Archive for October, 2017


Teachers describe their worst injury at work

October 28, 2017

For some reason, when I ask a question about people’s worst experiences I get far more clear answers to the question, alongside complaints about that I have a sinister agenda and demands that teachers be silent.

My latest question was:

What’s the worst injury you’ve suffered while working as a teacher?

I’ve had fewer complaints about this one, although somebody did sarcastically ask why I didn’t ask for people’s best injury. I’ve ignored the many responses where people discussed damage that was only to their pride, credibility or dreams. I haven’t included discussion of mental health as that’s been covered in previous posts. Also most (but not all) of the people telling me about their paper cuts have been left out. As ever, I followed up the more suspicious ones, but may still have been fooled. The thread can be found here.

I shot myself in the arm… though it wasn’t with a firearm. With the top of an exploding 2 L[itre] bottle. Lab coat had the bloodstains to prove it. I was utterly, utterly mind-bendingly stupid and learned a very great deal in about a third of a second

30 mini whiteboards fell out of cupboard onto my head – 1 at a time – 4 hrs in A&E and head glued back together – very painful … my fault for not putting them away properly

Caught a ring on a door handle and it cut into my finger so deeply it needed to be cut off by a mechanic at the garage across the road.

Paper cut… on my eyeball. Child did it by accident. It was horrific! Needed anaesthetic drops for a few days.

Basketball hit me full in the mouth…whilst I had a whistle in it…lost two teeth. The cost of getting them replaced was the real shock of the whole ordeal. My savings took as much damage as my mouth did.

Last Friday of this half-term – college laptop trolly rolled into my 2 biggest toes on left foot. Same foot as plantar fasciitis & Achilles tendinitis issues. I didn’t use the ‘f’ word as student was with me.

Hypermobility + a few months of sitting on tiny children’s chairs caused lower-back go into semi-permanent spasm. Had to ask for adult chair Policy was for child-centred classrooms with no adult desk or chairs- teachers to be ‘working with group or individuals at all times’ Was told ‘If we give a teacher a chair, the problem with that is that they will sit down and not get up from it’ So, the ideal was for T[eacher] to stand or kneel near a table, or sit on a child’s chair, or sit on the floor.

As new H[ead]T[eacher], went to U[pper]K[ey]S[tage]2 Xmas party, vaulted over bench to leave hall and removed 4 square inches of skin from bald head on door frame. Was away at a meeting with the L.A. the next day, by the evening local rumours were that I was in hospital with head injuries

1) Staple in my finger. 2) Banged my knee a few times.3) Catching my arm on door handles.4) Heart attack.5) Trapping my finger in a drawer.

1) got tangled in cables like a giant fly in a spider web 2) slipped down a muddy slope in front of the entire school while on bus duty. Massive bruising and huge embarrassment both times. Although a kind Year 11 helped me up out of the mud & didn’t laugh while the other 1499 students pissed themselves.

nearly lost my left hand in a horrendous accident on school trip! 10 ops later it’s as good as it will be. there’s the proof. …had hold of the seat in front as the coach rolled and then slid down m6… window broke…. Had to have it stitched into my stomach for 4 weeks for a flap to cover I know even I gulped when the doc suggested it! I was a ‘little teapot for a month.  it was a nightmare!! They needed the blood vessels to join… 9 hour op too! I should add the NUT were fab … Their solicitor was superb

Slipped a disc lifting student into water ambulance during school trip to Venice. Contracted TB (possibly not at school, but sounds good).

I was hit by falling scaffolding once.

Grade 3 tear of gastrocnemius. Happened on sports day. Exactly coincided with pistol to start 100 m[e]t[re]s. I thought I had been shot. True story.

Broke a burette off in my thumb last year and severed a nerve. Still no feeling in it.

Definitely a student moving chair onto foot whilst sat on it

Concussion- could see children messing around for TA & glared at them-ch[ildre]n stopped- missed footing on last 5 steps…cue pratfall/f[ore]w[ar]d roll

Exhausted by overworking and unreasonable demands, I completely missed a step and fell down stairs. Thought “Didn’t get a degree for this”.

Pulled my back celebrating a spectacular comeback by the Y[ear] 8 football team was coaching back in the day. Took 3 month’s chiropractic to sort.

Missed a step covered in a drift of leaves & fell full length.Usual hilarity from students tempered by fact that I was 8 months pregnant.

Broke a finger attempting to stop a rugby ball from hitting a spectator. Still hit her, but on the back rather than on the head.

Crashed my motorcycle on the way to school. Still got in. My form saw the blood on my leg. Got ambulance. Came back from hospital to teach.

Ruptured my thigh muscle taking a penalty against a year 7 on lunch duty. Went top corner though so not all bad  [this was from my former form tutor, but I’m assuming I’m not implicated as it was “1st year” not “year 7” back then]

Prolapsed disk when the caretaker used the wrong polish on the floor turning it into a skating rink!

Husband snapped achilles tendon, teaching football on astros…

Temporarily blinded as lid came off the copydex mid shake. Shouted “Shit!” loudly which shocked kids more than my eyes covered in glue.

Spine surgery from writing too many schemes of work without good back support. I took on a dept[artment] in 2nd y[ea]r of career, managed all of SLT and there was nothing. Had an op in 2009 and learned a lot about life in that year!

Accidental broken toe. Me vs. heavy box of music stands. Helpful child said ‘you can swear if you like miss – looked like it hurt’. It did.

I scraped my shin and badly injured my pride falling-off a chair balanced on a table, as I put up a display… as a class quietly worked…  and I dislocated my knee in a Staff Vs Parents hockey match.

Almost broke fingers and arm, grassboarding down a slope on y[ea]r 7 activity holiday session!

being bitten. Also having a chair leg land on my foot (sandals

Molten jelly baby flew out of boiling tube onto my hand during open evening demo. I kept smiling

Sort of injury, kidney stones from not drinking enough water during school day. Agony for 2 days. Now I know opioids REALLY work.

slipped on a wet corridor and broke a finger pride also suffered considerable injury. After year 11 stopped convulsing with laughter following my very slapstick slip they did show great concern and sympathy

Sewed through my finger on a sewing machine whilst helping Year 11. Just about managed not to bleed on her coursework!

