Archive for June, 2019

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Tough questions about behaviour

June 29, 2019

I originally wrote most of this as a Twitter thread, but it’s long enough that it really deserves to be turned into a blog post. 

There have been recent news reports about a school that has staff striking due to the perceived threat of violence from their students. I won’t link to it as I’m not sure naming schools always helps (not that I condemn anyone for reporting this as news). But I do want to draw attention to the underlying issue of schools where staff and students do not feel safe.

The background to this is that, in my experience, any secondary school that makes sure rules are clear and followed at all times will be labelled “zero tolerance” and demonised. Any school that doesn’t have clear rules constantly enforced will have a certain amount of kids out of control for at least some of their school day. This is, I regret to say, normal in secondary schools as far as I can tell. It doesn’t mean that every teacher faces the same situation; most at least ensure senior staff have some power and the difference between, say, being a supply teacher and being an established member of staff can be extremely vast.

However, once the normal situation in a school is for some kids to be out of control for some of the time it really doesn’t take much for things to tip towards a greater level of anarchy.  The number of staff who are ignored by kids can suddenly increase from unfamiliar faces, to any member of staff who can’t count on the full support of managers. The type of out of control behaviour can also suddenly escalate, particularly when students become aware of incidents not being dealt with adequately. It doesn’t take much to reach a point where fairly extreme behaviour, whether that’s verbal abuse to staff; violence; sexual harassment or sexual assault, or even bringing in weapons and drugs becomes normal. That’s where some schools end up.

Because the response to out of control kids when they were just disrupting lessons or ignoring some staff or some rules, was to ignore it, or cover it up or blame the teachers, some schools end up taking the same approach to more serious behaviour. At such a point, schools become dangerous to staff and students. The biggest problem in the culture of secondary schools is that there are still incentives for schools to cover up, rather than deal with, endemic behaviour problems. People still talk about “too many exclusions” or “too many detentions” as if doing something about behaviour was more of a problem than the behaviour itself.

‏Schools need to be honest. How many of your students are “outlaws”, i.e. ones who largely do what they like knowing the schools systems will never effectively constrain them? How clear are the systems for dealing with defiance? How much incentive is there for staff to ignore some behaviour? There are schools where challenging behaviour would lead to having to giving up time to sit detentions, having a confrontation or, worst of all, being blamed for the behaviour. What would actually happen if a kid was doing something wrong in front of a member of staff who didn’t know who they are? How many pseudo-rules are there, i.e. rules that can explicitly be broken without any actual punishment?

The biggest question to ask about a school is this: who would have a harder time at your school, a new member of staff who enforced every rule according to the behaviour policy or a new member of staff who didn’t even know what the behaviour policy was?

Edited 29/6/2019

Since I wrote this, more has come to light about the school where staff are on strike. According to The Sun they used the “Pivotal Approach” to behaviour. This has been condemned in the past by my union, the NASUWT, and is named after the behaviour consultancy previously (although I believe not presently) run by the consultant I wrote about here.

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Year Zero

June 22, 2019

I trained to teach in 2001-2002 and this blog began in October 2006. The mid-noughties were a time when progressives were consolidating their control of the education system. Although they were losing ground on preventing phonics teaching, and the policy of Inclusion had become an embarrassment, they had successfully seen off the original version of the National Strategies that had been inspired by Direct Instruction and were setting the agenda on the purpose of the education system. We were entering the period where education would be merged with social services, and the academic side of schooling would be given the lowest priority it ever had. GCSEs would soon become dominated by controlled assessment and retakes, and school inspection was becoming a racket where consultants made money out of selling schools advice on the “correct” teaching methods, while also working as inspectors who would ensure that schools were enforcing those methods. This enforcement was largely done through grading teachers on a 1-4 scale largely on the basis of their teaching methods.

If you look in the archives of my blog, you can see me discuss many of the developments and initiatives of the time, and also, as an anonymous blogger describe what was going on in the places I worked. The years from 2012 onwards saw much of this change. The Gove reforms, changes in OFSTED under Sir Michael Wilshaw’s leadership, and the growing voice of teachers on social media, have meant that many of my experiences from before those changes are bizarre tales that newer teachers might struggle to believe. Although some schools are still stuck in the past, and much teacher training is still run by people who left the classroom during that time without ever seeing those ideas be abandoned in schools, we have moved on. The collapse of the progressive hegemony is now a historical fact.

Except, of course, this is inconvenient for progressives. In the last few years we have seen progressives deny that any of this stuff happened in much the same way that they deny that there was more than a century of debate between progressive and traditionalist ideas in education, or that people in schools ever disagree over philosophy. I have covered this denialism in two posts already.

