Thursday, December 15, 2016

Introduction


Michael Wilshaw, during his tenure as the Chief Inspector of Schools, pointed out that too many teachers have alarmingly low expectations when it comes to their most underprivileged pupils. Apparently, according to Ofsted’s uncompromising Don, many of our educational institutions are betraying our most socially and economically deprived children by tolerating bad behaviour and with it, underachievement. He bravely and unrelentingly challenged the ‘mediocrity and failure’ so depressingly prevalent in Britain’s schools.

I represent that rarest of endangered species: a teacher willing to speak out for the ex-Chief Inspector and against the prevailing educational orthodoxy responsible for these failings; but in doing so, I run the risk of committing professional suicide. As a consequence, and to my everlasting regret, I have decided to use a pseudonym in an effort to conceal my identity. That I feel forced to remain anonymous is indicative of the Stalinist fear that exists in the collective consciousness of the teaching profession. In short, any form of dissent, any dissenter, is purged from the profession. Speaking out has indeed never been more dangerous, but, in my opinion, and more importantly, it has never been more necessary.

I have spent most of my 13-year career working in a failing school - plagued with behavioural problems, poorly managed and infected with a culture that actively encouraged failure. Of course, these interrelated causal factors, as in other such schools, invariably led to poor examination results. Yet instead of the school addressing the first two – poor behaviour and poor management – in an effort to improve our headline figures, it attempted, with some success, to manipulate performance indicators by coercing pupils into choosing easier courses (usually BTECs) and effectively cheating – the Senior Leadership Team often railroaded staff into passing pupils that had clearly failed. (This is something, incidentally, that has become harder thanks to Michael Gove's long overdue reforms.) 

This manipulation and malpractice, though, couldn’t mask the school’s obvious failings when it came to pupils achieving 5A*-Cs including English and maths, not to mention the failure of our pupils to secure the English Baccalaureate. When you included these ‘real’ performance indicators, our results remained woefully poor.

Parents are not stupid. They recognised the school’s myriad failings, its crude attempts to cover them up and voted with their feet. The school’s population fell dramatically from over 800 when I started back in 2004 to 450 by the time I left in the summer of 2015. This created a self-perpetuating cycle that spiralled downwards. Informed parents sent their enthusiastic and well-motivated kids elsewhere, often leaving us with the most dysfunctional families and sociopathic children. These pupils were way below the national average in terms of ability, and some were beset with behavioural problems and tormented by the consequences of family breakdown. Not a good recipe for success. Every year our intake not only got smaller, but progressively less able, rendering our chances of improvement that much slimmer.

It must be added that notwithstanding the above, many of our pupils had great potential, and most, at least initially, did not engage in bad behaviour, despite their challenging backgrounds and familial circumstances. However, unfortunately, the ethos at the school fostered confusion, evoked feelings of resentment and cultivated an environment that, as a consequence, encouraged poor behaviour. This isn’t a criticism of the teaching staff, but of the management. It was the culture that needed to change and this came directly from the board of governors and, in particular, our Senior Leadership Team (SLT).

In short, Children that needed, more than most, clear boundaries supported by robust systems, had neither. Our pupils, good and bad, quite understandably had little faith in the school’s rules. Opaque, nebulous systems (the result of badly written policies) meant that choosing an appropriate punishment for a specific transgression was solely the domain of the individual member of staff, bereft of a clear behavioural policy to refer to. Indeed, this ‘privatisation’ of school policy led to inconsistency and confusion for pupils and staff alike. Each teacher dispensed the sanction they felt appropriate, some harsh, some lenient.

In contrast, successful schools with robust systems have specific sanctions, codified in transparent behavioural policies, for specific transgressions. There is no inconsistency. If a pupil sprays graffiti on the toilet wall, he knows the punishment to expect. If he has consistently failed to live up to classroom expectations, he knows the consequences. Of course there will always be a degree of inconsistency in the classroom, every teacher is different. But an over-arching code of conduct, supported by strong, equitable sanctions if broken, is essential for raising standards, both behavioural and academic. Alas, this was our greatest failing, and it was compounded by an ideological commitment amongst our SLT to a misguided moral relativism that confused things further.

Every pupil that broke a rule was treated uniquely and subjected to a personalised sanction. For example, if a child-in-care stole a mobile phone his or her punishment would be less severe than a child from a stable home who committed the same offence. In other words, the punishment was relative to the child’s socioeconomic and cultural circumstance. Again, this created confusion. The kids had no idea what they could and couldn’t get away with because decisions were arbitrary and lacked systematic reasoning. It was also morally reprehensible and, in my opinion, unjustifiable to effectively apply different rules to different pupils. The children were intelligent enough to know that some were being treated with more leniency than others; some were getting more chances and were being given more time when it came to staffing, all because of their respective backgrounds.

It smacked of favouritism and elicited a perverse response. The well behaved pupils, even those fortunate enough to be brought up in more benign socioeconomic circumstances, came to the logical conclusion that it didn't pay to be good. The bad kids were getting special treatment. They thought, exasperatedly, ‘Why should we follow the rules when others don’t with impunity?’ So instead of one or two unruly pupils in each class (something to be expected), there were ten, perhaps even fifteen. The majority created by us.

Perhaps even more damaging was our SLT’s dogmatic Rousseauian belief in the infallibility of children and the corrupting influence of adults on their development. As a consequence, there was an open hostility towards any clear expression of adult authority. Punishments were frowned upon - even the word ‘punishment’ was banished from the school lexicon, along with ‘lazy’, ‘naughty’ and any other terms seen as detrimental to a child’s fragile self-esteem - and teacher-talk, being a method that implies expertise and authority, was prohibited in favour of ‘independent learning’, through which children would become less reliant on the teacher - tellingly renamed a ‘facilitator of learning’ – and more inclined to discover things for themselves.