Ice skating lesson with a school group in 1988 & stuck the rear right boot spike through my left boot. Stab wound & 2 broken bones in foot!

Fractured my arm after falling off a ladder putting Christmas dec[oration]s up or scalded my foot after dropping an urn of hot water.

Electric shocks from various electricity experiments, and falling over and hurting my thumb.

Ran a ski trip to Italy and chair lift bar fell on my head, lots of blood and was taken down the slope in the blood-wagon. Tried to walk through a swing door which was normally well oiled, unfortunately this time it wasn’t and I went head first into the glass!

Stitches in a finger due to a stubborn classroom locker. Expletives were used. Entire Year 4 class were shocked. Hospital swiftly attended.

cracked patella jumping rope with 3rd graders

Mild concussion. Projector screen fell from roof hit me on head.

A bruised backside when I slipped on ice taking Tutor group to Xmas carol service. They kindly picked me up.

Slipped a disc standing up from my chair whilst teaching a PSHE lesson. Needed [other teachers] to carry me away from class!!

Fell off a table whilst putting up a display. Did my knee good and proper

I stapled my finger when putting up a display. Ive also caught thousands of colds (but that’s illness not injury).

My funniest injury at sch[ool]: stapled my fingers together whilst holding a stapler & teaching.

Electric shock off a whiteboard…it certainly made me jump!!

Torn my knee ligaments jumping on a trampoline

During my PGCE I dislocated my shoulder from stopping a pass in a lunchtime basketball game.

Fractured my humerus, two ribs and cut my eyebrow… I fell

Trapped arm in a door while restraining a student (Special needs School) [went to] A&E

Regularly I have bruises mid thigh from walking into tables

I slipped in the dining hall on a sausage and did a strange somersault, a plate crashed to the floor bounced up & and sliced open my cheek

Tripped up stairs on the way to a lesson, laptop went flying, smashed my head on the handrail, knocked myself out, in front of students

Punched in the temple by a y[ear] 8 boy. Headbutted (didn’t connect) by an angry y[ear] 11. Wallet nicked by a y[ear] 11 that I had spent hours supporting.

Lice, scabies and flea bites. All in a days work. Oh yes. And a tub of black powder paint with no lid, fell off a shelf on my head. Scary sight.

Torn [anterior cruciate ligament] in right knee whilst separating two Year 9 boys fighting!

Once thought it good idea to remove OHP bulb immediately after it blew. Fingerprints returned after a few months

I ripped a muscle in my lower back moving a filing cabinet. Had waited for the site agent for 5 days and got tired of waiting.  won’t make the mistake again, will just wait nicely!

Bumped into a table (fixed to the floor). Bruise on my thigh is about 10 cm long, 5 cm high. Done this almost every month, for 20 y[ears].

Broke a tooth on school pitta bread…

Dropped a recycling bin on my foot and lost a toenail.

Got slapped around the face and then kicked twice one morning.

Burnt most of my hand when I didn’t use a long enough fuse for a flash powder demonstration

I fell off my bike in front of the main entrance, causing moderate but prolonged reputational damage.

Put a staple through my finger while putting up a display.

Badly cut knee and ripped suit after attempting to show Y[ear] 6 boys,playing football on the playground, ‘how it’s done’.

Took an “accidentally released” rounders bat to the gentleman’s area. If I wasn’t the recipient it would have been funny.

Partially tore ligaments while mucking about being a wolf in the playground

Tripped on cracked car park tarmac, burst knee wide open. Lots of stitches

I broke my foot at 7am at school on a dodgy paving slab and then walked around on it for the rest of the day before getting an X-ray. I also once dropped molten hot sulfur on my hand while doing a demo,had to teach the rest of my lesson with my hand in a bowl of cold water

Fell 2 steps walking down unlit stairs and twisted ankle. Had an xray and 2 days off work.

Cut my finger open whilst shutting a toilet door I spotted was ajar. Kid in my class provided me with loo roll from his bag that he kept there with a torch in case he needed to go for a poo in the dark! Not sure which event was the weirdest.

Fell off a chair doing a display- Huge bruise black on arm…despite just saying to students always use a chair for its intended purpose!

I broke my ankle in the middle of one of my [physical education] classes.

Broke bone in coccyx. Also got pneumonia from sewage has when basement flooded. Illness rather than injury really.

My eye got cut from a student’s nail when playing basketball with them. Lost a high % of peripheral vision in my right eye.

I’ve suffered a cut lip when a child I was sitting next to shot his hand up a little enthusiastically. Still think he did it on purpose

There have been a couple of reasonably serious injuries in the staff-sixth form football. Not to me though.

Banging my head – It’s not easy being a giant.

[From a school business manager] There was the time I was walking along a corridor & a teacher opened an outward opening door & pole-axed me. They were mortified..

Got punched by a parent, but wasn’t injured, and in retrospect she was probably in the right. Who was I to tell her son to tuck in his shirt?

Shut the filing cabinet in my classroom and trapped my nipple in it. No idea how I managed that..


11 Years Of Blogging

October 25, 2017

Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of my first blogpost.

I haven’t done very much blogging this year, although I’ve started again recently. I’ve tended to spend more time on Twitter as that reaches a wider audience and there has been good reason to keep active there, as it has become more hostile to anyone opposed to progressive education.

In fact most of my news for the year would have to be about the social media fightback by progressives. After years of losing ground, there seems to have been a major change of tactics among progressives. Instead of claiming to be the authorities who are being ignored by upstarts, they have rebranded themselves as victims of oppression by evil right-wing traditionalists who must be opposed by public shaming and abuse.

When in December, an Australian educationalist argued that criticism of learning styles was a racist attack on the poor, I dismissed it as an irrelevance. 

