Saturday, March 1, 2014

The scourge of low expectations leads to aggressive, abusive and violent behaviour among pupils

Michael Wilshaw regularly points out, quite rightly, that schools have alarmingly low expectations when it comes to their most underprivileged pupils. Apparently, according to Mr Gove’s educational poster-boy, confidant and sage, many of our educational institutions are betraying our most socially and economically deprived children by tolerating bad behaviour and with it, underachievement.

Personally, I couldn’t agree more. Not a day goes by without me hearing the depressingly familiar refrain, ‘There’s a lot going on at home,’ as a way of excusing some serial miscreant’s outrageous behaviour. ‘He called you a p****, did he? He wrecked your lesson and with it, the learning of twenty-five other kids, did he? He punched you in the b*******, did he? Never mind. The poor little fella’s got lots going on at home.’

Leaving aside, for one moment, the detrimental impact on the child’s peers, who witness him getting away with disrupting their learning, thus their life chances, on a daily basis, you can only imagine the damage done to the ‘poor little fella’. He is taught, for all intents and purposes, that he can, unlike the pupils at Eton and Harrow, behave appallingly and, consequently, fail his exams, all because he’s from a dysfunctional home. In reality, this approach can’t be described as anything other than profoundly discriminatory. Indeed, we are implicitly saying that the ‘poor little fella’ cannot behave like, neither can he secure the same qualifications as, the ‘rich little fella’ lucky enough to be raised in more benign socio-economic circumstances. It is these pervasive low expectations that Michael Wilshaw bravely rails against.

However, this week he's had a rare attack of cloud-cuckoo-landitus. Indeed, the thing that really surprised me, especially after the week I’ve had, a week in which I’ve been ignored, sworn at, told to shut up and generally treated like something found on the underside of a dog-walker’s shoe, was Michael Wilshaw’s less judicious contention that extreme behaviours of the kind we used to see five years ago are now a thing of the past. This, I have to say - and this is coming from someone who admires the courage and implacability of the Chief Inspector of Schools -, is utter hogwash!

My school is by no means exceptional. To modify a phrase famously uttered by Alistair Campbell, it is a pretty bog-standard academy. In fact, in our most recent inspection, albeit under the old standards, we were judged to be ‘good with outstanding features’. Yet this year, I have been the victim of a mind-boggling, truly shocking array of extreme behaviours, some of which border on criminality. I have been called a ‘B******’, ‘P****’ and ‘C***’. I have had to endure, with some classes, pupils standing on tables, screaming at the top of their voices and, on occasions, fighting. I have also, during my daily trips to the canteen, witnessed pupils jump and scream at teachers in an effort to scare and intimidate them.

Moreover, and most shocking of all, some of my charges have attempted to sully my name, damage my professional reputation and destroy my career. For example, a particularly vindictive pupil accused me of swearing at her – luckily for me, her peers refused to collude in the deception and exposed her mendacity; another accused me of physical intimidation. Apparently I gently ushered him away from the watchful eye of a CCTV camera – which, incidentally, doesn’t even exist – and, to use the vernacular, ‘squared up’ to him. This same student later punched the wall and verbally abused me.

After reading these examples, you may, after fainting, pose the question: ‘What happened to the pupils who perpetrated such horrendous infractions?’

Well, I’m sure you could take a good guess – after all, they do it for a reason: because they can! I’m afraid that, to my everlasting regret, there are no happy – nor commonsensical - endings in this blog. (I inhabit a strange, topsy-turvy world in which the children have the power and the adults, the fear.) All of them are still at the school and, more to the point, not one has even attended a detention for their respective transgressions. Alas, getting a child to sit a detention in my school is impossible, courtesy of the depressing fact that there’s no punishment for failing to attend. It would be laughable if it weren’t so serious!

Quite clearly, when one considers these experiences, experiences that have taken place in an unexceptional, standard British ex-comp-turned-academy, extreme behaviours are far from being a thing of the past. But, having said that, Wilshaw's initial insight at least explains why such behaviours are so commonplace. The scourge of low expectations intuitively leads to aggressive, abusive and violent behaviour among pupils.  After all, let’s face it, it’s nothing more than we’ve come to expect.

