Saturday, February 14, 2015

If you can't beat 'em, appease 'em!

We're in February, right? We're approaching half-term, right? In fact, we're over halfway through the academic year, am I right? So why on earth has Brenda decided to rejig my department's Year 9 teaching groups? It's taken six painstaking months of sweat, tears and toil, bulging blood vessels, frothing and foaming at the mouth and nausea-inducing bellowing just to (almost) tame my class, for Heaven's sake. It wouldn't be quite so bad if we were given advance warning of the proposed changes; but, as appears to be the case, that would be far too much to expect from a leadership team afflicted with a bunker-mentality redolent of the one exhibited by Adolf's fawning coterie in war ravaged Berlin during 1945 - you know, the one exhibited just before he topped himself.

I look at my Head of Faculty in disbelief. 'What?! She wants us to teach the new, rearranged classes today? But the kids are at different stages of the syllabus! Where will I begin? I've already planned my lesson!' My head's being over-exercised by too many variables, a multitude of possibilities and probabilities that, if represented by illustration, would look a bit like a three-year-old's depiction of an extremely hairy man.

As for my colleague: she looks exhausted. She's clearly spent the last hour engaged in a futile effort to talk some sense into our exceptionally well remunerated, exceptionally stubborn Deputy Head. Sombre and dejected, she nods her head before proceeding to explain Brenda's rationale. 'She's concerned about the group dynamics,' she says. 'In particular, as you know, Joe, the behaviour in 9Y, Sarah's class, is awful. We need to split them up.'

'But why now?! I protest. 'My class is just beginning to settle. And why not give us at least a week's notice - you know, to prepare?' She shrugs her shoulders. I'm uncharacteristically lost for words.

Why can't we manage poor behaviour by addressing the causes rather than the symptoms? I think to myself, sulkily trudging back to my classroom. Instead of supporting Sarah and, through robust disciplinary systems that unambiguously enforce the school's rules, cultivating an ethos that deters unacceptable behaviour, we tacitly accept defeat by dividing previously challenging cohorts. The message is clear: we can't control you so, as a last, desperate resort, we're going to split you up.

This 'if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em' approach is as depressingly familiar as it is self-defeating. Several years ago our Head, Jackie, decided to abandon the school's uniform policy and, in place of shirts and ties came T-shirts and jumpers. Her rationale: the little gits used to untuck their shirts, loosen their ties and, on the odd occasion, tie them around their heads whilst pretending to be ninjas. Well of course they did, Jackie; what child wouldn't without the school wielding a proverbial stick to act as a friendly prompt? Jackie thus taught her young charges to poke and prod the boundaries of acceptability, safe in the knowledge that, instead of being sanctioned, they'd be appeased if caught. In short, according to this approach, given a gentle push, the boundaries, eminently flexible, will be moved, expanded and, ultimately, rendered meaningless as a consequence.

There has been a similar response to the chaos characterizing lesson changeover. Because our pupils can't be trusted to negotiate the corridors safely, line up quietly and enter their classrooms sensibly, instead of enforcing the school's expectations through the issuance of appropriate sanctions, the number of lesson changes has been reduced. Indeed, instead of six one-hour lessons, we now have only three, each lasting for two-hours. The kids remain raucous between each lesson - that hasn't changed - but they only get the chance to do so on three occasions during the course of the school day. Meanwhile, you can only imagine the detrimental impact of these extended lessons on behaviour. 

I stare out of my rain-flecked window and continue to contemplate the implications of Brenda's latest initiative. Those poor children. Halfway through the school year, their education is being disrupted by our leadership's inability - through its fanatical, myopic commitment to progressive dogma that proscribes the use of punishment as a means of controlling unruly pupils - to robustly enforce the school's rules. It really is a tragedy.

Anyway, I've got some planning to do...

Monday, February 9, 2015

We're Doomed!

Ugh! I dislike this woman intensely. Not only is she possessed of the effervescent charm and prepossessing looks of Roald Dahl's Grandma in George's Marvellous Medicine, but, she's also intensely duplicitous, eminently selfish and, in a word, like most of her colleagues in the Senior Leadership Team, incompetent. She really is 'The Bastard with a Smile', unashamedly content to ruin the careers and destroy the lives of her perceived adversaries whilst cordially asking after the welfare of their families. Smugly grinning, she enters my classroom, parks herself at the back and opens my class file. Her long, sinister-looking digits sift through my records, spiky nose protruding ominously, almost touching the file's metal rings. 

Why the fuck is she smirking? I wonder. You watch, she'll just sit there for the entire observation and, on the odd occasion, summon a pupil to interrogate. Lazy mare!

I scan the room. Shit! There is one, two, no three kids off task. That's it, I concede, no 'outstanding' judgment for me, not that that was ever a remote possibility with Grandma, aka 'The Bastard', observing my lesson. Dan is even on his bloody phone - surely my coup de grace. I quietly ask him to hand it over and, with barely a squeak of protest, and much to my pleasant surprise, he proceeds to do so. But it's too late; the damage has been done; I'm already condemned to an 'unsatisfactory', perhaps a 'requires improvement' if I'm lucky. (Our SLT insists on using the old grading system, even though the latest guidelines deem it unnecessary.) The dreaded capability beckons, I characteristically catastrophize.

