Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Tory Party's already dead

If only the Tories were in the last death throes of their long and distinguished existence. At least that would suggest a desperate desire to endure in the face of near certain expiration. Instead, they’re more like a farting corpse. What seems like the odd flicker of life, even hope, turns out to be nothing more than hot air burping from the backside of a dead political party.

Let’s take their leader’s response to last week’s local election results as a case in point. They were a calamity. The Tories lost more than 1,300 seats. But Theresa May - in her unique and now fabled ability to deny reality - responded by pointing the finger of blame at the House of Commons. The public had punished the two main parties for failing to deliver Brexit, she opined. In other words, they don’t blame her; they blame those pesky politicians for voting against her Withdrawal Agreement.

Unsurprisingly, there was neither an ounce of contrition born of a sense of personal responsibility for the disaster, nor an indication of, having listened to the people, a change in her government's approach. Indeed, in her mind, the results were not a demonstration of the unpopularity of her agreement; they were a protest against the two main parties and, in particular, the stubborn ERG, for failing to get it through the House of Commons. Her uncanny predilection for self-deception is truly mind-blowing. She now seems to believe that the public’s anger will be pacified by a deal with Jeremy Corbyn that ties us to a ‘customs arrangement’. As I said, truly mind-blowing.

It’s not just about Theresa May, though. It’s about the entire Tory Party, both anti-democrat Remainers and craven Brexiteers, most of whom, like Boris, have sat back and raised the odd objection but, in reality, done nothing to stop May’s betrayal. I realise that this sounds counter-intuitive, but in order to save at least a semblance of something that could claim to be the heir to the Conservative tradition, they should have forced a split and taken many of the grassroots activists with them, calling themselves something like the Real Conservatives. Fortune favours the brave. It’s too late now, though. Farage’s party has beaten them to it.

If they want to save their seats - putting the survival of the Tory Party to one side for a moment - their only hope is to defect to the Brexit Party now. Even this, though, may not work. Tory Brexiteers are tainted by their inaction, and that includes – and I say this with a heavy heart – Jacob Rees-Mogg. As a result, the Brexit Party may not accept them anyway, justifiably seeing them as an electoral liability. I certainly won’t vote for them, and I’ve always considered myself to be a natural Conservative. Furthermore, the party has proven itself to be so incompetent, so craven, so dishonest and so full of charlatans, that I don’t think I can ever vote for its representatives again.

At first glance, it is obvious that the Conservative Party faces an existential crisis. However, when one witnesses the Prime Minister’s woeful, purblind response to last week’s electoral disaster, her wilful refusal to accept reality and change course, and the prevarication and procrastination of the party’s Brexit wing which impotently looks on, one realises that it’s already dead. The party’s various leadership contenders vying for the top spot are a bunch of zombies talking to themselves.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Chapter One: Part One: Out of the frying pan into the fire

Starting a new job is always nerve-racking, even for a seasoned old veteran like me. You naturally feel the need to prove yourself and seek approval from your peers.

You see, teaching is an extremely judgemental profession. You’re subjected to frequent lesson observations and learning walks, in which your superiors judge your performance on a day-to-day basis. Your marking is the focus of intense scrutiny and, perhaps worst of all, your colleagues have a tendency to surreptitiously discuss your shortcomings in the more obscure recesses of the school’s corridors. 

Teachers are incorrigible gossips if nothing else. And there’s nothing we enjoy more than talking about a colleague’s perceived inadequacies. It makes us feel better, you see, and serves to validate our own performances.

The judgemental glare of the kids can be even more unnerving. Do they think I’m a good teacher? Do they even like me? Now, you might argue that it’s not my job to court popularity. But I’m only human. Everybody wants to be liked. 

All this creates an atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia. Teachers, consumed by self-doubt and incurably sensitive to criticism, are forever trying to prove themselves to the kids, their colleagues and of course their superiors. No wonder so many go off sick with anxiety and stress. No wonder so many leave the profession.

So here I am, jumping back into the fire after a brief spell in a white hot, sizzling frying pan.

I’d previously been working as a day-to-day supply teacher in Tilbury - a job that didn’t carry the same planning and marking responsibilities as a full-time, permanent member of staff, but one that did carry extreme pressures of a different kind. 