This shameful sequence added up to nothing less than a grotesque abdication of responsibility. We were failing in our historic duty to teach children about the world, including the moral principles that underpin civil society. Anarchy, amorality and ignorance were allowed to germinate and the life chances of thousands of children were being squandered.

So why did you stay there for so long? I hear you ask. Well, I genuinely enjoyed teaching some wonderfully quirky kids. Initially, though, back in 2004, after an intense and unforgiving introduction to the profession as an unqualified teacher, I was simply surviving. I was aware that something wasn’t quite right, but felt too disorientated by the madness to understand what it was. Why were children threatening me on a daily basis? Why was my boss doing nothing about it? It was a confusing time but I was young, keen, optimistic and determined to master my new craft.

As an incidental result, I became quite reliant on, even in awe of, the senior leaders who were, as I was later to discover, the ones allowing and even encouraging the children to abuse me. I listened to and acted upon their advice on how to plan and deliver ‘fun’ and ‘exciting’ lessons full of group activities and games. Apparently this was going to stop the kids swearing at me.

And although things did improve as the year progressed - I even managed to qualify the following year - the daily abuse continued, albeit on a smaller, more manageable scale.

As the years passed and I emerged from a state of disoriented ignorance - gradually beginning to realise why our pupils were failing so miserably - I became stubbornly and idealistically determined to launch a one-man crusade against the progressive forces responsible. I suppose I became a bit of a thorn in the collective side of my senior leaders, forever questioning and challenging their methods and beliefs. When a pupil was allowed back into school after threatening to stab a colleague, for example, I objected; when another was caught and only lightly reprimanded for stealing and terrorizing some of our Year 7 kids, I protested; when they blamed our lessons for disruptive behaviour, I openly expressed my disapproval. I rather naively felt that my presence was needed. I thought I could make a difference.

I also had some fantastic colleagues, who, through adversity, became and still remain very good friends. If I’m being wholeheartedly honest, too, inertia also played a large part - along with a reasonably good salary and long holidays - in my decision to stay in such a toxic environment, an environment that, unbeknownst to me at the time, would eventually have a devastating impact on my physical and psychological health.

In 2014 I suffered an attack of Atrial Fibrillation – an erratic and irregular heart rate brought on, according to the doctors, by work-induced stress and anxiety. This led to a nervous breakdown and several weeks’ absence.   

Shortly after my return, I was made redundant, ostensibly due to our falling roll and the school’s consequential need to reorganise. In reality, my illness had rendered me superfluous and my outspokenness, eminently expendable. It was a cruel decision somewhat cushioned by a realisation: I had the opportunity to move on to newer, greener pastures.

Reluctant to commit to another permanent position, though– the last thing I wanted to do was jump out of the frying pan and into the fire - I decided to try my hand at supply work in a bid to find my Arcadia - or, more to the point, a suitable position in a nice school with a sensible head teacher. This was a more difficult challenge than I’d imagined. I had several disastrous placements until finally, I found a girls’ school in which the kids weren’t, astonishingly, throwing chairs at one another. They were both intelligent and hard-working, or so they seemed.

But after several months - and after accepting a permanent position there -, I discovered that, although less overtly aggressive, their behaviour was in many ways worse than anything I’d previously experienced. Many were cunning mischief-makers who fully exploited our head’s naivety and contemptible willingness to undermine her staff. Whereas before I had tables and chairs being thrown at me, I now had disturbing accusations of professional misconduct. All things considered, I think I preferred the former.

After 13 years in the profession, I have finally reached the sad conclusion that teachers - at the hands of a generation of child-worshipping senior leaders - are the unfortunate victims of horrendous and scandalous levels of abuse that would make even the most uncaring and self-interested Victorian factory owner wince in distress. My Arcadia simply doesn’t exist.

This blog, through my own experiences, is determined to give teachers a voice, and, in doing so, improve the lives and opportunities available to our children, who’ve been cruelly misled and betrayed by the myriad overpaid halfwits at Ofsted, the teaching unions, in government and most importantly, at the very top of our schools.

It will necessarily touch upon the practical impact of government policies, offer some informed advice to our politicians and issue a simple yet stark warning: the reforms aren’t working. Any improvements have indeed been made by flogging teachers to death, sometimes literally. That’s why there is a retention crisis. That's why so many teachers are cruelly struck down with mental illness.

Let's take the case of Laurian Bold's tragic suicide as a stark warning - as a call to action! According to the coroner and her family, the school literally worked this selfless young science teacher to death.



This blog is a wake up call! 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

My colleagues oppose Brexit, hate free speech and spread fear among our foreign pupils

It is Friday 24th June. As I squeeze into the overcrowded train carriage with the rest of the oxygen-starved commuters, I contemplate how I can approach my colleagues after voting for Brexit yesterday. They’re all Remainers. How can I possibly tell them that we’re leaving the EU because of me? I’ll be lynched.

I decide to keep schtum and, if challenged, and if faced with a blood-thirsty Remainer looking to exact revenge, I’ll tell a big fat porky. I’m going to be an indignant Remainer from now on, whingeing and whining about the ghastly, xenophobic, racist little-Englanders who’ve finally got their way.

Walking into our faculty office, I see a young colleague crying. She is distraught and inconsolable about the result. She’s been a fully signed up member of Project Fear from the beginning of the campaign, forever wailing and railing against evil Brexiteers and their fascistic Daily Mail-reading supporters who inhabit the darker corners of our society. She has spent the last few months publicising her beliefs to anyone who’ll listen, including, of course, her most attentive and easily manipulated listeners – our pupils. I ask if she’s okay before slinking off to my classroom. The schadenfreude evoked is hard to resist.

