Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It’s Christmas! So all must have presents. And all must also have prizes…

I always find end of term assemblies deeply depressing. They are unapologetically, shamelessly used as a vehicle for the indoctrination of our children and the dissemination of liberal-leftist dogma. To paraphrase Bob Parr – aka Mr Incredible, that font of unrivalled knowledge and insuperable wisdom – we are always finding new ways to celebrate mediocrity. But, perversely, if anyone does anything truly exceptional, it’s ignored lest the others feel inadequate. Our end-of-term, so-called Celebration Assemblies are used for this very purpose.
Brenda, our Deputy Principal and rabid exponent of Karl Marx’s egalitarian principles (she once urged me to ignore the victor and, instead, shower approbation upon the pupil who came last in a school race), is standing at the front of the hall, patiently awaiting the quiet attention of our young scholars. They continue to talk, ignoring Brenda’s rather tenuous attempts to secure their quiescence. Trainers, scarves, coats and mobile phones litter the canteen-turned-assembly hall, accompanied by the odd baseball cap, of course.
Although nominally impoverished, it is curious to note the large number of pupils unstintingly devoted to the concept of conspicuous consumption. Somehow, despite being the beneficiaries of Free School Meals, many have the best, most up-to-date iPhones, most fashionable trainers and, as demonstrated on non-uniform days, the most sought-after clothes. It really is an enigma. Let’s not forget that welfare cuts are egregiously inhumane, though, and, as a consequence, unthinkable. But that’s another story.
Eventually, after another couple of minutes they fall silent…almost. Instead of scolding them and railing against their rudeness and indiscipline, though, Brenda proceeds to thank them for being attentive. I chuckle sardonically to myself. She has just celebrated, in one instance, an act of considerable mediocrity, even failure – and the assembly’s only just begun. Their entrance was atrocious, deserving of manifest admonishment rather than unqualified praise. How depressing.
“We are here,” she begins, “to celebrate your incredible achievements in terms of, among other things, attendance and behaviour.” Brenda has the irritating habit of using the phrase “in terms of” in just about every sentence that effuses, unconsidered, out of her unprepossessing, distended cake-hole. Clutching a veritable plethora of certificates akin, in their combined bulk, to a copy of the Yellow Pages, she continues: “First of all, let’s recognise you in terms of your attendance this year.” There she goes again. I don’t think I can bear it! She then proceeds to call out a seemingly never-ending list of pupils with 100 per cent attendance. It’s obscene – and I’m not talking about the size of Brenda’s hands, nor her considerable girth.
After applauding the miserable, slightly embarrassed-looking award winners, she goes on, clearly without any conception of irony, to do the same for their well-behaved peers – you know, the ones that have not violated, or at least been caught violating, our rather lax behaviour code. Unsurprisingly, the same pupils with, of course, one or two exceptions, again navigate the bags, coats, chairs and other obstacles obstructing their paths before receiving their certificates and standing, stony-faced, beside Brenda.
How can we be so stupid? I ask myself. Why are we celebrating behaviour that should be a mundane expectation? The kids realise how worthless these awards are, courtesy of the unexceptional nature of the behaviour being celebrated, not to mention their superabundance; that’s why the winners look so dejected and embarrassed, after all.
And just in case you were under a misapprehension, end of term assemblies aren’t the only places where we distribute awards like they’re confetti. We have become so wedded to the mantra of “all-must-have-prizes” that we have lost sight of what exactly deserves to be celebrated. Have you got your pencil with you, Chris? Well done! Ten merits. Are you wearing the correct shoes? Excellent! Twenty merits. Is your name Bob? Great! Fifty merits. Okay, perhaps I’m exaggerating with that last one, but you get the point: we are literally handing out awards for anything and everything.
We are, moreover, even expected to distribute a weekly minimum number of awards allocated by Brenda and the rest of the leadership team. Perhaps more shocking is the monthly league table that posits us according to the number we’ve awarded during that given period. This goes up on the notice board, just outside the staffroom, for all to see, including the kids.
The perennial problem is, of course, that just like any nation’s money supply, which has to be painstakingly restrained, if you hand-out too much of anything it becomes debased and, as a consequence, worthless. Alas, that’s what’s happened to our system of rewards. The kids no longer trust nor covet our currency, so commonplace and thus devalued has it become.
In addition – as a result of the public floggings being dispensed by a leader intent on humiliating her staff and, through such acts, implementing, along with her acolytes, a destructive, Marx-inspired orthodoxy – the kids suspect our motives, too. In their eyes, we’re handing out these rewards because we have to (browbeaten by a deep fear of public condemnation at the hands of the dreaded monthly league table) rather than because we want to.
The kids have thus given up. For them, we no longer have any rewards worth chasing. As a depressing consequence our standards drop, behaviour deteriorates and, ultimately, our results suffer.
Oh no! Brenda’s about to announce the winners in our final category: the award for pupils with more than 500 merits. This could take forever!
First published on www.conservativehome.com on 15th December 2014

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Harrying Harridans of the School Gestapo

Oh no! Vera's on the warpath again. She marches towards me, followed by one of her underlings and Alan, the porky, foul-mouthed miscreant I ejected earlier. The accompanying music to Darth Vader's rhythmical stride along the corridors of the Death Star springs to mind. Amusingly, Vera's job is to support my rather labour-intensive endeavours to control our young scholars. They are, shall we say, a little excitable.
'Why 'ave you thrown 'im out?!' she curtly asks. Before I have the chance to reply, Linda, another member of our pastoral support team and Vera's henchwoman, continues, in much the same tone as her intellectually challenged superior. 'Have ya bin fru da sanctions ladder?!'

'No 'e ain't!' the foul-mouthed miscreant screams. Unless I'm much mistaken, all three of them are ganging up on me. Before you ask - and just in case you think you've stumbled across a perverse, parallel universe where schools are run like tin pot banana republics - that's two of my colleagues who are, for all intents and purposes, meant to support me and one of my pupils who is, you know, meant to evince respect for my position as his teacher and elder - a strange alliance, no?

'Now call me old-fashioned, Vera, but isn't it your job to support me?' I enquire. She looks befuddled. 'This young man called me a 'prick'. Now perhaps I'm asking too much,' I continue, 'but doesn't that render the sanctions ladder, in this instance, redundant? Surely such abuse merits a bit more than a verbal warning. If not, then logically speaking, Vera,' I say in the most sarcastic tone I can conjure, 'that means I've got to wait for him to call me a prick on two more occasions before I can throw him out and call for help. Does that sound right to you?' She looks vacant, and so does Linda, her rather dim, mouth-breathing lackey.

But lest I forget, don't let this rude, inane, counter-productive and appalling behaviour fool you. According to Ofsted, these dilapidated, bomb-damaged old crones in our pastoral team are second-to-none, without parallel and unrivalled by any other bomb-damaged old crones in any other educational organisation when it comes to their 'unflinching commitment' to the care of our most vulnerable children.

Let's forget, for one second, the open hostility and unrestrained contempt they reserve for us teachers, not to mention their shameful propensity to undermine their colleagues at every given opportunity, they are, apparently, according to our great and wise arbiter of school standards, wonderful and worthy of inordinate levels of praise and unencumbered lionization. For another moment, let's also park their inability to construct an email or even oratorically express their thoughts, courtesy of their own lack of schooling and concomitant illiteracy. They are, after all, able to speak the same language as the kids, empathise with their socio-economic circumstances and, as a consequence, talk incalculable bucket-loads of sense into them.

In other words, according to the great, good and an Ofsted issued fatwa, it takes a tattooed, toothless, illiterate old relic who can't string a sentence together to access the hidden depths of a deprived, underprivileged child just because she lives in the same area and happens to have been, aeons ago, the parent of a teenager herself. Let's not concern ourselves with the example she sets, entrenching low standards through her woefully low expectations of the pupils under her tutelage. She's down with the kids. She has uncles who knew the Krays, too!

How depressing! The sad reality is that this gaggle of unhinged harridans, led by Vera and Linda, has done untold damage to the lives of our most needy kids. 

