Pointing Out The Obvious

July 22, 2008

I often find myself defending what I write here, often from people who just don’t get it. It is particularly noticeable when I am told that what I see as the almost universal experience in tough schools is just a fluke, something that I must have stumbled upon that is actually very rare. Often it will be claimed that their own experience as part-time SENCO in a very challenging private Church Of England primary school in the home counties proves me wrong.

So, for the benefit of those who have never set foot in a tough secondary school classroom (or those who have but didn’t notice what was going on because they were a member of SMT), here is my list of ten things that you can’t have missed after a single term of teaching in a tough school, yet some people will still swear aren’t true:

  1. Kids don’t behave just because your lesson is interesting or well-planned, or because you are nice to them.
  2. Top sets, particularly in Key Stage 4, often behave badly.
  3. Punishment does work on 99% of kids. If you look closely at the kids who supposedly don’t respond to being punished, it almost always turns out they haven’t actually been punished very much.
  4. IEPs and other SEN information tell you nothing useful at all.
  5. When SMT say “come and see me if you have a problem with that” about something they’ve told you to do, they don’t mean it.
  6. Discipline has got worse since you were at school. By a factor of about 3000%.
  7. The kids don’t know things that they are meant to know.
  8. It is a lot easier to teach a class that has been set than a mixed ability one.
  9. The paperwork cannot possibly be done. No task is worth doing until somebody reminds you to do it.
  10. Some very stupid people are teachers.

Please feel free to suggest additions to the list.



  1. 2. Really? As opposed to what?
    4. Come now, a bit harsh, don’t you think?
    5. It depends on the school, and the member of the SMT, no?
    9. Second half… I’m sure you don’t mean this. It is always worth following up on threats, but no one is ever going to remind you…

  2. 2. Really? As opposed to what?

    As opposed to the fantasy where top sets are full of quiet kids who just want to learn.

    4. Come now, a bit harsh, don’t you think?

    No. A typical IEP tells you that a child responds to clear instructions and has a target not to interrupt more than ten times a lesson. Very useful.

    5. It depends on the school, and the member of the SMT, no?


    No member of SMT, when giving out orders, actually tolerates anyone objecting no matter how unreasonable/impossible/illegal the instruction. Good members of SMT don’t give those kind of orders in the first place, bad members of SMT don’t like to be shown up by people objecting. You soon learn that the best way to treat an unreasonable order is to ignore it outright, rather than to let anyone know it can’t or shouldn’t be followed.

    9. Second half… I’m sure you don’t mean this. It is always worth following up on threats, but no one is ever going to remind you.

    I do mean it. Outside of OFSTED most demands for paperwork are made in order to maintain the illusion of constructive activity.

    Typical examples are: requests to put a child on report who will lose it within an hour; a request for work for an absent child whose parents are never going to come and collect it; a request to comment on IEP targets for children who nobody actually cares about; requests to invent attendance information that office staff and year heads are equally capable of inventing; requests for feedback of a particular type (eg. positive comments) rather than truthful information; requests to record things (detentions, commendations, homeworks, lesson plans) that nobody will ever look up; surveys of opinion (staff or student) that will never be acted upon, and last but not least, requests to contact parents about things they don’t care about.

    You soon learn what matters, and what doesn’t, and that if something that appears unimportant turns out to be important then you will be asked for it at least twice. I’m sure I’m not the only person to hand in a piece of paperwork only for the person who it was meant to be handed in to (sometimes they are even referred to by name on the paperwork) to reply with “what’s that?”

  3. 2. Right, ok. I agree…. for all year groups actually! But they are generally (although not always) better than the bottom sets, no?
    4. Well, some of them might say he likes to use a stress ball, or he needs ‘time out’ outside. Or don’t ever shout at him because he goes beserk… I find those ones useful.
    5. In your original post, you didn’t say ‘unreasonable order’, you just said if SMT asks you do something. I agree there are some people who won’t listen. I think we are saying the same thing. If you’re good, you listen. If not, you don’t.
    9. Ah… you mean demands for paperwork. You mean ‘task demanding paperwork’. I misunderstood. Yes, I agree.

  4. 2. Depends on the setting policy and history. A top set of 32 who have had a supply teacher for 2 years are usually pretty unteachable. My main objection here is to being told that I have been given a top set to make life easy for me, or worst of all, when I’m being observed being told “well their behaviour was fine, but that’s to be expected from a top set”.

    4. Never had the stressball one. Almost all the kids at my latest school go berserk if you shout at them. (Well except maybe the well behaved ones who you wouldn’t need to shout at.)

    5. If an order is not unreasonable SMT never need to say “if you have a problem with that”. In fact they’d be silly if they did. In much the same way managers only ever say “that’s your job” when it isn’t actually your job.

  5. 2. People say that to you? Ugh.
    5. I think I interpreted ‘if you have a problem with that’ as ‘if you run into any problems’, or ‘if you need any help’. Again, people say ‘That’s your job’ to you?

    Sounds as if you’re in hell.

  6. #4 Unfortunately IEPs have gotten to be “just paperwork.” The intent was there to meet student’s needs but unfortunatley now it has just become a legal document and everyone is so busy crossing their t’s and dotting their i’s that the student has been lost in the process.

    #6 I agree but I think society has caused this problem. Parents are being arrested for disciplining their own children. I’m not talking about child abuse but plain old discipline (taking away privileges, giving natural consequences.) How can schools be expected to discipline when parents aren’t even allowed to do this?

  7. “Sounds as if you’re in hell.”

    As I’m fond of pointing out, my blog is about more than just my most recent school.

  8. bloody stress ball….yeah i could do with one of those sometimes to chuck at the individual who runs around the classroom, unable to sit still and not interrupt other students, who carries not a little ball but a bloomin’ great rugby ball given him by his head of year as a stress reliever.
    what an arsehat idea that was. i ended up giving it back to her myself.

  9. i totally agree with the 10 points, particurly the 1st 8. when i was wet behind the ears i heard a few teachers claim tremendous feats with mixed ability classes and an ability to create a great learning environment without autere discipline.

    i took them at their word….until I observed some lessons.

    well, i say lessons, more like haphazard football riots. i felt embarrassed for the teacher concerned- they didnt seem to notice no learning was happening.

    the thing is i have seen teachers work wonders with difficult classes and it does take charisma, engangement and variety but they ALWAYS employ strict discipline and hav ehigh standards. and even they sometimes resort to exclusion.

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