Archive for October, 2018

h1

12 years a blogger

October 30, 2018

Last week it was the 12th anniversary of my blog. It’s been a fairly busy year. Professionally, I worked in a really challenging school for most of that time. I experienced an Ofsted and I also took an A-level class for a year, for the first time in quite a while.

As a blogger, I have mainly followed a few themes and posted on each of them several times. I think this may be for two reasons. Firstly, because there has been a greater level of argument and outrage on social media over everything I wrote, so it often became necessary to revisit topics to set the record straight. Secondly, because there were bigger issues to explore that could not be covered in one post.

So here are my main preoccupations this year:

 

The EEF and Ability Grouping. For a long time now, the EEF toolkit has been used to claim that mixed ability teaching works best. The evidence behind this was actually very shaky. I wrote 3 posts looking into this.

 

OFSTED. It’s generally observed that OFSTED are reforming in the right direction. However, the influence it has on the system and people’s individual experiences are still far from positive. I wrote these posts about what problems remain.

 

Phonics. The use of systematic synthetic phonics to teach reading is now the orthodoxy. But debate continues, usually over the freedom of schools to pretend to teach phonics, while not actually doing it properly. The Phonics Check is particularly hated for this reason, yet pretty much every complaint made about it has turned out to be false.

 

School Shaming. As progressives have lost ground in the debates about pedagogy, curriculum and the purpose of education, their tactics have changed. Hate campaigns aimed at individual schools for not being progressive enough have become more and more common. Fortunately, mainstream edutwitter has become less tolerant of school shaming, and if the story does not get into the press, the shaming can now be pretty short lived.

 

Shutting Down Debate. The counterpart to shaming schools, are the Twitter campaigns against individuals for daring to challenge progressive ideology. Normally they consist of either misrepresentation, claims that somebody is not entitled to comment, or just outrage over something that has been said without any coherent argument against it. These edutwitter witch hunts have become common enough that I’ve often felt obliged to blog about them.

I’ve also blogged about other ways progressives try to silence those who disagree, including threats of legal action.

 

Shaming Education Events. When it’s not schools or individuals coming under fire, it’s education events. I had reason to note that some of the criticisms around diversity in education events seemed selective and self-interested.

 

Teacher Autonomy. One of the easiest complaints to be made about any education idea, is to assume that its proponents wish to enforce it on everybody. On the other hand, it is far from clear why obviously harmful practices should be tolerated. I discussed the limits of teacher autonomy in these two posts.

 

Behaviour. Progressives seem convinced that they can halt the traditionalist tide in education by forcing schools to tolerate bad behaviour. There seems an influential movement at the moment, from those outside the profession, to make permanent exclusions unacceptable, alongside many of the alternatives. There has also been increased use of school shamings to deter schools from improving discipline.

I wrote the following posts about the philosophical arguments around behaviour:

I wrote this post when I saw people were denying what happens in some schools:

And I wrote these posts about the issue of permanent exclusions:

 

The Chartered College Of Teaching. One of the most depressing developments of the past year has been being proved right about the Chartered College of Teaching. After years of its advocates telling me not to worry about the involvement of non-teachers in the organisation as they would not be leading it, it has now ceased even pretending to be teacher led. After lots of broken promises, and a rigged election, it is now led by a MAT CEO; an education lecturer, a consultant and an accountant. It has become another education establishment quango, and as long as it exists there will be a danger that it will claim powers overs the profession.

 

The best of the rest. These miscellaneous posts are also worth looking at.

 

Thanks to everyone who has followed my blogging and tweeting this year. And my partner, Gwen. Here’s looking forward to another year of blogging.

Advertisements
h1

Are Exclusions Fair? Part 2: Race

October 27, 2018

I have written a couple of posts recently about permanent exclusions and the movement against them.

I also wrote about the ideology behind some of this.

I also wrote about what happens when schools don’t permanently exclude:

There have been a few recurring arguments that exclusions, as they currently happen, are unfair. I wrote one post addressing whether the argument that they are unfair to students with SEND here:

Are Exclusions Fair? Part 1: SEND

Another recurring claim is that permanent exclusions are racist. The argument goes like this:

  1. The rate of permanent exclusions differs between ethnic groups.
  2. It would be racist to claim that there were differences in behaviour between different ethnic groups.
  3. Because of point 2, the only (or the best) explanation for Point 1 is that children are being excluded from school because of some kind of racism.

The thought that one might be accused of racism is actually pretty terrifying for white, middle class people working in education, so this not terribly convincing argument often goes unchallenged. As it is, I’m sure some of the most toxic elements of edutwitter will accuse me of racism just for being a white man talking about race without starting from the premise that I am an oppressor and anyone who isn’t white is the oppressed. But if I feared malicious accusations, I’d probably never post at all.

Going back to the argument above, the first point, i.e. that the rate of exclusions differs between ethnic groups, is actually true, as shown by the figures for 2016/17, but this is still worth looking at in slightly greater detail.What is slightly misleading in the use of percentages in the debate about permanent exclusions, is that you miss how small the numbers are. Black Caribbean students might be excluded at a higher rate than white students, and most of the claims about race stem from this fact, but there are only 260 Black Caribbean students excluded from England’s 30 000 schools in 2016-17. For the most “over-represented” group, Irish travellers, there were 25 students excluded in 2016-17. It will be worth remembering, that when we talk about permanent exclusions discriminating against young people on grounds of race, we are not talking about a huge, anonymous bureaucracy; we are talking about the decisions of probably around 1% of headteachers in a given year. With turnover so high among headteachers, and different ethnic groups not being evenly distributed across the country, the vast majority of headteachers will never have excluded anyone from an ethnic group that is over-represented in the figures. Those who have, will probably have excluded so few children of any ethnic group that they could recall every one of those children, and recall exactly why they made that difficult choice. When people say exclusions are racist, they are not condemning “the system”, they are condemning real people making difficult choices concerning the interests of children they know well.

