Archive for June, 2021

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Book Review: Running The Room by Tom Bennett

June 26, 2021

Running the Room: The Teacher’s Guide to Behaviour by Tom Bennett. £16. Published by John Catt. 

One of my new year’s resolutions was to read more books. I intend to review those that are relevant to education. Two warnings though. 1) Any links to Amazon will be “associate” links potentially earning me a few pennies. 2) A lot of these books have been sent to me by people I know, so I’m completely biased.

There’s no shortage of books on managing behaviour. The field is packed with publications containing tips for managing a class that will be no use whatsoever. Many pretend that little differences like saying “thank you” rather than “please” when giving an instruction, or presenting a threat as a choice, will transform behaviour. The worst books on behaviour claim that “meeting needs”, “building relationships”, “remaining calm” or “planning engaging lessons” are at the heart of behaviour management as if these were things teachers generally planned to avoid doing, or could easily do in a hostile classroom.

Meanwhile, the reality in classrooms is that children largely behave in the way that their experience of school has led them to believe is normal for students in that class with that teacher. And while teachers who remain in the same school long enough will work out the cues they can give to their classes that will be most likely to lead to good behaviour, there are no universal cues because every class has drastically different experiences. This is why there are some classes in some schools where shouting once at the start of the year will mean nobody ever misbehaves again, and there are other classes in other schools where raising your voice to the wrong kid will start a full scale riot. It is also why becoming THAT teacher –  the one the kids will never act up for – takes time and, no matter how long you’ve been teaching, never happens when you start at a new school even when you are doing the exact same things that worked perfectly at your last school.

Running the Room largely avoids the trap of suggesting that there are cues or techniques that are universally effective, and focuses on the big picture. It describes how human beings actually behave. Uniquely (I think) for books about behaviour, four of its sixteen chapters are in a section entitled “Human Nature” where it discusses realistically how children are motivated. It turns out that children are not all natural saints, who will behave perfectly if you make sure you print all their worksheet on the right shade of magenta paper, and tell them you care about them. They are complex; they are individuals, and even when you think you have a perfect understanding of what motivates 14 year olds, it’s a whole different matter to keep 30 of them in some semblance of order.

The book then builds on this theoretical basis to discuss how to run a room. Yes, that’s right, the book is accurately titled. It is about how to manage a classroom. Rules, routines, and culture for all, not therapy and lowering expectations for individuals. It does not pretend that there are quick fixes, and it does not pretend one single strategy works, or that absorbing the information in the book will enable you to work wonders. It does, however, build the sort of solid foundation for doing the job of teaching that so much teacher training fails to provide. It tells you a huge chunk of the stuff that teachers wish they’d been told at the start of their careers. In a sane world, nobody would stand in front of a class without first having seriously engaged with all the ideas in this book.

Also, it’s funny in places.

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When “Antiracists” don’t care about racism and how it affects the debate about exclusions

June 11, 2021

There are actual racists online. Like this one.

He spends his time making comments like these about the relative superiority of races/countries/continents.

He shares a lot of crime reports that he thinks involve black criminals and is preoccupied with “black violence” which he believes is genetic in origin.

The other day I saw him tweeting at the MP Diane Abbot. Racists do this a lot. In an interview, she’d given stop and search polices and school exclusions as examples of racism.

He commented to say:

I have been spending a lot of time looking at the Twitter discourse around school exclusions, and the claim that black pupils are particularly likely to be excluded is very common. But it’s not actually true now for black pupils as a whole. According to the latest figures (2018/2019) the exclusion rate for black students is 5.54% for Fixed Period Exclusions and 0.11% for Permanent Exclusions. This compares with white students where the exclusion rates are 5.80% for Fixed Period Exclusions and 0.10% for Permanent Exclusions. I would say these are about the same. The misconception that black pupils, “black and brown” pupils and BAME pupils are more likely to be excluded is so widespread that I selected the data from the DfE website for Asian, white, black and ethnic minority students as a whole and took a screenshot which I share on Twitter a lot when I see people make any of those claims. (Asian is actually largely irrelevant to most discussions, but I couldn’t be bothered to take another screenshot).