My first lesson is interesting and worrying in equal measure. The kids can’t stop talking about it and, being mostly first and second generation migrants of Asian extraction, generally feel certain that it’s going to lead to pogroms and deportations. Astonishingly, they’ve been led to believe that those who voted out are genocidal neo-Nazis. I do my best to reassure them without exposing my preference for leaving the European Union.

Their misapprehension doesn’t altogether surprise me, though. Many of my colleagues have spent the last few months openly claiming that the only thing standing between immigrants and the baying, xenophobic British hordes is the EU. As an appendage to Project Fear, it’s clearly done the trick. In a school referendum organised to replicate the real thing, over 70 per cent of our pupils voted to remain inside the European Union.

I later hear about another colleague who has burst into tears, this time in front of her class. There are reports of pupils doing the same. It is pandemonium. They think it’s the end of the world.

At lunchtime, curiosity gets the better of me so I decide to eat in the faculty office. The fury of my colleagues is palpable. I agree, albeit in a subdued and unenthusiastic way, with everything said. It is easier that way, and, more to the point, I remember only too well from past experience how alternative views are received. They are neither welcomed nor permitted, particularly whilst caring internationalists are in mourning.

In amongst the sound and fury is another, male colleague, quietly marking books. He is a young, podgy, gregarious character who usually orchestrates our lunchtime chats. On this occasion, though, he is mute. As the bell goes and everyone eventually disperses, I give him a wink and whisper, ‘You voted out, didn’t you?’ He grins and nods his head. ‘So did I,’ I say. ‘It’s our fault.’ We both chuckle like two naughty schoolkids before heading back to our lessons.

The irony of all this is, of course, that many voted for Brexit because of this suffocating, unrelenting, need-to-conform-lest-you-upset-the-thought-police bullying that is so prevalent, not just in our schools – though they are certainly an extreme manifestation – but across the whole country.

Keeping up politically correct appearances has indeed become exhausting, stressful and all-consuming. I really don’t know what I can and can’t say. This, I think, is compounded by the age of my colleagues. As older teachers have left the profession, exhausted and demoralised by the overwhelming workload and woeful pupil behaviour condoned by inept head teachers, NQTs in their early twenties have replaced them. This is Generation Snowflake – the ruthless no-platformers with an aversion to free speech and representative democracy; these are the cry-babies devastated by the referendum result, the cry-babies teaching – no brainwashing – our children.

Last week, during what should have been a relaxed, lunchtime conversation with one of them, we got onto the subject of women’s boxing. I said, quite innocuously, or so I thought, that although I support their right to do it, I don’t really enjoy watching women hit each other. You can probably guess what happened next: she pounced on me, calling me a misogynist, saying that I shouldn’t be teaching children and expressing her inability to work with a male, sexist reactionary like myself.

The irony was too delicious to ignore. ‘So you want me to say that I love to watch women beat the crap out of each other, instead?’ I asked.


Seriously: these are the unhinged lunatics who teach our kids; these are the people spreading misapprehension and fear among our pupils. They think they’re going to be deported, for heaven’s sake. That’s just cruelty dressed up as moral outrage by imbeciles desperate to publicise their own virtue. It’s also a lie. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Our head is actively encouraging our pupils to lie and make false allegations against their teachers.

Our school motto is 'no excuses'. Could this be a sign of the head teacher's devilish sense of humour or a demonstration of her crass stupidity?

Surely a more accurate motto would be 'look for excuses but, if you can't find any, make some up, or, failing that, and as a last, desperate resort, falsely accuse your teacher of misconduct'. I know: a bit wordy, but you get my point.

In a desperate bid to find excuses for bad behaviour, our head is actively encouraging our pupils to lie and make false allegations against their teachers.

Just last week a pupil falsely accused me of blaming her parents for her rude behaviour, even though I've never even met them. This, apparently, I did several weeks previously and was why she subsequently adorned her workbook with graffiti, put little effort into her assessment and continued to lay on the table, roll her eyes and put her feet on the chairs. In short, her recent spate of appalling behaviour is all my fault. I cruelly and unprofessionally accused her parents of bad parenting.

After receiving a 15 minute detention from me, she immediately went to one of our assistant heads and lodged a complaint. His response: to set up a restorative meeting in an effort to repair our relationship. During the meeting, she repeated the allegation. I insisted that we could not move forward and continue with a process that requires goodwill and honesty until she retracted her allegation, an allegation that besmirched my character and brought my professional conduct into question. For his part, the senior leader arbitrating refused to even question the veracity of her statement. When did this happen? Who was present? Why didn't you report it at the time? These were questions that, at the very least, would've demonstrated the seriousness of her claims. I couldn't believe his dismissive insouciance and wondered, had the boot been on the other foot, and had he been the one accused of professional misconduct, if he'd be quite so relaxed about it.

Faced with an impasse, he terminated the meeting before blaming my obstinacy for its failure. 'If left unchallenged,' I said, 'she won't realise the seriousness of her actions. She'll become emboldened and do it again. Others will follow. Soon we'll have a culture where false allegations are commonplace and teachers, scared to be on the receiving end, dare not enforce the school's rules. Is that what you want?' I asked. I have a feeling that the horse has already bolted.

The next day i was called into the head teacher's office. Her deputy sat impassively beside her. They asked if the allegation was true before insisting that, hypothetically speaking of course, if a member of staff was to blame a pupil's parents for her misbehaviour, no matter how bad, there would be no place for them at this school. 'Indeed, that's why i am taking it so seriously,' I said.

They didn't seem to want to dwell on the child's behaviour, though. It was mine that seemed to preoccupy them. They brought out what they obviously believed was a smoking gun - her workbook. In it I had written that she was 'being a bit lazy' and was 'capable of so much better'. This, apparently, according to our deputy head teacher-turned-child-psychologist, is the reason why she made an unfounded allegation. My language was too harsh. I need to be more emollient, in future. In other words, I was entirely responsible for the pupil's false, potentially career threatening allegation against me. How she made this causal link is beyond me. But in her mind she'd found the excuse she wanted. It was all my fault.