The second point, that it would be racist to claim that there were differences in behaviour between different ethnic groups, is the one that causes the biggest problems with having a rational debate about this subject. Because it is morally urgent that we don’t judge people by their race, we may be scared to acknowledge that aggregating ethnic groups does not reveal every group to be statistically identical. This is why it is so important to look at the actual numbers involved. The statistics on exclusions suggest that there are around 170 black Caribbean students in England’s 30 000 schools who behave worse than you’d expect if you assume that extreme behaviour occurs at the same rate in black Caribbean students as white students. This should not reflect on the 99.76% of black Caribbean students who are not excluded, but some people are so worried that it might, that they would rather deny without evidence that those 170 students should have been excluded. They might even imply that the 170 headteachers who made those decisions were racists.

However, if we don’t start from the assumption that every ethnic group will be statistically identical, but instead try to justify that claim, this way of looking at things rapidly falls apart. When you aggregate different ethnic groups, you will find that when you look at an entire ethnic group, there are differences of:

  • social class;
  • geography;
  • parental education;
  • religion;
  • level of religious observance;
  • family size and structure;
  • history;
  • culture;
  • health;
  • peer group;
  • politics.

Because this is at an aggregate level, nothing here would justify judging individuals. But it would be absolutely amazing if, given these differences, not to mention many more that didn’t spring to mind as I wrote the list, each group turned out to have children who, in aggregate, behave in an identical way. If anything, the incredible thing is how small the differences between children from different ethnic groups are when looking at the permanent exclusion figures. I suspect that the discrepancies in the figures mentioned earlier could probably be explained in full by very few of the factors on the list. Geography alone might explain a lot. After all, if more black Caribbean students go to challenging, urban comprehensives in disadvantaged areas, would we really expect black Caribbean students to have identical behaviour to an ethnic group that is better represented in leafy, suburban schools? Peer group effects are also likely to be enormous, particularly when you consider individual students in individual schools.

If we move away from wishful thinking, and playing “gotcha” with middle class white people who are scared to talk about race, is anyone really going to claim that the amount of serious misbehaviour in schools is identical across ethnic groups? How about other demographics where an assumption of equal worth is desirable like social class, or gender? Is anyone going to claim that rich Chinese girls will assault teachers as often as white working class boys? At the very least, anyone claiming that exclusion rates are too high for a particular ethnic group needs to do a multi-variate analysis (tricky when numbers are so small), not just compare headline rates.

And finally, we can look at the third point, that the only (or the best) explanation for differences in exclusion rates is because of some kind of racism. The first and most obvious reason to doubt this is to look at the figures above again. If there was a racist agenda behind exclusions, we’d be looking for people who are very racist against travellers, black Caribbeans and those from mixed race backgrounds. They’d be only moderately prejudiced against black Africans and white people. They’d be fine with pretty much every Asian group. Does this actually match up with the racial prejudices of any group in English society? Are there really headteachers who would think that if a black Caribbean kid sets fire to the science block it’s an exclusion offence, but if a black African kid did it, then it’s okay? Are we really saying that where there is racism in schools, it works in favour of Asian kids, not against them?

Beyond that, we should again refer back to just how small the numbers of permanently excluded kids are. We are probably looking at the decisions of less than a couple of hundred headteachers that cause the “discrepancy” out of a slightly larger population of headteachers who have excluded students from “over-represented” groups. Are they racist? Not all of them will be white, does that affect our willingness to make accusations? At this point the goal posts usually move. It’s not that the people making the decisions are explicitly racist; it is implicit bias or systematic racism that is the problem. This is conveniently unfalsifiable. Nobody can prove that a few hundred headteachers making the controversial decisions aren’t the servants of an unconscious bias or a system of privilege. But, at the same time, they are only a few hundred people. It’s hard not to hold them responsible for their decisions. Should every headteacher who excludes a black Caribbean or Irish traveller student, be under suspicion in this way even if we say their prejudice was unconscious or the system made them do it? No doubt some believe that our society is so racist at every level that the burden of proof lies on those who don’t think racism is the explanation for any given social phenomena and that “innocent until proven guilty” simply doesn’t apply in these cases. However, we my end up finding it hard to get people to become heads in schools with high ethnic minority populations if we treat them as either racists or agents of a racist system when they do their jobs.

Finally, a few points as to why reducing exclusions is not going to advance the interests of ethnic minorities or combat racism. Firstly, ethnic minorities are not distributed equally across the country, or even across any given city. Schools are often more segregated than they should be. This means that the ethnicity of those being excluded for their behaviour is often the same as the ethnicity of some of their victims. If we stopped excluding black Caribbean kids for, say, sexual assault, then we might well increase the number of black Caribbean kids who are sexually assaulted. Secondly, racist abuse and behaviour is a reason for excluding some kids. If schools are forced to reduce the number of exclusions, then they may well feel obliged to tolerate more racism. Thirdly, reducing exclusions might not reduce the racial gap in exclusions. If headteachers are pressured to permanently exclude fewer students, there is absolutely no reason to assume that this will affect the ethnic mix of the excluded. Finally, we should challenge the narrative that exclusion is always against the interest of the excluded child. We don’t know that those who are excluded are losing out because of it, they may be benefiting, but I’ll look at that in more detail at a later date.

h1

The Worst Behaviour In School Corridors

October 24, 2018

Earlier this week there was a school shaming focused on the rules one school was introducing for managing behaviour in corridors during transitions. A large number of people, many of whom have never worked in a secondary school, used an argument along the following lines: “You wouldn’t use rules like this to manage corridors in my workplace/a university/an education conference, so why have them in schools?”

Without making reference to any particular school, or any particular policy for managing corridors, I thought it worth acquainting people with what can go wrong when schools are not in control of their corridors. I asked teachers, “what’s the worst behaviour you’ve seen in a corridor?”.

Here are some answers that should at least help clarify whether school corridors are just like any other workplace. Obviously, these answers do not describe what is normal, nor what should be done in corridors, and I have ignored those who tried to subvert the question and those who were probably joking. I’ve also edited where appropriate. I’ve used quotation marks where behaviour was discussed in a conversation rather than described by just one person.

When I was at school there was “corridor surfing” [crowd surfing along the corridor]

Fighting. Fighting around me. Missiles being thrown. More fighting. Pretty certain of drug use (as an extreme).