But actually this became pretty indicative of the rest of the year. Progressives stopped appealing to their own authority, and started trolling. Anyone who had a different perspective was a racist and a bully. Every school that tried to tighten up on discipline was engaging in child abuse. Every school that departed from progressive education was denying SEND students of their human rights. That, alongside personal abuse, and claims that those who opposed them were the true bullies, became the dominant progressive narrative of the year. Initially, I documented this (also here) calling on the “mainstream” progressives to disown the trolls. By the end of the year a lot of the previously “mainstream” progressives had adopted the same tactics. I’ve had to block more people in the last year than the rest of my time in Twitter put together. Progressives who work as consultants or lecture on university courses appear to have concluded that, as long as their hatred is focused on educational traditionalists and individual schools, it won’t harm their careers to call people names on social media.

There has also been a rise in the number of people trying to get tweeters into trouble by tagging in their employers or pretty much any authority figure into tweets. People tagged into hysterical condemnations of traditionalist edu-tweeters this year include the NSPCC, the Norfolk police and, my own favourite, one tweeter even reported me to Marvel Comics and the actor Benedict Wong (from Doctor Strange). My advice to any non-progressive edu-tweeter, be very careful about entering any kind of debate if your employer is mentioned in your Twitter bio or you are using your real name.

It would be easy to dismiss this stuff if people who behave like this weren’t influential in education, but as I said, but a lot of hostility and even some abuse, has been from people who work in teacher training. I’ve written a couple of posts this year about educationalists who try to silence debate

This has focused my attention on what people actually encounter when training to teach.

Other topics I’ve covered this year have included:

Behaviour Consultants


Michaela School

The Great Debate

Some good things from this year:

Anyway, thanks to everybody who has been supportive, particularly my other half, Gwen, who completely supports my avenging, and my colleagues at work who have shown a real interest in social media.

Here’s looking forward to another year of blogging.



The most pointless activities from teacher training

October 23, 2017

I was somewhat inspired by seeing people who are apparently involved in teacher training finding various reasons to ignore what teachers actually experience in schools (details here). It made me wonder whether there are other questions they don’t want teachers to answer. So I asked this one:

What was the most pointless (or harmful) task you had to undertake as part of teacher training?

The answers don’t necessarily distinguish between training in universities and training in schools. For the most unlikely ones I did ask a few follow up questions to convince myself they were genuine, but obviously I could have been fooled. As ever, these are intended to be answers only to the question I asked, not an account of what is normal in teacher training. You can find the thread here on Twitter. I’ve also included answers from Facebook. I’ve tried to avoid answers that are obviously from outside the UK, although many of these are still well worth reading on the thread.

Taking part in a carnival where I had to dress up as a box of McDonald’s fries. Do I win?

Photographic evidence provided by @OhLottie

Being made to do learning styles & left brain/right brain questionnaires to find out what kind of [learner] I am.

First week of PGCE at York we were required to carry an orange and a blindfold to all sessions. Eventually had … to identify our oranges blindfold. Still no idea why!

Being made to have a reconciliation meeting with a student, to apologise for telling her there’s no such thing as a kinaesthetic learner… This was last year!

Triple mounting… Mounting work on card then remounting on 2nd contrasting colour then a 3rd mounting with 1 cm border. I cried when told I would have to redo… Did I mention how long it took? I was a student and last out of the building. Caretaker tapping foot outside door. General effect of display was hallucinogenic.

‘Kinaesthetic’ learning in maths. One trainee: ‘I got outstanding for my lesson – we did the starter outside with the hula hoops’

Compiling a massive folder of ‘evidence’ and then organising and signposting key bits for the assessor so most of it was ignored.

[A massive folder of evidence] and a reflective sketchbook (think full-on creative & decorated) which was the last thing I had time for and didn’t benefit my learning… The idea was nice but it added to the stress of things to do & has just been shoved in a cupboard since.

I had four huge boxes of “evidence”. I have no idea what was filling most of it and I don’t believe for one second anyone looked.

Working out how to teach numeracy in English to tick off that bit of my evidence folder.

Building a bottle rocket. I have no idea why we had to do it. Maybe to do with teamwork? Near the end of our training. Seemed weird.

Teaching an entire lesson without speaking. First placement too! … It was to encourage them to learn independently.

Having to reorder my folders for the tutor’s ease of marking having arranged them for my ease of teaching.

Building a tower from rolled-up newspapers to learn about teamwork.

The “assessment and ICT” essay? portfolio? where we had to photocopy and collate paperwork.

My tutor … said he would pass us all if we survived his organised pub crawl.

Going outside to collect sticks and leaves then using them as ‘inspiration’ to write a Halloween story. We were encouraged to dress up too.

I remember our ICT lectures were truly awful. Basic stuff like how to save a Word document.

To play ‘pass the teddy and speak’ during a staff meeting. Some took role seriously and revealed ‘inner child’ *cringe*

Spending hours devising & printing OHTs (remember?)with pictures of Simpsons characters in order to have ‘eye catching starter’ I recall many sessions concerned with devising games of bingo and other ‘lively activities’ apparently for MFL vocab learning. I recall a fellow trainee telling me of advice she’d been given by course tutor regarding difficult class: “Wear a silly hat”.

Watched a tutor get up on a table to demonstrate a swimming stroke as he insisted you didn’t need to go swimming to teach [children] to swim.

Having to write a 6000 word essay on the decimal system and how it had positively impacted on my life.

Being made to teach from the middle of the classroom for the whole lesson, far far away from the PC or my resources to see how I’d cope.

Giving me a class with a child who (in hindsight) was clearly autistic, with no warning & no back up. The actual teacher had walkie talkie … as child was a runner: I prepared a history lesson & blacked out the room & played sirens. The kid threw a chair at me, swore & ran. I had NO way of contacting other staff other than to leave my class & run to reception. I had no SEN training at all. Was year 2 teaching degree.

Going to a primary school for the day when I teach KS5

Three weeks at a primary school at the start of my 11-18 PGCE. Totally wasted time. … Three weeks with year 2. I didn’t see a secondary kid for six weeks. I learnt v[ery] little.

Organise a trip for PGCE students, taught me nothing, but on hottest day of the year, 6 month[s] pregnant, I had to walk miles up a hill

Make a poster.

Brain gym

Weekly logs of around 750 words, not entirely pointless as it was all about reflective practice but coming up with 3 SMART targets a week was a struggle.

