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Schools should be championed not shamed

December 24, 2017

Back when I started blogging, back in the days when there was a consensus between government, inspectors, and a multitude of quangos that progressive education was the only thing that worked, one of the phrases used most often by progressives was “an attack on teachers” which was used to describe opposing opinions. The narrative was that of a united profession being undermined by right-wing politicians and journalists who dared suggest that kids could learn more, or behave better. Those of us in the teaching profession who thought expectations could be higher were forced into anonymity, and then accused of being dinosaurs, working in independent schools or just plain lying about what was happening in schools.

This seems like a lifetime ago. Nowadays when you see a progressive on social media they are likely to be a consultant, journalist or an educationalist, and they are likely to be attacking a named school for being too traditionalist. School shaming is their weapon of choice, pick a single school that symbolises traditionalism and then attack it again and again for anything they can think of. The staff are demonised on social media (the progressives have no qualms about naming practices they disagree with as “abusive”), negative stories are fed to the press, and the schools are bombarded with Freedom Of Information requests to be answered. A targeted school might see complaints about them sent to their MAT, their LA, OFSTED, charities and even random celebrities on social media. If you want a flavour of the abuse a shamed school might get, read these 3 posts:

Those responsible for these hate campaigns take little responsibility for what they are doing. As Jon Ronson pointed out in his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, “the snowflake never needs to feel responsible for the avalanche”. People will simply dismiss the cumulative effect of attacks and claim that their personal contribution to the witch hunt is justified because schools should be subject to scrutiny and criticism. Some even claim that the phrase “school shaming” should not be used at all, or should be used to describe any negative comment about unnamed schools, and refuse to acknowledge that individual schools are being subjected to sustained vilification on social media. They will say they are simply debating policies.

There’s basically two categories of “crimes” schools get accused of during a school shaming.

  1. Doing things that are unusual. Examples are silent corridors, or compulsory school lunches. People are encouraged to think these must be wrong because they are weird.
  2. Doing things that are really common. People are encouraged to complain about these because they exemplify what’s wrong with schools and teachers.

Of course, even if a policy is unusual, there’s little enthusiasm to debate those policies without a named school in the firing line. When I wrote this post about a controversial policy I got very few hits and very few responses. The year before, a school that had this same policy was on the end of weeks of online abuse from thousands of people. The difference is striking; policies are only outrageous when there are individual teachers to be distressed by the condemnation.

That individual schools get condemned for practices that are really common seems bizarre, but with some help from edu-twitter (thanks) I compiled a list of things that are really common in schools, but individual schools or teachers have been attacked for on social media:

  1. Calling the students in a school “kids”. (This complaint was made by somebody who had repeatedly used the word “kids” themselves).
  2. Getting students to write thank you letters.
  3. Letting students out in the rain.
  4. Expecting students not to turn their backs on teachers who are talking to them.
  5. Enforcing school uniform rules.
  6. Students leaving since the previous year. (One school got an FOI request about how many students had been removed from the school roll at the start of the school year. Although this included students who had never attended, and was not exceptionally high, this was then used as evidence of “off-rolling”.)
  7. Teachers saying their school is better than other schools.
  8. Excluding badly behaved students.
  9. Using angle diagrams that aren’t drawn to scale in maths lessons. (Really)
  10. Having seats facing the board not the window. (Admittedly most of this last one came from some bizarre Americans who stumbled onto UK edutwitter).

These complaints often result in a lot of teachers saying “hang on, we do that, have done for years, and nobody complains”. But even this fuels the witch hunt. I’ve now reached the point where I think discussing the accusations may be counter-productive. I think the time has come to take the following approach:

  1. Respond to any criticism of a named school with an immediate request to stop the shaming.
  2. Save any debate about the content of the criticism to a blogpost or tweet a week or two later that does not mention the school in the original accusation.

That’s what I will be doing. If you feel the same way, feel free to use the following graphic (designed by @jamestheo)

It’s time to champion teachers and support schools. The social media witch hunts need to be challenged for what they are: dishonest, ideologically-motivated bullying.

Merry Christmas.

 

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One comment

  1. Shaming has long been the means by which society enforces its norms, and in its more extreme forms it is never pleasant to watch. At least offenders don’t risk being burnt at stake these days.

    It’s easy enough to understand a reaction to traditional teaching; I think it’s fair to say that few–if any–progressives can conceive of any form of discipline which isn’t harsh and oppressive. In folk memory, the teacher with the cane is easily recalled, whereas teachers (and schools) that were able to maintain order effortlessly are assumed to have been progressive.

    Yet the venom in the tweets you logged in your ealier posts are something else altogether: I suspect that their authors can see that they’re losing the battle, and their most cherished beliefs are at risk. Ironically, a couple of generations ago, parents (and teachers) who failed to discipline errant children were held up to the same kind of shame.



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