While a lot of those who get this wrong are trying to allege racism by schools, occasionally racists also accept the claim about black pupils being more likely to be excluded and use it to argue that black pupils are worse behaved. I correct anyone, because these stereotypes are potentially harmful regardless of the intentions of those spreading them. So I did this here.

A pseudonymous writer for the Yorkshire Bylines blog saw this and decided to include this exchange in a post about systemic racism. Now, if you know the Yorkshire Bylines blog, you probably know it’s fairly left-wing. Writers would probably call themselves “Antiracists” and others might even call them “woke”. So how would they present an exchange in which a racist falsely implies that schools exclusions show the behaviour of black boys to be bad and is corrected by a teacher?

If you thought it would be to condemn the racist, and praise the teacher for putting them straight, you don’t know social media.

Yep, they appear to have completely missed the actual racist in the exchange, but decided to object to me presenting the facts which show there is no evidence in the latest school exclusion figures that black pupils behave worse than white pupils. And, in this, post “these issues” are issues of systemic racism, so the implication here is that I am supporting systemic racism by correcting a racist.

I wish I could say this is unusual behaviour. Antiracists who are willing to overlook racists in order to attack those who are likely to be more upset by accusations of racism are not rare. This well liked tweet was from a consultant who offers training to schools:

This shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone familiar with Twitter discourse on race. Those who police Twitter for “inexplicit” racism can detect wrong-think like a shark can detect blood. However, they aren’t as friendly as sharks. If somebody who isn’t white expresses the “wrong” views they are often treated terribly – far worse than when a white person expresses the same views. Sometimes this is in explicitly racist ways; sometimes there is just a concerted effort to marginalise them. Some of the worst racism I have seen on edutwitter has been against @5naureen and all by people who claim to be opposing racism.

Do the antiracists who don’t object to racism matter, or is this just what the Americans call “internet bullshit”? I think it does matter when this affects debate about education and there is one issue where choices have to be made about confronting real and explicit racism. That issue is exclusions as schools have to choose how to deal with incidents of racism. In the most recent exclusion figures for England there were 4889 fixed period exclusions for racist abuse. LBC reported that there were 1,987 hate-related incidents in schools reported to police in 2018 and 71% of these were described as racist. The Guardian reported over 60000 racist incidents reported in schools in the UK over a 5 year period, using a methodology that would.have missed out a large number of schools. There are tens of thousands of schools in England (and obviously in the UK as a whole), so I don’t want to imply that these incidents happen every day in every school but these are not insignificant numbers, and we know schools are often reluctant to exclude and understandably reluctant to involve the police in disciplinary matters.

Schools need to be able to act against racist behaviour. While some of that response will be to educate students about the unacceptability and seriousness of their actions and to change attitudes, much of that response, particularly with older children, should be disciplinary. What schools permit, they promote. If racist abuse is not punished, a message is sent that it is acceptable. Exclusions, both fixed term and permanent, are very much part of that.

If all children are to feel safe in school, those who are deliberately racist to others need to be punished, not given therapeutic interventions or asked what “unmet needs” made them do it. Use of fixed term exclusions or internal exclusion as a sanction shows that racist abuse is far more serious than forgetting to do homework, and will not be tolerated. The very least schools can do is ensure that any recidivist racist bully should be removed from their victims permanently. You can’t be serious about tackling racism if you aren’t willing to exclude. Scotland’s attempts to eliminate permanent exclusions has noticeably not worked in this respect. That’s not to say England is necessarily getting it right either, exclusion figures only show 15 permanent exclusions for “racist abuse” in the latest figures.

Now while I, a teacher, might say that explicit racism is a problem in schools and that exclusions are needed to deal with it, this is not what I hear from “Antiracists” commenting on the issue of exclusions. No doubt it depends on your cache, but if you Google “school exclusions racism” and you will predominantly find opinions about how school exclusions are racist, not information about racists being excluded. (I get only one link about racists being excluded on the first page.)

I’m not going to discuss why those who claim exclusions are racist are wrong (as I’ve already done that here, here and here). However, I do suspect that the national debate on school exclusions has been massively distorted by the bizarre phenomenon of self-proclaimed “Antiracists” who want to reduce the ability of schools to stop racist behaviour. And I think this is because so much of the posturing about racism we see is from people who really don’t care about confronting explicit, demonstrable incidents of racism involving actual racists. Those who do care, support schools having the right, and duty, to exclude.