“Sexual assault”
“Yeah.. I was going to say that too..”
“Every time I share this story I shudder”
“The one I saw got a lunchtime detention… Grabbed a girls breasts and genitalia … now a closed school…”
“Not my school. Judged as good and still going strong. The boy smirked and walked away bantering with his mates; no consequence.”

I once was teaching a when a year 7 burst in and shouted ‘you’re all a pack of cunts – especially you’(the last bit pointing at me). He got stopped immediately after by senior staff and asked to explain himself. He did, then was told ‘that’s not very nice’ and was sent on his way.

Behaviour in corridors? Fights, swearing, ripping down displays. All in primary schools

The PGCE student being too scared to walk down the corridor by herself because y11 boys would tell her how they would like to fuck her. This was 17 years ago.

In primary: Running, screaming (god the screaming!), pushing, playing tag, fighting, tripping. Slapping children that pass by. Been ran into by children tearing down corridor. Banging on classroom door then running away. Banging on window then running away. Swearing

Some of the most annoying boys used to stand in two lines down the edges of the corridor grabbing/touching up girls as they walked past to go to lessons. Apart from the standard fights that was probably the worst…

Spitting on the floor and at each other. Disgusting!

A boy put a female peer in a choke-hold around her neck until she passed out, banging her head on radiator on the way down.

Daughter’s secondary school, boys lining up on both sides of corridor, groping all the girls as they went past. No action taken, apart from against the girl who pushed one of the boys over. Girls avoiding corridor, understandably. This was last year, b[y] t[he] w[ay], not last century.

1. Firework. A rocket launched down a corridor at changeover. Pandemonium. Not helped by a heroic teacher discharging a Powder extinguisher. The ensuing scene with abandoned shoes and belongings was like a vignette of Stalingrad. Boy excluded. Teacher mocked without end.
2. Student refusing to leave after being excluded for violence returned into school. Took out a dht and a police officer with carefully aimed kicks in the soft parts once cornered in a stair well. She was later excluded.

Ripping door frames off and using the wood with nails protruding to intimidate teachers

Packs of truants banging open doors and threatening other students. Internal corridor doors being kicked repeatedly. A student who spent most of the day standing outside my room calling me a fat bitch and hoping I’d go home and choke on my tea.

Pregnant teacher (accidentally) pushed over because pupils were running. And a fight between two boys that resulted in a broken nose and a lot of blood.

Really unsafe pushing/shoving/crushing on the stairs. Horrifying if you are one of the smaller kids.

As a [male] trainee teacher, I was groped. I kid you not. Worse, the school thought it was hilarious.

Fist fights, yelling profanity and threats, skateboarding, smashing windows, throwing food.

Pregnant teacher was pushed over as a horde of boys were sprinting around the corridors

Setting someone’s hair on fire. I’ve seen it twice in two different schools!

In one school I was in students would openly insult me in the corridor eg talking to friends about me, loudly, “I hate that f*ck*ng bitch.” Reported on SIMS, nothing done.

Hard to say. In one case, a boy was kicking another boy in the head.

Pupils openly telling the head to ‘fuck off’ and then having no sanctions.

Someone being stabbed in the face.

Kid jumped on another kids head after already knocking him out with a punch and kicking him in the face. I got to him right before 2nd jump…

Boy opened classroom door (mine), chucked in a lit firework and then moved on. School had an issue with fireworks every year between mid Oct[ober] & mid Nov[ember]. Oh also there was the kid captured on CCTV who found the toilet locked so did his business in the corridor. Not between lessons – before school. Same school as the kid who threw the firework into my classroom. And the time a kid grabbed my little finger as he passed me in the corridor and broke it. Same school. [H]ad to threaten the school with the police as they wanted to pass it off as just an accident (it really really wasn’t) He was excluded.

10/11-year-olds brandishing chairs at a boy (while I stood my 154cm in front of him), and screaming obscenities because he’d made a comment about one of their mums sucking a horse’s dick.

Where do I begin? Teachers assaulted, fights, you name it. We even increased the length of our lessons to reduce the number of changeovers. That worked…NOT!

A tradition called ‘The Rumbles in the Geography Corridor’ which involved turning the light off (no windows) and then random punching and kicking as hard as you could. Then, when a teacher turned on the light, you had to act casual even if you had a broken nose. Also a cello got crushed.

A y[ea]r 9 hurled a half-full bottle of water at the head of a vulnerable child whilst crossing on the stairs. It missed, or it might have killed anyone it hit. I reported it b[y] t[he] w[ay]. My report was treated with indifference.

When I was at school, in Y7, one of the class used to lead ‘The Crystal Maze’ between almost every lesson. This meant we went on an expedition past almost every part of the large school before arriving at our lesson breathless with excitement about our trip. I think the teachers, on the whole, were happy that they had to teach us for less time.

Ripping bricks from the wall and using them to score into the floor a phallus to rival any this side of Cerne Abbas. Also, flying kicks at classroom doors, resulting in the locks breaking frequently. A colleague got locked in with two pupils and could only be rescued by crowbar and brute force.

Was told of students at a school near to me basically acting as bouncers on a corridor and only letting certain people past, including banning some teachers. Nothing done about it by the leadership either.

Driving a moped full on down the corridor.

“About once a month the kids used to do a crush on the stairs. If there was a blockage all the big kids would start pushing like a ruby scrum, all the tiny kids trapped inside getting crushed. About 50 kids lasting about 5 minutes. Terrifying to watch.”
“This occurred every change over at a former school. It was horrible. Lots of injuries including a broken ankle, broken arm and several badly bumped heads and kids stepped on as they fell over in the scrum. SLT insisted it wasn’t a problem”

Boys used to hit each other very hard in the genitals as they went past in the corridor. A year 9 boy ended up in hospital. Boys will be boys was the response from SLT

When I was a Y[ear] 10 in about 2003, someone shouted at a member of staff, “There’s that dinner lady that looks like Hagrid!”. To which she replied, “I’m not a dinner lady; I’m a supervisor”.

Fight where one girl literally ripped out part of another girl’s hair (obviously needed hospital)

Jumping on others, punching. Taking others things, throwing them. Screaming in people’s faces. Pushing. Deliberately blocking people’s way, shouting ‘password?’