These kids were feral. To give you an idea, I remember walking out to my car at the end of a school day in late June, only to see one of our Year 8 pupils, a 13-year-old boy, sitting in the back of what looked like his Nan’s car. The window was open and he was puffing on a cigarette like a bootlegger in a speakeasy. ‘Boy, come over ‘ere, boy,’ he ordered, before handing his young customer a wrap of some sort. I was speechless. Then his Nan drove off, seemingly unperturbed. It was an eye-opening moment. A child-, chain-smoking-gangster with his septuagenarian getaway driver selling drugs in the school car park. Eye-opening indeed.

As if this wasn’t shocking enough, I soon discovered that, shortly before my arrival, the school had briefly flirted with local infamy after a pupil smuggled a home-made bomb into a Design and Technology class.

I greet the receptionist, a lady I had previously met on the day of my interview, who proceeds to direct me through the twists and turns of the ground floor corridors, until we reach my classroom.

It’s small and the walls are bare. I immediately notice the lack of storage space, too. Where will I put the kids’ books? I worry. I always worry.

Directly opposite is my line manager’s classroom. He is a slight, diminutive man with thick dark hair and long, spidery fingers. He looks a little like Mr Bean, I quietly chuckle to myself.

‘Hi, I’m Chris,’ he says. ‘I’m sure you remember me from your interview.’ 

‘I certainly do, Chris,’ I reply, shaking his hand. ‘How could I forget? It was the hottest day of the year.’ 

My interview and observation had been a serious test of endurance. It was over 30 degrees and, being ever so slightly on the larger side of large, I perspired like a bomb disposal expert attempting to diffuse an IED in downtown Kandahar.

Chris introduces me to Michelle and Jo, two of my faculty colleagues. Both have thick Irish accents. My initial impressions are that Michelle, curt and intense, is smouldering with barely concealed indignation. That doesn’t bode well, I think. Why’s she so pissed off? Jo, on the other hand, is relaxed and humorous, possibly down to the fact that she’s heavily pregnant and will no doubt be off on maternity leave soon.

After exchanging pleasantries- or, in Michelle’s case, being the recipient of a disdainful glare - we make our way to the main hall. 

I sit with my new team, dreading this bit of the proceedings: The introductions. New members of staff are introduced by the Head and, one by one, stand up and present themselves to their assembled colleagues. It’s eminently embarrassing and happens at the beginning of the academic year, without exception, in every single school I’ve ever worked in.

My palms are sweating. Surprisingly, it goes without a hitch, though. No stutter; no embarrassing stumble into my redoubtable colleague Michelle, who happens to be sitting beside me, poised and unnervingly impassive; just a big, red-faced, up, ‘hello’, half-swivel, bashful wave and back down. That was almost regal, I say to myself, with more than a hint of irony. It wasn’t awkward at all.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Guardian-Land is a land of chaos and confusion

They live in Guardian-Land. This was the rebuke given to indulgent judges by an ex-police chief on LBC radio this week. 
He was of course talking about the case of Joshua Gardner, an 18-year-old who threatened a motorist with a 12-inch zombie knife, only to receive a derisory suspended sentence, nine-month curfew and 150 hours of community service. 

Leaving aside the judge’s unfathomable decision to set a 7pm curfew for someone convicted of an offence committed at 5pm, this sentence is a scandal, especially when one considers the Home Secretary’s promise to get tough on knife crime.

It is also indicative of our elites’ morally perverse and reprehensible approach to dealing with offenders. The judge justified his leniency by citing Gardner’s traumatic history. Apparently, some years ago he had been profoundly disturbed by the sight of his brother’s dead body. But does that justify his reckless behaviour? Is that really a mitigating circumstance? I mean, lots of people experience traumatic events. Life is indeed full of them. We don’t all kick cars and wave knives around though.

Such an inadequate punishment sends a truly appalling message to violent offenders. If you threaten or harm a law-abiding member of the public, you only have to tug on the judge’s heart strings with a hard luck story and, at worst, you’ll receive a community sentence. Where’s the deterrent?