Effects of immigration policy on Britain’s classrooms

Schools are laboratories – in a sense. They reflect the societies that create them, and, in doing so, measure the success or failure of government policies and cultural mores. They conspire to capture, in microcosm, the consequences of successive governmental approaches to the management of economic affairs, welfare provision and law and order, as well as, of course, their approaches to education itself.
Let’s take social security as an example. Since the Second World War ,governments have fostered, albeit inadvertently, the growth of a welfare-dependent underclass which, unsurprisingly, has had a detrimental impact on parental attitudes to education – attitudes that manifest themselves through children in schools up and down the country. To put it crudely, such families have lost respect and reverence for both schools and teachers because they no longer need them to escape poverty.
Or perhaps we should consider the impact of liberal individualism, an Enlightenment-inspired concept that views society as largely responsible for the behaviour of criminals – and thus, transmuted into an educational context, the poor behaviour of children in schools. It would therefore, the sentiment goes, be wrong to punish criminals and, by extension, unruly children for the evils imposed on them by societal pressures they have no control over. They are, for all intents and purposes, the victims. In practice then, as a logical corollary, teachers get the blame for badly behaved pupils. The pupils, of course, go unpunished and behaviour, as an inevitable consequence, gradually gets worse. Thus the principles of liberal individualism – principles that have guided governmental policy for the last 50 years – directly affect schools, teachers and, most importantly, children. Perhaps the coalition should take note.
Recently, though, as a result of the demographic changes taking place in my school, I have found myself pondering the government’s immigration policy and its impact on education.
As a case study, let’s look at one of my current Year 10 cohorts. Out of a class of eighteen pupils, ten of them are of foreign extraction: six were born and partially raised in former British West Africa; one was born in Romania and the other three in Poland. These students, without exception – and they are representative of the vast majority of their respective compatriots across the school – are a breath of fresh air. Unlike many of their British-born peers, they are hard-working, well behaved and have a ferocious desire to succeed. In short, they value education.
Why? The answer is simple. They’ve been raised by parents whose provenance can be traced to countries without generous welfare systems. By necessity, they care about and realise the value of a good education as a result. How else would they escape poverty? These children have thus been inculcated with values that emphasise the critical importance of self-help and personal responsibility. They are not, unlike their British counterparts, permitted to make excuses for their failings.
Just how long this will last, though, once they’ve been here for a few years and experience the generosity of a welfare system that discourages educational achievement, is anyone’s guess. But in the meantime, their presence is both refreshing and welcome.
I do harbour some cultural concerns, however. During a recent classroom debate on homosexuality, for example, the dissonance in opinion between the indigenous children and their foreign peers was stark. The British born kids were, broadly speaking, and to their credit, tolerant; their foreign classmates – notwithstanding one exception – were, in contrast, profoundly homophobic, to the extent of wanting to see homosexuality outlawed.  Interestingly, these sentiments are fuelled by their domestic environments, environments that reflect the cultural and religious heritage of their parents (and, let’s not forget, the very same environments that value education and encourage hard work).
However, that said, these sentiments are, I’m sure you’d agree, deeply at odds with our shared conception of morality and individual liberty. This is a conception that rightly encourages the free expression of one’s sexuality and prohibits discrimination based upon sexual orientation. The rise of intolerance as a consequence of immigration and our misguided commitment to multiculturalism is a profoundly concerning feature of modern Britain – a feature distressingly displayed in my school and, I’m sure, many other schools across the country.
So we have a dilemma. On the one hand, encouraging the arrival of hard-working people who value education is remarkably beneficial; on the other, though, the very moral certainties that nurture courtesy, respect for authority, hard work and commitment, also promote intolerance and hatred. How do we, as a society, through a process of cross-fertilisation, seek the wholesale adoption of the former, thus encouraging the indigenous population to embrace hard work and respect for authority, whilst persuading the newcomers to renounce the latter, thus accepting Western values of tolerance and liberty?
Alas, and not for the first time, I don’t know. But the Coalition should be looking for answers, the efficacy of which will be revealed in laboratories – or classrooms – across the country.

Also published on www.conservativehome.com on February 15, 2014

‘Student Voice’ demoralises teachers, encourages irresponsibility and promotes a culture of excuses

Back in September 2004, during my first year of teaching, a senior member of staff politely rebuked me for pushing in front of a student in the lunch queue. ‘They don’t like it when you push in front of them,’ she said.
I, albeit in a state of bewilderment, begrudgingly acceded to her request before heading back to my classroom and ruminating on its implications. When I was at school, I thought, only nine years earlier, the teachers always pushed in front of us students. They even sat on a raised platform, overlooking us, their young deferential charges. We didn’t consider it to be inequitable. They were our teachers and that was that. Does this innovation, I pondered, represent a break from the traditional conception of teacher-student relations? I felt a tinge of discomfort as I considered the possible consequences of this new direction.
Ten years on, it is brutally clear why I was so exercised. My discomfort was indeed well founded.  I now inhabit a world in which the adults openly exhibit a deep respect and reverence for the children; the children, in contrast, counter-intuitively and contrary to common sense, view the adults as little more than servile providers of a mundane service. My admonishment was certainly a harbinger of things to come.
According to the latest edition of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), 73 per cent of schools in the UK ask their students for written feedback on the performance of teachers and the quality of lessons. Furthermore, in a troubling extension of this relatively recent trend, many are now arguing that student feedback should be used to determine teachers’ pay. So teachers are being treated like restaurateurs and hoteliers, open to public criticism and, if Michael Gove’s Policy Exchange gets its way, salary determined by customer satisfaction – the students, of course, being the customers.
Honestly! Where do they think up this inane folly? I simply do not buy the assertion that student feedback improves educational outcomes. In fact, in my opinion, determined by ten years of experience, not only does it have a dramatic and detrimental impact on teacher morale; it also encourages student irresponsibility and a culture of excuses – two factors that contrive to ensure educational failure.
First, though, let’s consider the effect on teachers. Many disgruntled students, in my school at least, where the children are widely consulted, use it as an instrument of torture for the hapless staff member on the wrong end of their wrath.  Moreover, they feel buoyed by a new found freedom, an intoxicating sense of power that inevitably leads to a combination of arrogance and smugness.
For us teachers, though, there is no such perverse pleasure. We are reduced to obsequiousness and desperate attempts to ingratiate ourselves with the children judging us. Often this manifests itself in the construction of ‘fun’ tasks that do nothing to help student progress; or teachers choosing not to sanction unruly behaviour, fearful of the child’s subsequent response. You can only imagine how demoralising and downright demeaning it is – negative feelings that will only worsen if ‘Student Voice’ is used as a determinant of teacher pay.
Secondly, however, and most importantly, we need to consider its impact on the children themselves. They are being given a responsibility for which they are unprepared and unqualified. Many cannot recognise, for example, the value of efficacious teaching methods that may be construed as boring. In short, although many of our students are intelligent and sensible, others lack the maturity to make judgements about a teacher’s ability, their vision clouded by petty disputes, perceived slights and the fickle nature of peer pressure.
On the odd occasion, it would indeed do schools no harm to consider why children are still living at home, cared for by parents and carers. This societal convention implies, quite rightly, that children cannot fend for themselves, make sensible, prudent decisions, or judge what is in their best interests. Adults, therefore, make the decisions for them. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t listen to their concerns. Of course we should. But we should do it with circumspection and careful thought. We should not, under any circumstances, institutionalise a system that gives children a decisive say in the appraisal, thus the lives, of teachers and their families. Giving them such an enormous responsibility is unfair on them, if nothing else.
Paradoxically, moreover, encouraging children to formally evaluate teacher performance divests them of any meaningful responsibility for their own progress. After all, they are being taught, albeit unintentionally, to search for excuses. It must be Mr Robinson’s fault. His lessons are boring. This misguided, interminable focus on the teacher can only lead to student fecklessness and, as an inevitable consequence, underachievement and failure. Regrettably the students have been led to believe, quite erroneously, that we – the teachers – have more to lose than them. It is incredibly sad to see.
The kids do the bare minimum; we, in contrast, run around like headless chickens, demoralised and exhausted, working 15-hour days, six days a week. It can only be described as perverse. Call me an old fashioned traditionalist, but shouldn’t the students be evaluating their own performances, and, rather than being taught to make excuses and denounce adults, be taught to accept their respective circumstances and work hard regardless? It is the Senior Leadership Team’s job to root out professional shortcomings, after all, not the children’s.
Back in 2004, when my career was in its infancy, I bore witness to an egalitarian phenomenon that has done enormous damage to our education system. ‘Student Voice’, its natural offshoot, should be renounced and discarded without delay. Children need to be given back their childhoods, and teachers, their pride.

