I felt a great disturbance in the internet yesterday

May 28, 2013

There was an interesting response to my blogpost yesterday. It may have been a side effect of the bank holiday but it got the level of hits usually reserved for posts about OFSTED, most coming from Twitter where there was a certain amount of debate. A lot of people posted to support what I had said about anonymity, including plenty in the “I don’t often agree with Andrew, but he is right here” category. A few got very upset that I have been personally rude about Sue Cowley. An odd line of complaint because the only criticism I made that was personal, rather than a rehash of old arguments about the merits of her behaviour advice, was where I implied she was a Dark Lord of the Sith dedicated to the conquest of the universe and the ultimate victory of the Dark Side. While this was, indeed, a grave charge to make against someone I had assumed that it would not be taken seriously, like the time I claimed Teach First were actually a satanic death cult and when I suggested that Stephen Twigg would do a good job as shadow education secretary.  But just to clarify: I do not think that Sue Cowley is actually building a Death Star (or corrupting Anakin Skywalker) and I think there is only a vague possibility that she is personally responsible for the destruction of Alderaan. I will let you know if any Bothans bring me information to contradict this at a later date.

Fortunately, Sue did not take the remarks as seriously as some of her bounty hunters and stopped firing lightning bolts from her fingers long enough to write a couple of interesting responses which I will present (in full) here:

Thank you for this, it’s very interesting to hear some of your context and the backdrop to why you do what you do in the way that you do it.

I don’t claim to have read all your blog posts, but much of what I have read of yours is either very interesting or very sensible – your post on PRP is a case in point, that to my mind summed up the situation brilliantly. In many ways it’s a great shame that you won’t let us know your subject, because if you did then you could share your pedagogical ideas about how best to teach it.

I’m really sorry but I can’t help the fact that some anonymous bloggers leave a bad taste in my mouth. It’s my mouth, I get to say what the taste left behind is. I don’t like hearing teachers bad mouth their colleagues and making sweeping generalisations in order to push a particular viewpoint. I edited and edited my post until it was only about how some bloggers made me feel, rather than about saying anonymous blogging is inherently wrong. I’m not saying that anonymous bloggers are lying, just that they need to assess what they say for precision, just as you do when you write under your real name. I totally get why you might want or need to blog anonymously.

I do also struggle where teachers use their relationships with children to make a point, unless the point they make is a sensitive one that moves the profession or the individual teacher forwards (as in redorgreen’s blog the other day, note to self: they’re only children, which was beautifully done). I do honestly think that a good acid test is to ask yourself: if this was my child, would I want someone using this story in this way in a public forum? Kids make good copy, but that doesn’t automatically make it right to write about our interactions with them.

Yes it’s a good idea for you to highlight the bad behaviour that happens in some schools (and yes, it’s often due to bad management or wider reasons such as inclusion or bad parenting). I wonder why Gove is so silent on this topic – do you have any thoughts on that?

I read something the other day on headguruteacher’s blog, which struck me as a great point: ‘if you don’t like my idea, then give me a better one’. No one has to buy my books, and you are of course entitled to vehemently dislike what I write in them, but many teachers obviously find them helpful. That’s all really. Thanks.

This was followed by:

Sorry Andrew, me again. (I’m meant to be finishing a book – fiction, don’t panic – so obviously I’m doing everything but!)

The irony of you writing this, is that I honestly didn’t have you in the forefront of my mind when I wrote that post. I haven’t read enough of your posts to feel entitled to form a complete view about what you write, although I do sometimes find what you say about children to be a bit distasteful. I would love to know if you’re a parent. Not to say that you cannot comment if you’re not a parent, but just to help me understand why you hold some of the views you hold.

I don’t feel it is necessary to conduct a character assassination (even on anonymous individuals) in a blog post, and where I felt a specific situation warranted it, I have commented to bloggers separately on their comments threads about how their writing might be perceived as being wounding to colleagues or to children. I guess they might not listen, or publish my comments, but that to me seems the most appropriate course of action.

I think this is all worth a quick response. I can’t really comment on Gove’s “silence” on discipline. I don’t think he has been silent, I just don’t think he has done anything effective to improve discipline. There are two points really, the first is that I think it understates the nature of her original anti-anonymous bloggers post. That post did have a more serious implication that anonymous bloggers were likely to be dishonest, something which, if you understand why we blog anonymously, seems to be the exact opposite of the reality. It is because I am anonymous that I can be honest. As for the point about what can be said about children’s behaviour, I think that it is impossible to conduct the debate about discipline in schools without acknowledging the kind of thing we often see happening. While I agree absolutely that we should make it impossible to identify individual children, too much debate on behaviour is conducted by people with no appreciation of what is actually going on. Phrases like “low level disruption” often mask the reality of classes which routinely ignore their teachers. Talk of “establishing relationships” is often used to hide a reality where teachers are hated if they actually want children to work and think rather than chat and play. To suggest that nothing be mentioned that a parent wouldn’t want known about their child, even when the child is not identified, is simply to perpetuate an education debate that is based on a world unrecognisable to so many teachers.

