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.

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