Also published on www.conservativehome.com on January 30, 2014

Is Michael Gove playing into the hands of ‘The Blob’?

The expansion of the academies programme is being promoted as the long-awaited solution to educational underachievement. According to the Government, the pathology of failure will be eradicated by sponsored schools, liberated from the stultifying shackles of local authority control. Greater autonomy will lead to the removal of needless bureaucracy; innovative, pioneering ideas will be free to flourish, and standards will inexorably rise as a result. Moreover, in a bid to encourage competition, popular schools will expand whilst their failing counterparts disappear. Sound good? The Coalition certainly thinks so.
Yet as a teacher who works in one, in my opinion, academies aren’t the catchall panaceas being touted. First of all, let’s address the root causes of underachievement. In many schools, including mine, bad behaviour and indiscipline are the most important factors responsible for student failure. Indeed, common sense tells us that nobody can learn in an anarchic environment, and, regrettably, anarchic environments have been inadvertently created throughout the state school system over the last 20-odd years.
In my school, as is the case in many other schools, this problem has been created by the blind refusal of our senior leaders to discipline disruptive children. They are solely responsible for our current malaise.
I did once hope that reform would accompany academy status. Perhaps our sponsors would take the opportunity to dismiss our underperforming leadership – something, ironically, being considered by the local authority before the academy took over. How wrong I was. Instead they foolishly renewed the Senior Leadership Team’s (SLT) legitimacy and with it, ensured the survival of the status quo. SLT, buoyed by its benefactors, remains stubbornly wedded, against all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, to an outdated Leftist dogma that proscribes the punishment of badly behaved students. As a consequence, our children are still prevented from learning by unrestrained, recalcitrant yobs.
My fear is that Leftism – unashamedly promoted by Marxist and ex-Marxist school leaders – is so deeply ingrained in our schools that, with a few notable exceptions, only like-minded individuals and organisations are interested in running them. Our academy is just one example. So the academies programme, rather than incentivising a stronger approach to behaviour management through increased competition is, in reality, granting greater autonomy – and therefore greater power – to the very people responsible for our current problems.
Likewise, as with the academies policy, the Government’s decision to make it easier for head teachers to dismiss failing staff seems, prima facie, perfectly reasonable; after all, it happens in every other profession. But, I hear myself ponder, when is Mr Gove going to address the problem of failing heads and poor behaviour? Up until now, his actions have failed to match his rhetoric on behaviour, and he has said very little about the scourge of poor leadership. Indeed, he appears to believe that declining standards and failing schools are caused by bad teachers protected by omnipotent unions. In this analysis, head teachers are innocent victims, bullied and shackled by a malignant conspiracy. In reality, though, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Our head’s ideological commitment to ‘non-judgementalism’ has led to classroom chaos and poor standards. If we, the teaching staff, have the audacity to complain about the inhumane treatment we suffer as a consequence, we are threatened and bullied into silence. Our unions are pusillanimous in the face of a wily, union-savvy head and a conflict of interest – after all, they represent members of the SLT as well as ordinary classroom teachers. I am not against this proposal – poor teachers should be fired -, neither am I against the introduction of performance related pay, but I am concerned that it will give left-wing heads a licence to dispose of unwanted, conservative staff who would like to see rules enforced and higher standards of discipline. Is Michael Gove, through these reforms, playing into the hands of ‘The Blob’?

