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?!