They both stare blankly at my classroom door. Are they about to start licking it? I wonder. They then proceed to stubbornly ignore my protestations and change tack. 'He says he didn't call ya a prick. He called ya a cunt.'

'Oh! I am sorry,' I reply. 'That's much better. Look, Vera, whatever he called me, he's not stepping foot inside this class.' I am dumbstruck, mystified even. Vera turns around and, as she walks away, followed by the haggard old lickspittle and the porky, foul-mouthed miscreant, she offers a parting shot. 'Remember to write it up,' she growls.

It is fair to say that Linda and Vera are feared throughout the school - not by the kids, of course, but by us, the teaching staff. They are like the school's secret police, a Gestapoesque flock of vindictive, belligerent harridans, forever doing the malign bidding of their superiors in the senior leadership team. Our Dear Leader is indeed deeply hostile to the forced extraction of pupils from their lessons, no matter how rude they've been to the hapless, defenceless individuals trying to educate them. Our pastoral team simply enforces her will.

They've also been used to harry colleagues who have fallen foul of our Fuhrer's manic sensibilities. A friend and colleague watched in fear as Vera spat (no, you're not mistaken, though I did ask if my said colleague was sure. Did she not foam and dribble as a result of some regressive mental disorder instead? I asked) into her manager's tea after, allegedly, he began to question some financial irregularities in his departmental budget. Needless to say, he didn't stay very long. In fact, he was replaced by, surprise, surprise, Vera herself. Just last year I witnessed Linda laughing at CCTV footage that bore witness to a pupil assaulting another one of her colleagues. The colleague in question later resigned and suffered a nervous breakdown. These are truly awful, eminently detestable human beings.

But all this said, let us not lose sight of what really matters. Indeed, we should be rejoicing! Ofsted inspectors love them, after all!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Gove's reforms are leading to the victimization of good teachers

Bradley: 'Bollocks!'

Miss Thomas: 'Think of another word.'

Bradley: 'He's a cock!'

Miss Thomas: 'Think of another word.'

Bradley: 'But, miss, he's a prick!'

Miss Thomas: 'Now think of a word completely unrelated to a man's genital organs?'

Bradley: 'He's a twat!'

Every time I speak to my friend and colleague, I'm reminded of this priceless verbal exchange. For me, it neatly sums up her unique wit and excess of personality. A slim, diminutive woman with short, spikey red hair and thick round glasses, Katie Thomas is a wonderful teacher. She's intelligent, caring, and always well prepared, as well as great fun - something the kids recognise and greatly appreciate. They love her. On one occasion, for Children in Need, she dressed up as Camilla Batmanghelidj; on another, in her capacity as Head of Drama, she played the part of Rizzo in a school production of Grease. Unlike our Head of PE, who dresses up in a contrived effort to conceal his immanent banality and impress Ofsted inspectors to boot, she dresses up and exudes fun and frivolity because she just so happens to be fun and frivolous. She is natural and, as a consequence, the kids trust and respect her playful approach to their lessons.

All this said, and as the opening exchange indicates, she does, of course, just like the rest of us, have problems with some of our pupils; yet being a bright, effervescent , glass-half-full-rather-than-half-empty type of character, she knows how to diffuse potentially explosive, stressful situations by depriving them of seriousness. When - in my classroom, which just so happens to be opposite her's - a pupil protested against her break-time detention by opening the window and lighting her habitual mid-morning cigarette,  Katie, who had walked in to support me, refused to engage in recriminations and proceeded, instead, to talk to her about the dangers of smoking. It was quite amusing and, unbeknownst to the pupil, deeply ironic. The girl eventually abandoned her protest, extinguished her half-completed fag and sat her detention without further recourse to melodrama.

Recently, though, Katie has lost her spark. Like an aging boxer engaged in one last fight, despite being a shadow of his former self, she's trapped in the headlights of familiarity, unable to contemplate an alternative career as a result of weariness, exhaustion and abject disconsolation. Her gusto and wit have evaporated, tragically replaced by surliness and anger; her unrelenting drive has been substituted for torpor and a lack of ambition.

Yesterday we sat down for a heart to heart over a cup of coffee. 'I've had enough,' she said. 'I can't take anymore. I've been observed four times this week and, after receiving an inadequate for one of my lessons, Brenda's told me they're going to carry out more snap inspections.' I sat in stony silence. I know Katie's been under the cosh lately but had no idea how much. I've just been so busy myself.

'Can they do that?' I said. 'Surely the union will help.'

'No!' she replied. 'They can't do anything. Our new appraisal policy, agreed by our union representatives last year, says that they can observe us as much as they like. I've been observed on six occasions since September.' I, too, have been observed on several occasions. Luckily, though, I've escaped with 'goods' and the odd 'requires improvement'.

'Why are they doing it?' I asked. 'You're an excellent teacher and last year received the best GCSE results in the school. How did you do in the recent internal review?' This was conducted by external inspectors on behalf of the Academy.

'I did well,' she said. 'They didn't grade my lessons but clearly liked what they saw.'

'So what's the problem? Why are they harassing you?' I held her hand. She went on to tell me about her suspicions. Before half-term she had been in to see Jackie, our Head. She complained about the deterioration of behaviour and courageously, or perhaps stupidly, blamed Jackie. It was her fault, she said, and went on to request her cooperation and support.

'No wonder!' I exclaimed. 'You've committed a thought crime.' Mind you, I considered, so have I, on several occasions. Why have they attacked Katie, by far the school's best, and, in statistical terms, most successful teacher, but not me? She began to sob uncontrollably. 

Some time ago I wrote a blog entitled, 'Is Michael Gove playing into the hands of 'The Blob'?'. In it I expressed my concern that, through making it easier to sack 'underperforming' staff and Performance Related Pay, Gove's reforms will give incompetent, liberal-left Head teachers too much power. In fact, I argued, it could give them licence to dispose of unwanted, conservative staff who would like to see rules enforced and higher standards of discipline. And so it has come to pass. Katie is not an underperforming teacher. She is being victimized because she disagrees with Jackie's shameful, inadequate approach to behaviour management. I fear that I could be next!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Our Dear Leader's reckless unwillingness to support her staff

I wish I could say that the events of the last two days had been extraordinary, a truly shocking aberration as unlikely, in bookies' terms, as Accrington Stanley winning the FA Cup, but, and I say this with unconscionable levels of regret, I'd be kidding myself. They're tragically familiar.

They have indeed re-enforced my loss of confidence in, and respect for, our senior leaders. Most notably, they prove our Dear Leader's reckless unwillingness - and the reckless unwillingness of the craven, nauseating lickspittles in her leadership team - to support staff after one of them - namely me - was subjected to threats and what can only be described as appalling levels of abuse at the grubby little hands of a recalcitrant fourteen-year-old thug.

I was supporting the school nurse as she delivered a rather sensitive lesson on Sexually Transmitted Infections. 'Is this how it goes, miss?' one of her young charges asked, chuckling whilst sliding the condom onto the artificial penis, a little too enthusiastically for my liking. I winced.

'Yes, Archie,' she replied. 'But try to do it more gently next time. You don't want it to fall off!' She obviously agreed with me.

At this stage the lesson was progressing relatively well. Okay, there was plenty of laughter and the odd gasp of vicarious discomfort as photographs of Gonorrhea patients decorated the whiteboard, but, all in all, and when one considers the sensitive nature of the content, the kids were being pretty mature about it all.

Alas, hubris can be a teacher's Achilles' heel, a professional hazard that will, if you succumb to its enticing glare, bite you on the backside and morph into the goddess of retributive justice - Nemesis.

But I only popped out for ten minutes, I thought! Everything seemed okay! On my return from the IT technical support team - a visit that seemed appropriate given the benign classroom environment cultivated by the school nurse - the sight that greeted me was remarkably different from the one I left some ten minutes earlier.