Also published on www.conservativehome.com on November 24, 2013

Double standards in our schools

I sat bewildered. Perhaps she’d been drinking. ‘Bloodshot eyes certainly indicate the occasional dalliance with Johnnie Walker,’ I thought. Or perhaps she’d been the subject of a botched lobotomy; a last-ditch attempt to sever the nerve fibres responsible for her unpredictability and mania had failed, leaving her even more unstable. Whatever the explanation, I found it difficult to absorb what to me seemed incomprehensible.

‘You may not agree with our decision,’ said her henchman and our Assistant Head. ‘But after seeing Ali’s home,’ he paused and loudly exhaled, as if to demonstrate his overwhelming compassion, ‘we are not willing to exclude him.’ Ali, a year 10 student, had been caught red-handed with a number of mobile phones he had stolen from a group of year 7 students the day before. ‘Even though we’d normally exclude,’ he continued, ‘we can’t allow him to spend any more time in that house than he has to. If anyone has any objections, that’s tough; you weren’t there; you don’t know what it was like.’ I’m sure he could detect a general uneasiness among the staff being addressed, hence his defensive, implacable stance.

I for one was certainly feeling uneasy. ‘Has any consideration been given to the victims?’ I thought. ‘And what about the other 500 students in the school, what message does this send them?’ I shuffled my feet restlessly, desperately trying to remain inscrutable, even though I was beginning to feel particularly disputatious. Just at that moment, my subconscious cruelly invaded my nervous system and shook my head in disapproval. I couldn’t believe it: an involuntary reflex had exposed me as a dissenter, a rebel, a potential insurrectionist. I sat hoping that no one had noticed.

The following week an emergency meeting was called to discuss the deterioration of student behaviour. According to our Head, Jackie, we were not being consistent enough in the classroom; students were getting mixed messages and, as a result, behaviour was getting worse.

I found her charge of inconsistency astounding in its shamelessness, breathtaking in its hypocrisy. Against my better judgement, I raised my hand in protest. ‘How dare you accuse us of inconsistency? Just last week you refused to exclude a student – a student that, in your own words, would have normally been excluded - on the basis that he is underprivileged.’

‘Yes…and?’ she replied, visibly bemused.

‘Well, the implication is that if he had been from a stable home, you would have excluded him. That’s double standards; it’s inequitable; it reeks of inconsistency.’ I could sense my career, with all its glittering potential, ebbing away with each word. Red-faced, flustered and floundering, Jackie stuttered and stumbled over her response. I continued, unrelenting in my assault, determined to vent years of frustration. ‘In your misguided determination to protect Michael, you haven’t even considered his victims. These are year 7 students, some of whom also come from terrible homes. School is the one place in which they feel safe. Well, did feel safe. They are now aware that they have to share their school with an unrestrained larcenist. Indeed, the school appears to offer little protection.

‘The decision doesn’t even help Ali. He still has to return to his dysfunctional home after school, and has now been taught that his actions have no consequences.

‘Most damaging, however, is the message it sends to the rest of our kids: if you come from a deprived home, you can do anything you like; you can break the rules with impunity!’ At that point our Deputy Head intervened and the meeting was rapidly adjourned.

What a release! I felt truly redeemed, liberated even. Hitherto I had silently colluded in the school’s destructive, misguided prejudices. Not anymore. A speech that I had mentally rehearsed over and over again had all the cathartic effects I had imagined. Yet these were short-lived. The next day I was summoned and reprimanded; scolded for daring to think the unthinkable.

When ADHD sufferers misbehave, is it really our fault?

It’s official! According to a recent study, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) cannot possibly concentrate unless they are sufficiently interested. Indeed, it is contended that a biological explanation exists for impetuous and restless behaviour among sufferers. Moreover, it goes on to proffer a simple remedy: the more interested they become in a particular activity, the less susceptible they’ll be to the condition’s effects; either that or they’ll have to take a potent, mind-altering drug commonly known as Ritalin.

Two deeply concerning implications arise for the teaching profession as a result of these findings. Firstly, bad behaviour among sufferers is not their fault. It is a symptom of a mental condition. As a consequence, it would be hard-hearted to discipline them for transgressions that they have no control over. Secondly, it is incumbent upon each sufferer’s teacher to provide interesting activities – whatever they may be – in an effort to stop the symptoms developing. If teachers fail in this endeavour, the child’s behaviour is entirely their fault, and, by implication, so is the child’s subsequent reliance on drugs. The study implicitly suggests that if teachers did their jobs properly, the need for Ritalin would be a thing of the past and impulsive behaviour non-existent.

But even without this study, the belief that ADHD sufferers are not responsible for their actions is widespread; behavioural responsibility has been entirely divested from students and perversely invested in teachers; a child’s behaviour is solely the responsibility of the pedagogue. Alas, the study’s findings contrive to further justify this highly regrettable, destructive trend.

In the school in which I teach, I am often, shall we say, politely corrected by a member of our pastoral team for attempting to discipline students with ADHD. ‘I’m not saying it’s an excuse for his behaviour, but little Jimmy wouldn’t have thrown the chair if he didn’t suffer with ADHD.’ I, somewhat confused, briefly ruminate on why my colleague mentioned his condition if she didn’t intend to make excuses for him. She continues, ‘I realise he’s misbehaved but he just won’t be able to do an after school detention, he just couldn’t cope with sitting for that long. Can’t we think of another sanction, less severe, and, together, perhaps employ some smarter strategies in the classroom?’ Resigned to the depressing fact that, even though my colleague is several management points below me, in this case, her sentiments are more closely allied with those of the Senior Management Team, I begrudgingly accept her suggestion and agree to a meeting with the student in question instead. This will be an occasion where we can both air our grievances and come to an amicable agreement on how to move forward. There will be no punishment, even though an extreme behavioural incident has taken place. Furthermore, I will be encouraged to reflect on my professional shortcomings and implement a new strategy to prevent the incident recurring.