Morning spent on cross-curricular links possible between English and geography is the first thing that springs to mind.

Draw a teacher. Mime a poem. L[earning] S[tyles] survey. Kinaesthetic paper-cutting. Write answer, throw scrunched paper at teacher. So many! … Actual most harmful was probably advice to choose English texts based on what kids are interested in and what they know already.

Most pointless was creating 3 different worksheets (H[igher] A[bility], L[ower] A[bility], and average) to demonstrate differentiation. I would never do this in class or even have time to do it for all classes

Spent h[ou]rs thinking up French activities to suit each of the multiple intelligences (naturalistic was my fave. Erm, learn vocab about trees?) Think we settled on a French trip to a farm in the end (just to make it all stop).

The ICT skills test!

Listening a diatribe from a member of faculty telling us it was awful that heads & governors were held responsible for school performance

Pointless: the display stuff. Suggesting that jaunty angles was disrespectful of pupils’ work. The effort/gain didn’t justify the time spent.

As part of my drama elective, being told to become a piece of spaghetti, coming to the boil in front of an audience of 60 fellow students!

[My] D[ear] H[usband] was training to teach history. Lecturer wanted students to crawl under desks, to experience what it was like to be a coal miner.

Make up a dance with The Jabberwocky’ as the inspiration. Mortifyingly embarrassing

We spent a whole day being shown how to double mount work for display purposes. We were shown how to put up a roll of backing paper and they had to ‘have a go’ putting up backing paper. This included tips on how far to allow the staple to go into the board. We had to have mitred corners. We then had to create a display in teams, mount it and assemble it. The lecturer took ages to mount one piece of work. She used a rule and set square to make sure the border around the work was exact on all sides. We were told not to just use eye judgement. I happen to have a very good eye for doing this.

We spent an hour on how to choose the right colours to match the work and given examples of which colours went together well.

I’ve never felt so patronised.

We were taught how to write the labels for displays. We had to rule 3 horizontal lines and some vertical lines and then write the words in pencil before going over with felt tip. When I moaned to my mother, she pointed out that she had to do it with a wide-nibbed pen and ink!

Sing in a musical of 7 brides for 7 brothers! Worked on it for a whole term. Because I told the tutor I was tone deaf,was given a main role. …It was mortifying. What it had to do with teaching, none of us understand! It was a long time ago in Swansea, the 4 year b Ed course. It was a performance only the other class got to see thank God. I qualified 95.


Do educationalists hate teachers having a voice?

October 22, 2017

I’ve written before about educationalists showing a fairly hostile attitude to teacher bloggers, but I’m starting to notice educationalists dismissing what teachers have to say, or even trying to silence it, on Twitter too.

I wrote here about the intimidating behaviour a new tweeter/blogger faced from an established education writer and a PGCE tutor. After writing about that I found myself on the receiving end of threats of legal action. Yes, that’s right, somebody tried to silence a teacher for daring to suggest that they tried to silence teachers.

More recently I saw this exchange between blogger and tweeter @rufuswilliam and somebody (whose name I have redacted just in case) describing themselves as an ITT lecturer.

I consider the original comment fairly innocuous stuff, and the implied threat of asking what somebody’s employers might make of their views remarkable.

Now I have the dismissive responses to last week’s Twitter thread on behaviour that didn’t prompt exclusions. I wrote about this thread here. After seeing arguments claiming that children are permanently excluded from school unnecessarily, I asked “What is the worst behaviour you’ve encountered where the student involved was not permanently excluded?” and large numbers of teachers responded. The question was clearly about the worst cases, not a representative sample of what is normal in schools. Both in the blogpost and on Twitter I pointed this out and mentioned that I had seen nothing like the behaviour others described in my current school or the two before (although I have seen it elsewhere). Nobody named a school involved in any recent incidents, or identified a child, yet here were some of the complaints from people involved in teacher training / university education departments about the tweets and/or the blogpost summarising them:

…[Is it] an appeal to fear and besmirching the good behaviour of the 8 million kids out there in our Pri[mary]/Sec[ondary] schools?

Is this a good forum for this? I mean, I’m all for teachers sharing experiences but the limited presentation of context makes this an uncritical exercise & potentially unjust for both the teachers & students involved. What is the aim here? Surely the aim in these situations is to seek some kind of justice – and since it involves children to seek restorative justice. In serious situations this will involve the judiciary. I am very concerned that these stories are being used politically which is irresponsible…  it’s just education’s alt-right playing dog-whistle toxic culture & identity politics again.

…the believability scale should be kept LOW on that one … it’s well known that T[eacher]s & Principals inflate 2 build cases around children..

I think it’s unethical and unprofessional to be discussing personal examples of pupil behaviour online. Parents and pupils use Twitter too.

[In response to an edu-twitter troll saying “Andrew Old should NEVER have encouraged this kind of behaviour. VILE”] Absolutely agree. It seemed to almost become competitive. It struck me as being like the four Yorkshiremen sketch by Monty Python… [In response to the same troll saying “This gave teachers a very poor press”] There are a little group that constantly do this: Bennett, Old, Didau etc. I despair sometimes.

Ironically, some of these individuals complaining about confidentiality, honesty and negativity had previously had no issues with joining in with social media shamings of named schools. It appears to be only failures in progressive education policy that teachers are meant to keep silent about. But if teachers cannot discuss openly some of the worst things that they have experienced in their careers, what incentive will there ever be for anyone to do anything to prevent them happening again and again? And if teachers are being trained by people who think that assaults and rape threats are the sort of thing that the profession should just endure without public comment when nothing is done, what kind of training are new teachers getting?


The debate over feeding kids when their parents refuse to

October 21, 2017

There have been a couple of school shamings – one in summer 2016 about a secondary school and another in the last few weeks about a primary school – about school policies which involve feeding kids when their parents refuse to but in such a way as might deter parents from relying on this. The secondary school took students whose parents refused to pay out of lunch and fed them a cold meal in isolation. The primary school (which apparently had never actually used this sanction) gave students bread and fruit but warned in a letter to parents that this might be embarrassing for the student.

