Archive for November, 2018

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Are school shaming and trolling now accepted as normal?

November 11, 2018

I’ve been campaigning against school shaming for quite a while now.

You can look at the posts above, but a rough summary of what I’ve said so far is:

  • A school shaming is when a school is subjected to a hate campaign, i.e. ongoing abuse. This happens through social media, but also by email and phone calls to staff at the school.
  • It is usually provoked initially by criticism of the school in the media, or on social media.
  • Usually schools are criticised for enforcing or having rules people don’t like, but school shamings can be used against any school with even a single disgruntled parent.
  • Schools have been shamed for things that are normal for schools in their circumstances; things that are untrue, and for things where their actions are justified, but cannot be debated due to confidentiality.
  • The control of whether a school shaming happens is almost entirely with those who initiate the campaign, not the school. Schools have reacted in different ways, and so far, complete social media and press silence has appeared to be the best strategy.
  • School shamings escalate from accusations, to abuse incredibly quickly. Comparisons with concentration camps and accusations of child abuse are common. As it the use of the c-word and attacks based on personal appearance.
  • Social media shamings of individuals are best described by this book. School shamings are simply the same idea applied to schools.
  • It is entirely possible to criticise opinions expressed by people at a school, or ideas about how a school is run, without starting a school shaming.
  • More recently, educational progressives have adopted school shaming as a tactic. Schools that are seen as too traditionalist are named and then repeatedly attacked, often progressives return to the same school again and again to dig up more ammunition.
  • A couple of schools subjected to a long series of accusations, as part of a prolonged school shaming, were inspected by OFSTED and none of the allegations were supported.

A typical school shaming. A Twitter progressive with 20 000 followers claims falsely that a named school isn’t for students with special needs. This immediately leads to it being compared to a concentration camp. The original tweeter then ‘likes’ that comment.

Recently, progressives on edutwitter have felt the need to defend school shaming as a tactic. The two main arguments have been:

  • School shaming is just criticism or even a form of accountability. I dealt with this argument here.
  • Schools can’t feel shame. This argument is so obviously silly that I don’t think I’ve answered it but Greg Ashman did here.

Beyond those arguments, most of what has been done to defend school shaming has been trolling those who criticise it. A recent example of this was a blogpost entitled ‘School shaming’ and the reactionary politics of neotrads which declared that those of us who prefer not to see a headteacher called a cunt 20 times, are motivated by right-wing politics. So Greg Ashman, who has been a member of both the UK Labour Party and Australian Labor party is identified among “neoconservative reactionaries”. Katharine Birbalsingh, a black headmistress whose school has mostly black students and who has been subjected to racism online, is accused of not understanding “structural racism”. Most incredibly though, the blog alleges that those of us who object to school shaming are directly influenced by the far right.

Along with phrases appropriated directly from the so-called alt-right, a small group of neotraditionalist educators have invented the concept of ‘school shaming’ to make their reactionary politics seem, well, less reactionary.

And in case you wonder who precisely this is, the group who have invented the concept of school shaming, is later narrowed down:

the empty concept of ‘school shaming’ … seems to have been invented by Andrew Smith (@oldandrewuk),

And, no, he didn’t ask my permission before sharing my real name. So there you have it. In the mind of one troll, whose blog is full of conspiracy theories and identity politics: it’s me who can be linked “directly” to the far right. I’m a lifelong Labour voter who was also a Labour activist and member until I left over the party’s refusal to deal with anti-semitism. I work in an inner city state school with mainly non-white students (unlike the post’s author who works in an extremely expensive private school). Far from being motivated by right-wing politics, I started campaigning against school shaming in reaction to stories in the right-wing Daily Mail newspaper, long before anyone knew that the Daily Mail’s teacher bashing tactics would be adopted by those who claim to be left-wing opponents of racism. This blog is telling a malicious lie.

Now you might ask so what? After all trolling has become common on edutwitter. My employers are more than aware that trolls and schools shamers lie and will not believe I have neo-Nazi sympathies. Why am I bringing up this smear? Because this stuff seems to have become mainstream. I was not upset by the post. It is neither the first false accusation the author has made about me, nor the nastiest thing he has written about Greg Ashman or Katharine Birbalsingh. I was, however, upset by how widely this defamatory and dishonest post was shared.

  1. Schools Week, a publication I have had a long association with, recommended the post in a blog review column written by Debra Kidd.
  2. Stephen Drew, former headteacher and reality TV star, not somebody I associate with school shaming or online trolling, shared it on Twitter saying “It is a work of profound analysis and absolutely nails what is going on in schools”.
  3. Mary Bousted, of the NEU, the largest teaching union, shared the post on Twitter and the blog review and defended both of them. This is despite the fact that I am currently (but not for much longer) a member of her union. When challenged about this the most I could get her to say about the case of one of her members being defamed was “I accept your assertion that you are not aligned with the far right.” Pretty thin stuff after 18 years of union membership on my part.
  4. It was widely shared by progressives on edutwitter including many who work as consultants or educationalists. Some have since been tweeting about how nasty edutwitter is. But few had the moral fibre to see anything wrong with falsely linking a teacher to the far right, or with all the other name calling.

I am of the view that progressives are beginning to realise they may be on the losing side of a paradigm shift in education. I believe that in England they are largely on the defensive. But this has not made them any less dangerous to individual teachers. Stand against their ideology, and they will lie about you, smear you, and try to silence you.