Also, when I was in Y7, one kid was constantly threatened with being beaten up after the lesson. The solution from the teacher? Let him out early. Then on the bell there’d be a massive rush of kids running out of the classroom looking for him

Massive fight between two girls. On the floor with gang around putting the boot in. Staff getting shoved out of the way when trying to stop it. It was considered a really ‘nice’ school too.

Bangcocking the youngest male pupils

Whistling, swearing, running and banging on doors, shoving and knocking over staff – lack of respect for environment, peers and staff – some really shocking examples.

Fighting,children being pushed against walls, pushing & shoving down stairs,swearing, tins of paint or a chair being thrown over a stairwell, malicious comments to others, bullying, children taking the mick out of other’s clothing / hair colour / glasses etc. (At various schools)

At my secondary in the late 90s a fight between two students resulted in a teacher breaking her ankle. The behaviour itself wasn’t the worst I’ve seen but the result was. We also had kids who’d stand on the top step, push you over and kick your belongings through the railings.

Kids being pulled down the corridor using a computer and cable while on a wheelie chair!!

Chairs being thrown

At the very start of my career I was in a school in special measures. Inspectors were in and I was in staff room. I heard noise in the corridor so went out to investigate and saw two boys skateboarding past me on a TV on wheels straight into the lead inspector and Headteacher.

A boy standing on a flight of stairs with a lighter and deodorant can, shooting flames at anyone going past him. Thinking about it, the worst was when a Yr 9 was waiting for an ICT lesson and set fire to the hair of the boy in front of him.

One student who tried to put another out of a window. It was on the first floor. I stopped them and reported to be told that it was ok they were going out to get a ball!!!!! This was deemed as innovation!

The year 10 & 11 boys stampede. Very scary!

Riding a (stolen) bike down the English corridor. Student’s response on being challenged for this behaviour was unpleasant to say the least.

Being called a “fucking ginger cunt” [by a] Year 7.

Throwing books/paper from windows. General high levels of noise and a lack of wanting / caring to go to lessons. I’ve seen teachers trying to round up children who just say “I’ll be there in a minute” in a “whatever, you’re not in control” kind of manner.

A secondary one [year 7] student spanking a teacher.

Lines on either side and/or tripping up those walking along.

Fireworks in the corridor!

Kid grabbed my ID along with my breast and jumped down a stairwell. Another pushed me out of the way as he chased a kid he wanted to beat up. I had to chase a kid who had groped a colleague. 3 different episodes. 3 different kids.

Throwing foodstuffs….eggs, flour and chewing gum. Until it hospitalised a pupil thr[ough] an allergic reaction.

As a [female] teenager at secondary, I was beaten with a fire extinguisher by one of a group of half a dozen lads.

Throwing human faeces at the wall during break. More entertaining was three kids: one singing the ‘I am a shape’ song from the Mr.Maker show while the other two did an accompanying dance. Year 10 students.

A girl with scissors cutting other students hair from behind without their knowledge.

On CCTV: a young girl deliberately lighting a match, giving the camera a look worthy of Iago, and tossing the match into a full wastebin. A student openly smoking with friends in a canteen corridor. A student dropping a full coke can off a balcony. Football match.

I once had a student spit in my face and tell me to “f!*k off out her way” during transition time. I hasten to add I was a teacher. And this was not unusual behaviour. I was told nothing could be done about as it was my word against hers. Imagine what she may have done to a peer.

I’ve split up two girls fighting in a corridor. One was punched so hard her front tooth was knocked out & the other sustained nerve damage to her hand.

My wife was shot with an air gun…….

In a private secondary in Central London I saw a child punch through a window.

Fireworks set off in corridors, nearly hitting pupils heads

Throwing a glass bottle at another student’s head. A deliberate act that with no thought or care for the consequences. Guess the sanction.

I worked in a school in Birmingham where it was routine for staff to have to line the corridors on the way out at the end of the school day, there were that many incidents. Fights started and you had to bundle children into separate classrooms to keep them apart

Snapping pool cues in half and using them as weapons

At the school I went to we had the Gideons in. Shortly after an assembly where we each were given a copy of the New Testament one has been doused with deodorant, set alight and launched down a busy corridor

On the shortlist for worst piece of school design ever, we had a 100m long, stick thin science corridor. Kids lined up all the way down it, pushing those who dared to run the gauntlet from side to side all the way along.

I was knocked off my feet in a corridor once when students were pushing aggressively. I am petite and teenagers tower over me.

Having the draw string of a bag tied to a stair rail during the rush. This caused the knot to become so tight that a teacher had to cut the draw string in order for the child to get to lesson…

Dirty protest. But it was when he was sent out of the room during lesson time not in between lessons. It became the stuff of legend at that school though

Girls being groped by boys in the secondary school I attended 25ish years ago.

Pushing another kid into a lab tech carrying bottles of acid

14 fire extinguishers set off by students in ONE WEEK.

Students leaning over stairs and spitting on those below. Older students picking up Y7 students. Y7 students having to run the gauntlet of older students slapping them on the head.

Can’t stand it when kids get their mate in a headlock and drag them down the corridor. When I reprimand them they say ‘it’s alright he’s me mate/cousin/brother *delete as applicable. When I ask if it’s ok if I did the same to a colleague who I like they look at me bemused

Spitting on those below on stairwells. Shoving friends into teachers. Shoulder barging teachers “accidentally”. Deliberate screaming or animal noises as loud as possible, in groups, for extended periods. Teachers avoiding corridors between lessons.

Being tripped up. Spat on. Pushed.

Best and funniest corridor moment is when two lads at my school in Liverpool disappeared with the TV on trolley. Me and [the] H[ead] o[f] D[epartment] found them in the science corridor, one pulling while the other was riding on top and they were both singing ‘Little Donkey’ (they were yr 11 b[y] t[he] w[ay]).

A few people have already mentioned pregnant colleagues knocked over. I’ve seen this, the animal noises and shrieking, students deliberately harassing specific teachers by banging on their walls and kicking their doors. Shoving each other, using bags as a flail.

Apologies that I cannot acknowledge everyone individually, but the whole thread can be seen here.