In both cases, much of the shaming imagined that the parent was unable to pay, and the school had ignored this, rather than the parents had simply refused to comply. Many critics seemed unaware that FSM existed, that schools make a real effort to help families claim them or that schools help in cases where parents don’t qualify for FSM but have other problems. Of course, a school cannot talk openly about individual cases, and if students are being fed by the school or out of a teacher’s pocket, this is unlikely to be declared openly in case it encourages parents to refuse to pay, so there was plenty of room to imagine the schools as indifferent to the issues in individual cases. There were often quite imaginative fantasies about how the schools were deliberately starving the poor. I will ignore this stuff and assume, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, that these schools acted humanely, offered help where it was needed, and the policies were only ever to be applied where parents refused to co-operate with the school.

This actually leaves us with 3 main complaints and I will address these in turn.

  1. Children are being “punished” for their parents’ actions. There is some irony in that plenty of those who applied the word “punish” to this situation would probably quibble over applying it in cases of classroom discipline, where words like “sanction” or “consequence” are often preferred. But even if we consider the schools’ policies to involve a sanction or consequence rather than a punishment, this is the strongest complaint. The immediate problem with using this as a complaint is the extent to which schools allow the actions of parents to have consequences for their children already. Children are expected to turn up to school on time, in uniform and fully equipped. Schools do not have policies that seek to rule on the extent to which this is a child’s responsibility and to what extent it is a parent’s responsibility. They simply have a policy of applying sanctions (although, we can assume they make exceptions for exceptional cases). Perhaps there is a case for ending this in principle, for having rules that always assume parents are feckless and that expectations should not be set for children if their parents could be the ones undermining those expectations. But such a reform would be an enormous shift in responsibility from families to schools. This doesn’t make it wrong, but those who advocate such a change, need to admit outright they want a massive reform of almost every school, not pick individual schools to attack, or single out schools that have rules about lunch money and ignore those with rules about uniform or maths equipment. A similar kind of hypocrisy happens with regard to school uniform; people whose actual agenda is to abolish school uniforms know they cannot win that argument and instead shame schools that actually enforce their uniform policy. People who shame individual schools for ignoring a principle that almost every school ignores should, in my view, be opposed. This is not because they are necessarily wrong on the substantive point of principle – that should still be debated – but we should object to the bullying method they are using to advance this agenda.
  2. The policy is harmful. It takes about 2 seconds for the words “child abuse” to appear on Twitter once a school shaming has begun. In this case the assumption was that the schools being shamed were doing something that would be more unpleasant for children than what other schools do. This showed a remarkable ignorance about what happens in schools. In most secondary schools there is usually no formal way to check kids are being fed. That’s not to say teachers don’t look out for neglect, or that a child that was obviously hungry would not be a concern, but lunchtimes are usually not structured in a way that monitors that every child has eaten. In the average secondary school, if a parent does not hand over dinner money, it is assumed that a child has a pack lunch, and, if they don’t, they would simply go hungry. In primary schools, it is easier to monitor if a child is not eating, but even then the action taken to feed them may not be part of a formal policy. The schools being shamed over this policy are unusual in that they have an explicit and open policy of making sure every child is fed. The primary school says they never had to apply their policy of denying a student a school meal, implying that what actually happened in practice, was the same as usually happens in primary schools and the policy was there to deter intentional non-payers and had worked. The secondary school was feeding kids who would go hungry in most other schools. Neither school appears to have caused harm.
  3. The sanction was disproportionate. This to me was the oddest claim. People talk as if being given a free meal was torture and eating apart from other students was false imprisonment. The flip side of this is the assumption that failing to pay your bills is a minor misdemeanour. I’d like to challenge this. Social time at school is not actually a human right. Being deprived of it is an irritation, not an atrocity, and children are deprived of it or choose to forego it, on a fairly regular basis. A child might be embarrassed to have a different lunch, but it is not worse than any of the many embarrassments that childhood is full of and we expect children to cope with. On the other hand, the expectation that one can simply ignore one’s debts is absolutely toxic. People wreck their own lives by failing to pay their bills. Businesses go under due to bad debtors  and people failing to pay up. It is a form of promise breaking. Somebody who runs out of a restaurant without paying is seen as a thief, not a victim. The attitude that treats failing to pay bills as a trivial matter, is one that sees working class parents as perpetual victims, unable ever to fulfil their parental obligations and schools as having endless resources to subsidise the undeserving. The attitude that sees denial or disruption of social time, or having a different lunch, as a huge sanction, is one that sees schools as egalitarian babysitters, more concerned with the minutiae of kids’ social lives rather than their learning.

Whether you agree with these arguments or not, and please note I have not advocated all schools introducing these policies, I think the above at least makes their position a reasonable one for some schools to hold. I think the school shamings over this issue were the acts of cowards. They came from people who find it easy to humiliate and abuse teachers. It was also made worse by those wait until teachers are under this kind of attack, and then start drawing attention to it, while claiming to be only “asking questions” or “trying to debate”. It is not the way to have a debate.

Two footnotes.

  1. This week I saw a journalist from Schools Week, discussing on Twitter, a practice in one school that made me very uncomfortable: giving kids badges marked “more able”. I suppose as somebody who writes a regular blog review for Schools Week, I am biased, but I was really impressed by the decision to raise the issue without (so far) naming and shaming the school. I think this, rather than trying to get schools demonised in the Daily Mail, is responsible journalism. It is the issue that matters, not the name of the school.
  2. I used the word “undeserving” above. I am well aware of just how controversial that word is in middle class political discourse. I am quite happy to debate my use of the word; I did give it a lot of thought. Please don’t bother just being outraged that I used the word.

What happens when schools don’t permanently exclude?

October 15, 2017

Recent figures showed a welcome increase in the number of permanent exclusions. This shows that schools are moving in the right direction, by putting the victims of the poor behaviour first.

This invariably results in lots of very liberal people condemning schools for just not being understanding enough. Don’t teachers know that poor behaviour is just children trying to communicate their “unmet needs”? Recent reports about the hundreds of rapes and thousands of sexual assaults that happen in our schools don’t seem to have affected the willingness of those who argue that children are natural saints, corrupted only by their circumstances, or their unsympathetic teachers. “Inclusion Machismo” where virtue-signalling headteachers boast about how they never exclude because that would be “giving up on children” can also help to discourage exclusions.

