Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Teachers unwilling to promote British values should leave the profession

If Robin Bevan isn't an advert for everything that's wrong with the teaching profession, I don't know what is. On Monday, at the ATL's annual conference in Liverpool, this unconscionable nitwit who, alas, just so happens to be a headteacher responsible for the education of over a thousand unfortunate children in Southend, Essex, showered the Government's call for teachers to promote British values with contemptuous opprobrium and urged passive resistance instead.

So let's get this straight: according to this half-witted, imbecilic numpty, teachers shouldn't be promoting British values in British schools. We shouldn't be robustly, proudly proclaiming the superiority of Anglospheric parliamentary traditions and the ancient institutions which guarantee them - including, dare I say it, horror of horrors, the Anglican Church; we shouldn't be championing the rights of individuals to free speech, habeas corpus, religious and political association and expression; nor should we vociferously defend the rights of women and minority groups to enjoy the same freedoms as the rest of us. The aggregation of these values, apparently, according to 'anti-British Bullshit' Bevan, is no better or worse than those of other systems which abhor such niceties.

These presumably include, inter alia, oriental despotisms, societies that advocate female genital mutilation, Communist countries such as the lovely, human rights loving North Korea and, of course, both Islamism and Nazism. According to Bevan, how dare we, as teachers, be encouraged to promote our values over these wonderful alternatives.

What a twat! Bevan, do us all a favour and quit before you do any more damage to the lives of our children.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Senior Leader, pseudo-psychologist and excuse-maker general

It is the beginning of morning break. Five girls are gathered around the entrance to one of our exceedingly squalid, baking-in-the-summer, freezing-in-the-winter, third world demountable buildings erected to relieve the pressure on a 1950s-constructed, asbestos-wrought edifice that's creaking at the seams and destined for the knacker's yard.

Three of the girls are clearly distressed, sobbing uncontrollably whilst the other two attempt to comfort them. 'Are you okay?' I enquire, a little concerned, I have to admit.

'Yes, sir,' Molly replies. 'We've just had a really emotional PSHE lesson with Mr Standing.' I'm sure I've mentioned Mr Standing before but, if I haven't, or you haven't read any of my previous blogs, he's one of our many Assistant Head teachers. He's also the author of the school's woeful behaviour policy, an unabashed excuse-maker for the myriad misdeeds of our worst pupils, pseudo-psychologist and teacher of 'non-subjects' like PSHE, where marking and evidence of progression are conveniently unnecessary.

His latest vanity project - after reading and, I suspect, misinterpreting a chapter on educational psychology - is the 'very' public exploration of pupil backgrounds in an effort to understand their emotions and improve their behavioural responses to stressful situations - in other words, to try to dissuade them from telling their teachers to fuck off. During these teacher-led discussions - ironically a teaching style he's the first to criticize during observations, but that's another story -, he singles out pupils, insists they stand up and publicly probes them about their often troubled, highly traumatic personal histories and experiences. If reluctant to comply, he, like a dog with a bone, relentlessly persists until they succumb and spill the proverbial beans for all to hear and gossip about throughout the remainder of the school day.

The result is, of course, as any halfwit with a modicum of common sense could predict, a post-lesson outpouring of grief and distress, accompanied by whispers and, on occasion, sniggers. More to the point, though, is the fact that many don't want to take part. They don't want to be interminably reminded of the troubles they face at home. School, they thought, was the one place in which they could forget, for just a few hours each day. That was until Robert Standing read a book, attended a PSHE professional development session on how to raise behavioural standards and hoodwinked himself into believing that he's some kind of enlightened child psychotherapist.

He's indeed so desperate to find excuses for poor behaviour and, in a characteristic fit of self-delusion, so convinced of the project's efficacy, that he's rolled it out to include every year group, including Year 11 pupils, who've been removed from crucial lessons to pursue what can only be described as one man's conceit.

'Would you like to discuss it?' I ask, before realizing my irony. I don't know what to say. 'No, Sir,' Molly replies. 'I think we've discussed it enough.' Really?!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

So drug prevention strategies don't work. What a surprise!

As a teacher, one is sometimes asked to teach topics one fundamentally disagrees with, especially, I find, when conducting lessons prescribed by the PSHE curriculum. 

Let's take drug prevention classes as an example. Although undeniably well-meaning and conceived with the very best of intentions, in my humble opinion, familiarizing children with the varied feelings induced by the consumption of different types of illegal drugs - as we are expected to do through activities such as, you guessed it, card sorts - stokes a child's natural curiosity. To put it another way, it encourages the very experimentation it's designed to prevent.

Blissfully naive pupils are being introduced to substances which promise episodes of intense happiness and supreme joy. What impressionable adolescent wouldn't want to give them a go, especially when you throw the inevitable frisson of excitement associated with engaging in a dangerous, illegal activity into the mix, too? Fortune favours the brave and all that...

And if you don't wish to listen to me, a cynical old git that disagrees with anything and everything, at least listen to the Government's own drug education advisors. Just last week they - at last! - conceded that exposing kids to the kind of information outlined above is counter-productive. Trying to frighten them isn't working either, probably because of that frisson of excitement I mentioned earlier.