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Another myth about exclusions

June 5, 2021

Most information I encounter about exclusions (i.e. permanent or temporary removals of students from schools due to behaviour) is either false or misleading. Whether it’s a claim that exclusions are common, racist, rising, or easy, it’s usually false. My all time favourite false statistic about exclusion is this one, which is staggering in its implausibility.

Yesterday, I found a new myth that I don’t recall encountering before. I was reading a fairly typical anti-exclusion article. I say “fairly typical” because the article:

  • was written by somebody who did not run a school or teach but claimed to know what schools should do;
  • didn’t explain clearly what “exclusions” were;
  • claimed without good evidence that stricter discipline was bad for mental health;
  • falsely claimed black students were more likely to be excluded;
  • didn’t mention the victims of bad behaviour, or their interests, only the perpetrators.

All this is standard in exclusion discourse and charities and journalists produce articles like this pretty much every week.

But what was new was this claim:

Evidence reviewed by the University of York suggests that the UK has a school exclusion rate that is ten times higher than that of any other country in Europe..

This claim surprised me because:

  1. The UK has 4 different education systems with drastically different exclusion rates.
  2. It did not specify whether this means permanent, or fixed term exclusions.
  3. Exclusion statistics are compiled according to particular definitions and procedures. They are not necessarily going to be directly comparable between countries.
  4. The nations of the UK are particularly transparent about exclusions and have been since the 90s. But would all countries in Europe even count them? Particularly fixed term exclusions.
  5. Not every country in Europe publishes their data and definitions in English. This could be pretty hard to research even if the relevant data had been published.
  6. “Ten times higher” is a lot. This is not impossible – you can suppress exclusions by tolerating bad behaviour (see Scotland) – but it seems unlikely that every country in Europe would do this. And if it referred to permanent exclusions, which are rare even in England, then for small countries there would barely be any.

I found a few articles about Ireland which suggested that their expulsion rate, while much lower than England’s permanent exclusion rate, was not ten times lower. So it seemed worth checking where this whole claim came from. And so, I followed the trail from one source to another. The link in the blogpost took me to a news page from 2020 on the University of York website which claimed:

The UK has a school exclusion rate that is ten times greater than that of any other country in Europe.

The news page was about research from 2020 in a peer reviewed journal that claimed as fact:

It is also important to note that the UK has a school exclusion rate that is 10 times greater than that of any other country in Europe…

The source for this, however, was another peer reviewed journal article this time from  2014 which claimed:

England maintains an exclusion rate 10-times greater than any other country in Europe…

If the only error here was to present old research as contemporary data and to confuse England and the UK it would be shoddy enough, particularly in peer reviewed research. However, this still isn’t the source of the claim. This was a reference to yet another peer reviewed journal article. This time from 2001, so even more out of date. I couldn’t even access this one online, but a friend sent me a copy. This, however, appears to have been misread. The text actually says:

There has been a particular policy concern that school exclusion rates in England are the highest in Europe and are very different from the rest of the UK: ‘We expel ten times more children than Northern Ireland and four times more than Scotland’

Later it refers to:

…an exclusion rate for England that remains the highest in Europe and 10 times the figure for Northern Ireland.

These appear to be the only comparisons with Europe, and seem to have been misread. So a misreading of an article from 2001 talking about the 90s, has been published in two separate peer reviewed articles, including one that implied it was still relevant in 2020.

And just in case that wasn’t bad enough, was this original 2001 claim based on peer reviewed research?

No. The only reference given is a newspaper article (WERTHEIMER, F. Expulsion is not the answer, The Times, 17 September 1999, if you want to find it). This article does not actually give a source for the claim about Europe and when making the comparison with Scotland and Northern Ireland, it is referring to England and Wales, not just England, as “we”.

I suppose I could dig further into the background of that Times article, but what’s the point? We’re already very far removed from the claim that sent me down this rabbit hole.

It’s worth remembering this litany of repeated factual errors next time you hear somebody claiming that educationalists and charities are the experts on exclusions.

 

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