Katie Ashford wrote a thread listing 10 of her corridor experiences which is also worth reading:

  1. In one school, lovely teachers created a small “corridor library” in the Eng[lish] dep[artmen]t. Within TWO DAYS every single book had either been ripped apart or adorned with drawings of penises. And then I saw one lad pour an entire can of coke over the whole lot.
  2. [O]ne changeover, I saw three lads pin another boy to the ground so they could draw around him with a board pen they had nicked from somewhere. They said it was a “crime scene” and, of course, drew a massive penis on the outline on the floor AND, of course, on the boy’s cheek.
  3. [A] group of lads deliberately sitting at the bottom of the stairs so they could look up girls’ skirts as they walked down (This happened a lot).
  4. Various hormonal teenagers full-on snogging outside a classroom before saying a tearful goodbye. It was like being on a railway station platform in an old black and white film. Period 3 is a long time to be parted from a loved one, after all.
  5. Kids leaving lessons unannounced to “take an important phone call” in the corridor. Calm down love- you’re not exactly Alan Sugar.
  6. Two boys brought in a bottle of ketchup and squirted it inside other kids’ bags surreptitiously as they walked along. They also cracked eggs into bags.
  7. And then there’s the inevitable “bra strap flicking” that goes on in a loud, boisterous corridor. Oh and wedgies, of course- always accompanied by loud chanting of “WAHEHHHY. WEDGIEEEEEE”- because obviously.
  8. Crowd surfing.
  9. NQT who taught 20 hours per week in 4 different classrooms. One day she was carrying a set of books through the corridor. Year 11 boy slapped the entire pile out of her hands. All the kids nearby screamed with laughter- nobody offered to help her pick them up.
  10. A kid threw an entire pizza across the corridor in what was presumably an attempt to re-enact a similar scene from hit drama, Breaking Bad. Unlike Breaking Bad, it did not land on a garage roof, but instead on a group of year 7 girls. Much screaming ensued.
h1

Are Exclusions Fair? Part 1: SEND

October 21, 2018

I have written a couple of posts recently about permanent exclusions and the movement against them.

I also wrote about the ideology behind some of this.

I also wrote about what happens when schools don’t permanently exclude:

There have been a few recurring arguments that exclusions, as they currently happen, are unfair. I wish to address this in my next few posts.

The first argument used is that a disproportionate number of excluded pupils have SEND (Special educational needs and disability). This is a favourite of those who believe that children are not responsible for their bad behaviour. The impression is given that a child will only behave badly because they have SEND, then schools cruelly exclude them rather than supporting them with their SEND. Some get so carried away with the idea that they will talk about badly behaved children and the disabled as if they were interchangeable. One Australian article on exclusions actually illustrated the connection between SEND and exclusions with a picture of a young person in a wheel chair, as if those with physical disabilities were likely to be excluded.

A lot of this is designed to fool politicians, or parents, who may have no idea how the SEND system works. They may imagine a precise, objective system of identifying a coherent category of genuine needs and disabilities in a small minority on the basis of scientific evidence in order to assist them in ways that have been shown to work. Having made this mistake it would be easy to assume that there is no reason why students with SEND would be disproportionately represented in the exclusion figures, unless they were the victims of prejudice or their bad behaviour resulted from their SEND in a way that suggests it was not their fault. This then allows the anti-exclusion lobby to claim that exclusions are a form of discrimination against the disabled, an issue of social justice, and very probably illegal.

As any teacher can tell you, SEN (without even including disabilities) is actually a broad and incoherent category, At one level it covers almost any child in need of help:

A pupil has SEN where their learning difficulty or disability calls for special educational provision, namely provision different from or additional to that normally available to pupils of the same age.

On another level there are loads of exceptions, where children may still need help but be said not to have SEN, such as those who need help because English is not their first language, or those learning difficulties resulting from “events that can lead to learning difficulties, or wider mental health difficulties, such as bullying or bereavement”. Help can be put in place before SEN is identified. “Slow progress and low attainment do not necessarily mean that a child has SEN and should not automatically lead to a pupil being recorded as having SEN.”

In practice, the decision to label a student as having SEN can be based on the whims of parents and schools, although there may not be much disagreement about those young people with the most obvious needs. There are also formal diagnoses involving outside expertise. There have been a number of reports about the problems with the system and a number of reforms to the system. At times more than 1 in 5 students (including more than 1 in 4 boys) have been labelled as having SEN. While this number has been brought down in recent years, it remains a broad and poorly defined category and this needs to be kept in mind while considering claims that excluded students have SEN.

So why are excluded students more likely to have SEND? It is possible that some SEND causes poor behaviour, although the assumption that a child with SEND cannot behave is the worst kind of ignorant prejudice. It is not clear that such students should be kept in mainstream schools if that bad behaviour is so extreme as to result in exclusion, as most of the legislation about inclusion of students with SEND has exceptions where inclusion “would be incompatible with… the provision of efficient education for others, or… the efficient use of resources”. However, what is often not appreciated is how often bad behaviour leads to a child being labelled as having SEN. There are a number of reasons for this.