Nobody’s actually against knowledge are they?” dealt with the argument that there was never any opposition to the teaching of knowledge in schools. I recommended two main sources for those who ever doubted that there was an antipathy to knowledge in our schools. The first was Daisy Christodoulou’s book Seven Myths About Education. It provides many sources for the attitudes and arguments of the time in order to argue against them. The second source was this letter from 100 educationalists opposing the attempts to make GCSE more knowledge based, in which they make it clear that the explicit teaching of knowledge should not be encouraged.

…the proposed curriculum consists of endless lists of spellings, facts and rules. This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think, including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity…

Much of it demands too much too young. This will put pressure on teachers to rely on rote learning without understanding. Inappropriate demands will lead to failure and demoralisation. The learner is largely ignored. Little account is taken of children’s potential interests and capacities, or that young children need to relate abstract ideas to their experience, lives and activity…

…Schools in high-achieving Finland, Massachusetts and Alberta emphasise cognitive development, critical understanding and creativity, not rote learning…

More recently, I was told by several outraged progressives that the policy of Inclusion (closing special schools and stopping exclusions), that dominated the early years of my teaching career; that was abandoned after its effects on school discipline became politically toxic had either never existed, or was still the policy. Curiously, I had written a masters dissertation on SEN policy which included this period, and so it wasn’t difficult to research a post about the debates and controversies at the time. “Inclusion: Gone but not forgotten”.includes a timeline with links to both policy documents and news stories that illustrate what the policy was, when it was enforced and when it was abandoned.

However, it turns out that progressives are now denying more than their opposition to knowledge and the existence of the policy of Inclusion. The following quotation from Katharine Birbalsingh, shared by Loic Menzies, caused controversy on Twitter recently:

I find that Katharine can exaggerate for rhetorical effect (and that’s not a criticism, it is obvious and only a problem for the pedantic). There’s also plenty of things she has described over the years that, while teachers I know in London can confirm they experienced them, nevertheless don’t match my experience in the West Midlands. However, this is not in that category. This is a really good description of what I, and most teachers I know, experienced back then. I remember being absolutely hammered by OFSTED when I was the only teacher in my school not to cooperate with my school’s stance on putting tables in groups. While not every school banned rows, most that I worked in made it clear that if you were being observed then you wouldn’t get a good grade if the room was in rows. I remember endless INSETs on making lessons fun, repeat viewings of “Shift Happens” (see below) and the blanket condemnation of teacher talk.

Yet, amazingly, an army of consultants, and other ex-teachers, appeared on Twitter to deny this ever happened.

Now, some of the objections were based on deliberately misreading it as a statement that described everyone’s experience. Katharine did not say that this happened to every teacher in every school, only that it was terrible when it did. Interpreting statements as an absurd absolute is such a common tactic of insufferable partisans on the internet that it even has its own Dilbert cartoon. This is why the principle of charity is so important. But as well as those who misinterpreted the tweet, plenty seemed to want to deny that Katharine described any kind of widespread experience. Progressives seem to want it to be Year Zero. We don’t need to trouble ourselves with facts: we have always been at war with Eurasia.

Obviously, it doesn’t take much to disprove claims that this stuff never happened. Let’s face it, there are plenty of people like myself who were around ten years ago and witnessed it first hand. As mentioned earlier, Daisy’s book and the letter from educationalists, shows the attitudes to knowledge, and the former also gives many examples of the promotion of games over explicit instruction. But here’s a few extra sources for you anyway. Most of these are from after 2010, but they make it clear what was being challenged during the Gove/Wilshaw years, so if somebody wants to argue over when the tide turned then fair enough, but they should still make it clear what has now changed.

If all this is before your time, please have a look at these sources. If we do not learn from the past as a profession, we are doomed to repeat it.

 

 

 

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More popular than “Ban The Booths”

June 8, 2019

For the last six months, educational progressives have shifted their attention to preventing schools from keeping kids safe. Their two key demands have been to prevent students being excluded from school, and to prevent internal exclusion (i.e. where students are kept in school but out of their regular lessons).

The latter of these campaigns has used the phrase “Ban the Booths” referring to those schools whose internal exclusion facilities have barriers between desks. Led by the behaviour consultant Paul Dix, whose advice is very controversial among teachers and has led to some dire results they have achieved remarkable levels of, often uncritical, publicity for this campaign.

It’s been backed at union conferences:

It has been supported by MPs:

 

It was publicised by the BBC

It has been in the Independent, The Guardian and the TES.

And now, finally, their attempt to collect 10 000 signatures to force a debate on the issue in parliament has come to an end. And how popular was this high profile, widely publicised, progressive cause?

Strangely enough, the number of people that think kids should be either kept in class (regardless of their dangerous behaviour) or sent home (regardless of their safeguarding situation) is actually tiny. Common sense has overcome the gullibility of journalists and MPs who either assume that “behaviour consultants” are experts or have an ideological belief that schools cannot be trusted with the power to keep their kids safe.

Here are some parliamentary petitions that received more signatures:

 

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