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?