The judges appear to view criminals as victims. And this is the crux of the matter. The legal establishment consists of liberal-left activists who see offenders as unwitting victims of an unjust society. They must therefore be molly-coddled and protected from punishment, not locked away. If anything, this extraordinary and perverse view of the world sees the victim as the de facto guilty party (at least partly responsible for the societal conditions that spawned the criminal in the first place) and, of course, vice versa.

It is therefore no surprise that we’ve seen such an astronomical rise in crime. And before you scream ‘cuts’, it’s not a recent phenomenon either. Crime’s been rising since the 1960s - when these views first became fashionable.

As a school teacher, I witness exactly the same approach on a daily basis. Bullies and violent pupils are treated as the real victims- victims of an uncaring society. They are thus permitted to torment their targets with impunity. The poor souls they abuse, in contrast, are left unprotected and, in some cases, even take the blame for the cruelty inflicted on them.

It really is shocking in its perversity. Morality has been upended by leftist elites. Criminals go unpunished and bullies unchecked. Guardian Land is indeed a land of chaos and confusion. And it’s going to get worse.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Good Luck, Everyone

I just had a terrifying thought. Perhaps the Maybot isn't such an empty vessel after all. Perhaps she has a hinterland and political philosophy that inspire real conviction, against the assumptions of her critics.

Why else would she conspire with our enemies to subjugate the people of Britain? I mean, it's suicidal. Even if she gets the deal through Parliament, she'll face oblivion at the next election - if, and it's a big if, she's allowed to get that far in the first place.

I find it all profoundly confusing. This so-called career politician is happy to jump off a bridge for a truly awful deal that vassalises her country. What is she playing at? She's going off script, surely. According to many in the media, she's meant to be a rational and driven individual, entirely focused on personal political gain, isn't she? She refused to wholeheartedly commit to either side during the referendum campaign, in case it adversely affected her leadership ambitions, and, in a skilful bit of Machiavellian chicanery, took the crown after Gove played Brutus to Boris' hapless Caesar. She's got considerable political nous and has dedicated her career to getting the top job.

So why would she blow it all away for this rotten deal? I'm baffled. Unless, of course, she really does believe in it. Unless she truly believes it's a sacrifice worth making. This is the terrifying thought that I mentioned earlier. She's been radicalised; she's caught an ideology; I don't know which one, but she's got it. The old crow's brain's been washed with some strange, unknown philosophy that wishes to see Britain on bended knee, begging Brussels for scraps of good will.

Anyone willing to make such a sacrifice has surely lost touch with reality. They've caught religion, as my nan would say, or, in this case, some arcane, indefinable ideology. But maybe I'm complicating things. Maybe she's not a head-banging, suicidal neophyte committed to a cause after all. Maybe she's just a pig-headed, obstinate, self-centred old bird who, like many oldies, refuses to admit when she's wrong.

Worse still, perhaps she's so vainglorious, so selfishly committed to herself, that she refuses to accept that she's made a monumental cock-up. A trait that once gave her drive and enabled her to spurn a political philosophy in favour of a pragmatic and Machiavellian approach to politics - a trait that got her to Downing Street in the first place - has thus turned against her. Her conceit has led to hubris. The Maybot's on borrowed time and, alas, she's taking us down with her. And it's not for her commitment to the deal. If anything, it's for her commitment to Theresa May.

In the solemn words of Edmund Blackadder before he led his platoon over-the-top and into no man’s land, Good Luck, Everyone.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Without exclusions, Anti-Bullying Week is a hollow slogan, devoid of intent and promoted for no other reason than to make us feel better

I always find many of those who claim to support anti-bullying week whilst opposing school exclusions slightly dishonest. I mean, how can you protect the victims of bullying when you refuse to adequately discipline the bullies? 

What about detentions? they’ll retort. Aren’t these adequate deterrents? More to the point, aren’t these so-called bullies some of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils? Shouldn’t they be treated with compassion and gently urged to engage in teacher-led restorative conversations with their victims? Such an approach would surely show them the error of their ways, alter their behaviour and protect the victims without the need for exclusions.

Of course, they do have a point. Detentions and restorative conversations can and sometimes do work. Bullies become aware of the damage caused by their actions and amend their behaviour accordingly. 