Lesson observations have become occupational hazards to fear, and not simply because of Grandma's warped sadism. They ask the impossible. We are expected to engage every single child - even the ones determined to resist learning at all costs - for every single second of every single lesson. If a pupil happens to momentarily look out of the window - perhaps daydreaming about the impending weekend or distracted by a gull voraciously gobbling up scraps of food discarded during the preceding break - they're disengaged and, of course, as must be the case, the hapless teacher is to blame. If a pupil enters a class and surreptitiously begins to text a friend, it is, yet again, seen as the teacher's fault. He should be engrossed in an inspirational starter activity by now, after all. Does this sound remotely realistic or fair to you? More to the point, though, what message does it send to the kids?

They are being encouraged by an inspectorate supposedly there to inculcate values and raise educational standards to blame their teachers for their own failings. If we're off task, it's our teacher's fault, they insist; he bores us; in Ofsted-speak - something many are fully conversant with - he hasn't sufficiently engaged us. Indeed, I wouldn't be on my phone if I were suitably interested in the task. So what's the result?

In short, lower standards as pupils, cruelly encouraged to search for excuses, look to divest themselves of any responsibility for their own learning. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can ever be their fault. Teachers, meanwhile, fearful of the inspectorate's iron fist, devise tasks that can only be described as amusing rather than academically productive. So the children are engaged but, ultimately, making little to no progress. In other words, the methods encouraged are inversely related to the outcomes sought.

And let's be under no illusions, whatever Michael Wilshaw says to the contrary, Ofsted still favours progressive teaching methods. An obsession with engaging all can only be satisfied by differentiated tasks that hold the attention of each and every individual pupil - an approach in many ways unsuited to traditional, more didactic, methods which require a huge amount of concentration, thus effort, on the part of the pupils (an expectation that can only be met through a relentless focus on hard work and discipline - a focus that Ofsted loathes with every fibre of its leftist, bureaucratic being). 

Not only is differentiated learning for the birds - how has one teacher got the time to plan for, let alone the ability to cater for, the myriad needs of thirty pupils in one classroom, especially if it's of mixed ability? -, its over-emphasis also offers a way out for children of the more, shall we say, languid variety, an excuse to be used when they don't fancy doing the work. For all intents and purposes, by relentlessly blaming the teacher, the kids are discouraged from trying.

To compound the detrimental impact, moreover, we - the teachers - become frustrated and surly, palpably aware that we're being asked to do the impossible. We are thus exhausted, consumed with stress-inducing self-doubt and, as a depressing consequence, unconscionably resentful. No wonder so many of us leave the profession!

This fog of confusion is sweet music to the scraggly ears of Grandma. She will always find something to justify a downgrade. If you're amusing them (sorry, I meant engaging them), their progress/data will be poor. If you're actually teaching them, though, some will inevitably be disengaged, even if, ultimately, as a class, they make more progress. Either way, Grandma will have something to satisfy her lurid desire to spit poison.

Of course, having said that, in my school we're at a particular disadvantage. If the school leadership is poor - which it is - and discipline non-existent - which, again, it is - even traditional teaching will not be rewarded with good progress. It will indeed be impossible to execute without unbearable levels of pupil resistance. In the words of Fraser, either way, and much to Grandma's sordid delight, 'We're doomed!'

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Is exposing children to the intricacies of transgenderism integral to the promotion of British values?

How predictable! The state's response to the Trojan Horse scandal, a scandal in which Islamists were caught infiltrating and attempting to Islamize Britain's schools, is to persecute Christian ones.

According to Ofsted, two Christian schools in Sunderland are not preparing their pupils for life in modern Britain because, wait for it, they are not sufficiently encouraging their young charges to explore the hidden wonders of lesbianism, transgenderism and, of course, dare I forget, moderate, peace-loving Islam.

Are we losing our minds? Just for one moment, let's ignore the state's tacit rejection - through its malignant quangocracy - of our Judeo-Christian cultural provenance and with it, its determination to redefine, on our collective behalf, British values; these were good schools. 

They were also embracing British values as understood by the vast majority of the population. Coercing schools into promoting transgenderism, homosexuality and Islamic cultural particularism is not the same as cultivating an ethos that encourages the toleration of difference. Tolerance is something altogether more complex, and it doesn't necessarily act as a corollary to exposure. 

In fact, forced exposure could be counterproductive. It could indeed foster resentment and animosity towards the minority groups and lifestyles being promoted. 

This, however, I suspect, is of secondary importance to the overbearing, paternalistic quangocrats looking to penalise Christian schools. They are much more concerned, after all, with purging any last vestiges of Christianity from our collective conception of Britishness. Thus, they won't be happy until denominational schools are expunged and, if we're being honest, the pretext created by the Trojan Horse scandal gives them the perfect excuse to begin a veiled assault. 