The pupil would be reinstated to my lesson forthwith, having not experienced so much as a slap on the wrist for falsely accusing me of professional misconduct, and i would henceforth bend over backwards to be more empathetic. From her point of view the accusation worked like a dream. How can I possibly discipline her now? If I try she'll just accuse me of something else.

In our head's malign, sinister efforts to find excuses for bad behaviour, she is encouraging pupils to make false allegations against their teachers before perversely blaming those very same teachers for the allegations being made against them. It is unbelievable! Apparently, according to a friend and actual psychologist, there are a significant number of mentally ill teachers being kept on suicide watch. I wonder why...It is an absolute scandal! No excuses?! Don't make me laugh!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Wearing the Burka is an act of unconscionable rudeness. But should it be banned?

At my last parents' evening, several weeks before the summer break, a Muslim parent wearing a Niqab approached my desk. Naturally but rather stupidly, I stood up and greeted her in the customary way by offering to shake her hand. She politely declined the invitation and I sheepishly sat down, realising my mistake, before proceeding to discuss her child's progress. It was a brief moment of embarrassment - a moment that was given greater significance in light of the summer's Burkini row.
 
Was my red-faced response merited by my cultural insensitivity? Or should I have been the one affronted by hers?
 
Initially I reproached myself for the former, but later, as the summer's events unfolded, changed my mind, relieving myself of a burden of responsibility I now felt, on closer inspection, I didn't deserve. Surely the lady in question should've moderated her behaviour in an effort to accommodate the cultural mores of her adoptive country, not the other way round. Is that not common sense? After all, I wouldn't walk into the home of my in laws without doing as they do and first taking off my shoes.
 
I would certainly describe her behaviour as rude and inconsiderate. But should we proscribe it? How can western society reconcile its commitment to tolerance and freedom of expression whilst banning an item of clothing viewed as essential to a person's religious beliefs?
 
Well, you may say, we don't ordinarily allow members of the public to walk around naked, so freedom of expression does have its limits - limits we don't ordinarily question.
 
More to the point, though, is the patently obvious fact that the Burka is an affront to women's rights. It's a deeply misogynistic item of clothing that openly symbolises enslavement, even if the wearer insists that she freely chooses to wear it and, as a consequence, actively colludes in her own subjugation. Surely we should do all we can to prevent Stockholm syndrome, not encourage it.
 
Indeed, on a personal note, when I consider my wife and daughter, I do worry about what this open and growing expression of female inferiority may mean for them, especially when one also considers the demographic changes taking place in London and elsewhere. Will they at some point in the not too distant future feel uncomfortable exposing even the slightest bit of skin?
 
With this in mind, I do sympathise with the French predicament, but have to admit, still feel some discomfort resorting to an outright or even partial ban based on an ideological difference of opinion, no matter how profound.
 
Where do we draw the line? What do we ban next? If we're going to ban the Burka and Niqab, why not the Hijab? Doesn't the Hijab also illustrate the belief that women should dress modestly? Doesn't it also openly express the fragility and innate inferiority of the so called fairer sex? They are either too emotionally fragile to fully engage in public life or too sexually provocative, seductive and beguiling to expose themselves to the easily corruptible, aren't they? Either way, they play second fiddle to men, as many other Islamic precepts bear testimony to. Shall we ban them all, or perhaps the whole religion, which happens to be, in many manifestations, deeply misogynistic and homophobic to boot? Is the very existence of the religion an insult to women and western values?
 
Or perhaps we should, like the French, forcibly emancipate women by imposing semi-nakedness on them. This is surely one logical corollary of proscribing the Burkini. Where do you stop? Should we ban all forms of modesty? How will it be enforced? Will disgruntled Muslims simply find another way to illustrate the same belief?
 
Look, I find the Burka deeply offensive. Choosing to wear it in Britain is, in my view, an act of self-harm as well as one of unconscionable rudeness. I would indeed be happy if I never saw one again. But banning it is not the answer. It simply raises too many unanswerable questions that put us on a slippery slope to proscribing anything and everything that may offend.
 
As far as I'm concerned, the lady I met at parents' evening was rude and inconsiderate. But would I ban her right to be so? Absolutely not. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Government policies have failed to weaken the influence of progressivism in our schools

