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!