However, a not insignificant number refuse to change, despite being the recipients of a multitude of interventions. They may have been given countless detentions, taken part in several restorative conversations and even attended meetings with the Head teacher, with and without their parents. But still they continue to bully and harass their victims. 

In these instances, surely, excluding the perpetrator has to be an option. How else can you protect the victim after every other punishment has failed? 

But even schools that authorise exclusions don’t fare much better - unless, of course, they also sanction permanent exclusions for those individuals who continue to display, even after a fixed-term one, the same unreformed behaviour.

The sad fact is that schools without the ability to permanently exclude persistent bullies - not to mention violent and disruptive pupils - have to repeat the same ineffective sanctions over and over again whilst, at the same time, naively and rather vacuously anticipating a different outcome.
The bully, meanwhile, buoyed by the fact that nothing more severe than a fixed-term exclusion can happen to them, continues to torture the poor individual being targeted. I mean, why change if the worst that can happen to you is an exclusion? At least you get a few days off school.
Look, some might not be deterred by the threat of a permanent exclusion either. But at least such individuals will be gone, prevented from inflicting anymore pain and torment on their helpless victims. 
In short, bullies need to be punished in an effort to reform their behaviour. If the initial punishment fails, they must be exposed to another, more severe one, followed by another and another, until, eventually, their behaviour changes or they go, leaving their victims to lick their wounds in peace. The welfare of the victim must always be of paramount importance. 

Academies that refuse to countenance fixed-term and permanent exclusions - even those simply reluctant to do so - are, in my view, encouraging bullies to inflict misery upon their victims. Yet in these academies, those who write such policies claim to support anti-bullying week.

They don’t. If anything, they support the bullies. The claim is just a sickening, disingenuous attempt to signal their own virtue, as are the anti-bullying displays which adorn their schools’ corridors. 

It is particularly troubling to see so many individuals who should no better berating exclusions. It is indeed a worrying fashion. Exclusions exist to protect our most vulnerable kids. They must be permitted. Otherwise, anti-bullying week is a hollow slogan, devoid of intent and promoted for no other reason than to make us feel better.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Will the British go the same way as the Ottomans?

During the nineteenth century, successive Ottoman sultans, most notably Abdul Hamid II, in a desperate bid to modernise and challenge Western military dominance, enacted a series of reforms to Ottomanise, or force uniformity upon, the disparate peoples of their empire. A polity that had for centuries derived its legitimacy from its tolerance of difference and the decentralised structures of governance that enabled such tolerance to flourish, now sowed the seeds of its own demise. 

The different ethnic, cultural and religious groups within the imperium - each already imbued with an incipient national consciousness - resisted such centralisation and enforced uniformity and, one by one, broke free from Ottoman rule. With the help of World War One, Great Britain and France - who mischievously fomented nationalist opposition within the imperium throughout the nineteenth century - the Ottoman empire finally expired with the formal abolition of the sultanate in 1922. 

Yes, the war precipitated its end, but, in reality, the Ottoman polity's loss of legitimacy made that end inevitable. From Serbia and Montenegro to Bulgaria and Romania, gradually, former Ottoman territories, angered by Istanbul's centralising programme and filled with nationalistic fervour, became either semi- or wholly-independent. 

What lessons can we learn from this bloody catastrophe and what relevance does it have for us in Britain? Well, unless it has the wherewithal to rule by fear, the survival of any state depends upon the consent of its people. If that consent is withdrawn, its sustenance becomes impossible. In the case of the Ottomans, consent was dependent upon the metropole's restrained interference in the affairs of its peripheries and the different ethnic, religious and cultural communities which inhabited them. When this tolerance was reversed, so too was the consent of Istanbul's subjects, leading to the empire's inevitable break-up.

In the case of Britain, over the last fifty or sixty years, we too, like the Ottomans before us, have begun to question the very nature of our existence as a political entity. Our state's legitimacy, though, unlike the Ottoman one, has historically been based upon uniformity. We have an established church, a common language, a strong commitment to equality before the law and, until recently, a common culture, as well. But these things, this uniformity, is now being questioned and undermined like never before. Our elites are engaging in nothing less than an ambitious programme to redefine the relationship between the state and the citizen, to reformulate the social contract, just as the nineteenth century Ottoman elites reformulated theirs - with, it has to be said, catastrophic consequences. 