David Cameron’s administration has made no secret of its belief in the efficacy of traditional educational practices. It has radically reformed national assessments at all key stages to reflect its commitment to rigour and the pursuit of knowledge and excellence for all, regardless of sociocultural and economic background, in the belief that schools, faced with these new realities, would necessarily adopt more traditional methods to ensure their students’ progress. Traditionalist means to meet traditionalist ends, if you like.
The Government also introduced a new, knowledge-rich National Curriculum which rejected the promotion of ignorance intrinsic to its earlier 2007 incarnation – apparently and rather laughably based on ‘21st century skills’. And under the stewardship of Michael Gove and his successor, it initiated market reforms to encourage healthy competition and, as such, respond to the demands of parents, the majority of whom still yearn for traditional practices.
It was a three-pronged attack designed to weaken the influence of progressivism and reintroduce knowledge-rich curricula alongside traditional teaching methods; methods that were, in theory, to become necessary as the most efficient and effective way to impart knowledge.
In a speech delivered at Durham University earlier this year, Nick Gibb MP, our Schools Minister, outlined his government’s objectives: ‘Since…2010,’ he said, ‘our reforms…have focused on bringing a new level of academic rigour to English state schooling. And central to this mission has been elevating knowledge to become a central component of a good school education.’ His and his government’s commitment to traditionalism couldn’t be clearer.
But thus far it has signally failed to deliver on this most laudable of aims. Despite the Government’s best efforts, schools remain mired in a progressive morass. Their leaders – after investing so much of their self-worth in such practices – obstinately refuse to let go of a failed, damaging dogma that’s unfathomably come to define good teaching, against all the evidence to the contrary.
Nick Gibb, Michael Gove and his well-meaning successor, Nicky Morgan, have all grossly underestimated the profession’s rabid faith in the illusory benefits of progressivism. ‘Nudge Theory’ – whereby governments act in an effort to gently manipulate behavioural change instead of enforcing it, exemplified by the DfE’s policies – simply doesn’t work with fanatics.
Indeed, with the contrivance of Ofsted, school leaders and powerful academy chains continue to insist upon using progressive teaching methods, even though more rigorous, demanding and knowledge-based public examinations require a more traditional approach that emphasises teacher/expert-led lessons, hard work and discipline.
In addition, academies can and do opt out of the new National Curriculum in favour of knowledge-light, skills-based and project-based schemes of work inimical to learning.
By far the Government’s biggest failure, though, has to be its flagship academies policy. This has not led to the adoption of traditional methods as liberated schools compete to attract parents empowered by marketization. On the contrary, the Government has given the patients the keys to the asylum. Unshackled and unrestrained, educationalists and teachers – supported by monopolistic academy chains that have been infiltrated by the very same progressive fanatics the Government wanted to neuter – are now freer to impose their destructive dogma on our benighted children. This huge leap of faith was just that: a blind hope that more freedom would lead to a long-awaited return to traditionalism and higher standards. Apart from a few notable exceptions, it hasn’t and it won’t. Children continue to be force-fed a diet of ignorance-inducing progressive bilge that no parent in their right mind would knowingly choose for their offspring.
Meanwhile, teachers now have the worst of all possible worlds. On the one hand we face intense pressure to successfully guide our pupils through the Government’s new, tougher examinations, whilst, on the other, being impelled by our senior leaders to use progressive, inadequate methods to do so. We are being forced to use progressive means to meet traditional ends. And, as if that isn’t bad enough: our performance is being judged by pupil outcomes invariably retarded by the progressive means being prescribed by our superiors. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place.
The Government needs to stop ‘nudging’ and start using its democratic mandate to impose reforms that weaken progressivism and embrace traditional educational practices. Such an approach would certainly enjoy the support of parents.
First published on the Conservative Education Society website on 8th July 2016

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Remainers, be careful what you wish for: another referendum could lead to an even bigger win for Leave

My brother – not a working class, uneducated bigot but a bourgeois psychologist with three degrees – wanted to vote Leave, as I, his more intellectually challenged and impetuous younger sibling with a mere two degrees, indeed did. Our parents, who own a small but thriving business, also voted to exit the European Union, having rightly concluded that they were deceived and voted on a false prospectus back in 1975. My brother, though, being risk averse and understandably concerned, decided, on the basis of the scare tactics employed by the Remain campaign, to go with the status quo. He wanted out, but voted in.

How many more people did the same? I wonder. I suspect a not inconsiderable number. So as the Remainers continue to whinge and moan and blame the Leave victory on some kind of false consciousness afflicting the ignorant working classes, I'd like them to consider my brother, a middle class, highly educated professional who, I would contend, represents millions of people persuaded, by fear, to vote Remain at the last moment, when they really wanted out.

Two pillars of the Remain campaign’s post-referendum narrative thus begin to crumble. First, not all Leavers were working class – code for thick, uneducated and bigoted. Secondly, when one considers our natural human inclination to avoid change and take the safe option, especially when 'experts' warn us of the adverse consequences of that eminently avoidable change, many of those who chose to remain did so out of fear, not some ideological and moral commitment to the EU project.

If these reluctant Remainers voted the way they genuinely wanted to, the chasm that already exists between the governed and the elite would have been even more pronounced and, most importantly, more accurately reflective of public opinion. 17.5 million? The real figure’s much higher.

This brings me on to the media’s woeful and dangerously one-sided take on last Thursday's events. Whether you subject yourself to BBC, Sky, Channel 4 or ITV News, the analysis is the same: Leave voters are overwhelmingly uneducated working class bigots opposed to any form of immigration but, having seen the error of their ways, they would now vote to Remain if granted a second referendum.

Of course, these contentions are self-evidently contradictory: thick xenophobic racists do not ordinarily change their minds in the space of five days. One thing you can't accuse them of is fickleness. But that doesn't really matter: as long as Leave voters can be smeared as unworthy of the vote, easily manipulated and regretful now that the full implications of their decisions have been laid bare, the outcome can be brought into question and perhaps, after weeks and months of relentless bullying, overturned. We may yet remain after all, they hope.

Personally, though, I suspect that like Project Fear before the campaign, Project Smear will have the opposite effect. People like my brother - sick and tired of the lies and unrelenting bullying from a media and political establishment seething with 'egg-on-face'-induced anger - if asked to go to the polls again, would probably vote Leave. It’d be an even bigger victory than last Thursday. Remainers, be careful what you wish for.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The ‘London Effect’ won’t last

It has been characterized as a tale of extraordinary success. As a consequence of enlightened and collaborative leadership unleashed by the New Labour-initiated London Challenge and the current government’s radical extension of Lord Adonis’ Academies policy, when it comes to our most disadvantaged children, inner London’s schools, after years of lagging behind, are now outperforming those found in the rest of the country.
 
In 2013, 48 per cent of children on free school meals in inner London obtained five or more A* to C grades at GCSE or their equivalent (including English and maths) – up from 22 per cent in 2002 – compared to just 26 per cent outside London – up from 17 per cent in 2002. It is indeed a considerable achievement.
 