So what should we do? Well seeing as the so-called experts are clearly bemused and, as a consequence, offer no worthwhile solutions besides monitoring and becoming more aware of evidence-based practice, I propose that we stop teaching it altogether. It's not working. We have no feasible strategy so let's return schools to their original function and use the time wasted on social interventions through questionable, ineffective, PSHE curricula to raise the academic attainment of our children. Just imagine what we could do with that time...Extra English, maths, science, geography, PE, music, art or history. 

But I don't hold out much hope. After being advised to refrain from exposing children to information about drugs, Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, now insists on exposing children as young as eleven to information about sex and rape in a misguided effort to prevent, among other things, the latter. 

Has she learnt nothing?! After last week's expert intervention, you would expect her to embrace circumspection. We don't want a repeat of the drugs debacle, after all. Exposure to information appears to be counter-productive and, instead of preventing experimentation, seems to encourage it, so let's have a rethink and avoid any unnecessary knee-jerk reactions that could do more harm than good. 

This eminently intuitive response is far too sensible, though. To be seen to do something, no matter how ill-conceived, misguided, myopic and contrary to the evidence available, is preferable - in our Education Secretary's mind, especially with a General Election looming - to a longer, more considered approach that fails to garner a headline.

So yet again, I'm going to be forced, after Easter, to teach a topic detrimental to the social and academic development of my pupils. Scandalous!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Keith: every school has one

Are my eyes deceiving me? Is that Keith? Jesus! It is! He's squirting the kids with a pump action water pistol. Oh shit! They're being drenched. It's meant to be the beginning of today's assembly, for Heaven's sake. What is he playing at?

I rush over and, after becoming the victim of collateral water damage - martyred by the trigger happy hand of a corpulent dullard - I, wiping my sodden shirt, usher Keith into the corridor before confiscating his pistol. Now before you begin decrying the shocking Jeremy Kyle-esque behaviour of our kids and lament the Downton Abbey-, Mr Selfridge-esque, bygone age of chivalric etiquette and honour, I must confess: Keith is a member of staff - a grey-haired design and technology teacher afflicted by a blancmange-like corporeal spread that, let's face it, and I'm talking from experience, oft accompanies the onset of middle age. His trousers are pulled high enough to cradle his considerable, sausage-like moobs and his bright red braces, red tie and stripy shirt cruelly combine to foster the impression of a giant weeble. He really is a slightly absurd looking figure. And as you can probably infer, his tendency to engage in erratic behaviour doesn't really help his image much, either.

Last summer he was suspended for chasing onto the playing fields and wrestling to the ground a Year 10 pupil. According to several witnesses, Keith, covered in mud and laughing hysterically, then proceeded to embrace - and muddy - passersby as they innocently ambled towards the science laboratories. Shocking, ah? Other than that, though, apparently he's a consummate professional. 

Apart from the fact that he falsifies results, too. Shortly after his return to work I was asked to mentor him - a daunting task, I'm sure you'd agree. In this supervisory capacity, I soon discovered that the work ostensibly completed by his pupils had not been completed at all. In other words, there was no evidence to support the claims being made in his reports.

Even more worrying, though, was the revelation that he'd been rumbled by Edexcel's Standards Verifier. (A Standards Verifier checks the accuracy of a teacher's assessment grades. If Keith says little Joe passed, he must be able to prove it to the SV. If he can't after several attempts, then, at the end of the academic year, little Joe won't receive his certificate thus his qualification. In the most severe cases, albeit very unlikely, the exam board could close down the centre and stop the school running its qualifications - after, of course, refusing to certificate every one of its BTEC pupils.) And he wasn't rumbled once, but twice. He failed to justify his grades on two separate occasions, which led, inevitably, to an investigation. 

Thanks to Keith, the school was in the spotlight, and it wasn't a good one to be standing in. The Edexcel appointed regional representative came in and - after several hours of enduring Keith's shameless attempts to butter her up with lukewarm tea and arid, inedible bricks of sawdust masquerading as confectionery, not to mention forensically examining class files, pupil work and spreadsheets - eventually discovered that her hunch was correct: Keith had been falsifying results throughout the year. Indeed, he had no evidence to support his outlandish claims that ninety-odd per cent of his pupils were working at distinction level. She downgraded every pupil and insisted on an internal review of our vocational systems and provision. 

Thankfully we passed. Keith was a lone wolf, according to the reviewer, a renegade acting according to his own lack of conscience rather than a bit player in a rotten system. Having taught BTECs and having also, on occasion, and under intense pressure, been tempted to falsify the odd result myself, I'm not so sure. But surely it's a question of extent. Keith arrogantly ignored the SVs advice and imagined he could sweet talk his way out of trouble using the incalculable allure of Baldrick's tea- and cake-making handbook. Unsurprisingly he failed. 

And now, here I am, seven months later, faced with another crisis manufactured by this...person. This time, moreover, and to make matters worse, I'm soaking wet and unconscionably pissed off. For how much longer must we put up with this nincompoop?