When somebody told me yesterday that children are permanently excluded for “persistent aggravating behaviour” and that before supporting exclusions I should accept that it’s hard to concentrate if you are hungry, cold or worried, I thought it worth looking into what behaviour teachers actually face by asking the following question on Twitter and Facebook:

What is the worst behaviour you’ve encountered where the student involved was not permanently excluded?

The thread is still being commented on and can be found here. Note that many of these responses go back to the height of “inclusion” and may not reflect how schools now behave. I can say that I’ve seen nothing like this in my last 3 schools. However, these are a fair indicator of what happens when schools are discouraged from excluding. (I’ve tried to include only those from mainstream schools in the UK but may not have done this perfectly).

In my NQT year a pupil tried to burn down the blinds with an aerosol can and matches, then tried to headbutt me when I intervened.

Confiscated a knife whilst on PGCE placement.

A reception class child; tried to throw a child out of a window; choking; spitting; constant swearing; punching; stabbing; scratching I walked him around in an armlock most of the time. Lasted 2 months before the Ed Ps[y]ch got top see him. Left school. Next school instantly excluded. I tried my best but I wasn’t a 1 man referral unit. Looking back I should have taken a day off …In another school I “took” 8 yr old into the hall after he punched a helper. He lifted a chair to throw at me and fell backwards. Hilarious.

Mimicked a teacher, backed them into a corner and blocked escape with a chair. Detention given and rearranged to allow for a football match.

can of Coke opened in my face and was threatened with rape on my pgce placement in M[ain]stream.

Loud racist comments at teacher and other students. “Well, you have to understand, he’s going through some things…”

A student making gorilla sounds to the face of a black teacher

A girl spat in my face a few years ago.

Student repeatedly came into my class and called me a c*nt. so I locked him out. He went crazy, he and another student tried to break the door down and almost succeeded. [The[ doorframe had to be replaced. My crime I stopped him talking to someone in my class by closing the window.

Wow, worst is a big shout. Not sure how to define this. Just in 2017:

  1. Yr 8 Punched HT in belly
  2. Yr 7 White supremacist Graffiti
  3. [Year] 10s Homophobic attack
  4. [Year] 11s Racist attack on EE kid
  5. [Year] 11s Organising gambling on yr 7 fights
  6. [Year] 11s Dealing canabis
  7. [Year] 8s Theft from a T[eacher]’s Wallet
  8. Chair thrown at staff with intent

That’s just off the top of my head, incidents I have had dealings with

A student threatened to rape a female member of staff. Result? No punishment at all.

Pupil took gulp of water and spat it all out over my face & chest. Not even internal exclusion- was expected to teach her next lesson…!

On pgce, child tried to strangle me with my own tie. I got blamed. School head was later disposed off and sch[oo]l massively improved.

As a student tchr, was thrown against wall by large & angry Y8 boy who threatened to make me “bleed & scream”. He was put in detention

Pregnant supply teacher told by kids they were going to cut her baby out and kill them both. Nothing.

False allegation that my colleague had hit the student during class. (Many witnesses said they hadn’t!) No consequence for student.

I’ve been attacked with a hockey stick. Physically attacked on parents evening by a child and his dad…also had several chairs thrown at me and been punched several times…Worst thing I’ve seen with no exclusion is heavily pregnant colleague kicked in the stomach. Never been so angry in my life…

being assaulted with the student’s crutches, he had a broken ankle at the time. I ducked the bag he threw though.

Head butted as well and felt like the guilty party . I was trying to prevent the child from attacking their HoY.

In a school I worked in a pregnant female teacher was punched in the stomach. Had his lunchtimes in isolation and had to return back to her lessons.

In my first school – punched in the face by a student and then her mother slapped me. No sanction given.

Threatened to assault me and other members of staff. He eventually left the college only because he got jailed for attempted murder

Rec[eption] child bit part of another child’s ear off. ( bit two others also) was spat at,bitten and scratched. Used to empty water trays on floor Used to get into water trays. Forced another child’s head into full water tray. We had to get 1-1 support. Child left at end [of year]

Punched in the face.

Repeated teacher assaults and two attempted murders.

Year 11 pupil threatened me with a cricket bat in front of my yr 7 class because he wasn’t happy with his GCSE mock result.

A colleague had her thumb joint fractured when she intervened in a fight. The girl she was trying to remove did it with intent. Three w[ee]ks.

Throwing a razor blade into another pupil’s face. The on-call HoY brought him back after 5 mins asking “How hard did he throw it?”or bringing a knife in as an escalation of a fight the day before. Got half a day in isolation. or punching a TA in the face. No sanction at all. All at the same school.

Child bring a hammer into class and ‘wanting to some damage’

Stabbed in the hand with a pencil because I dared to ask the child to come sit on the carpet for story time.

Called me a “white c**t”. Didn’t get excluded immediately but incident did add to the tower of paperwork necessary to eventually remove.

Student pulled down a Turkish flag and set it on fire. Apparently she was Kurdish. Saw her on front of Guardian that summer [at] the Turkish embassy in London. Head reported as sa[y]ingcshe was a model student. Same school same term – tear gas released in a maths lesson

The majority of the above have occurred in my career, but the worst I’ve seen is a child filling a cup with urine and waiting for an LSA …. whose face he threw it in without provocation

A lad once set fire to his desk in one of my English lessons. That was interesting!

Threatened to have me ‘twatted’, threated by a parent, threatened to have a fire extinguisher thrown at me. Questioned what I did to….Antagonise the student/s. Nothing done Also questioned about why I repeatedly challenged the poor behaviour – rather than ignore

A Y[ear] 7 child attempting to leave classroom without permission or a reason charged at me, pushed me into a wall & I dislocated my shoulder no action taken as the child was looked after & foster carers wouldn’t hav[e] him back if excluded. SLT leant on me v[ery] hard not to complain.

I was punched in the face after stopping a boy who had already punched a girl. I had to teach him the next year because he was a ‘G5 target’

Had white spirit thrown in my face!