But is it down to Labour’s London Challenge, the proliferation of academies or, as a report by the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics suggests, a combination of factors, including the abolition of the Inner London Education Authority, gradual improvements in primary education since the mid-90s, more vigorous inspection regimes and greater parental choice enhanced by increased competition between schools?
 
Simon Burgess, an economics professor at Bristol University, doesn’t think so. He cites immigration and the ethnic makeup of inner London’s schools as the decisive factor. ‘The children of recent immigrants typically have greater hopes and expectations of education,’ he argued in a Guardian comment piece back in November 2014.
 
As a teacher in an inner London, ethnically diverse and multicultural school – and having taught for most of my career in places outside London, where the white indigenous population still predominates – I wholeheartedly agree with Professor Burgess’ explanation.
 
Inner London’s schools have benefitted enormously from high levels of immigration. My school, for example, has large and increasing numbers of bright, highly motivated young migrants, most of whom are hardworking, courteous, unashamedly moral and desperate to succeed.
 
It has indeed been a welcome culture shock. I’m used to chairs flying past my nose, not pupils requesting extra homework; surly parents covered from head to toe in tattoos, arguing and swearing about how I pick on their faultless little angels, not respectable looking foreigners evincing their unqualified gratitude. It really is quite a pleasant surprise.
 
That said, I do fear for the future. In fact, I’m not a betting man, but I’d be willing to put money on the so-called London Effect not lasting. But you sounded so upbeat, I hear you say.
 
Well, regrettably, that’s where the good news ends. Just like other schools around the country, including my previous employers, our senior leaders continue to encourage pupils to challenge the authority of their teachers through crazy initiatives like ‘Restorative Justice’ and, as a consequence of a misguided commitment to moral relativism – a doctrine that makes virtues of excuse-making, low expectations for our most disadvantaged kids, ambiguity and inconsistency -, they’ve effectively abolished rules and promoted amorality. Our success is indeed entirely dependent on the cultural provenance of these fantastically committed kids. It’s nothing to do with the school, whose leaders continue to do everything in their power to subvert and extinguish the traditional values that make these pupils so successful.
 
And as our leaders continue to infect our newcomers with the values of a valueless, non-judgemental society, they too – just like their wretched white contemporaries who’ve been cruelly left to rot on the scrapheap of life – will eventually descend into an amoral abyss that inevitably leads to misery and failure.
 
Mark my words: the London Effect won’t last.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Restorative Justice is an insult to teachers

A colleague slinks into the office. She sits quietly for a moment, deep in thought. She then begins to cry. ‘What’s wrong?’ I ask. ‘Oh…bloody Restorative Conversations. I’ve just been torn to shreds by Sabrina and Tess.’ She’s sobbing now, uncontrollably. Being relatively new, though – I’ve only been at the school for a few months -, I feel a little too unfamiliar to offer a comforting hug, so put the kettle on instead.
 
‘Who’s Sabrina?’ I ask, half-expecting to discover that she’s yet another member of our oversized Senior Leadership Team. ‘She’s an extremely manipulative Year 9 student,’ she replies. Tess, believe it or not, is our headteacher. I’m speechless. ‘Tess was siding with Sabrina and blaming me for her behaviour,’ my colleague continues. ‘Apparently, her calling me a ‘F****** b****’ was my fault. I only asked her to remove her jacket, for Heaven’s sake. Okay, I raised my voice after my first two requests were ignored, but how does that make her abusive behaviour my fault?’ I feel like weeping with her.
 
It doesn’t matter how long I’ve worked in schools, I still can’t come to terms with the madness that stubbornly refuses to relent. Indeed, after 12 long years in the profession, and having experienced a number of different environments, I cannot help but conclude that to be a senior leader you must first be a misanthropic lunatic who naively believes in the infallibility of children and, I suspect, the tooth fairy, too. Why else would you institute something as ridiculous and counterproductive as Restorative Justice?
 
In its educational incarnation, it’s meant to resolve disputes between pupils and teachers. The antagonists are brought together by an intermediary (usually a member of the SLT), as if they’re both equally to blame for the impasse, and encouraged to air their differences before both offering their apologies, extending their little fingers and singing ‘make up ginger nuts, never do it again’. Okay, I concede that the singing was a slight embellishment, but you get my point: teachers are being treated like children; or to look at it from another perspective: children are being treated like adults. Either way, it’s incredibly damaging.  
 
The former insults the intelligence of the professional and leads to an infantilized and demoralized workforce (I wonder why there’s a retention crisis…); the latter gives the child a responsibility that he or she is likely to abuse. And if you think such practices are confined to secondary schools, you can think again: my wife, a Year 2 primary school teacher, had training in Restorative Justice just last week. Imagine being forced to listen to an eight-year-old say he misbehaves because your lessons are boring. How humiliating.
 
Like its discredited 1960s antecedents that saw, in some schools, pupils addressing their teachers by their first names, and the relatively recent approach to recruitment whereby job applicants are interviewed by a panel of kids, Restorative Justice directly challenges and undermines the authority of teachers and with it, the hitherto settled and accepted way of raising, teaching and socialising our children. With every meeting and every SLT-sanctioned opportunity to spit vitriol at a member of staff he or she doesn’t like, the child becomes less deferential and more contemptuous of the teachers trying to help them – with entirely predictable consequences for behaviour and learning.
 
Let’s pause for one moment and consider the logic of this now pervasive approach to behaviour management. If headteachers believe that adults should not hold dominion over children, then, taken to its logical conclusion, surely parents should be prohibited from sanctioning and making decisions on behalf of their kids, too.
 
