The Denial TwistApril 8, 2011
The Local Schools Network wound me up again recently.
This wonderful article described something commonplace (schools hiding bad behaviour from OFSTED) and simply claimed that it couldn’t possibly happen. Here’s what Tom Bennett, the TES’s behaviour expert (and writer of The Behaviour Guru) had to say when I brought it to his attention:
It’s a curious thing, that someone would deny that this kind of thing happens. As it goes, I’ve seen it happen in schools. The idea that such a thing would be impossible because it would be a public scandal assumes that it would be viewed as scandalous by many schools. It isn’t- many schools would see this as absolutely normal practice. Right or wrong, it’s common. Denying it, is akin to imagining that MPs wouldn’t, say, fiddle their expense accounts, because that would be just dreadful.
It got me reflecting, again, on the Local Schools Network. As you may be aware they are an internet-based group of activists committed to the (in my view, fairly sensible) idea of supporting local schools. However, often they do this by pretending that the school system isn’t broken and by being as vicious and unpleasant as possible to anybody who reveals what is going on in our schools.
The one member of their team who you’d think might know better is Francis Gilbert, who is a state school teacher. He is as keen as the rest to attack anyone who blows the whistle on state schools. So when Charlie Carrol and Katherine Birbalsingh wrote books describing what goes on he told us:
The schools described in these books are not “normal” and it’s worrying that the authors have promoted them by pretending they are.
As evidence he cites OFSTED as an authority:
There are not many schools at the moment that are categorised as “unsatisfactory” by Ofsted, indicates that only 4% of schools were in 2009, which puts Birbalsingh’s failing school in a small minority of schools. For the Tories and Birbalsingh to suggest that all schools are like this is a total nonsense
In a post, which for the sake of Katharine’s privacy I won’t link to, he quoted from positive OFSTED reports about a school she worked at in order to suggest the experiences she described are not real and, in a disgraceful attempt to trawl for dirt, asked other people to send him information. When challenged, he told me that an OFSTED report was “a sound evidence base” and suggested I wasn’t a real teacher as I was commenting anonymously.
Anyway, I’m not going to attack Francis and the Local Schools Network (I think I did enough of that here), I’m just going to draw attention to what Francis was saying about The Behaviour Crisis just a few years before he got in with the LSN (and I am deliberately picking recent examples here rather than the books he wrote about teaching in the 1990s).
In 2009, after the GTC struck off whistleblower Angela Mason (and remember this is a person who used my anonymity against me), he wrote:
What Mason suffered as a supply teacher is endured by many in the profession across the UK. Usually they are too scared to report poor behaviour because they will be blamed by the school’s management for letting it happen. In Mason’s case, the full of weight of a duplicitious educational establishment in the form of the General Teaching Council has tried to crush her message. Will any teacher who now admits that there is bad behaviour in their class be hauled in front of the GTC?
Also in 2009, the TES reported:
It was the steady drip-drip of poor behaviour that pushed Francis Gilbert over the edge. He had endured pupils throwing things at him, barricading his classroom and fighting with each other, but the day he grabbed a Year 7 boy by the arm and threw him out of the room, it was over a relatively trivial incident.
“He refused to do any work and persistently disrupted my lesson,” Mr Gilbert says. “What he had done was quite minor, but I was at the end of my tether, constantly dealing with his misbehaviour.”
Although the boy complained about being manhandled, he was persuaded by the deputy head not to take it further.
But Mr Gilbert recounts daily battles to try to get his pupils to learn. One class was studying Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge and after Mr Gilbert explained how Eddie was attracted to Catherine, his niece, the class started to chant “Eddie wants to fuck Catherine”, followed by throwing things, shouting and pushing the furniture against the door.
Mr Gilbert, who has chronicled his experiences of teaching in east London in the best-selling book I’m a Teacher, Get Me Out of Here, says when he raised the issue with senior managers he received neither support nor sympathy.
“They said it was my problem I couldn’t control the class and that I should improve my lessons, but no one came in to help – they told me to get on with it,” says Mr Gilbert, who now combines supply teaching with writing.
In 2005, he wrote in the Telegraph:
Every weekday morning, thousands of teachers go to work with a sick feeling in their stomach. I know, because I endured years of such stress as a teacher in various comprehensives around the country.
Why? The reason is simple. These teachers are entering classrooms in which the pupils are out of control. They are talking very loudly, perhaps fighting, and generally not listening. In a typical class, it probably takes at least 10 minutes to settle a class down, by which time a worksheet has been dished out. Some pupils make paper aeroplanes with it, the truculent rip it, the idle doodle on it, and a few actually follow the instructions and start the work. These pupils do so furtively, because being a “boff” is definitely not cool: work has to be done under the cover of nonchalance.
In the “New School Rules” (2007) he wrote:
Unfortunately far too few schools in the country are well managed …even the ones with good reputations. If you think the discipline policy in your school looks vague and unclear, bear in mind that there may well be mayhem as a result. I have been attacked by many teachers and educationalists for highlighting the shoddy discipline in many of our schools. For me it is a national scandal. … A cover-up mentality occurs… don’t be deceived. It is a major problem. In a recent survey by Teachers TV 66% of teachers felt there was a discipline crisis in our schools.
In “Parent Power” (2008) he wrote the following about OFSTED whose judgements he now praises:
…if a school has been wonderfully politically correct, it can get away with a good report – but it may be a hotbed of bad behaviour and indiscipline.
In “Yob Nation” (2006) he wrote:
I have been teaching for nearly 15 years in various comprehensives in London. During that time I have had classes that rioted, pupils smoking in my lessons, missiles thrown at me and ripped cans and spikes left on my chairs. … I am not an exception – that is normal life for a teacher these days. I know that even if you are a good teacher with interesting lessons, and effective discipline, you will have a hard time teaching in many of Britain’s schools, whether you are doing so in a deprived area or a middle-class one.
Interesting contrast, don’t you think?