Physical intimidation (blocking exit from desk) + verbal abuse over report. 5 day exc[lusion]. Had to push to get removed from my tutor group!

Years ago when I did consultancy, a student lunged for me twice in lesson after making racist comments. Other students heard him threaten to ‘Get me’. Long story short, my account of events was dismissed, nothing happened to student so I terminated the support I provided to school

Had a chair thrown at me week 2 of NQT year. Caught it (ninja skills / blind luck) – rest of class cheered.

Throwing chairs, setting fire to the classroom carpet with lighter fluid, smoking cannabis

Replica gun brought into classroom (did not recognise it as a fake at the time).

student poured acid on a classmate ‘by mistake’. SLT just had a chat w/him. V[ery] unsettling to have him in my class the next day.

Had my finger broken by a student. Deputy said there was no proof that he intended to hurt me

Arson. Not a little bit. About quarter of a building. 7 fire engines, school closed for week.

Year 11 boy using a can of lynx to set fire to year 7 school bags..while yr 7s were wearing them…1 week suspension…

Kicking his TA in the shin, standing on a table throwing chairs, shoving a student into a desk unprovoked, punching a student in the face…

*very very tall* yr 11 grab me by hair *had longish hair at the time* and threaten to “end me”. 2 day exclusion. Did a year in a secondary. Oh also got headbutted by a boy with ASD in my NQT year. He was on the floor so I will leave it to your imagination where he got me.

I’ve had chairs/tables thrown at me. Friends of mine have been bitten so badly that they’ve bled. Internal exclusion at most.

Same [arson]. At a pre[v]ious school I worked in 60% of the School was destroyed. I had to teach the arsonist French. He was then finally excluded for not following his behaviour plan just towards the end of the academic year. Fire happened on the 1st September.

Once had h2so4 [sulphuric acid] thrown at me. Another pulled a knife. Left and went to FE. Peaceful there.

When I was a student teacher one boy said to another “bend her [me] over the desk & give it to her”. I told HoD. No consequences at all.

student brought a knife into primary school; performed in Xmas production that evening

I had a kid repeatedly threaten to kill me. Followed me round school tracking me. Got 3 days in isolation, climbed out the window… scary

Oh yeah forgot y[ea]r 8 hospitalising another with a chair leg in the face. No sanction because the behaviour AP had forgotten about it next day.

Overt racism to the same teacher, twice, two different students. Both still with us.

A pupil slammed a door into my back as hard as he could after he was sent out while I was doing an exit check. Impact sent me to my knees.

I had a student grab my arm and try to break it. I was stopping him from Re-entering the classroom after sending him out. Causing a lot of pain. I was told that he would not be excluded as I had ‘placed myself in a situation where harm was likely to come to me’.!!! I was leaving at the end of the year and this was May. I point blank refused to teach the class if he was in it and as such he was moved down a group. Absolutely disgusting decision but then again he was a star football team player and we can’t piss those off!

As a cover supervisor, I caught a girl trying to stick a sign saying ‘Suck my d**k’ on my back. The Head had a chat with her and told me, ‘This is a good girl who made a bad decision.’ That was the end of the matter.

A boy once deliberately slammed a door onto my hand, didn’t break but badly bruised. He was told to apologise to me which he did, followed by “but you deserved it.” He was sent home for the afternoon.

Telling a teacher to eat shit.

Being knocked out by a class throwing French dictionaries at my head. Also, two lads sitting in my class three times a week muttering,”[teacher’s name]’s a f***ing C*nt”. For a year. Apparently there was ‘nothing the Head could do’,

Repeatedly called an “Irish c*nt” by student – H[ead]Teacher’]s response? “But you are Irish.”

I am still getting further responses. But I think this makes the point. Treating exclusion as a terrible failure to be avoided puts everybody at risk. Sometimes it is necessary and refusing to face up to that is cowardice, not compassion. This is not intended to put anyone off teaching, but we need to be honest about these things; if we cover them up they will get worse and there are all too many people out there who would silence teachers if they got the chance.



October 14, 2017

One of the biggest cultural changes in education that has happened since I trained to teach has been in attitudes to management. This impression has been somewhat re-enforced by some temporary work in independent schools (and a grammar school) where the hierarchy more closely resembled what schools were like when I started teaching. Based on my experience, the following trends have concerned me over the last decade and a half.

  1. Excessive numbers of managers. When I started, people doing admin tasks were given “responsibility points”. These were changed to TLRs many years ago, and this led to people who only wanted to edit a spreadsheet being encouraged to line manage a colleague. One source claimed 42% of teachers have management responsibilities. In some schools I’ve worked in that’s been more like 50%. If this is a matter of remuneration and doesn’t reflect a power structure, then fair enough. But if it means there are people being paid to line manage one person, or large departments where there is one main scale teacher and everyone else is a middle or senior manager, then things are unbalanced. The more managers you have, the more likely you are to have managers just creating work for the managed, not actually helping them with their work.
  2. Excessive numbers of formal observations. I genuinely think it is a good thing if senior managers are engaged in monitoring what is happening in their schools. If managers what to look in on hundreds of lessons that’s fine. But formal observations – those where teachers are expected to prepare – create workload. In some schools a teacher can expect to be observed twice a term or more by somebody more senior and every observation is “high stakes”, i.e. if that particular lesson goes badly, no matter how wonderful every other lesson they teach that week is, there will be consequences for that teacher (usually more observations).
  3. The view of managers as the experts about teaching. This may be a result of the TLR system, but for a while schools were encouraged to conflate management responsibilities with teaching expertise. Obviously, those who have been teaching long enough to be promoted may have more experience than NQTs, and there are those who are promoted entirely because of teaching expertise, but in some schools those with management responsibilities will have taught fewer lessons in their career than many of their colleagues because of time spent on management responsibilities. The most expert teachers in a school are often those who have taught a full time table for several decades without seeking promotion. When you hear of somebody who has been teaching for 30 years, getting great results and building a real relationship with the kids and their parents, being told the correct way to teach by somebody who is a middle manager after 3 years teaching, there is something very wrong.
  4. Micro-management. I have to be careful here, as I think consistency, particularly about discipline, is a good thing, so I don’t think teacher autonomy is unlimited. I also think we can learn from adopting the highly effective methods of others. However, classes differ. Subjects differ. Teachers differ. If we change our own approach for different classes, how can anyone tell us the correct approach for a class they haven’t taught? The line between ensuring consistency of approach and micro-management is sometimes an arbitrary one, but if you don’t trust teachers to make some decisions for themselves, then why employ them? Managers should have a clear idea of what decisions they expect teachers to make for themselves, what decisions they would hope to influence but not make for teachers, and what behaviour is required of teachers. Without personal autonomy, you do not have a profession.
  5. Management being seen as the only career path for teachers. Promotion can be seen as the point of teaching. Managers are simply the most successful teachers. If you don’t seek promotion, you can often be treated as a failure. The fact that women teachers are apparently less likely to seek promotion than men is seen as a deficiency in women, who we are told should be braver, not a sign of dedication. A recent slogan told women teachers that they should be “10% braver” in seeking promotion, according to those who apparently believed that only cowardice could explain somebody’s decision to put their time and effort solely into teaching. People I polled on Twitter did not feel the same way.

