved no matter what conventional morality might say.

Dogma 2: Anything The Child does that appears to be wrong is not His fault. This is a corollary of Dogma 1. Because children are inherently good, they cannot be responsible for anything bad that happens. Because of this it makes no sense to punish a child and anyone attempting to do so is guilty of sacrilege. Deities do not have to follow the normal laws of cause and effect. Therefore, bad behaviour can be caused by how adults react to it. For instance children might be badly behaved because a teacher shouted at them, even if it might appear to infidels that the children were shouted at because they were badly behaved.

Dogma 3: The Child is always the victim. Whatever happens, the fundamental truth is that any child is actually in the right and suffering for our sins. They may be suffering from poverty, discrimination or bad teaching. They are suffering at all times. They cannot have brought any problem on themselves and anyone who they don’t like must have been unfair to them.

Dogma 4: The Child has needs that must be met. If an apostate falls away from this faith and suggests that actually some children are perfectly fine, thank you very much, and should perhaps stop behaving like animals, then this indicates that their lack of faith has caused them to fail to diagnose the children’s needs. These are not like the needs of mortals. Normally people only need things for a particular purpose. These needs on the other hand are actually divine rights to attention and sympathy. The more unreasonable and unpleasant children are then the greater their needs.

Dogma 5: The wrath of The Child is always righteous. If a child verbally abuses you, hits you, or disrupts your lesson, it is what you deserved for your sins. You have failed to worship them sufficiently or appreciate their divine authority (probably because you failed to appreciate their victim status). All such wrath is a divine judgement on your impiety. If you were just nicer to children then you would be among the saved.

Dogma 6: The Child is not subject to normal moral reasoning. You might be aware that you personally can be tempted by evil. Children never are, and you can never assume that anything a child does has a questionable motive. It is your duty to excuse children’s behaviour for reasons, like poverty, being in a bad mood, or a lack of self-esteem that would never be an excuse in normal moral life.

Dogma 7: These Dogmas are psychological facts. Like other modern religions the beliefs of the Child-Worshippers are not just compatible with science, they are proved by them. All these beliefs correspond to psychological theories. These theories must be held to be true even if they have since been discredited or have no empirical basis. Insight into the true nature of children cannot be gained through any other domain of human experience, such as philosophy, history, literature, common sense, religion or even other types of psychology that have reached different conclusions.

Dogma 8: The infidels must be punished. Anybody who doubts these dogmas is a bad teacher. It is “scary“ that they might be let near children. They must be motivated only by hatred. Their inability to realise that all badly behaved children are disabled and poor suggests that they hate the disabled and poor, and probably black people too. All the things that you must never do to children, like judge them, label them, or punish them, can be done to these infidels. Indeed a belief that there are no bad children requires a belief that there are plenty of bad teachers.

Dogma 9: Any failure to find the promised land is due to apostasy. If after accepting all the dogmas, following the every whim of children and diagnosing their needs hasn’t led us out of the wilderness, then this can only be due to a lack of faith. Two signs of the apostasy of the people are most common and to be most roundly condemned. The first is “traditional teaching” which covers any practice that suggests a belief in discipline or academic rigour. The second is “a lack of resources” and is a failure to spend enough money on children, even though the money that had already been spent did no good at all.

Dogma 10: These dogmas do not apply to the priesthood. The high priests of appeasement reserve the right to withdraw all their own dogmas if it might affect themselves or their own children. A belief in the inclusion of badly behaved children does not mean you can’t send your children to a private school or demand severe punishments for any child who bullies one of your own offspring. Similarly any child who is a threat to an appeaser’s reputation for having “good relationships” with difficult kids must be punished.


It’s Not Just Me

June 22, 2008

In this entry I expressed my disagreement with Steer’s (2006) claim that behaviour was effectively managed and that it was rarely extreme in nature. This is the usual view of the educational establishment.

However, whenever teachers themselves are asked then the news on behaviour becomes very different:

A survey of 813 ATL members in primary and secondary state schools published in March 2008 found that:

  • 51% of teachers were dissatisfied with the behaviour policy of their school or college.
  • 64% had considered changing profession because of behaviour, and a similar proportion had seen colleagues leave because of behaviour.
  • 100% had dealt with disruptive pupils.
  • 29% had dealt with physical aggression.
  • 35.3% with physical intimidation.
  • 75.3% with verbal abuse or threats
  • 94.5% had dealt with disrespect such as “use of mobile phone in class, ignoring teacher’s requests”

A Teacher Support Network survey in March 2007 found that of 433 teachers who responded:

“92 per cent had been verbally abused by pupils and 49 per cent had been physically abused. Of those who had been physically abused, 53 per cent had been assaulted with a thrown object, 26 per cent with a ‘weapon’ such as furniture or equipment, two per cent with a knife and one per cent with a gun. The attacks included stabbing with scissors and nails, strangulation, hands trapped in doors, and one teacher had a fire extinguisher turned on them.”