Inflated johnnies were everywhere; kids were screaming and adults were crying. Honestly...I'm not joking; the school nurse was in tears as her lesson degenerated into sexually charged chaos. One pupil was even standing on a table. 'Sit down!' I inefficaciously shouted. Predictably, though, and despite my decision to change tack, lower my voice and threaten them with a lunchtime detention instead, the little reprobates took several minutes to settle and, even then, Archie continued to  interrupt the nurse with contrived, false laughter and what is idiotically termed in teacher-lexicography, 'low level' chatter.

At the end of the lesson I carried out my threat to detain them for fifteen minutes. I was disgusted with their behaviour. Archie, though, was having none of it. He made clear that he wouldn't be staying, charged towards me (I just so happened to be standing in his path to the door) and told me to move. 'Get out of the fuckin' way!' he screamed.

'Go and sit down!' I shakily replied.

'D'you wanna go, do ya?!' he roared. 'Get outta my fuckin' way!'

'No' I protested. 'Go and sit down!' Backing down now was unthinkable. I couldn't move out of his way without losing face and, along with it, the respect of the other kids; anyway, he could have easily exited the classroom by walking around me. I wasn't blocking the door.

'You cunt! I'm gonna fuckin' fuck you up!' He attempted to push past me, at which point I was left with little choice but to restrain him. After several, desperate minutes, he thankfully began to calm down. I let him go and another member of staff eventually led him away.

After a cathartic chat with a colleague, a strong coffee, comforting nibble on a Garibaldi and cheeky, nerve-pacifying fag outside, I logged the incident and emailed my version of events to the head of behaviour management. I copied in Jackie, our Head. The following day I was called into her office to discuss the incident. We wouldn't be permanently excluding the pupil, she said, because you could interpret your actions as provocative. As a consequence, she continued, the exclusion wouldn't be upheld by the Board of Governors. Yes! You did just read that! You're not the victim of some hallucinatory, mind-altering episode that leads to nightmarish dystopian illusions. Apparently, according to our Dear, morally corrupt, Leader, it was my fault because I didn't move out of his way. I incited the attack.

Bless him...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Liberal-Lefties are placing pupils and teachers in grave danger

The case of Ann Maguire is eerily familiar in many ways. Before being brutally murdered by one of her pupils, she was subjected to a volley of threats via her attacker's Facebook page - threats that were not unknown to the other pupils in her care, thus, one would assume, taking into account the fact that news travels like wildfire in schools, threats that were not unknown to her colleagues either. This begs the question: what did the Senior Leadership do about it?

I have recently been reprimanded for questioning my Head teacher's decision to reintegrate a violent, threatening pupil after a two-day exclusion. The pupil in question approached a female member of staff, invaded her personal space and, nose to nose, threatened to head-butt her. This was his latest act in a long list of violent misdemeanors. He has locked a colleague in her stationary cupboard and threatened, via Facebook, to 'cut-someone-up'. If this isn't eerily portentous, a harbinger perhaps of things to come, I don't know what is!

Last year, during a Design and Technology lesson, he picked up a screwdriver and threatened to stab the teacher. But after tortured deliberation, I've been told by our wonderful, enlightened philosophes in the Senior Leadership Team, we're taking him back, 'reassuringly' accompanied by a rigorous risk assessment that, on inspection, categorizes him as a 'critical risk' to staff and pupils. As you can imagine, my colleagues and I are slightly concerned about this, to say the least.

During a staff meeting, I raised the issue and expressed my belief that, as a consequence of his previous behaviour, and in light of the high level of risk attached to his reintegration, as stated in the 'rigorous' risk assessment, he should be permanently excluded. Two more colleagues also expressed their disquiet before having their points casually dismissed by Jackie, our Head. She simply asserted her overriding belief that we can't permanently exclude because, yawn yawn, he's got psychological problems, including ADHD. Moral relativism, in case we forgot, is still alive and kicking in our schools. It's okay if he kills someone; he's got problems; you, on the other hand, have no known conditions so must feel the full force of the law. What a joke!

Anyway, the next day she called me into her office to, yet again, berate my tone rather than the content of my argument. Exhausted, dejected and demoralised, I didn't have the energy to challenge her sophistry. I concurred, apologised and trudged back to class. After sitting at my desk, I considered the curious, unlikely, fact that only one teacher's been murdered over the last twenty-odd years. How have we managed to avoid more, to literally dodge so many bullets, especially when one considers the moral bankruptcy so prevalent in our schools?

Ann Maguire's untimely, violent death should act as a warning to our politicians and school leaders. Liberal-Lefties are placing pupils and teachers in grave danger!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

School sport is being destroyed by Ofsted-ready automatons

His metallic suit glistened in the sun. I paused to take a closer look. An unrecognizable, enigmatic silhouette, intermittently decorated with gleams of reflective light, purposefully strode towards the school playing fields, Frisbee neatly tucked under one arm, followed by twenty-or-so pupils.

What on earth is he doing? I thought. As I continued to watch in speechless wonderment, it suddenly dawned on me. It was Max, our head of PE and Games, dressed in a Tron outfit. He was going to introduce our pupils to the science fictional game played in the movie. My God! What has happened to school sports? I pondered, before sitting down and continuing with my lesson plan - another source of frustration and demoralization, but that's another story.

Max, apparently, was in the process of making lessons 'fun', 'relevant' and 'interesting' - what some might refer to as the 'Disneyfication' of education in twenty-first century Britain. He remains wedded to the old, antediluvian, discredited  nostrums so beloved of the educational establishment. There is thus little room for competitive sports that build character, courage, selflessness and, let's not forget, militate against ill-discipline. Instead he thinks it worthwhile to play a non-existent game in a silly outfit. To be fair to him, though, Ofsted, even post-Govian reform, loves this sort of guff and, in a recent internal review, our leaders re-enforced this reality by criticizing, yet again, teacher-talk and 'conventional' lessons. Relevance and fun are still the all-important buzzwords in educational discourse - unique for its meaningless acronyms and empty platitudes.

When Max first arrived he succeeded a department head tirelessly committed to the pupils in his care. Max's predecessor gave up his evenings, weekends and even his holiday time to take our young athletes around the country, and he expected the other teachers in his department to do the same. Indeed, during his three years in post, he guided, through sacrifice, dedication and hard work, several of our kids to county, regional and national success. He was, in a word, fantastic, and his pupils loved him.

However, when he announced his intention to leave at the end of the year, the SLT did nothing to dissuade him. In their narrow, Ofsted-obsessed, tiny minds, he was not particularly good when it came to spreadsheets, even though his charges made excellent progress when it came to excelling at extra-curricular sports. His exit was thus seen by them as a positive outcome. He was old-school and, as a result, had no place in our-school, they thought. He was also keen on the notion of pupil responsibility and refused to pass kids that had clearly failed their coursework, even after severe pressure from Jackie, our Head teacher. This made him unpopular to say the least. All things considered, the departure of this incredibly selfless individual was greeted with relief, if not applause.

When Max arrived - Mr Spreadsheet himself - he inaugurated what some have since termed, as a result of his messianic sense of self-importance, Anno Domini, Year of Our Lord. The department was subjected to a Year-Zero-like upheaval. Iconoclasm was the order of the day: trophies were destroyed, medals binned and the shirts of our international athletes taken down and stored in the office cupboard. It was an absolute disgrace. The achievements that had given our pupils a sense of pride and belonging, a feeling that success is possible, no matter where you come from, were rubbished and discarded. In one instant, hopes and dreams of the possible were stultified. It can only be described as a despicable, wilful act of vandalism.

Any Head teacher worth his or her salt would have intervened and demanded that he desist. Needless to say, Jackie didn't; Max produced outstanding lessons, after all. His spreadsheets were excellent, always submitted on time and he was willing to falsify results if need be. He was also willing, let's remember, to dress up like a fool and make the kids laugh, something Ofsted inspectors love.

Our pupils rarely play competitive sports now; we have no county, regional or national representatives in any sporting fields either. What a tragedy! But hey, they have great fun throwing Frisbees and watching their teacher dress up like a wally.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Were Mrs Maguire's superiors criminally negligent?