When put in these terms, it really does underscore the policy’s vacuity and with it, the contradiction at the heart of our schools. Advocates of ‘Restorative Justice’ want teachers to be in loco perentis and, as such, responsible for the children in their care, both pastorally and academically – presumably because they rightly recognise that children, in the main, are too vulnerable and immature to make sensible decisions; but they are unwilling to give teachers the authority to adequately fulfil these duties. Instead, through such meetings, they encourage children to actively challenge their teachers’ authority. They really have got themselves into a terrible pickle.
 
And before you accuse me of being some cruel Gradgrindian monster who believes that children should be seen and not heard, I add this disclaimer: I am not against listening to a child’s concerns; neither am I against sitting down and explaining what he or she did to merit a sanction.
 
I am against a systematized approach that, through ‘enlightened’ mediation conducted by some smug, condescending, self-congratulatory and self-righteous senior leader – which in itself assumes that the teacher can’t be trusted to be fair -, treats pupils and teachers as equals. When it comes to schooling, we are not equals – that’s why my pupils address me as Sir and, in theory at least, follow my instructions. As a professional, my word should not be gainsaid, but supported. If you happen to doubt my intentions, and insist on questioning my every decision through a disgruntled adolescent lacking the maturity to know what’s good for them, don’t employ me. It really is that simple.
 
Meanwhile, my colleague sips her tea, wipes a tear from her cheek and makes a promise. ‘I’m leaving at the end of the year,’ she says. ‘I can’t stay here.’ Another one bites the dust.

First published on www.conservativehome.com on 18th May 2016. Also published on www.conservativeeducation.org on 19th May 2016

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The EU debate should be about sovereignty, not economics

By all accounts, or at least the rather fanciful accounts of the Remain side in the referendum debate, leaving the EU is akin to a Serbian nationalist shooting dead an ostentatiously dressed, feather-hatted Austrian Archduke and his missus.

Each family’s going to be four grand worse off, we’ll become increasingly vulnerable to terrorist attack and, as trade barriers go up and we cease to sell as much as a block of Cheddar to our continental neighbours, we’ll plunge into the economic abyss and, wait for it, this is the best bit, drag the entire world with us – despite being so weak and insignificant that we need to sacrifice our democratic freedoms to an authoritarian, corrupt monster in a desperate bid to gain some clout in the world and earn ourselves a few bob. I’m just waiting for George Osborne to repeat Edward Grey’s famous, portentous lament on the eve of the Great War that, should we leave, ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe…’ Are we, the great British public, really expected to believe this scare-mongering tosh? Surely not.

These are the claims of desperate propagandists with a dearth of material to work with. The Soviets were more convincing when celebrating illusory increases in tractor production.

Forget the fact that we managed perfectly well for centuries before joining the EU, not to mention the economic success of countries that are not shackled to a supranational, freedom-sapping pretend-state. The real issue here is one of sovereignty. We have lost it; we want it back. End of. Talk to the hand…

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Banning tag and rugby tackling is stopping boys being boys

A recent diktat issued by an over-cautious primary head prohibiting the playing of ‘tag’ at break time came hot on the heels of an open letter signed by over 70 doctors and health ‘experts’ urging the banning of tackling in schoolboy rugby. Both cases, in my view, reveal a long, barely noticed trend in society’s treatment of boys.
In short, masculinity has been the victim of sustained assault over the last several decades, and in no place has this assault been more prevalent, more zealously pursued and more enthusiastically executed, than in our schools.
Competitive sport has been the most obvious casualty – and not just because its benefits stubbornly refuse to be quantified, colour-coded and neatly recorded on some departmental spreadsheet in preparation for the next data-focused Ofsted visit. It’s been neglected and degraded because, according to our self-appointed, Guardian-reading consciences in the upper reaches of the education establishment and, of course, at the NUT, it crudely indulges the very masculine traits of risk-taking, aggression and competitiveness that we should be discouraging. These cause wars, after all.
Okay: so the aforementioned doctors and so-called health ‘experts’ claim that tackling in rugby should be banned to protect pupils from serious injury, as should ‘tag’ at playtime – at least according to the head of Christ the King School in Leeds.
But let’s be honest: reasoning of this kind is often simply a convenient excuse: these are just the latest offensives in a decades-long war being waged against maleness, the last bastion of which resides in a tiny minority of mainly independent schools, stoic in their refusal to deny their male pupils the obvious benefits of taking part in competitive contact sports and games.
Competition in most areas of state-school life is, if not strictly forbidden, then quietly discarded in favour of egalitarian approaches, subtly stripping young boys of a powerful motivational stimulant. Every child ‘must have prizes’, for example; mixed ability classes are widespread; in Key Stage Three, as a result of ‘life after levels’, refusing to grade pupils lest they become competitive and hurt the feelings of those less able is becoming more and more common.
In addition, Physical Education has gone from being a vital part of the school curriculum to an inconvenient add-on – something to combat obesity rather than nurture virtuous attributes like courage, the ability to work in a team, perseverance, competitiveness and resilience. Sadly, chivalry has become a concept to be embarrassed about and recoil from rather than a code to be followed. In most schools in which I’ve worked, games against other schools have been a rarity; as for weekend fixtures, they just don’t happen. Pupils aren’t even expected to do PE in the rain, for heaven’s sake.
Like the mad push to realize a communist utopia, this is yet another example of a fanciful left-wing attempt to change the very essence of human nature and deny reality. And like the push for Kallipolis, all kinds of unforeseen, malign implications arise as a consequence.
Boys, starved of the activities that quell their baser instincts, find other, less productive, less controlled means of fulfilling their needs. They become frustrated, more belligerent in class and, as a result, tend to underperform, especially when compared to girls who of course, in a comparative sense, benefit from the gradual feminisation of the system.
Last year, 73.1 per cent of girls’ GCSE entries were awarded at least a C grade, compared to 64.7 per cent of boys’. I am not for one moment suggesting that this gap is solely the result of boys not being able to pursue competitive and what were once deemed masculine activities. There are other factors involved – not least the long-fought-for emancipation of the fairer sex. But discriminating against boys by preventing them from playing and acting like boys can’t help, either academically, physically or in terms of building character and attributes one might consider virtuous.
It really is time to face up to reality, reject the apprehensions and paternalistic lunacy of a self-important haggle of medical and childhood ‘experts’ and, once again, let boys be boys.
First published on www.conservativehome.com on 18th April 2016