In their tiny, culturally Marxist minds, Britishness, as we understand it - a cultural product of our religious heritage, among other things - is aggressive, imperialistic and evil. It needs to be remade and, of course, something can only be remade if, at first, it's destroyed.

That's why - despite the government's claims to the contrary and, one must concede, its best efforts to control Ofsted and every other rogue, far left, state-funded body - Islamic schools, even Islamism, are to be encouraged. Let's not forget, they help the anti-British individuals who populate the state's labyrinthine bureaucracy realise their utopian, delusional dreams, dreams that naively envisage a new pacifistic, non-judgemental (unless, of course, you happen to be Christian), multicultural paradise on the shores of our windswept archipelago. How they envisage the pacifistic bit, though, whilst giving state-backing to Wahhabism and repudiating the emollient message of Christ the Redeemer is anyone's guess.

The problem is - as demonstrated by the parents vociferously protesting Ofsted's judgments - that the British population, in the main, rather like, even love, their country as it is, notwithstanding the unalterable changes already wrought by the taxpayer-funded parasites denounced above. They covet Christian schools, as evinced by their perennial propensity to be over-subscribed; they also want to live in peace and harmony, side by side with people of colour, people of the Quran and people of diverse sexual orientations. They just don't want these differences forcibly shoved down their throats at every given opportunity.

They would, most importantly, like to see a school inspectorate make judgments according to the standard of education provided, and, as a small extra, make sure that our kids aren't being groomed into suicide bombers, too. That's all.

Monday, February 2, 2015

I'm being haunted by the ghosts of children past

'Oi! Baron!' I look at my wife and abashedly walk towards the exit, tail cravenly tucked between my legs, children in tow, abandoned by a father now scurrying towards the automatic doors.

God help me! I loathe shopping. Not only do I have to suffer my wife's interminable dithering that demands we peruse every outlet in the emporium before going back to the very first one we entered two hours earlier, painstakingly re-examining the first item that caught her eye and finally, after a further period of exhaustive deliberation, making a belated purchase; I also invariably - and unenthusiastically - bump into one or two of my current or former pupils.

Now to clear up any misconceptions, many of these impromptu meetings are pleasant exchanges of everyday cordialities; but occasionally - and these are the ones that I guard against with the wide-eyed paranoiac vigilance of an SOE operative sitting in a cafe frequented by effete Gestapo agents in occupied France during World War Two - they are soured by the cretinous behaviour of some of my more slow-witted young charges. Today is one such occasion. I rush to the car, now clutching my daughter's hand whilst unsuccessfully attempting to appear unperturbed. 

I can't escape these bloody kids. They're everywhere I go. It's an occupational hazard when one lives so close to the school, I rationalize, but, having said that, now back with my irrational hat on, it feels like I'm being stalked by twelve hundred adolescents. There must be a whole-school conspiracy against me, I wonder.

Let’s take yesterday, for example. I met, purely by chance, an ex-pupil outside McDonalds on my local high street. I was embarking upon my biweekly pilgrimage to the great temple of obesity; that monolithic personification of American neo-imperialistic dominance, built to accommodate a greedy, corpulent flock who proceed to lay prostrate at the altar of Mammon before stuffing their blubbery chops with saturated fat. Anyway, I digress.

The pupil in question, Laura, was unconscionably naughty. In fact, she spent the vast majority of her time wandering aimlessly around the school corridors. She shouted; she swore; she was lewd, rude and grossly crass; she even stole, as she was taught to by a mother unworthy of the title. As one would expect in today's educational climate, though, despite this behaviour, she was indulged by a short-sighted and obtuse pastoral team who proceeded to mollycoddle and insulate her from the school rules. She was allowed to get away with anything and everything. Needless to say, as a consequence, she left school with no moral grounding. She was, for all intents and purposes, rudderless.

As she approached, her dark eyes, weary gait and small, malnourished frame betrayed a sullen indifference to life. She looked up at me and, without stopping, and with a deep, evocative sincerity that I have never before witnessed, said: 'I am sorry, sir.' Before I had a chance to say anything other than hello, she was gone.

This makes me angry. Very angry! This young girl has been prevented from having a successful, happy life by an incapable mother and an education system that encourages failure. They – her teachers, including me, who stood by and said nothing - refused to help her. We took the path of least resistance. She is now at the mercy of life's travails, deprived of the tools to overcome them. In reality, she’s been afflicted with state-imposed Ignorance and Want. Beveridge and Dickens would certainly be turning in their graves.

As we strap the kids in, jump into the car and head off towards home, I ruminate on this meeting and consider the fact that we're being aggressively pursued, even harassed, by pupils very similar to Laura. It's depressingly familiar. I wonder if they'll apologise in ten years’ time, too. It is us, though, in my opinion, who should be apologising. We have let them down…badly. Perhaps their ubiquity, moreover, is my punishment. Like Marley’s shackled limbs, I am to be burdened with the guilt wrought by the interminable sight of these tortured souls in perpetuity.