A 2003 NASUWT survey of 300 schools counted 126 physical assaults, 62 sexual insults or threats and nine cases of racist verbal abuse in a ten day period.

A 2008 NUT survey found evidence of how frequently poor behaviour was encountered. The following percentages reported the following behaviour:



Not daily but at least weekly

At least once a year

Refusal to work




Inappropriate interruptions




Offensive Language




Answering back




Verbal Abuse




Damage to property




Open defiance and persistent/malicious disruption




Disruption to lessons




Unwanted physical contact




Pupil threatening violence to another pupil




Pupil actual violence to another pupil




This data appears far more shocking when you realise that it will not be evenly distributed. There will be schools that have far more than their fair share, and skills where this behaviour is rare. Certain types of behaviour will be far more common in secondary schools than primary school. For a large proportion of teachers in tough schools the disruption to teaching, and the stress and strain caused by poor behaviour is the core demand of being a teacher. All other priorities are secondary to protecting yourself, your students, and their learning from the consequences of their behaviour.


Alan Steer (chair), Learning Behaviour: The Report of The Practitioners’ Group on School Behaviour and Discipline, DFES


Three Myths For Teachers

June 15, 2008

Education has long been enough of an ideological battleground for there to have been philosophies which have developed their own mythologies. A further factor in the promotion of myths for teachers is the fact that before the internet much false information was transmitted through photocopied sheets and teaching had particularly good access to copiers and printing machines. As a result there are many teaching myths repeated to students by education lecturers, transmitted around the internet, or simply quoted as fact by teachers who should know better.

Here’s three of them trawled from the internet. I’d be interested to hear if you have been told any of these myths, whether you thought they were true, and whether you can suggest any others I could add to the list.

Myth 1: The following are rules for teachers from 1872:

1. Teachers each day will fill lamps, trim the wicks and clean chimneys.

2. Each morning the teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session.

3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.

4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they attend church regularly.

5. After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or any other good books.

6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.

7. Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.

8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty.

9. The teacher who performs his labours faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five pence per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.


Actually, many variants of these rules exist, from many countries. We can safely assume that it is fake simply because there is no consistency in any version about where it is meant to be from. I was first shown them on my PGCE course by a lecturer who seemed convinced they were genuine.

Myth 2: As every SENCO knows; Einstein was dyslexic

With proper recognition and intervention, dyslexics and individuals with ADD become successful individuals using their talents and skills to enrich our society. They may take their place alongside other dyslexics/ADDs, such as Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Nelson Rockefeller.


Einstein suffered from dyslexia. He is a clear example of a person who would be labelled as learning disabled in today’s educational system. With the right approach to education, these labels cannot prevent great accomplishments, as proven by Einstein and others.


Albert Einstein – He could not talk until the age of four. He did not learn to read until he was nine. His teachers considered him slow, unsociable and a dreamer. He failed the entrance examinations to college but finally passed them after an additional year of preparation.


There are also variants of this about many other historical figures.

Actually, Einstein’s biographers, e.g. Pais (1982), do not confirm these stories and his academic success leaves very little grounds for thinking he had any form of learning disorder, let alone one severe enough that it could be diagnosed posthumously.

Myth 3: Ancient Writers show that kids were always this badly behaved and that adults were always just as worried about behaviour.

Have you ever heard the following quotations? They all seek to indicate that any modern concern about the young is misplaced by suggesting that similar concerns have been expressed in other eras:

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

From Socrates (470BC-490BC) according to and

Or alternatively Plato (428/427 BC – 348/347 BC) according to

Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.

From Cicero (106BC-43BC) according to and

I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint.

From Hesiod (circa 700BC) according to and

The world is passing through troubled times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behaviour and dress.

Peter the Hermit (died 1115AD) according to or “Peter the Monk” [sic], according to

What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?