  1. “Difficult behaviour” can lead to a child being assessed for SEN. While it “does not necessarily mean that a child has SEN” the SEN Code of Practice suggests “where there are concerns, there should be an assessment to determine whether there are any causal factors such as an underlying learning or communication difficulty”. More assessment of SEN makes it more likely that a child will be labelled as having SEND.
  2. Poor behaviour can affect learning. Where a child is making less than expected progress (in any one of a number of ways) teachers are expected to intervene and “Where progress continues to be less than expected the class or subject teacher, working with the SENCO, should assess whether the child has SEN”. Again, labelling as SEND becomes more likely.
  3. One category of SEN is “Social, emotional and mental health difficulties”. These “manifest themselves in many ways [and] may include … displaying challenging, disruptive or disturbing
    behaviour”. Again, behaviour leads to a search for SEND.
  4. It may be the case that behaving really badly, or being dangerous to other people, leads situations that are detrimental to a child’s social and emotional development, or may even contribute to mental health difficulties. If so, this is behaviour leading to SEND, not SEND leading to behaviour.
  5. I mentioned earlier that many opponents of exclusions may be motivated by a belief that children will only behave badly if they have SEND, or at least are far more likely to behave badly if they have SEND. There’s every reason to believe some of those people work in schools, or work with schools in identifying SEND. If so, they will be more likely to identify a badly behaved child as having SEND.
  6. Some conditions, such as ODD are diagnosed at least partly from behaviour. This is often used to suggest that the behaviour is out of the control of the person with the condition, but this can be circular reasoning. The SEN diagnosis does not explain their behaviour, it merely describes it. If we call certain types of bad behaviour SEN, we once again only have a way in which behaviour leads to the SEN label, not how SEN causes bad behaviour.
  7. These days, human behaviour (not just bad behaviour) is often explained in medical terms, particularly where amateurs rather than doctors are trying to identify conditions. An explanation for bad behaviour that refers to disorders or illnesses will normally come under the label “SEND” no matter how ill founded or faddish.
  8. The guidelines for excluding from schools claims that “Disruptive behaviour can be an indication of unmet needs” and demands that “Where a school has concerns about a pupil’s behaviour, it should try to identify whether there are any causal factors and intervene early in order to reduce the need for a subsequent exclusion.” Any school seeking to exclude will need to have looked for SEND, again making an SEND label more likely.
  9. The same guidelines also give parents asking for a review of an exclusion decision the right to the input of an “SEN expert” and this right is “regardless of whether the school recognises that their child has SEN”. Any parents wanting to contest their child’s exclusion therefore have every reason to claim their child might have SEND, which again makes the label more likely.
  10. The guidelines say that the SEN expert can consider whether the school’s SEN policies or the application of those policies are “lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair”. Where the school does not identify the pupil as having SEN, they can judge whether “they believe the school acted in a legal, reasonable and procedurally fair way with respect to the identification of any SEN that the pupil may potentially have”. Because the former situation relies more on whether the school has the right paperwork and followed it, schools may be happier to go to a review panel accepting any claims that a child has SEN (however dubious) and arguing that they followed their policy, rather than argue over whether a child should be identified as having SEN. This creates an incentive for schools to accept claims of SEN for any child who looks likely to end up being excluded.

For all these reasons, I am amazed that any child gets excluded without at least being on the SEN register. Children are not excluded for having SEN. They are excluded for one of the main reasons they end up being given the SEN label, their behaviour.

 

h1

The Chartered College Of Teaching and conflicts of interest

October 14, 2018

I had thought a conflict of interest was a well known concept. I googled it and Wikipedia said pretty much what I already thought:

conflict of interest (COI) is a situation in which a person or organization is involved in multiple interestsfinancial or otherwise, and serving one interest could involve working against another. Typically, this relates to situations in which the personal interest of an individual or organization might adversely affect a duty owed to make decisions for the benefit of a third party.

The presence of a conflict of interest is independent of the occurrence of impropriety. Therefore, a conflict of interest can be discovered and voluntarily defused before any corruption occurs. A conflict of interest exists if the circumstances are reasonably believed (on the basis of past experience and objective evidence) to create a risk that a decision may be unduly influenced by other, secondary interests, and not on whether a particular individual is actually influenced by a secondary interest.

A widely used definition is: “A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.”[1] Primary interest refers to the principal goals of the profession or activity, such as the protection of clients, the health of patients, the integrity of research, and the duties of public officer. Secondary interest includes personal benefit and is not limited to only financial gain but also such motives as the desire for professional advancement, or the wish to do favours for family and friends. These secondary interests are not treated as wrong in and of themselves, but become objectionable when they are believed to have greater weight than the primary interests. Conflict of interest rules in the public sphere mainly focus on financial relationships since they are relatively more objective, fungible, and quantifiable, and usually involve the political, legal, and medical fields.

An absolutely key part of this is the idea that nobody has to do anything wrong, or be shown to have acted corruptly for a conflict of interest to occur. I thought everyone in education, particularly anyone involved in leadership or governance would know this.

Apparently not.

Last week I blogged about the elections to the council of the Chartered College Of Teaching. I noticed that, despite there being more than 30 000 schools in England, 2 council members were the executive headteacher and deputy head teacher of the same school. And then it emerged that this school had paid for teaching staff to join the College and, therefore, have a vote. Partly this concerns me because I have been arguing since 2014 that SMT would have an advantage over non-SMT if they were competing in the same elections. But there is also the more general question of whether elections are fair where some candidates can use public money to pay for dozens of people who know them to have a vote. And, there is also, a conflict of interest here, if a schools leaders can make the decision to spend the school’s money on College memberships, and benefit personally from the results of a vote of that membership. This was not an accusation of corruption, it was simply pointing out that this was a conflict of interest.

I was expecting people involved in the College to admit this was not ideal and to say it was not intentional and they’d look at it next time. Instead, the line of defence from one of the officers of the College was:

Yes, as long as the people given a free membership were not “pressured” to vote for the person they both knew and owed their membership to, there was no issue at all.

But worse was to come from the head of the school in question. A blog post appeared arguing not that the conflict of interest between being a head paying for memberships and being a candidate seeking votes didn’t exist, but that she was too honest to be criticised for the conflict of interest.

Professional Integrity is something I pride myself on. I am an ethical, moralistic person. I work hard for our community, I strive hard for our learners.

As a Headteacher, I do the right thing, I make the hard decisions, I stand up for what is right.

…..

A character tribute that some of my peers could do with developing.

My tenacity, my grit, my character, my resilience are what get we through the hard times.  So imagine how I felt when one of my colleagues after congratulating me for being elected on to the Chartered College of Teaching Council as a Fellow, asked me how I felt about Andrew’s Blog. I of course did not know what they meant, as the sub-tweeting and the sub-blogging had not tagged me to discuss, but had been done instead in a surreptitious way so that I could not respond.

Yes, staggeringly, the argument was that she was very honest, and that for me to criticise the elections of a publicly funded organisation without telling her personally (as if the argument was about her, not the Chartered College Of Teaching) was unfair.

It’s bad enough that nobody from the College is able to address why they have elections that run in such an unfair way. But it seems ridiculous that they cannot tell the difference between dodgy procedures and accusations of personal impropriety, a basic concept when talking about conflicts of interest.