Jimmy now knows that he is untouchable. As has been the case here, in the future, his extreme behaviours will go unpunished, and, even better, the teacher he hates will be made to feel inadequate whenever he wishes to throw another  strop.

It doesn't take a behavioural psychologist to see that this course of action - or, what would be more appropriately termed, non-action - is doing a gross disservice to poor Jimmy. He has been abandoned by the very people who should be teaching him the difference between right and wrong. Inculcating moral values is surely a school’s first and most important function. Neglecting this function is tantamount to child cruelty. Every time Jimmy misbehaves he protests, ‘I’ve got ADHD!’ as an excuse. He goes on, as he has been taught, to point the finger of blame,: ‘Your lessons are boring!’ Of course, it may get him out of trouble at school, but when he enters the workplace an employer will not be so forgiving. Even if a child is diagnosed with ADHD – and, according to official statistics, 1 in 50 children are affected – he will still have to make his way in the world, be subject to the same rules, injustices and setbacks as everyone else. Is it therefore fair to treat him differently, leaving him unprepared for the real world? I fear that this latest study will further justify our current, grotesquely inadequate, response.

A strange paradox exists here: it could be argued that we, the teaching profession as a whole, are indeed responsible for many of the behaviours elicited by ADHD sufferers, but not for the reasons outlined in the study. In reality, we are responsible because we have been hoodwinked into believing that extreme behaviours are our fault. We callously lead sufferers into believing that they are not responsible for their actions, which, in turn, leads to bad behaviour being repeated time and time again, behaviours that could have been addressed if only we were willing to accept that children, even children with ADHD, need to take responsibility for their actions. If they don’t, success in later life will be hard to come by.

Also published on www.conservativehome.com on November 17, 2013

Three years on, one is reminded of the Left's woeful response to the Summer Riots of 2011

Three years on, one is reminded of the Left's woeful response to the Summer Riots of 2011. Led by the then Archbishop of Canterbury - who provocatively, yet predictably, decided to alienate his dwindling flock (again!) -, the Leftist intelligentsia claimed that the riots were not the fault of the rioters, but the law-abiding majority. That's right: according to the ‘erudite’ Archbishop and his comrades, forever viewing the world through an atavistic prism constructed by Karl Marx, we are letting down our youngsters, and this neglect, one can only conclude, led many of them to rob, vandalise and destroy in a fit of enraged desperation. Does this sound like a fair analysis? I have my doubts.

If we are guilty of anything, it is for being idle spectators as opinion-formers like Williams perversely blame us for society’s ills. Over the last twenty years we have allowed him, and his ilk, to shamelessly make excuses for recidivists and wrong-doers. In future, we need to treat his circumlocutions, and those of his ideological bedfellows, with the contempt they deserve and force criminals to accept responsibility for their crimes again. So let’s begin to repent; and let’s start by calling a spade a spade: the summer disturbances of 2011 were not riots; they were mass lootings, nothing more.

They were not caused by the police, as the Guardian would have us believe, but by youngsters infected with a pernicious culture of excuses that has, hitherto, absolved them of any wrong-doing – a regrettable trend exemplified by the Left’s disgraceful response. This culture has led to confusion and widespread fecklessness starkly demonstrated by the events of that fateful summer. That’s right: the Left caused it; now it looks to shift the blame by repeating the same banal refrain: it wasn’t their fault; you selfish capitalists are to blame!

As a teacher, the events of August 2011 came as no surprise. In the classroom we’ve been witnessing similar scenes for ten years; and we’ve also spent that time listening to excuse-makers like Rowan Williams blame us: it’s never the child’s fault, they declare, it’s your boring lessons. The tragedy is that as their behaviour goes unchallenged, these youngsters grow up without knowing the difference between right and wrong. They have been disempowered and cruelly stripped of the ability to take responsibility.

Leftists, the real power brokers in today’s Britain, have bullied adults into forfeiting their traditional role as guardians and transmitters of morality. We no longer police the behaviour of youngsters because that would be too judgemental. Wedded to relativism - a theory rabidly supported by the former Archbishop - these social liberals have emasculated adults and sewn moral confusion into the souls of our children. The result is a slow march towards collective suicide as irresponsibility festers, permeates and ultimately undermines the contract that welds society’s disparate elements together. And what is the Left’s response? More of the same. Three years on, we mustn’t let them off the hook!

The education system is rotten - and the rot starts with the regulators

On the odd occasion small news stories prod and aggravate old, latent ones that many would rather remained buried in the past. Ofqual's recent decision to revoke its commitment to ban exam seminars is just one such occasion.   Back in December 2011, let's not forget, examiners were caught, among other things, revealing the content of exams to course deliverers in these very seminars. As a teacher well versed in the corrupt practices of my profession, the revelations came as no surprise. They had indeed been common knowledge for a very long time. But the widespread attack upon the integrity of our examination system by venal examiners touting for business, and teachers looking to improve results at any cost, still, some eighteen months later, has the ability to render one speechless.