There were some lines of criticism of my blogpost that, with hindsight I am surprised I didn’t see. I have now reflected a bit on my own arguments for anonymity. Other than the point about protecting the identities of children, I actually now think that many of my points overlapped because they were so vague. They can probably be summed up as “if I wasn’t anonymous I would be gotten” and while I gave repeated reasons why I think this, I was not terribly precise. The honest explanation is that I don’t know exactly what would happen if my identity was blown. I do, however, have plenty of reason to think it wouldn’t be good and that it would stop me from blogging in the future. And that, to me, is plenty of reason to keep my identity to myself and if people are made uncomfortable by that, I think they should give serious thought to the possibility that they are intent on making debate personal rather than about the content of arguments.

As for those who accused me of bullying Sue, or for that matter those who accused me of bullying Debra Kidd when I criticised her internet campaign a few weeks back, I can only say that I love being accused of bullying by people with real power and influence in the education establishment. Any prominence I have is what they have given to me by silencing those who would speak out under their own names and in forums other than the internet. I am not victimising the upholders of educational orthodoxy, I am simply standing up to them in the one place where declaring those you agree with to be the “experts” counts for nothing. For too long those who disagree with the establishment are condemned for not being teachers, while those who disagree who are teachers are forced to keep silent. The internet and the rise of anonymous outlets for teachers have changed that. It would be great to see the freedoms we have here extended to the staffroom or to public debate, but those freedoms cannot be taken away from us here and some people need to learn to come to terms with that.



  1. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. Morning again Andrew.

    I’m good thanks, I’ve been writing under my name long enough to come to terms with the fact that some people hate what I say. Really, it’s okay.

    I might not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it (and I too wish you could state your beliefs openly, even when I don’t agree with them).

    We do give ourselves permission to say ‘whatever the hell we want’ when we blog anonymously, which is why I believe those who do should be (perhaps even more) precise and measured in what they say. To my mind they should think at all times ‘what am I hoping to get out of saying this?’, ‘is this completely accurate?’ and ‘is this moving everyone forwards?’. If someone uses a generalisation, they should admit that this is what it is rather than pretending it is some kind of ‘truth’. The more I know about someone’s context, the more I can understand why they hold particular views. Where the personal context is hidden, I struggle with this. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I just struggle with it.

    It’s fascinating to me that everyone has assumed I had you in my mind when I wrote that post: the thought of you might have been moshing around in the background somewhere, but I haven’t read enough of your stuff to feel entitled to comment, whereas I have read all of what some other bloggers write. I really don’t want to name names, as I said yesterday I can and have called individuals out individually rather than engaging in character assassination online (it’s tempting, really, it’s very tempting, but it doesn’t move anyone forwards …). You seemed to assume that I meant one particular blogger, when actually all I said (read with precision as well as writing with it, please) was that I was ‘very nervous’ about bloggers using children in posts. That is my personal feeling, it was not stated as a fact, just as a personal response. It is very tricky to do well and sensitively and in an appropriate manner..

    As a named writer, I have to take account of how other people might be impacted by what I say, but I like to think that I would do so even if you didn’t know my name. It seems only fair to ask that anonymous writers take the same care. Thanks.

  3. I understand your need for anonymity but why the need for subject anonymity?

    • Easier to find or identify someone if you know their subject.

      • But if you were willing to be open about your subject expertise it would open up the discussions. It is interesting to hear views within a subject context.

  4. […] Sue Cowley and @oldandrewuk are the main protagonists, one is a well-known author, the other is an unnamed blogger and tweeter. Both have good reasons for their differing […]

  5. I don’t think Andrew is hiding his subject. I am sure I’ve read a post somewhere on his blog where he mentions being a REDACTED teacher.

  6. Sue Cowley said in her original post.
    “Obviously, if a blogger wants to ‘tell the truth’ about what happens in a school, and they are going to describe their school in a negative way, then anonymity is a good idea.”

    That’s the crux of it. If you want to be a cheerleader, obviously you don’t have to be anonymous.

    Anything else and anonymity is indeed, ‘a good idea’.

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