Plato (428/427 BC – 348/347 BC) according to

Actually, a quick search will reveal that although these quotes appear many, many times in many, many places, you will soon notice that no source includes the text in the original language or a reference to any academic text where it can be found. All of them appear to be twentieth century inventions.


Pais, Abraham, Subtle is the Lord: The Science and Life of Albert Einstein, Oxford University Press, 1982


Lesson Observations

June 8, 2008

The activities of OFSTED and the rise of “performance management” has led to an obsession with lesson observations to judge the quality of teaching. There is a big problem with this. The quality of teaching is impossible to judge objectively. That’s not to say there aren’t good lessons or bad lessons. It’s not to say that it is impossible to judge which is which. However, such judgements are incredibly subjective and are based on numerous implicitly held values and prejudices.

Sometimes observers do try to get round this. Often they look to see how well the teacher fulfilled a list of criteria. These criteria tends to be things that are easily looked for but don’t actually tell us much about learning. Did the teacher state the lesson objective? Did the teacher set homework? Did the teacher describe what level the work is at? Was there some group work in there? Did the teacher produce a suitably comprehensive lesson plan? None of these are actually related to the quality of teaching. What is more, the school can become more and more demanding in the list of things it wishes to see. One school I worked in decided lesson objectives simply weren’t enough. There should be a “WALT” (We Are Looking To) -a short description of what the students were hoping to have schieved by the end of the lesson – and a “WILF”. WILF turned out to be a description of three different levels of achievement and the academic grades they corresponded to, all of which were to be explained to the entire class. This was promoted as something that would help the school pass OFSTED. When OFSTED did arrive they ended up complaining that the teachers spent too much time talking to the class. Nobody in management seemed to realise that this might not be unconnected to requiring all teachers to describe the WALT and WILF every lesson.

Of course, more considered observers realise that such a checklist of rituals is meaningless and serves no purpose other than to create stress for teachers. The alternative way to objectively measure the quality of the lesson is to monitor the students. Ask them what they have learnt. Ask them whether they are enjoying the lesson. Nine times out of ten this is a more effective judge of teaching quality than ticking boxes on the checklist, although personally I can’t see what enjoyment has to do with it. However, there is one little difficulty: Students choose what they want to learn and what they want to enjoy. The same lesson can have a completely different result due to student attitude. If you’ve ever had to teach the same lesson to two different (but equal ability) classes then you will know that a lesson that’s like a scene from “Dead Poets’ Society” with one class can be like a scene from “Apocalypse Now” with the next. There is no rhyme or reason to what students say they learnt and enjoyed. The same student who demanded computer work on Monday can be complaining “why do we always do work on the computer?” on Wednesday. The same student who told you “I get it now, you’re a lot better than our old teacher” last week will be telling you “you don’t teach properly” this week. An experienced member of staff might know which students are worth asking. (At this point I smile at the thought of the year 8 girl who, on my last job interview, loudly and somewhat implausibly told the headteacher of the interviewing school how she’d learnt lots and really enjoyed my lesson). Often the observers aren’t a good judge. I bet I’m not the first teacher to have a run of “good”, or better, observations broken by an observer who only bothered to ask Jordan, sat at the back colouring in the front of his exercise book after his last teacher refused to have him, how the lesson was going.

Now when we are honest and admit we can only make subjective judgements of teaching then we often get far more out of observations. Observing lessons is an art, not a science, and a skilled practitioner of that art can be a great help. Unfortunately, even the best of us have their prejudices. A teacher will respond well to activities they would enjoy teaching themselves and badly to ones that they wouldn’t. You will get a lot more positive feedback from a teacher if you have learnt what they like and endeavour to provide it. Relationships also cloud judgement, with teachers being more positive about teachers they know well. I have always found my lessons rated far more highly in my second year at a school than in the first. Mertha, my Head of Department at Stafford Grove School even watched the same lesson twice, criticising it heavily when she saw it the first time, and praising it highly the second time.

Of course, the key problem here is that something that should be informal – the monitoring and support of teachers – has become formal. As ever the education bureaucracy has decreed that good practice only counts if it generates a paper trail. I welcome any teacher coming into my classroom, but the moment they are bringing forms to fill in, they have ceased to be anything but a nuisance.


In case you’re interested …

June 1, 2008

A couple of friends have drawn my attention to these discussions, and yes I couldn’t avoid getting involved:

Schools today, good kid, bad kid

How does he know?

The first link is probably best described as a site for liberal Christians. The second is a political blog by a prominent Hackney councillor.

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