Surely the real story, though, even today, is why it took a newspaper - the Daily Telegraph - to uncover a scandal that should have been uncovered by the regulator, Ofqual. Forget the lone voices of a few rebellious pedagogues willing to speak out, stubbornly wedded to the outdated, mistaken belief that teaching is a noble profession, the regulator should have been regulating.  As Michael Gove patiently awaited Ofqual’s conclusions – he, rather amusingly, asked the organisation that failed to spot these glaring transgressions in the first place to investigate the Daily Telegraph’s allegations -, I couldn’t help but think he was barking up the wrong tree. He should have been investigating Ofqual. It failed in its primary duty to maintain examination standards and ensure that our qualifications remained among the best, most highly regarded in the world. Of course, Gove would say that Ofqual was an untainted, relatively new quango set up in 2010 to replace the failing QCA. But surely it had more than enough time to investigate these deplorable practices. Why didn’t it?

The reality is that the entire educational system is rotten, and the rot starts, unsurprisingly, with the regulators. Teachers, schools and examination boards dance to the tunes played by these powerful organisations. They set the agenda and dictate the standards. If standards decline - as they have - or probity is sacrificed at the altar of a venal educational clique – as it has been - it is down to regulatory shortcomings. These examiners were not lone renegades subverting an otherwise unimpeachable, functioning system; they were part of its very fabric, a fabric intricately woven by the shameless quangocrats of Ofqual. 

And let's not pretend that the scandal stops there. Ofqual isn’t the only watchdog that needs to be investigated. Ofsted, the schools' inspectorate, is also deeply suspect. In my experience, and in the shared experiences of many of my colleagues and fellow professionals, its judgements often bear no relation to reality. For example, despite severe behavioural problems, poor examination results and, in some cases, falling attendance, I am aware of many schools that are still judged to be good, or even outstanding. Inspectors – most of whom are paternalistic, condescending ex-teachers – arrogantly choose to ignore the opinions of local parents who choose to send their children elsewhere, and the opinions of many who write letters of complaint. They blindly reject the market’s judgement and tacitly assert that everyone else - bar them of course (the experts!) - is wrong. These schools are successful, they cry, no matter what local people think.

Ofsted’s myopia seems, in these cases, so flagrant, its judgments so inaccurate, that it raises my suspicions, and the suspicions of my fellow professionals and colleagues. Why does it not see what we see?

The alarming truth is that Ofqual and Ofsted are two sides of the same coin. Both are manned by ex-teachers responsible for many of the problems that pervade twenty-first century education in Britain. One suspects that these bureaucrats were, during their teaching careers, purveyors of low expectations that led to poor behaviour and poor results. They would have been leftists determined to ensure equality, not of opportunity but of outcome. In practice, therefore, the inexorable decline of standards through dumbing down would have been desirable in a bid to ensure that everyone passes. Alas, it is only a small step from here to outright cheating in an attempt to realise the same objective. All must have prizes; all must succeed, no matter what the cost. Unfortunately for our children, the system has been Sovietised, and as in the Soviet Union, corruption is endemic. How can you expect these people to police the very system they helped create? So Ofqual has decided to revoke its commitment to ban exam seminars. Who cares? The real scandal is the survival of a failed regulator! Michael Gove needs to dismantle the entire rotten edifice.

Also published on www.conservativehome.com on August 11, 2013

A day in the life of a teacher

11am

‘F**k off!’ he shouts. John is typical of many of our kids: stunted, undernourished and utterly feral.

‘Come here please,’ I reply, consciously controlling the tone of my voice. Tone is so important. I want it to exude authority, but not anger, even though I am feeling pretty annoyed. I look back sensing another, menacing presence. Ben, a short, portly year 7 with crooked teeth approaches. He walks with purpose. He is clearly disheveled, upset and, dare I say it,seething with anger.

John runs towards the main building, away from me and his larger pursuer, deploying his full arsenal of expletives as he goes. ‘F**k off, you c**t! Your mum sucks c**k! You fat f****r!’ Is he talking to me or Ben? It is difficult to discern; Ben and I are both on the large side.

For the time being, I postpone my indignation and concentrate on Ben. He appears to be the more immediate threat. ‘Stop there, Ben!’ I exclaim.

‘I’m gonna f****n’ kill ‘im,’ he shouts, red-faced and panting.

‘No you aren't, Ben,’ I reply, desperate to maintain a semblance of control.

He continues to steam towards his nemesis. I have no choice but to restrain him. As I do, he turns his ire on me. ‘F**k off, you c**t!’ he shouts. ‘Let go, you t****r!’

‘I can’t let go until you calm down, Ben.’ Honestly, this feels like Groundhog Day. Wasn’t I called a c**t by someone else about 10 seconds ago? Eventually, after a brief struggle, I manage to shepherd him into a classroom and wait for help.

2pm

I am teaching the Atlantic slave trade to a class of year 8 students. We are discussing the treatment of female slaves in the Americas.

‘Some were used for breeding,’ Rachel observes, clearly horrified yet interested at the same time.

‘What do you mean by-?’

‘She must have had a f****n’ bucket,’ Stacey interrupts, crudely guesstimating the size of a slave’s vagina; it is a lewd, insensitive reference to their cruel exposure, through abuse, to sexual hyperactivity. I send her out in disgust.

3pm

After class, I make my way to the hall for our weekly assembly. As I walk amongst the usual bustle and cacophony that characterises lesson change, I discern a sequence of profanities that certainly merits my attention. ‘That’s my f****n’ tit, you c**t!’ I look around, desperately trying to penetrate the sea of student bodies. Who said that? Is she alright - if indeed it is a she?

Suddenly, amid the rowdy mob emerges Ronny, laughing and cradling her left breast. She is a coarse, rather unpleasant character suspected of carrying a genetic defect – the unfortunate consequence of maternal alcohol abuse during pregnancy. She clearly finds whatever happened amusing, so rather than evoke her ire – she is well versed when it comes to abusing staff who question her -, I walk on, determined to end my day peacefully.