During this, I remembered that the issue of conflicts of interest had come up before in discussion of the College. When it was being set up, the founding organisations were all CPD providers (including at least one private company) despite the fact that the College was going to be helping teachers access CPD. At that time I’d pointed out that this was a conflict of interest and again came across the argument that these were all good people and, therefore, it didn’t matter.

The CEO of one of the CPD organisations defended the organisations at the time.

If that tweet is familiar, it’s been shared before on my blog because David Weston who wrote it, subsequently forgot that he was stepping away, forgot that he had repeatedly said the College should be teacher led, and stood against teachers for a position on council and won.

Because the promise to be teacher led was broken, we now have a situation where there are people in charge of MATs, university education departments and charities that provide CPD, not to mention an actual consultant who presumably provides CPD as a private operator, holding officer positions in the College and sitting on the council. Presumably none of these people see this as a conflict of interest, despite the fact that the decisions the council makes will have significant impact on the CPD industry in this country.

And is that the end of it? Can we see any more conflicts of interest? Well just this week, I saw that the Chartered College of Teaching Wiltshire SEND and Inclusion Network were advertising an event (here and on the College’s website here) for an event where the keynote speaker is Andrew Hampton and the description accompanying this announcement is:

Girls on Board is an approach which helps girls, their parents and their teachers to understand the complexities and dynamics of girl friendships. The language, methods and ideas empower girls to solve their own friendship problems and recognises that they are usually the only ones who can. By empowering girls to find their own solutions, parents need worry less, schools can focus more on the curriculum and the girls learn more effectively – because they are happier. Dozens of schools and hundreds of teachers across the UK are now supporting thousands of girls in their friendships.

Girls on Board offers comprehensive training, both at face-to-face events and online, to enable teachers in school to adopt the approach. For more information visit [website and Twitter address]

The Girls on Board website shows that this it is a private company. How on earth can the College advertise the work of a private company in this way?

And this led me to look at the other local networks. Many are based around schools or universities. But a number of these are based around organisations that provide CPD. Now, as far as I can tell, those organisations with affiliated networks are charities, not private companies. But even charities that provide CPD have a direct financial interest in the CPD industry. If the Chartered College is making decisions that affect that industry, how can groups with such an interest affiliate directly in this way?

We are looking at an organisation which, with public money, has become a big player in CPD, and at every level, the potential for conflicts of interest with organisations and individuals providing CPD seems to have been ignored. And what makes it worse, is that teachers were repeatedly sidelined in favour of “experts” because teachers would not be able to set up an organisation that operates professionally. I genuinely believe that had the organisation been led by teachers, these conflicts of interest would have been spotted and prevented.

h1

The Chartered College of Teaching – A broken promise to teachers

October 6, 2018

Over the last few years I have been following the development of the Chartered College of Teaching, the successor organisation to the late, unlamented General Teaching Council of England, which was abolished by Michael Gove.

It was repeatedly promised by the politicians and organisers that it would a teacher led organisation, “run by teacher for teachers”. I quoted many of those promises in these two posts:

I have repeatedly warned that if we weren’t careful it would be taken over by non-teachers and headteachers. And I was repeatedly told that this wouldn’t happen. And yet at every step, actions were taken to increase the power of non-teachers, and diminish the role of those in the classroom. Most blatantly, most of the positions on the council, including all 4 of the officer positions, were restricted to “fellows”, a small minority of members who didn’t have to be teachers.

Well the results are now in. The leadership of the “teacher led” Chartered College of Teaching are:

Officers:

  • President: Stephen Munday – Elected unopposed, a MAT CEO.
  • Vice President (External): Professor Sam Twiselton. – Director of Sheffield Institute of Education. Before standing against teachers for this position she wrote an article describing the College as “a membership organisation by teachers, for teachers” and arguing: “The independence of the organisation will need to be ensured through the open election of teachers to a body that is led and overseen by teaching professionals…”
  • Vice President (Internal): Vivienne Porritt – Consultant.
  • Treasurer: Marcus Richards – Elected unopposed. Accountant.

It would appear to be the case that all four officers of this “teacher led” organisation are not actually teachers.

Council Member (Fellow): 

  • Wendy Pearmain – Science teacher and director of STEM.
  • Nicola Faulkner – Headteacher.
  • Gareth Alcott  – Assistant headteacher and teaching school director.
  • Hannah Wilson – Headteacher and executive headteacher.
  • Helen Blake –  Lead practitioner and director of geography.
  • Farah Ahmed – Former headteacher, now “oversees” the SLT of 2 schools.
  • Joan Deslandes – Headteacher.
  • David Weston – Chief executive of a CPD organisation. Before standing against teachers for this position, David had argued for many years that the College should be teacher led, at one point telling me that the non-teachers, such as himself, who helped set it up would be ” stepping out entirely, ensuring no influence, handing to teachers”.

Council Member (Member)

  • Aimee Tinkler – SLE, also working for LA and Teaching School Alliance.
  • Gethyn Jones – Teacher.
  • Will Grant – Teacher and leader.
  • Rebecca Nobes – Teacher.
  • Stephanie Burke – Senior manager.
  • Julie Hunter – Deputy headteacher.
  • Penny Barratt – CEO and executive headteacher of a MAT.
  • Ben Ward – AVP. (Which I assume means Assistant Vice Principal not Aliens Versus Predator).
  • Paul Barber – Barrister and chief executive of national charity. (I have no idea how he came to be eligible to stand in this section).

Key points:

  1. I was right to say non-teachers would take over. I was wrong to ever think it might be subtle or underhanded rather than blatant.
  2. I was right to say headteachers would have a huge advantage in elections and it would not be a fair contest if they could stand against those who are classroom based. Other advantages seem to be an involvement in #WomenED, where I count at least three of their organisers. Also, I see there are two people who are senior managers from the same school. I’d love to know if this is one of the schools that paid for all their teachers to join.
  3. There are some decent people involved here, including people who I recommended, who I know think the organisation should be teacher led. Perhaps change will come.

As things stand though, this is not a teacher led organisation. I don’t know whether the blatant breaking of multiple promises is down to premeditated dishonesty, or just opportunism resulting from a lack of oversight (I notice two of the MPs most associated with setting it up lost their seats last year). But I do think serious questions should be asked as to how an organisation given huge amounts of public money to be one thing, can end up being something else.

