More on School Chain Shaming

March 3, 2019

I wrote here about “school chain shaming” and the involvement of the TES website in sharing accusations about two MATs.

They began their contribution to the shaming campaign by finding a flimsy pretext to share the following uncorroborated accusation from John Tomsett’s blog:

In the blog, Mr Tomsett refers to “a MAT-endorsed behaviour ethos-setting exercise called ‘flattening the grass’ rolling assemblies”.

The blog goes on: “Allegedly, this involves the MAT executives visiting the school, en-masse, to stand around the edge of the assembly hall whilst the head of school outlines, in emphatic terms to year group after year group, the MAT’s expectations of students’ behaviour.

“Before the assemblies begin, individual students are identified for the head of school to single out in front of their peers until they cry.

“If the head of school is not emphatic enough, the MAT CEO walks forward, replaces the head of school and concludes the assembly in a more suitably emphatic manner.

“The students are the ‘grass’ which is ‘flattened’ by the experience.”

The TES named a MAT which did have a practice referred to as “flattening the grass” without actually providing any evidence that it resembled the practice described above.

In the aftermath of sharing this gossip, they then printed pretty much any accusation they could find about the MAT (no matter how different or vague); called that “flattening the grass”, and claimed it corroborated the original story. One of their earliest reports even flatly contradicted the original accusation. This is what they reported about one of the former employees attacking the MAT:

The senior leader [the TES source] …. said the executives did not select children in advance to target, but rather “just indiscriminately picked on children either in the line or in the assembly”.

The TES campaign has continued since then, dragging in another MAT, so that now, on the basis of what seems to be a handful of disgruntled (probably ex-) employees over 80 schools have been smeared on the basis of an original accusation that nobody now seems able to support.

A TES journalist has continued to defend this story, on the grounds that the people coming forward to accuse the school is sufficient evidence to support the story, rather than simply down to the fact that when you show that you are willing to smear dozens of schools, former employees with a grudge will get in touch and people who know it is not true will steer clear of you. In fact, far from there being anything unusual about this, I easily found hundreds of teachers who thought the same thing could be done to their school:

Shamed schools have learnt to their cost that there is nothing they can do to put the record straight. So we cannot expect to see the named trusts challenge the details of the story. However, after showing my willingness to challenge these stories, I was contacted by two edutwitter users who were willing to give me an anonymous account of what happened in their experience of the trust. Obviously, I acknowledge that my sources are just one side of the story. My claim is not that they can prove what happened in all 80 schools in the two trusts, only that if the TES had actively sought corroboration for the original accusations, and had not just been interested in dishing dirt, they would have found this other side to the accusations.

This is from a teacher, no longer working at the MAT:

I trained with [this MAT], then worked at one [of their schools] for a few years, and visited lots more. I’ve never been in a flattening the grass assembly, but have visited a school newly taken on, and discussed the plan for how they go into a new school with senior staff. Flattening the grass is just an assembly to state the rules when they take over a school. People are missing the context. They’re going into very difficult schools and enforcing order. In the minutes found where the term ‘flattening the grass’ went public: the point before ‘flattening the grass’ is a kid was expelled for setting the changing rooms on fire at another school they had just taken over. In the point that mentions flattening the grass, it finishes with reporting that students sought out a member of staff to say they felt safer in the school.

From the minutes with the names of the schools removed.

I’ve seen people fixate on the ‘rolling assembly point’, It’s a “rolling assembly” is just because in most schools you can’t get all the kids in the school into the hall at the same time. They only have the assembly once each. It only happens when they take over a new school, to set the new rules. I have only been in a behaviour assembly once, a few weeks into term with 1 year group, because a large minority were behaving poorly across the school, so the rules were firmly restated to all. It is certainly not a regular thing in the trust to have behaviour assemblies. I don’t think the assemblies are particularly nice, because every time they state a new rule a kid makes a fart noise or shouts something. You can imagine. They then pull them out and issue a detention. When they first take over a school detentions are in the hall, because so many kids test the system. Lots then fail the detention, so isolation the following day will be in multiple rooms. There’s a huge spike in consequences after they take over, but it soon settles when the kids accept it. They then gradually introduce more rules. They aren’t trying to destroy kids, just settle the school down so teachers can teach and kids can learn.

I never heard the pre-selection line [i.e. the claim that kids were chosen in advance to be shouted at], and generally the behaviour policy is that you don’t shout. It explicitly says that you’re supposed to issue sanctions in as calm, detached and unemotional way as possible to not give kids the reaction they often want. I’ve had training in the behaviour system multiple times from very senior staff in the trust. No one ever told me to shout, and in fact they all emphasised that point that getting angry or pretending to generally doesn’t work. I disagree with [this MAT] on several things, but these reports, and the social media reaction, seem totally over the top.

This is from a teacher currently working at a school in the MAT:

The first time I heard the ‘flattening the grass’ phrase was looking around a [the second MAT named in the story] Academy when I was looking for another job. My life under the previous organisation of my school had become so awful that I was considering leaving teaching after 15 years, not just the school.

When we found out [the MAT in the original story] were to take over [my school], there was a huge amount of apprehension among staff. This was partly due to their reputation and partly due to the inevitability of redundancies. These weren’t due to anything other than a significant fall in students on roll that had never been addressed, with teachers replacing those who left, rather than taking advantage of natural wastage.

When [the MAT] arrived, I was present in some of the assemblies. They were done by year group because there wasn’t a space to contain all our students. I saw one child removed, having stood up and sworn at the member of SLT delivering the assembly. No one was otherwise singled out or shouted at. Moreover,  vulnerable and SEND students had already had a meeting with the new principal, where the new expectations and rules were explained so that they would not be subjected to undue stress.

As [the MAT] sent in a team to patrol the corridors and help the resident staff and SLT to enforce the new standards, each was paired with an experienced member of staff to ensure that no vulnerable students were put in difficult situations because those challenging them were not aware of their circumstances. To address one particularly ridiculous claim, I’ve never had a lesson on shouting at students.

A second reason I haven’t become involved in any of the [MAT]-bashing online is because I’m too concerned about the reaction of people I otherwise respect on Twitter. I realise it’s a wildly unpopular view at the moment, but I’m happier in my job than I’ve been for years. I can actually teach. In the first few weeks after take over, I regularly failed to plan adequately, with 10 to 15 minutes left at the end of the lesson where I had to make up activities. This is when I genuinely realised just how poor behaviour had been before. I’d been subconsciously planning to include spending 25% of lesson time dealing with low level disruption.

Don’t expect to see stories like this in the TES any time soon.


  1. “Flattening the grass” has another meaning, that made me laugh when I saw educators prescribing it to students … see http://www.echoschildren.org/CDlyrics/FLATTEN.HTML and https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wXzQcE80Dow

  2. Perhaps things have changed since I last sat around a staffroom, but I never saw a teacher read any part of the TES other than the appointments. And that was back when workload was a fraction of what it is now. Methinks the TES is rather like the Royal College–a platform for educational experts whose lack of contact with real, existing classrooms allows them to entertain the fantasy that children are naturally good until they are corrupted by adults.

    I’ve just ploughed through the non-statutory guidance for EYFS, and of the 1,274 examples of good practice, not a single one would help a teacher or care-provider who had to deal with violent tantrum or a pupil physically attacking another. Nor is there any suggestion that some behaviours have no place in a civilised society.

    One could be forgiven for thinking that Lord of the Flies could profitably replace the entire ITT curriculum.

  3. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  4. […] More on School Chain Shaming […]

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