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Are Exclusions Fair? Part 3: The Perpetrators

November 3, 2018

I have written a number of posts recently about permanent exclusions and the movement against them. These two posts sum up the issue.

I 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 permanent exclusions, as they currently happen, are unfair. I wrote posts addressing whether they are unfair because of SEND or because of racism.

Here I will address the argument that permanent exclusions are bad for those who are excluded, and, therefore, unfair on them.

A lot of the arguments on this issue refer back to the posts above on the progressive narrative on behaviour. According to this ideology, children cannot be held responsible for their behaviour. Therefore, one cannot appeal to desert, or justice, to justify a behaviour sanction. I wrote about this here:

In the permanent exclusion debate, the belief that children have no responsibility for their actions, and require only a modification of behaviour, leads to a complete elimination of the distinction between perpetrators and victims. In reality, when a child is permanently excluded, there exists both a human being who has chosen to harm others, and there are the harmed. In my experience, permanent exclusions rarely happen without violence or intimidation, without other children, or possibly school staff, having been hurt, violated, intimidated, endangered or scared. This is not always clear from the exclusion figures, as those who repeatedly offend are usually excluded for “persistent disruptive behaviour”. While teachers know that in practice this means a child who is completely out of control and usually violent, the non-teachers and politicians who oppose exclusions often seem to think it means asking for a pen or looking out of the window too many times.

As a result it is common in discussions of permanent exclusions for the victims to not be mentioned at all. People talk as if there is nothing more to the issue than the perpetrator and the school and no other child is affected. Often, this narrative is so pervasive that words you would expect to apply to the victims of extreme behaviour, like “vulnerable” are applied instead to the perpetrator. The issue is then discussed as if it was a matter of finding the best therapeutic intervention for this “vulnerable” child. Often, when I raise the issue of the victim of the offence that led to exclusions, I am told that the perpetrator is also a victim. No doubt my deliberate use of the word “perpetrator” here will be considered deeply offensive to those poor, vulnerable children, who may have sexually assaulted a peer, threatened a teacher with rape, or set fire to a building. But this is a key point, when we talk about the fairness of permanent exclusions, we are not talking about finding a therapy for the vulnerable; we are talking about both protecting, and providing some justice, for their innocent, and genuinely vulnerable, victims. That is not to say we can’t consider the interests of the perpetrator at all, just that the victims should come first. Schools can be dangerous places – on average a rape is reported every day in a school in the UK – and no headteacher should be told that the rights of those who would harm others means that they cannot act to keep their schools safe.

This is not to say that we cannot consider the interests of the perpetrators at all, only that it is unfair if that is the priority. Even when we do consider this, we should be very, very careful. The conventional narrative is that allowing a student with extreme behaviour to stay in school is in their best interest and excluding them would be bad for them. Common sense tells us that allowing a child to get away with extreme behaviour will not actually be good for them. While children change, and change a lot during adolescence, they do normally come to see what is accepted as what is permitted. Those who are spared a deserved exclusion rarely reform as a result of that mercy. Opponents of permanent exclusions would give the impression that poor behaviour can be changed through “interventions” and that there are people out there who can change even the most extreme behaviour, just so long as those perpetrators remain in their mainstream school. This is not my experience as a teacher, or that of most classroom teachers I speak to in mainstream secondary schools, but usually it is those who provide the interventions, not those who teach, who are given the opportunity to share their experience. So to balance the tales of compassionate specialists turning round the most violent children by talking about their feelings, here are a couple of tales of what is more normal in my experience. Here is a blogpost by Headteacher Stuart Lock about a badly behaved boy who was kept in school, and left school believing his behaviour had no consequences, only to find out this wasn’t the case in the adult world. Here is a post by me describing the behaviour of a girl whose worst offences never resulted in exclusions. Neither of these sets of experiences are typically considered in the debate over permanent exclusions.

Of course, one would expect there to be some empirical evidence which would show whether permanent exclusion is better than tolerating extreme behaviour, and allow us to see whether it is the anecdotes of teachers or the anecdotes of the anti-exclusion lobby that are more typical. There isn’t. To my knowledge, nobody has ever, or ever would, be given ethical permission to run an RCT comparing permanent exclusions with the alternatives. I should mention that many people in the anti-exclusion lobby seek to conceal this. They will compare outcomes for those kids who were permanently excluded (usually the most out of control, most dangerous and most criminal young people) and those who weren’t (i.e. those who schools felt they could turn round). Inevitably, the outcomes for the former are worse than for the latter. This is not surprising, but you will find that it is often claimed that this shows that exclusion is harmful, as if the exclusion caused the outcome, rather than the extreme behaviour of the child caused both the exclusions and the outcome. At times it is even claimed that permanent exclusions cause criminal behaviour, rather than that criminal behaviour lead to permanent exclusions. This sort of claim should be challenged, but often it is accepted uncritically by the media.

In the absence of any useful data about the effects of permanent exclusions, we have little choice but to rely on school leaders to make sensible judgements about their own schools. Currently, however, they are under fire from politicians and from the education establishment whose sympathies are overwhelmingly with the permanently excluded, and not with their victims, or with teachers or school leaders. I wish I could say that this trend is being successfully resisted, but so far, those of us who want schools to be safe are being drowned out by those who think they can “save” the badly behaved by keeping them where they can have an endless supply of new victims.

 

 

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