I'm a little confused. The recent conviction of a 16-year-old boy for the brutal killing of Ann Maguire, his Spanish teacher, elicits more questions than it answers. The judge clearly divested any responsibility from his parents and, let's be clear, the school in general, meaning the Senior Leadership Team; but, as I've said, notwithstanding the court's judgement which was, one would hope, delivered after torturous and thorough deliberation, some important questions remain unanswered, at least when considering what I've read, seen and heard.

The teenager had previously been banned from a school trip by Mrs Maguire, for instance, but went anyway. Why? Were Mrs Maguire's wishes overridden by her superiors? Two months before he had posted a vile, abusive, message about her on Facebook. If they knew, and I do emphasise the 'if', what did the school leadership decide to do about it? And finally, the court heard that he had walked out of a disciplinary meeting after making clear that he despised the woman who was later to become his victim. Again, I am forced to ask what the school leadership did to resolve the situation, and, indeed, whether the incident was resolved before he re-entered Mrs Maguire's classroom.

These are important questions that need to be answered. Perhaps the school leadership did everything in its power to support and protect Mrs Maguire. But, having said that, and in my humble opinion, if the leadership team knew about the Facebook message, they should have permanently excluded the pupil immediately in an effort to protect a colleague being subjected to threats, intimidation and abuse. If they knew and did nothing, however, by implication, they are at least partially responsible for her death. Are Mrs Maguire's superiors guilty of criminal negligence?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Britain's schools resemble Soviet Russia in more ways than one

As I trudge down to the Assistant Principal's office, no doubt to receive a severe rap on the knuckles for questioning, during last night's staff meeting, the introduction of a new system of rewards that appears to be - if it were possible - even more generous than the last one, I consider, not for the first time, the current state of our education system.

Britain's schools resemble Soviet Russia in more ways than one. Not only do they promote and enforce an egalitarian creed that discourages exceptionalism and success, for instance, but, they also encourage the denunciation and professional defenestration of anyone with the foolhardiness to openly dissent. That's why I've been called to the office, after all.

I knock on the door and, after being asked to enter, walk in, close the door behind me and sit down, opposite Brenda, our Assistant Principal. She looks angry...very angry!

'Hello, Brenda,' I say, shuffling my feet nervously. 'Is this about last night?'

'It is, Joe,' she replies. 'I was extremely concerned about the manner in which you questioned me. It was quite aggressive.' Here we go again: instead of engaging with the argument, it's easier to delegitimize my concerns by criticizing my tone. For the record, I did not shout, neither did I become aggressive; I was forthright and honest, nothing more.

'How can you say that?' I say in response. 'Is this your way of silencing me?'

'Of course not,' she indignantly replies.

'Then why are you being disingenuous? I was not aggressive. Please, please, engage with and challenge my argument, which was meant to be constructive. In my opinion, the new system gives out rewards like they're confetti. How can we reward good attendance? It should be a mundane expectation. How can we reward a child for bringing in the correct equipment? Again, it should be an unexceptional expectation. I'm sorry, Brenda, but this system is misguided. It devalues the entire system of rewards.'

'I'm not talking about what was said,' she continues, 'I'm talking about the way you said it.' Again, she refuses to enter the debate. She is determined to crush my voice and, even more worryingly, ensure that my colleagues are not exposed to such heretical, dangerous thoughts in the future. In her mind, and in the minds of most senior leaders who have a tendency to promote their ideological bedfellows, thus perpetuating their malignant stranglehold over education in twenty-first century Britain, she will do anything to protect the status quo which sees rewards, unless given to everyone, as anathema. They imply that there are winners and losers, after all. In Brenda's warped, Marx-inspired world, everyone should be equal. There is thus no room for losers. There is also no room for anyone who disagrees.

'If you're going to continue to disseminate untruths,' I say, 'I will not continue this discussion without a union representative. Come back to me when you'd like to discuss the matter sensibly. Have a pleasant day.' I open the door and, realising that I've just stirred pernicious forces best kept latent, tentatively make my way back to class. 

Yet again, Soviet Russia springs to mind. Am I about to be arrested? Will I be subjected to a show trial? Perhaps not, but, in all seriousness, I now know that I'll be targeted by the leadership team. I've seen it before. A colleague has the temerity to criticize a decision and, as a consequence, abruptly disappears, escorted off the premises for some contrived, wholly mendacious, made-up misdemeanor. Honestly! You couldn't make it up.

Recently, though, they've gone down the more orthodox route to weed out seditious elements. One of my colleagues - a dedicated and talented teacher who worked tirelessly for her pupils - was given notice to improve last year. She had complained that she wasn't receiving enough support when it came to the truly appalling behaviour of some of her pupils, so they began capability procedures based on her supposed inability to manage a classroom. Because she assiduously logged every behavioural incident she witnessed, something the leadership team ostensibly encourages, the powers-that-be deviously asserted that she couldn't control the kids - a completely unfounded assertion. The fact that they'd given her no support didn't seem to matter. Devastated, anxious and nearing retirement age, after giving the school over twenty years of her service, she became ill and suffered a mental breakdown, never to return.

Another colleague suffered a similar fate after complaining about the reintegration of a violent child. These were very good teachers, strong teachers, destroyed by an incompetent and vindictive Head, supported by equally malicious and ruthless underlings. These are the forces I have stirred.

I sit down at my desk, put my head in my hands and whisper, 'God! What have I just done?!'

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mr McDonald, Mrs McDonald and the caretaker's broom cupboard

So here I am, stuck in the caretaker's broom cupboard, hiding from Mr McDonald, an enraged beast responsible for spawning one of my most challenging pupils. In old money, for you readers wondering what I mean by 'challenging', it means he's a naughty little shit who needs a good kick up the backside - metaphorically speaking, of course. Mr McDonald has marched down to the school in order to protect his wife's honour, you see, by pummeling and defenestrating the remnants of my over-sized body.

Fifteen minutes ago I was on the phone to Mrs McDonald (I know what you're thinking: how come they're married? That's a novelty! And you'd be right: it is a novelty. Parents being married is certainly a rarity in my school and, as you'll find out, they, as a single case study, dispel the assertion that married couples produce well adjusted children).

Anyway, I was in the process of describing her son's appalling behaviour earlier in the day. 'He spent the entire lesson talking and making odd grunting noises, Mrs McDonald,' I said. 'When asked to go outside he simply refused, and then proceeded to throw a bin and all its contents across the room, almost hitting me.'

After a brief pause, Mrs McDonald, a short, rotund woman with three chins, replied - I'm sure, by the sound of her voice, with a mouthful of crisps -, 'He's never done that in anyone else's class. You must've provoked 'im. What did you say?'

Well, after the day I've had, and knowing that her beloved little angel has indeed done similar things in other classes across the school, this was like a red rag to an extremely irritable bull. 'Oh! I am sorry, Mrs McDonald. It must of course be my fault; I never considered that; how silly of me. What can I do to make it up to him?' I responded, perhaps injudiciously, in the most sarcastic tone I could muster.

Needless to say, she didn't take it well. Actually, she took it quite badly and, alas, her genial hubby didn't take it very well either. She started to cry and called out to him, 'D'you know what 'e's just said to me, Tel? E's being well outta order!'

Tel - sorry, I meant Mr McDonald - then shouted out, 'Yeah! Tell 'im it is 'is fuckin' fault and I'm comin' down to 'ave it out!' The conversation ended there. She hung up and here I am shaking with adrenaline, now awaiting the genial Mr McDonald's appearance.

There's a knock on the cupboard door and in shuffles our IT technician. 'He's here,' she says, 'shouting and screaming at Debbie. Jackie's nowhere to be seen - as usual - and nor are the rest of leadership.' To those of you unfamiliar with this blog, Jackie's our head teacher; she's taken avoidance and shirking to a whole new level. Mr McDonald's done this before you see, but, hilariously, he's still permitted to access the Academy premises, even though he's been prohibited from entering local authority controlled buildings, courtesy of his unique style of communication. 'I'll come back when the coast's clear,' she continues. 'Just stay here and don't move!'