Through the damaging doctrine of multiculturalism, successive governments - supported by politicised, liberal-leftist civil servants, teachers, police officers, university professors and the media - have promoted and encouraged difference at the expense of social cohesion and national solidarity. People live entirely separate lives, speak different languages within the confines of their respective communities, hold different, incompatible beliefs, demand special privileges and even seek justice in different courts. 

In the cases of FGM and Pakistani grooming gangs, for example, the British state has abrogated its duty to prosecute the law, as a consequence of perceived cultural sensitivities. Indeed, the state has accepted that its jurisdiction does not extend to include the communities that house those responsible for these outrageous offences. Equality before the law, that precious British constitutional gift, has thus been repudiated. The state now believes that different communities need to police and govern themselves. We're no longer one people, bound by culture, the rule of law and shared experience, loyal to the British state as historically constituted. Instead, we're a fragmented collection of different peoples and cultures, linked only by a shared and rather flimsy commitment to tolerate one another. The hope is that Britain - now a mosaic of loosely affiliated peoples - will derive legitimacy and loyalty from this new settlement. I have my doubts. 

Like the Ottomans before us, we're in the process of radically changing the relationship between the individual and the state. In their case the state became more centralised and powerful, demanding greater uniformity across the empire, and in the process delegitimised itself in the eyes of its subjects. In ours, it is becoming less centralised and more tolerant of profound difference. Could it have equally catastrophic consequences? Time will tell.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Oh no! Performance Management: It's that time of year again

A few years ago, I considered Performance Management to be a good thing. Teachers should be held accountable for their results, I thought. 

What on Earth was I drinking? How can we be held accountable for things beyond our control? There are so many factors that contribute to a pupil’s success or failure - parental support, school behaviour systems (or lack of), institutional culture and pupil motivation to name but a few. It’s therefore dishonest to claim that classroom teachers are solely responsible for pupil outcomes. 

With this in mind, on Friday I entered my PM meeting with a mixture of dread and resignation. According to the data, last year my Year 11 class under-performed, and, more to the point, according to the head’s implacable view, they did so as a result of my failings.

To be fair to my department head and line manager, he appeared to sympathise with me and diligently noted my half-hearted attempts to defend my honour. It really is exhausting, though. I’ve lost the will to fight my corner and contextualise my results, I really have. I mean, why should I have to? They must know that I took on the class last September, surely, when I first arrived at the school. At that time, every single pupil was failing, miserably. Indeed, in our first mock exam in September, the class’s highest achieving pupil received a grade 2. And that was an exception, believe me. The rest were on 1s.

These kids were the most disillusioned and demoralised I’d ever encountered. But at the end of my 9 month stint with them, nearly every single one had measurably improved, notwithstanding the fact that my classroom had become a repository for kids my line manager - yes, him (no wonder he appeared to sympathise) - couldn’t cope with.

In November, he transferred four kids from his class into mine - four kids on grade 1s. By the end of the academic year, though, two of them achieved grade 4s and the other two, grade 3s. Another pupil went from a grade 1 in September to an incredible grade 5 in the summer exams. 

But this doesn’t matter. The pupils’ targets - determined by their end of KS2 SATs data recorded five years earlier and calculated according to some unintelligible algorithm - were not met. And that’s the end of it. No attempt to empathise with my predicament. No acknowledgement of the failings of the previous 4 years - failings that saw these kids make little to no progress in the subject. Just a thoughtless, crass demand to effect 5 years of progress in just 9 months.

In hindsight, it’s my fault really. I should never have agreed to such an unrealistic and unrealisable target in the first place. But I was new and, as a newbie, I didn’t want to rock the boat. You live and learn. That said, I doubt they’d have listened anyway.

Yet even if my targets had been more achievable, I still find the concept of Performance Management hard to stomach. How can I be held responsible for results largely determined by a school culture that celebrates mediocrity and encourages poor behaviour and fecklessness? 

My results last year were achieved despite this. I daren’t say it to my line manager, though, he might pass it on to the big boss. She certainly won’t appreciate it. She’d rather berate me for missed targets.