3.30pm

Immediately after the last bell, we gather in room 9 for a brief meeting led by our Assistant Head teacher, Robert Standing. He is a tall, bespectacled, balding man in his mid-forties. He is also grossly incompetent, morally dubious and utterly ruthless when it comes to defending his position. The rumour mill certainly churns frantically over Robert’s questionable management techniques. I must admit, I am very wary of him, even though he comes across, on first impressions, as both approachable and charming.

One of the agenda items this evening is the behaviour policy, something for which he is responsible. A behaviour policy should set out clear guidelines for both teachers and students; rules, rewards and sanctions should be transparent and intelligible; and, most importantly, it should be followed and closely monitored. Alas, in short, our policy is unfit for purpose; and it soon becomes clear on closer inspection that Robert, its supposed architect, has not even read it.

‘It states that an Advocacy Team will be called when a teacher needs a student to be removed from class – no such team exists. It also says that detentions will be recorded in a log to be found in the staffroom – no such log exists.’ Rebecca, my colleague, is forthright but measured in her tone and manner. She has been the victim of jaw dropping levels of abuse since her return from maternity leave. She continues, 'We don’t –'

‘I’m going to stop you there,’ Robert interrupts. ‘I’m happy to take on board your points, but feel you’re being quite aggressive.’ He waits for a response. The room is shocked into silence. Rebecca flounders and stumbles over her words. Robert’s defensive, desperate gambit has certainly had the desired effect. The conversation is no longer about his incompetence, but Rebecca’s belligerence.

Eventually, after a shameful, cowardly hesitation, I interject. ‘No, Robert,’ I say tentatively, ‘Rebecca is not being aggressive.’

‘That’s your interpretation,’ he retorts.

‘Yes, you’re right, it is. And whilst we’re on the subject,’ I continue, shaking with adrenaline, ‘your policy also states that the pastoral coordinators will run weekly reports on disruptive students and deliver them to curriculum leaders – this doesn’t happen either. It stipulates that violent or aggressive behaviour should lead to exclusion – this doesn’t happen. It’s very clear that you’re not following your own policy.’ Robert clearly has no idea what is even in it.

‘Look,’ he replies, ‘the truth is that sanctions don’t work.’ I shake my head in disbelief. This is tantamount to saying that our kids do not need rules. ‘You disagree?’ he asks.

‘Of course I disagree. If adults need rules and sanctions, children certainly do. You obviously challenge what has gone pretty much unchallenged throughout the entire course of human history: rules are necessary to ensure freedom and safety; sanctions to ensure that rules are followed. There must be consequences if boundaries are crossed. Without that reality, the boundaries do not exist.’ He looks puzzled. The thought of punishments and sanctions is anathema to his Left-wing sensibilities. That is why the school is more like Mogadishu than a place of learning.

Rajesh, a gentle, mild-mannered geography teacher agrees. ‘If a student is naughty, he must face a consequence, otherwise he’ll do it again.’

Robert wastes no time in censuring him for using a word strictly prohibited in the teaching profession. ‘Can we refrain from calling students naughty, please? I prefer to say that they’re making the wrong choices.’ I despair. This man – a man who does not follow his own policy, who does not agree with sanctions or referring to naughty children as, well, naughty - is responsible for the behaviour management of our school. What hope have our children got?

Also published on www.conservativehome.com on July 31, 2013

We must support Michael Gove's reforms and allow me - at last! - to be a 'real' teacher

As academics and, unsurprisingly, union leaders berate the government over its proposed changes to the National Curriculum - in which it places much greater emphasis on the accumulation of knowledge and the mastery of spelling, punctuation and grammar -, I cannot help but conclude that I, and the rest of the teaching profession, have been guilty of charlatanism and, as a consequence, a gross dereliction of duty for many years.

'What do you mean by charlatanism?' I hear you say. 'You're a teacher, aren't you?' Well, you could say that, at least in the titular sense. But 'teachers' have been discouraged from 'teaching' for twenty-odd years, at least in the state sector. Left-wing politicians have conspired with Marxist educationalists and union barons to repudiate the impartation-of-knowledge-by-expert-practitioners model, a model tried and successfully tested for centuries, in favour of a revolutionary new paradigm that impels teachers to act as dispassionate 'facilitators', strictly prohibited from lecturing, and fanatical exponents of an educational theory that encourages the development of thinking skills rather than the acquisition of knowledge (and here you may begin to get confused, especially if you consider, quite rightly, knowledge and thinking to be inextricably linked).

It doesn't take the deductive ability of Sherlock Holmes to realize that, as a consequence, teachers are no longer expected to be purveyors of knowledge; after all, according to the left - the real power brokers in today's education system - knowledge is intrinsically discriminatory, thus dangerous. Who gets to decide what the 'right' knowledge is? Hitherto, they would argue, it's been an egregiously one-sided, occidental approach that neglects the wider world and, among other things, inaccurately depicts Britain as a beacon of reason and justice. In this new milieu, knowledge is frowned upon; it has no place in education; in fact, for all intents and purposes, it runs counter to the expressed objectives of the powers-that-be. Children must be taught how to think rather than what to think.