Sunday, March 27, 2016

We must halt the relentless march of the Thought Police

I was recently interviewed for a Channel 4 documentary on the gradual erosion of freedom of speech in modern Britain – to be aired this summer. In a dank, dark hallway I sat, silhouetted in an effort to conceal my identity, rambling on like a badly-prepared job applicant desperately trying to fend off the ferocious attacks of a Paxman-like interrogator.
In truth, my ‘interrogator’ was a kindly young woman who went to great pains to make me feel comfortable – notwithstanding the cold, rusty old chair I was asked to sit on. This didn’t stop my interminable, incoherent rambling, though. It really was desperately painful.
All this said, my interlocutor’s probing, and my efforts to search the darkest recesses of my cerebral cortex for anything like an intelligent response, contrived to help me explore some important issues. And in amongst the verbiage was indeed the odd gem of insight.
For me, this highlighted the fundamental importance of free and frank discussion to the development of ideas, the exploration of the possible and the pursuit of truth. Never before had I consciously realised the essentiality of this Socratic approach to effective teaching and, of course, ultimately, human development – if, that is, we actually want our pupils to engage in critical thinking and problem solving.
Without frank discussion, ideas stubbornly refuse to surface. They lie undiscovered in the hidden, labyrinthine recesses of our sedentary minds. It is therefore incumbent upon us teachers to encourage our pupils to engage in such exploratory activities, surely.
Unfortunately, though, free and frank discussion is strictly forbidden in today’s censorious climate. Pupils and teachers face ridicule and ostracism for so much as uttering a single word of support for the Conservative Party. Margaret Thatcher’s name is particularly riven with toxicity. My niece, a sixth form economics student in a nominally excellent school, recently explained to me how her teacher and peers never miss an opportunity to decry and spit scorn at Thatcher’s ‘cruel’ reforms. Each lesson sounds like a competition in left-wing virtue-signalling – a veritable festival of Tory-baiting.  Just last week a colleague prefaced her support for one of Michael Gove’s education reforms with, ‘I don’t wish to sound like a Tory but…’
In such a censorious climate, children and teachers learn never to question the prevailing orthodoxies. Conservatuves are bad. Lefties are good, caring and, even if they occasionally cock up, generally do things with the best of intentions. Anthropogenic global warming is an indisputable fact. Mass immigration has been and will continue to be an unqualified success. The Government’s desire to stop the continued profiteering of people traffickers by refusing to welcome illegal immigrants and, among them, a smaller number of refugees is the very personification of evil. Nelson Mandela is the embodiment of virtue: so too is Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and anyone else who has challenged and thrown off the shackles of the white oppressor. These are just some of the ‘truths’ left unexplored and unquestioned in our schools.
In short, our children are being force fed a simplistic, dualistic, black and white view of a world neatly divided into good guys and bad guys. Such a one-sided take necessarily stifles the stimulation of each child’s critical faculties. In a place where they should be encouraged to challenge orthodoxy, they’re sadly being compelled passively to accept its veracity.
So all you progressives can forget this ‘child-centred approaches are necessary to develop critical thinkers’ guff. If our kids are being told what to think, and being actively prevented from questioning received wisdom, how can they possibly think critically and, more to the point, be creative? They can’t!
Another obstacle to free and frank discussion in an effort to stimulate critical thinking and creativity is the propensity of schools to conflate teacher-talk – or lecturing – with teacher-led discussion. Let’s not forget: teacher-talk is still strictly frowned upon, especially in the state sector. We are therefore discouraged from engaging our pupils in an invaluable exercise. If a discussion lasts more than five minutes, we begin to panic – paranoid that an overzealous senior leader could drop in at any moment and, horror of horrors, see us standing at the front of the class looking like a teacher rather than a benign facilitator – wrap it up quickly and initiate another, so-called child-centred task instead.
Meanwhile, our pupils are being deprived of taking part in an important, interesting and eminently enriching dialectic. Through these vacuous practices, moreover, society is also depriving its citizens of the intellectual wherewithal to spark creativity and ensure continued progress. Without wishing to sound too alarmist, we surely risk civilizational stagnation and eventual decline if we continue along this path.
Almost as damaging is our self-imposed reluctance to tell pupils the truth. God forbid we should ever shatter their fragile egos with unqualified criticism. Before berating a half-hearted, lazy, unsatisfactory non-attempt to complete a task, we must first tell them ‘what went well’ instead, even if the answer is sod all.
If a pupil is incessantly disruptive we dare not call him naughty – that would be far too honest. We must say that deep down he’s a nice lad but, at the moment, he’s making the wrong choices. So yet again the child is divested of responsibility as the teacher makes an erroneous distinction between him and his actions. He’s not naughty, his actions are. It’s as if his body’s been possessed by alien forces beyond his control. As a predictable consequence, and as kids are patronized and mollycoddled, bad behaviours continue unabated. It’s not their fault, after all.
During my confused responses under the mild scrutiny of my interviewer last week, some illuminating realisations struck me. Attacks on free speech, so prevalent in our schools, conspire to stifle the dialectic necessary for creativity and, no less alarming, encourage our children to indulge in fecklessness and wallow in their own self-pity as moral agency and free will are damagingly undermined. We must resist the relentless march of the thought police. The continued success of our civilization depends on it.
First published on ConservativeHome on 20th March 2016