Several minutes later she returns. 'He's gone, but don't go home just yet, he could still be hanging around.' Is this what they call rewarding?!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Part 4: My Baptism of Fire

'You know, Sir...them!'


'The Krays! They're me uncles, ' she whispered, visibly proud of their murderous achievements. The class listened intently. It was the quietist moment I'd experienced all day. Despite the soft, hushed tone, she was desperate to reveal her secret to the whole class. It would do wonders for her street cred, after all. 'But don't tell anyone,' she continued. Just how she was now meant to keep a lid on a 'secret' that was no longer a 'secret' is anyone's guess.

'Your secret's safe with me,' I bemusedly replied, before gently steering the class's attention back to the lesson in hand. I say back, but who am I kidding? In reality, their attention had never been on the lesson in the first place. They just became interested after we veered off task and engaged in a conversation about London's underworld. They love to discuss anything remotely linked to brutality and violence, especially if it gives them the opportunity to look tough in front of their mates, even the girls.

Having said that, it was, at least, a brief breakthrough. It was great to enjoy an interaction that wasn't characterised by shouting and the casual dissemination of verbal abuse. It felt fantastic! In fact, it gave me a real buzz. These kids weren't so bad, after all, I thought. 

But, alas, the euphoria was short-lived.  As soon as we stopped discussing Reggie's savage, frenzied stabbing of Jack 'The Hat' McVitie, the class erupted into a crescendo of idle chatter again. It was the last lesson of a truly exhausting day and I was, for want of a better phrase, out on my feet. My torment, though, was not yet over.

'Get out!' I roared. 'Be quiet!' I hollered. Why won't they listen to me? I thought. Then, just as I considered walking out, closing the classroom door behind me and never returning, a large, chunky, rather effeminate looking man appeared at my door. As he turned the handle, entered the room and gently, purposefully closed the door behind him, the class fell deadly silent. How the bloody hell did he do that? I pondered.

I proceeded to watch, utterly speechless, as he, in a low, hushed voice, politely ordered the kids to line up in the corridor, silently file into the room and sit at a desk specifically allocated. Once reorganised, he continued to lecture the class on the art of behaviour for learning. To me, he was magnificent, and was indeed to become my hero. But as he spoke, a small, Gollum-like creature turned around, smiled at me and winked. His message was unmistakeable: 'Don't fuck with me,' it said. 'You're the pupil and I'm the teacher in this place!'

Friday, September 12, 2014

Senior Leaders are the brainwashed progeny of a Queen Educator residing in Hampstead

Senior leaders are curious creatures. In fact, I suspect they're all the ambitious, brainwashed progeny of a Queen Educator residing in some collective hive in Hampstead. In between her daily dose of Guardianista propaganda, Queenie, no doubt, seduces some bloke who looks a bit like Robin Cook, bears his ginger-bearded, gnome-like clones, and raises them to be rabidly committed to a mishmash of ideologically incoherent principles and an arbitrary combination of contradictory actions. They invariably claim to be champions of equality, for example, whilst embracing cultural and moral relativism;  self-indulgently declare a  cast-iron commitment to human rights whilst allowing pupils and staff to be threatened and abused; and, dare I forget, proclaim their unimpeachable moral authority whilst engaging in the unethical manipulation of school data, often at the expense of the children they claim to love. In short, and in my humble experience, many are self-serving, narcissistic hypocrites.

Big Brenda is one such leader. Putting to one side her well publicised, Thatcher-hating credentials for one moment, she is physically large, very large, hence the rather unoriginal sobriquet Big Brenda. She is inexplicably and perpetually red-faced, especially in the winter, and covered, from cheek to jowl, in wispy white hair that looks suspiciously like she's been stuffing her chops with candy floss.

Some less respectful colleagues refer to her as the indomitable Terry Waite, aka The Bear at the Fair, courtesy of her size and flossy beard. She is indeed an imposing, redoubtable-looking woman, taciturn and unflappable in equal measure.

I first met her at the beginning of a CPD event, a mere two days into my fledgling career. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the term - one of many oblique acronyms in educational nomenclature - CPD stands for Continued Professional Development. As a weekly event on the school calendar, it is designed to facilitate, as its title suggests, teacher improvement and professional growth. In reality, though, it is used as an opportunity to indoctrinate teachers with commie-inspired agitprop and popular Left-wing prejudices, one being the blind promotion of state-sponsored multiculturalism.

As one of the educational establishment's foot-soldiers, Brenda is a keen propagator of these prejudices. She inaugurated the school's annual multicultural festival, does everything but kiss the feet of our black African colleagues and, in contrast, as if to demonstrate her unimpeachable pro-Mandela, anti-apartheid credentials, treats their white African counterparts with appalling contempt, as though they were collectively responsible for the atrocity. On one occasion, she rebuked a white Zimbabwean for being difficult to understand - a criticism she would never have made had the guy been black.

Anyway, I digress. My first CPD session entailed, and I'm not joking, the Brenda-decreed practice of learning to pronounce black African names (Boer names were not included, despite the fact that we worked with several Afrikaners). Honestly! I'm not kidding you. For forty-five minutes we sat, mouths contorted, tongues doing acrobatics, listening and unsuccessfully attempting to replicate the sounds emanating from a native speaking African colleague. Look, before you all shout 'Racist!', I'm not against trying one's best to pronounce a person's name accurately. The said colleague was indeed a lovely man and, furthermore, later became a good friend. But spending an entire CPD session on it? Come on! How can that possibly help satisfy my developmental needs?! In fact, he can't even pronounce my bloody name correctly. Perhaps we should waste an hour on rectifying that.

But jokes aside, my first experience of Big Brenda was indicative. She was, and still remains, a quintessential senior leader. Born and raised in Queenie's hive in Hampstead, she may not look like Robin Cook, but she continues to enforce his party's cultural agenda.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Part 3: My Baptism of Fire

Now, you could be forgiven for thinking that break duty consists of a member of staff languidly ambling along the corridor, contentedly sipping his or her tea or coffee, dreamily whistling his or her favourite tune from his or her favourite era before stopping, gently swaying from side to side and cheerily greeting - in between verses, of course - bright, enthusiastic young pupils as they breezily pass by on their way to homework club. You could especially be forgiven if you also think you are closely related, through your friend's dog's one-legged great granddad, to the late Queen Mother which, after thorough investigation, you conclude, makes you eighth in line to the Fijian throne.

However you would be greatly mistaken. Break duty is not a calm, pleasant experience. Not pleasant at all. And, for the very first time, I was just about to discover why.

Kids were everywhere! They were running along the corridor - ostensibly being policed by me - crashing through the two sets of double doors at either end, and, most worryingly, ignoring every one of my lame protestations to remain in the playground. I was tasked with keeping the corridor clear of pupils, apart from those with teacher-sanctioned passes and, I thought, those desperately needing the rather unsanitary ablutionary facilities. But as you can probably tell, I was failing miserably. Every time I asked, 'Have you got a pass?’ they either blankly eyeballed me as if to say, 'Who the fuck are you?' before nonchalantly disregarding my query, or, if I were lucky, gave me a cursory glance before rudely replying 'No'. Either way, the effect was the same. They were ignoring every one of my desperate, hollow attempts to enforce the school rules. My nominal authority was just that: nominal. It was embarrassing! That said, I continued to ineffectually plug away, keen to prove my worth.

As the bell rang to mark the end of yet another surreal encounter, a veritable tsunami of kids rushed the double doors and flooded into the building. It could only be described as the very embodiment of chaos. Pushing! Screaming! Running! Swearing! Hoodies, headphones, trainers and mobile telephones everywhere! I felt like Dante as he began his odyssey through the nine circles of hell. Nevertheless, and under the circumstances, I decided to wait until the corridor was clear before heading back to class. 

Needless to say, it took several minutes to clear and, even then, there were a significant number of stragglers unenthusiastically trudging towards their next lessons. I hurried them along till I spotted, hiding behind a wall, a young man. He was tall and thin and covered in adolescence-induced spots. He must have been a Year 11 pupil, I concluded, before urging him to get to his next lesson. 

'Shhhhhhh!' he implored, index finger pressing against his partially opened mouth. 'Teachers,' he continued in a low whisper, still hiding but now smiling and pointing towards another, more senior member of staff at the other end of the corridor. The implication was clear. He wasn't scared of me. To him, I was a pretend teacher. I disconsolately, wearily plodded back to the torture chamber that had – hilariously! - been labelled my classroom. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Part 2: My Baptism of Fire

The bell for period two marked the beginning of another torturous, nausea-inducing, hour-long roll call relentlessly punctuated by carefree chatter, derisive sniggering and banshee-like wailing from me, just before another little gremlin was booted out, usually to a chorus of uncontrollable laughter from the remaining kids in the class. One could only describe it as a nightmare. The little so-and-sos were terrorizing me, and, to make matters worse, I still had another four lessons to go until the end of the school day!

As this second 'near-death' experience approached its end, I, for the very first time, met a pupil that I will only refer to - shaking, sweating and bottom lip quivering - as Nemesis. I was to spend the next three years chasing this tubby, grubby-looking Year 8 lad, and, for all that time, he only attended, say, three or four of my detentions, despite being a serial miscreant both in out of the classroom. For those of you old enough to remember, our relationship was a bit like Danny and Mr Bronson's in Grange Hill: Nemesis forever bursting through double doors as I angrily charged after him, demanding, to no avail, his unqualified obeisance.

Anyway, as you may have guessed, our first meeting was not an auspicious one. He had obviously been thrown out of another lesson, appeared at my door - probably attracted by the general sound of boisterous raucity that signalled, in his predatory, puerile mind, the possibility of anarchy-inspired fun to be had at the expense of a teacher's sanity -, opened it and shouted, 'Wanker!' - an accurate epithet perhaps, but one a tad inappropriate within a school setting, I thought.

'Get out!' I shouted, flustered and sweating, before attempting to close the door.

'Make me!' he goaded, placing his foot in the way.

I shouted again in a desperate effort to move him, but this just encouraged further scorn and anger. I had nowhere to go. I obviously couldn't physically remove him; neither could I back down without losing face. 'My dad's gonna kill ya!' he yelled.

'You're in detention!' I screamed back.

'Fuck off!' he retorted.

Thankfully, though, after being subjected to my very first, but certainly not my last, verbal attack, which lasted for several minutes, I was literally saved by the bell. It was first break. Nemesis immediately ceased his verbal offensive, desperate to stuff his chubby chops with crisps and chocolate, and, along with the remaining members of the class, raucously ran along the corridor, down the stairs that I had so tentatively climbed earlier and towards the playground - without, of course, being formally dismissed. I sat down, exhausted, and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Alas, my early torment was not yet over, though. Before I had the chance to gather my thoughts, I was summoned for break duty along the bottom corridor.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Is poor behaviour really my fault?

Her facial expression oozes vulnerability.  She looks sad and helpless. In a soft voice she beckons me into an empty classroom. ‘Can I speak to you for a minute?’

‘Of course,’ I reply.

‘I’ve just had a very strange experience with two year 7 kids,’ she says, gently manoeuvring a chair away from the table before sitting down. Her movements are both elegant and seamless. I, in contrast, pull, bang and crash before dropping my substantial frame on to the chair opposite.

‘What happened?’

An unconvincing smile attempts to hide her anguish. ‘I was in the middle of a poetry lesson with 7S when Joe Hughes ushered me over.’ I expel a loud sigh. I have the unique pleasure of teaching Joe – or, in the latest educational jargon, the pleasure of facilitating his learning. He is indeed a ‘facilitator’s’ nightmare: devious, cunning and, most frustratingly, untouchable. He has been diagnosed with ADHD which pretty much gives him carte blanche to do whatever he likes. He is rarely challenged, even though he displays the most outrageous behaviours. He has, after all, for all intents and purposes, the nuclear excuse.

She continues. ‘He pointed at Lewis, who was sitting next to him, and said that he was playing with his nipple. Lewis’s hand was inside his shirt. Joe then said, “I think he wants to have a w***, miss”. As he did so he shook his hand, gesturing the motion – “you know, one of them,” he said.’

‘Didn’t you throw him out?’ I ask, struggling to suspend my disbelief.

‘No. I just explained that he shouldn’t be using language like that and continued the lesson.’ This is one of the biggest problems in the teaching profession. If a student behaves badly, it is automatically assumed that it must be the teacher’s fault. As a consequence, instead of throwing the student out, an act that would, she believes, highlight her perceived inadequacies, my colleague, brainwashed and overcome by guilt, allows him to remain in class and his lewd, wretched behaviour goes unchallenged.

‘It’s not a crime to ask a particularly disruptive student to leave your classroom,’ I say.

‘I know. I know.’ Her acknowledgement is half-hearted. Sadly, she has been indoctrinated into believing that it is her fault. She looks a broken woman.

‘Anyway,’ she continues, ‘about 15 minutes later Joe called me over again. This time he said, “Lewis’s been talking about sticking his w**** inside a woman’s p****, miss. You know, wiggling it round to make her c**”.’ She waits for a response. I am, for once, utterly speechless. 

After a long delay I encourage her to inform the Senior Leadership Team - even though, deep down, I know it’s a waste of time. They’ll probably blame her. Apparently, according to a recent CPD entitled, 'Is poor behaviour my fault?', poor behaviour is, as the title indicates, entirely the fault of the teacher. God help us!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Part 1: My Baptism of Fire

Honestly! Negotiating a flight of stairs had never been more fraught with difficulty. My legs, usually so dependable, felt like they’d been invaded by fibrillating alien forces controlled by an insidious, covert mother ship deep inside my overactive cerebrum. I wobbled and stuttered, weak and nauseous and racked with butterflies, until – at last! – I reached the first floor.

It was my first day in a new job. More to the point, it was the beginning of a new career, a career that would bring, I hoped, rather naively as it later transpired, renewed happiness and personal fulfilment, instead of, as has regrettably been the case, excessive levels of frustration, stress and anxiety caused, in large part, by swinging my bald cranium against a particularly obdurate wall peppered with spikes on a daily basis.

It was January 2002 and I had little to no understanding of what I was rather shakily walking into. I was unaware, for example, of the desperate poverty both consuming and tormenting the local community I was about to serve; unaware that many of my new charges had been the unfortunate victims of endemic family breakdown; and unaware that just as numerous were those suffering from debilitating special needs that hampered and restricted their ability to learn. I was about to discover, moreover, that this explosive combination of factors was matched by the school’s misguided unwillingness to adequately deal with the damaging consequences. At 23 and just out of university, I was young, wet behind the – rather large – ears and completely unprepared for the demands of teaching in Blair’s Britain. Why? I hear you say.

Well, apart from my youthful, devil-may-care attitude which forbade the careful consideration of cons, during my rather perfunctory interview before Christmas - if, indeed, you could call it an interview - I was misleadingly assured by my new Head teacher that I wouldn’t be teaching, at least initially; instead I’d be observing and learning, taking notes and maybe, during my first few weeks anyway, teaching for the first 20 minutes of a lesson, guided by the nurturing eye of a more experienced member of staff; indeed, she went on to add that I’d be starting a new on-the-job qualification at the nearest possible opportunity. Needless to say, I was excited at the prospect of not only earning a salary, but training and working towards Qualified Teacher Status at a pace that seemed, at first glance, and after speaking to my new boss, who seemed both cordial and sincere, suitably slow. 

How wrong I was. On my arrival on that cold January morning, I was given a full, ferociously demanding timetable that any experienced teacher would have found inordinately challenging. For the very first time since leaving school as a pupil at 18, I was about to enter a classroom - not to observe and take notes, but to teach a cohort of baying adolescents. Holy shit! I thought. My first day was about to be nothing short of a baptism of fire.