There are two problems with this approach. Firstly, as alluded to earlier, one cannot think without first acquiring knowledge. These processes are not mutually exclusive. As the acquisition of knowledge is neglected, pupils lose the ability to reason. So the process of thinking is retarded rather than enhanced. Moreover, an overemphasis on 'thinking skills' and relentless reference to them in the classroom through the use of fashionable tools - such as 'thinking hats' - ignores the fact that they're natural processes. If we have the information, we are genetically programmed to question, evaluate and criticize it; and, I'm sure you'd agree, the more information we have, the more sophisticated our responses become.

Secondly, the proscription of knowledge-based-learning leads to ignorance and what E.D. Hirsch referred to as cultural illiteracy. Teenagers are leaving school without the tools to become fully engaged in national life; they have no common terms of reference, especially when communicating with the wealthy, and, as a consequence, the corridors of power, forever controlled by the privileged few, who send their children to schools wedded to traditionalism, remain remote and inaccessible. So why, when one considers these irrefutable truisms, are so many academics and union leaders critical of the government's reforms?

Alas, I don't know. But if we want our children to recognize the importance of William of Normandy to the development of our nation, then we must support the government's reforms and allow me - at last - to be a 'real' teacher.


Also published on www.conservativehome.com on July 11, 2013

Gay marriage has nothing to do with equal rights

Entering the discussion over gay marriage, especially when one has misgivings, as I do, is a dangerous endeavour. The level of hysteria surrounding the subject is indeed frightening; the virulence of attacks dispensed by opponents prohibiting. Nevertheless, and after tortured deliberation, I have decided to enter the fray and risk vilification.

As a school teacher I witness, on a daily basis, the malign consequences of family breakdown caused, in large part, by the erosion of marriage and the loss of respect for its historic role as benign cultivator of the next generation. For a vast array of reasons, too numerous to discuss here, marriage has become a rather quaint, old-fashioned commodity to be coveted, and then casually discarded once the initial impulse wears off. For many couples, moreover, it is an anachronism to be completely rejected, even though to do so makes a break-up - with all its harmful consequences for the innocent children involved - statistically more likely. 

The innumerable, irrefutable societal benefits accrued as a result of traditional marriage are therefore being lost to modernity. Its demise should indeed be a cause for great concern. 

It is against this backdrop, in my view, that the debate over gay marriage should be conducted; yet in its current manifestation, the intimidation suffered by those of us brave enough to stick our heads above the parapet and loudly, unapologetically, venerate traditional marriage does not only coarsen the quality of public discourse, it also retards it as most traditionalists, or neo-heretics, demur from taking part lest they're publicly branded homophobes. Sadly, as a result, we are in danger of enacting a profound, irreversible change without having had a mature, intelligent national conversation about its effects on an institution responsible for the stability of community life over the last two millennia. 

As the law currently stands, a marriage is consummated through sexual intercourse as an expression of love and the primordial human desire to procreate. Its absence is indeed a reason for annulment. But if constituted, gay marriage will effectively rescind this essential marital rite thus altering the very meaning of the term. Sexual intercourse will no longer be seen as an important aspect of married life. Yet if the sexual imperative no longer exists, and marriage simply becomes a legal union, devoid of any meaning beyond the arrangement of one's tax affairs, why not allow two sisters to marry or, perhaps, and rather alarmingly, even a mother and son?

Surely extending the right to marry erodes its sanctity and fails to recognise its unique contribution, in its current form, to the health of society. It will thus be derogated, debased and, as a consequence, devalued.

This is not to belittle the laudable aims of gay couples to celebrate their relationships, aims that have been rightly recognised through civil partnerships. But what's the purpose of getting married and, just as importantly, staying married if it has no greater meaning than any other legally binding contract? Stripped of its essence, people, especially the young, even more so than now, will view marriage as nothing more than an agreement between two consenting adults - an agreement to be frivolously entered into and whimsically broken. In short, my objections to gay marriage are not based upon some atavistic, deep-rooted, antediluvian antipathy towards homosexuals; they are based upon a teacher's concern for the survival of an already beleaguered national institution that appears to be in its death throes and the malign social consequences of its demise, consequences that I see every day.

So why are so many commentators, lobbyists and activists so keen to see the destruction of marriage, to the obvious detriment of society, to satisfy some bogus vision of equality? After all, for all intents and purposes, homosexual couples already enjoy equal rights through the imposition of civil partnerships. Why do some so-called libertarians now feel the need to eviscerate marriage as well? What is so wrong with recognizing the special, unique place in society of traditional marriage as an institution that conceives and nurtures the young? Is that not possible whilst also recognizing the unique, but ultimately different, benefits conferred upon society by civil partnerships, too?

Alas, many believe that it isn't. But I suspect a more sinister force at work. An unholy alliance of cunning Gramsci-inspired cultural Marxists, genuine - though inane - equality campaigners and an indifferent, unsuspecting public are conspiring to realise Marxist aims - a conspiracy orchestrated, of course, by the Marxists themselves. The petit-bourgeois family unit, spawned, accreted and supported by marriage, is anathema to the extreme Left; not only have these Leftists encouraged promiscuity, as their even more extreme brethren did in Soviet Russia during the twenties, and discouraged marriage through the tax system - an astonishing act that the Tories were, and still are, happy to acquiesce to -  but now they see the opportunity, through the veneer of bravely fighting inequality, to destroy marriage once and for all.

The naivety of our political masters is truly breath-taking. This debate is not just about equal rights; it is about the preservation of an institution that bestows an incalculable number of benefits upon society, benefits that I am, in my profession, due to their conspicuous absence, all too aware of. It should therefore be protected and celebrated, not assaulted as a result of specious reasoning and misguided sentimentality.