    It’s quite a common suggestion that there should be some new system for rewarding excellent teachers for staying in the classroom, but even those suggestions seem to be about providing alternative rewards for those management have recognised, rather than accepting that some teachers don’t want trinkets and don’t want recognition; they just want to do the job. We should recognise that the success of a teacher is in how much their students learn.

I believe that management has a disproportionate impact on schools. Good schools have good managers; bad schools have bad managers. However, good management is management that enables teachers to do their job. It is about creating a culture in which the most important work, the teaching, can be done. If a school values management, but not teaching, it will not get far.


The New Type Of School Shaming

October 8, 2017

I’ve written a lot in the past about school shaming.

I’m a big fan of Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (also available as an audio book from Audible) that explains how individuals can be subjected (often largely unjustly) to a barrage of online criticism and hate that has a huge effect on their lives. A similar thing can happen to schools. Schools are pilloried on social media, subjected to abuse, and often the story lives on for years afterwards. Most of the time there is a huge dose of ideology involved, with schools that espouse strict discipline getting a particularly hard time.

While a shaming can be started pretty much by any criticism of a named school on social media, and has been prompted by everything from job adverts to reports of political bias in PSHE lessons, the most common type of shaming is the one that starts with a newspaper website or facebook post and goes something like this:

  1. A school enforces a rule or follows a procedure.
  2. A parent is upset when this inconveniences their child.
  3. The parent’s complaint appears on a newspaper website, (often with a picture of them and their child) or occasionally just on Facebook.
  4. The school is not is a position to give their side of the story.
  5. The story is spread on social media, alongside commentary and abuse. Comparisons with fascism are particularly popular.
  6. The story then appears on other media.
  7. People on social media start challenging the original complaint or the abuse, but by this point the details of the original case are seen as irrelevant by those shaming the school with people often complaining that the school “deserved it” regardless of the facts of the original case or the disproportionate response.

A lot of schools have been subject to media reports about disgruntled parents this term. Possibly schools are tightening up discipline, in response to some positive OFSTED reports for schools (even one “shamed” school) with effective discipline systems. Warwick Mansell, a journalist who was also the catalyst for the big shaming of summer 2016, has run an extraordinary Twitter campaign against a school in Norfolk that many, including myself, can only interpret as having a strong element of personal vendetta.

However, there has been a new development. Whereas the old type of shaming always seemed to involve one family, and the reporting of their complaints, the new type of shaming seems to involve a close reading of what a school says (looking for their most provocative or badly worded policies) and then speculation about hypothetical children.

So far I have seen:

  1. Condemnation of a policy that suggested children pretending to be sick be given a bucket rather than sent out.
  2. Condemnation of a policy that requires students to make eye contact when they speak to teachers.
  3. Condemnation of a policy of giving bread and fruit to children whose parents do not pay their dinner money.

There are certain features to all three of these shamings (two of which are based around that one school in Norfolk). Firstly, they all hinge on something written by the school, that  could have been phrased a lot better, but would not have been written with the expectation of being interpreted by a hate campaign. Secondly, the shamings seem unsupported by any reliable reports of any specific child being affected by the policies. No reports of children being given buckets have occurred in the first case. The school specifically denied that an exclusion had anything to do with eye contact in the second case. And the school in the third case has stated that no child has been denied a school meal. Thirdly, the criticism often seems to ignore what actually normally happens in schools, i.e. people ignore that kids pretend to be sick, turn their back on teachers, or go hungry when their parents don’t give them their dinner money. Fourthly, there has been extensive discussion about hypothetical kids being treated cruelly. What about the kid who looks and acts as if perfectly healthy immediately before vomiting? What about the autistic child who should be in mainstream, but cannot avoid ignoring their teachers, or is physically pained by any eye contact? What about the child of a parent who does not qualify for free school meals, but nevertheless has no money to feed their children? The noticeable thing, apart from the fact that none of these kids are actually real, is that the discussion of these situations always assumes the school would not be able to make an exception if that hypothetical example actually happened. Finally, in the rhetoric of the school haters, the hypothetical kids are treated as real. Kids are really vomiting in buckets. Autistic children are really being punished for being autistic. Kids of disadvantaged (but somehow non-FSM) families are really being humiliated by fruit and bread.

School shaming is unfair right from the start. It does not solve a problem, it does license abuse of teachers and allows bullies an excuse to put the boot in, while claiming to be on the side of the children. But this latest wave of school shaming, based on protecting hypothetical kids, is the most ridiculous yet. It is bad enough when the grievances of one disgruntled, and usually unreasonable, parent are uncritically accepted in thousands of tweets, without bringing in imaginary victims to defend. People are using these hypothetical children to argue against rules, the point of which they don’t even understand. School rules cannot be designed in order to cater for the unusual children in an edu-Twitter troll’s imagination. We should just let schools do the best for the children they actually have, without asking them to design a discipline system for children who haven’t been invented yet.

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