I teetered along the corridor, took a deep breath and reluctantly entered the classroom, nervously clutching my new timetable. There in front of me, a motley assemblage of twenty-five Year 8 pupils continued to engage in idle chatter, greeting my entrance with what can only be described as resigned indifference. Almost in unison, they looked up, eyeballed me with sorrow rather than disdain, looked down and seamlessly proceeded to talk throughout. It could’ve been worse, I supposed, at least they weren’t throwing paper aeroplanes at one another…yet! ‘Good morning,’ I said in a loud voice, unsuccessfully trying to hide its quivering tone, a tone so full of involuntary inflections that it screamed ‘novice!’, ‘charlatan!’, and ‘newbie!’ I was in deep shit! And I knew it!

‘Good morning,’ I repeated, this time injecting my voice with a gravelly air of menace, or so I thought. Again, and much to my irritation, they simply ignored me. ‘You!’ I angrily shouted, randomly pointing at one of the more mischievous-looking pupils sitting at the back of the room. ‘Get out!’ He stood up and, much to my dissatisfaction, along with the rest of the class, giggled as he left the room and proudly joined the myriad other miscreants in the corridor.

I didn’t want to shout, but being an inexperienced novice, and without any instructions – I hadn’t been given any policy or guidance on how to deal with bad behaviour (an important document given as a matter of course to new members of staff and supply teachers in most schools) -, I didn’t know what else to do. I proceeded to take the register and, much to my credit (I do hope that that doesn’t sound too conceited and self-congratulatory), intuitively insisted on silence throughout. Without silence, I thought, how can anybody possibly learn? The problem was that, as a rather depressing and unintended consequence, I couldn’t begin my first lesson, courtesy of the fact that I couldn’t get to the end of the register without stopping to scold some obnoxious little shit face. 

‘Get out!’ I shouted as I reached Stacey Arnold. ‘Be quiet!’ I balled as I got to the kids with surnames beginning with ‘c’. ‘Shut up!’ I injudiciously yet desperately bellowed before finally, exhaustedly, getting to Jake Timby, the last name on the register. With four children outside, excluded from the classroom, I could, I hoped, begin the starter activity. Then the bell rang to mark the end of period 1.

As my tormentors exited the room, moreover, as if I hadn’t been through enough, Stacey muttered under her breath, ‘He’s fuckin’ shit!’ My first lesson had ended in ignominy and disaster, but, I thought, at least I was no longer racked with nerves. They had been replaced with bewilderment, disorientation and a splitting headache – a sign of things to come.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

My date with Robbie Coltrane

My God! They were right. She really does look like Robbie Coltrane. My colleagues had been ribbing me for most of the day about my impending meeting with Miss Saunders.

I feel like a child as her gigantic hand envelopes mine in a vice-like grip. I proceed to lead her, and her daughter, down to the meeting room. We sit opposite one another, separated by a long, rectangular table. I feel nervous. She is a formidable looking, rather intimidating woman.

‘I am quite concerned about Charlie, Miss Saunders,’ I say, leaning forward, my forearms resting on the table. ‘She regularly truants my lessons and failed to attend yesterday’s detention – the detention that we agreed upon when I spoke to you on Tuesday.’  I wait for a response. There isn't one, so I awkwardly continue.  ‘She even poked her head through my classroom window to tell me that she wouldn't be coming. I was astonished by her brazenness – she clearly found it funny.’ Again, I wait for a response that isn’t forthcoming. Charlie sits smirking. Coltrane just stares at me as if to say: And…? Is that it?

After a long, uncomfortable silence I turn my attention to Charlie. ‘So what’s going on, Charlie? Why are you behaving like this?’

‘I walked out the other day ‘cause I was ‘ot. I asked you to open the door but you ignored me.’

‘That is simply untrue,’ I protest, momentarily stunned by an unexpected accusation. ‘I would not refuse a reasonable request like that. I just wouldn't do it!’

‘Are you calling my daughter a liar?’ At last, it speaks. I think I preferred it when she was inscrutably mute.

‘In this instance, Miss Saunders, she is not telling the truth,’ I say. Charlie slumps back, clearly reveling in her mother’s misplaced, irresponsible support.

‘Well, you obviously show ‘er no respect – calling ‘er a liar – so no wonder she plays up. Why should she respect someone that doesn't respect ‘er?’ Miss Saunders’ amorphous face ripples and reddens as she ferociously lays into me. She really has found her tongue.

‘Miss Saunders,’ I say, desperately trying to maintain my composure, ‘I invited you here to talk about your daughter’s behaviour in a bid to help her. Yet not once have you reprimanded her for what she has done.’

‘Don’t tell me what I 'av or 'aven’t done,’ she replies. ‘I know how to bring up my daughter.’

‘I’m sitting here watching you. Not once have you turned to her and said that her behaviour is unacceptable. Even if I did refuse to open the door – which I didn't by the way – do you still think it acceptable to walk out of a classroom because it’s too hot? What about the other students, what if they all decided to do the same?’

‘I’m fuckin’ going. You've got no fuckin’ respect.’ Coltrane struggles to her feet. I remain seated. If I stand up now it could inflame an already pretty flammable situation. She storms out. Charlie follows, still smirking, enjoying every minute. ‘You’re a fuckin’ dick’ead, mate.’ Coltrane’s parting shot pretty much sums me up – I am a dickhead…for organising a meeting with her.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Gove's reforms will expose rather than reverse Britain's educational decline

Like Thatcher's before him, Michael Gove's demise was greeted with gleeful cheers from the militant Left and disconsolate tears from the libertarian Right - peppered, of course, with a fair bit of enraged apoplexy. Peter Oborne, for example, columnist for The Daily Telegraph and unapologetic Govian neophyte, described him as 'the greatest education secretary since the Second World War', and angrily dismissed his removal as 'an act of sabotage' orchestrated by George Osborne's Machiavellian desire to dispense with his rivals and succeed David Cameron as Conservative party leader in the not-too-distant future.   

James Forsyth, another centre-right commentator and passionate Govian apostle, bemoaned his departure as a sop to the cosy Etonian club that dominates political and public life. Children schooled in the old Etonian art of power, he lamented (something Michael Gove wanted to extend to all, regardless of socio-economic circumstance), will now remain unchallenged by their state-school-educated contemporaries, courtesy of the former Education secretary's dastardly removal.

On the other hand, Christine Blower celebrated the apparent efficacy of her union's strike and menacingly, if indirectly, threatened Nicky Morgan, Michael Gove's replacement, with a similar fate should she dare to upset her members by, among other things, attempting to improve our schools.

It may or may not surprise you to know that I do not agree with either view. Neither do I share Peter Hitchens' typically surly and uncharitable assertion, though, that Michael Gove 'is the most overrated Education Secretary in recent British history'. On the contrary, Michael Gove, in my view, deserves credit for some courageous and long-overdue reforms.

Through his refashioned National Curriculum, for example, the core subjects have been injected with more rigorous, knowledge-based, intellectually challenging programmes of study - a reform that not only reverses a child-centred obsession that's scandalously led to nationwide, multigenerational ignorance and entrenched disadvantage (especially when one considers the private sector's unwavering focus on rigour), but one that really does force teachers to adopt a culture of high expectations, rather than one that simply pays lip-service to this hitherto overused, largely meaningless, shibboleth.

After years of government- and teacher-sponsored dumbing down, moreover, he has imbued our national qualifications with real value again. Many so-called BTEC equivalents have been abolished; others toughened up to more accurately reflect their stated value. Likewise, GCSEs and A-levels  have been armed with gold-sheathed rocket boosters as end of course exams replace their modularized, easier predecessors. Thanks to Michael Gove, no longer will our children be hoodwinked into taking meaningless courses, cruelly convinced of their artificially inflated value by venal politicians and their self-interested colluders in the teaching profession. For this, the former Education Secretary deserves considerable credit.

He also deserves credit for redefining what makes a good teacher, debunking long held prejudices that outstanding teachers talk less, encourage children to work collaboratively (in other words, in groups) and reject didacticism in favour of emollient facilitation. It's now, thankfully, all about pupil progress, without reference to teaching style.

He's granted Head teachers greater autonomy over behaviour management, allowing them, for the first time, to permanently exclude unruly pupils without the threat of having their decisions overturned by detached, all-powerful appeals panels. In addition, teachers no longer have to give 24 hours' notice before detaining a pupil - another potent, enabling reform that should, if used, make a profound difference. On reflection, I find these changes extremely difficult to oppose and, quite honestly, feel baffled by the profession's general hostility to an Education Secretary with the vision and courage to push them through.

However, as welcome as they are, these reforms do not go far enough. In fact, as they currently stand, they will only expose rather than reverse our educational decline. As a consequence, and with much regret, I do not view him as the 'great reformer' he's reputed to be by the likes of Peter Oborne and James Forsyth. Increasing demands through tougher exams and a more challenging National Curriculum, for example, and for all their merits, will not lead to higher standards; instead, as pupil outcomes get worse, unable to cope with the extra challenge, they will only illustrate the system's shortcomings, shortcomings that, unfortunately, Gove's reforms do not adequately address.

His attempt to reintroduce teacher-led, traditional lessons has been thwarted at every turn by Ofsted's refusal to play ball. Just last week a Civitas report exposed the organisation's unwillingness to enforce the will of its Chief Inspector who, in this case at least, fully supports Michael Gove's reform agenda. In reality, then, away from the headlines, child-centred learning continues unabated, leaving yet another generation to wallow in a morass of ignorance and want.

Most significantly, though, and this will come as no surprise to those of you familiar with this blog, he has not done enough to challenge the truly appalling behaviour so prevalent in our schools - behaviour that leads to such poor educational outcomes for so many of our children. OK, as already acknowledged, I concede that he's given Heads more power over behaviour management, but, quite often, those same Heads are unwilling to use their newly acquired authority, so indoctrinated by fluffy group think they've become - my Head being just one example.

During his tenure, rather frustratingly, Michael Gove made lots of noise when it came to behaviour, but much of it was hot air, platitudinous drivel designed to get a headline. For example, the use of reasonable force to restrain uncontrollable pupils is too vague and open to question – I can certainly see the lawyers rubbing their hands together at that one. Increased powers to stop and search those suspected of skulduggery are equally nebulous and frankly, unwanted – we are not police officers. Moreover, surprisingly, some of his reforms actually conspire to encourage the bad behaviour he said he wanted to eradicate. Through financial penalties, to give one such example, schools are now discouraged from permanently excluding persistently disruptive pupils. This is absurd. Schools should be urged to follow clear, easily understood sanctions ladders. If this means permanent exclusion as a last resort, a final sanction when all other avenues have been exhausted, so be it. They certainly shouldn’t be penalised for following their own procedures, procedures that exist to protect the education of the majority. 

'So what needs to be done?' I hear you say. Simple. Through a refashioned Ofsted school leaders must be forced to address the issue of behaviour in a much more meaningful way, only then will we see lasting improvements. Inspectors must indeed make it their number one priority. This will need, I suspect, especially when one considers their continued defiance of Michael Wilshaw's leadership over teaching styles,  a drastic, wholesale change of personnel - preferably to include the voices of commonsensical teachers and educational bloggers (here I am!) - accompanied by root and branch reform. They must forensically examine behaviour policies, question students and classroom teachers and, most importantly, and this is where Michael Gove again deserves some credit, arrive without prior warning. All schools, not just some, must be seen warts and all, only then will inspectors get an accurate picture. 

If adopted, and I implore Nicky Morgan to seriously consider it, this approach will initially lead to an increase in permanent exclusions that should be facilitated and supported through the creation of more specialist schools specifically designed for children with behavioural and emotional needs- something that could be encouraged through Michael Gove's Free Schools programme. 

A similar remedy should accompany the long-overdue reversal of David Blunkett's cruel Inclusion policy - a policy built upon the tacit, misguided assumption that children with often severe special educational needs should be educated in mainstream schools.This can only be seen as a missed opportunity, thus far.

Finally, for all their fanfare and the impassioned hysteria surrounding them, Academies and Free Schools aren't the game changers being touted. They are instead a continuation of the Marx-inspired status quo: the very same Leftie group-thinkers dominate the top positions with one significant change, thanks to Michael Gove: they now have more freedom to do their worst.

The lesson here for Nicky Morgan is that you can create as many Academies as you like, but, in my experience, as someone who works in one, they will make precious little difference without recasting Ofsted and through it, addressing the issues at the heart of our educational malaise: poor behaviour and trendy child-centred teaching methods. Who knows? Perhaps Michael Gove needed more time to become, like Thatcher before him, a truly great reformer.

Also published on www.conservativehome.com on July 24, 2014

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Like a veteran, I subconsciously bury the worst excesses of my wartime experiences

Jake was strutting around wearing a black hoodie again. As he scampered up the steps he brazenly offered his salutations, impervious to the fact that he wasn't wearing the correct uniform. ‘Alright sir?’

‘Not bad,’ I replied, wearily ignoring his all too obvious transgression. I was, in all honesty, unwilling to receive a predictable volley of abuse for an audacious attempt to enforce the school rules, a foolhardy act that would invariably go unsupported by our SLT. Two menacing looking year 11 pupils proceeded to swagger past, their identities obscured by scarves. Bright white trainers had replaced their school shoes and, like Jake, they both wore the sinister looking, ubiquitous black hoodie. In an attempt to shelve responsibility, I deluded myself into thinking that a member of our pastoral team must have challenged them by now, it was 10.30am after all. 

A group of four pupils gathered in front of me. One spat out his chewing gum and mockingly laughed as another member of staff asked him to pick it up. In response to the teacher’s further, more forceful insistence, he angrily shouted, ‘I ain’t fu**in’ pickin’ it up!’ before nonchalantly turning and walking away. Meanwhile, another pupil was on her phone whilst, further away, a gang of three, shouting and screaming, ran in and out of a classroom – unwisely left unlocked and unattended by a rather na├»ve supply teacher.

It was break-time and I was on duty, charged with policing the rear entrance to the main building – apparently, only pupils needing the toilet and those with permission slips may enter. I sipped a pale, rather tepid mug of tea as I surveyed the playground. Mobile phones, hoodies and trainers were everywhere, littering an otherwise pleasant, some might say quintessentially English, pastoral scene. They have become so commonplace, one could be mistaken for thinking them mandatory additions to the official school uniform. I looked around and started to count the number of infractions on display. One, two, three, four…sixteen!

'My God!' I thought, experiencing a rare attack of reality. Yes...sixteen rules were being broken! I suddenly realised the rather uncomfortable, shameful truth that I’ve become immune, indifferent and numb to our students’ hostility to authority, openly demonstrated by their shocking willingness to challenge and abuse the individuals charged with wielding it - us. In short, they flout what exists of the code of behaviour with impunity. My moral compass has indeed been recalibrated: right and wrong, good and bad, what’s acceptable and what isn’t, these have all been clouded and confused. Like a veteran burying the worst excesses of his wartime experiences, or an abused woman interpreting her partner’s ire as a benign manifestation of marital concern, I have subconsciously repressed my natural response to the behaviours exhibited by our pupils and, for all intents and purposes, normalised them in an effort to preserve what little sanity I have left. The alternative is too uncomfortable to contemplate. In order to protect my health and mental well-being, and without the means to do it, I no longer even attempt to enforce the school's rules.

Moreover, and perhaps more indicatively, neither does our SLT. I frequently witness our senior leaders ignore bad behaviour that should be challenged. They shamelessly turn a blind eye to pupils indulging in the most shocking activities without so much as a gentle plea to stop. With resigned indifference, I recently witnessed our Head ignore several pupils loitering in the corridor during what should have been third lesson. She never even stopped to ask why they were there. The fact that they were shouting, swearing and disrupting other classrooms didn't seem to matter - she was obviously far too busy. Or, more to the point, perhaps she was using the same defense-mechanism as me – bury your head in the sand and you live to work another day. The alternatives are either early retirement or stress-induced insanity.