 

I will now spend some time RTing tweets where David Weston told everyone the organisation would be teacher led.

Because that’s how I roll.

Update (Also 6/10/2018):

A friend just found me these tweets. It would appear that Hannah Wilson’s school (I assume she is speaking for her school) did indeed pay membership fees. Both she (the executive headteacher) and Julie Hunter, her deputy head were elected. How can this kind of advantage, unavailable to classroom teachers, possibly be justified?

h1

Permanent exclusions are necessary

October 6, 2018

Back in May, I wrote a post, If we are not careful, history will repeat itself on exclusions, arguing that complaints about a rise in permanent exclusions were something we had seen before, and were misguided.

I made the following points:

  1. Exclusion is a last resort. No school casually uses permanent exclusions. Nobody who doesn’t work in a school needs to tell us this is how it should be. This is not the same as it being a bad thing or showing a school doesn’t care.
  2. Permanent exclusions are necessary for the safety of children and teachers. The stories of what happens when schools don’t exclude are horrific. Anyone suggesting exclusions should be reduced, should explain exactly why more assaults, vandalism, dangerous behaviour and disruption should be tolerated. And if they are not willing to work in a dangerous environment themselves, or send their own kids into one, they should explain why they think it’s okay for teachers and okay for everyone else’s children to be put at risk.
  3. There is no mystery about increased exclusions. Schools were given more power to protect their staff and students and used it. Ideologues suggesting that the rise in exclusions is an accidental side effect of strict discipline policies, school league tables or a more academic curriculum should be called out for their transparent attempt to use this issue to advance their own preexisting ideological concerns.
  4. Attempts to reduce exclusions were a disaster here, and they have been a disaster in other countries too (e.g. Australia and the U.S.). Any attempt to limit exclusions will simply result in more tolerance for dangerous and violent behaviour.
  5. Exclusions are for the benefit of the victims, not the perpetrators. It is not meant to be therapy. Exclusions are needed because nobody should go into school wondering if they will be assaulted or abused today and knowing that the perpetrators will not be stopped.
  6. If permanent exclusions are not allowed to happen through the official channels, there is every reason to think they will happen unofficially, with schools forcing kids out in other ways, which will have fewer safeguards and be less open to scrutiny. And this is not a sign that some school leaders are morally depraved and corrupt and hate children. This is because some school leaders will do anything to protect their staff and students.

I meant to write at greater length about other objections to exclusions, but I soon realised that so many of the objections to exclusions were actually ideological that instead I ended up writing about progressive views of behaviour.

These posts covered 3 main areas of belief:

  1. Children need to be liberated from adult authority.
  2. Bad behaviour is the result of unmet needs.
  3. Bad behaviour is the fault of teachers.

I think these beliefs are vital in understanding much of the opposition to exclusions. If you believe that children are natural saints, then exclusions are seen as:

  1. An attempt to oppress children.
  2. An alternative to meeting “unmet needs”.
  3. A sign that schools are not caring or competent enough.

These core positions seem to motivate almost all of the opposition to permanent exclusions. The argument will constantly be reframed in order to make one or other of these points. It has become necessary to explain why exclusions are needed and why schools should not be blamed for using them or obstructed from using them.

In this post I intend to explain why exclusions are actually necessary. There is one fact above all others that I throw in the face of the anti-exclusion lobby to explain why it is so important that schools be under adult authority, quoted here from the Daily Mirror;

Data last year showed 5,500 alleged sexual offences were recorded in UK schools – including more than 600 alleged rapes – over three years.

Another 4,000 alleged physical sexual assaults were recorded, the data revealed.

This is my starting point because it disrupts the narratives above. When teachers argue that rapes are bad, they are not being oppressive; they are being decent. When teachers argue that nobody has an “unmet need” that requires them to be a rapist, they are not being unsympathetic; they are showing sympathy for the victims. When teachers argue that rape is not caused by “bad relationships” or poor teaching, they are not excusing their own failings; they are arguing for order and safety in schools.

Once we have established that the progressive narratives fail and fail badly when we consider just how dangerous schools are, we can move on to a more sensible discussion. We can start with the position that our schools are not safe enough, and we can ask the obvious questions:

  1. Should we make our schools more safe or less safe?
  2. Does tolerating violent or out of control children make schools more safe or less safe?
  3. Who is best qualified to make decisions about making schools safe: appeals panels, bureaucrats and therapists, or headteachers?

I strongly believe that all reasonable people will argue that we need our schools to be as safe as possible. I think it requires only a moment’s thought to realise that safety requires zero tolerance of violence and for children not to be out of control. It’s also obvious that to prevent violence and to keep order in schools, headteachers should be able to make the decision to exclude without being demonised or obstructed by people who have no concern for the safety of the victims of bad behaviour.

Of course, the anti-exclusions lobby will attempt to reframe the debate. They will argue that the exclusions they wish to prevent are the “bad exclusions” that have nothing to do with making schools safe, which can only be done with “good exclusions” that they are not against. After all, they will say, we don’t want to keep rapists in school. However, they have to explain two things. Will they acknowledge that, while not all violent and out of control children are rapists, tolerating violent and out of control children will make it hard to keep children safe? Secondly, anyone saying that violent and out of control children should be kept in school, but rapists shouldn’t, needs to explain where they draw the line. Is sexual assault okay? How about repeated physical assaults? How about bringing in knives? How about rape threats? How about intimidation? How about a child who is just doing whatever they like and does not care if an adult says “stop”? Anyone accepting that some children should not be kept in school, needs to consider what they are prepared to tolerate, or rather what they are expecting the staff and children in schools to tolerate. How many would work in, or send their own child to, a school where they would not feel safe? The debate should not be about whether exclusions are good or bad, it is about what behaviour we, as a society, are willing to tolerate in schools.

This is not the whole argument. We still need to argue over whether current exclusion processes are fair, whether there are plausible alternatives to exclusion, or whether the right kids are excluded. But we should be doing so from a starting point that says: schools should be as safe as possible, and that if a child is violent or out of control, the dangers of doing nothing (or doing something that does not work) are potentially extreme. And if acting to keep schools safe means more exclusions, then that’s just fine.

%d bloggers like this: