Sunday, September 10, 2017

Don't be fooled: schools are still plagued by bad behaviour and progressive dogma

‘The Totteridge Academy? Wasn't it called Ravenscroft school? Why have they changed the name?’ My Dad, a little perplexed, waited for a response as he gently pushed his indicator, turned left and headed toward Barnet High Street. ‘Didn’t you know, Dad?’ I sarcastically asked, shuffling my feet in the passenger seat. ‘If you change a school’s name, it miraculously becomes outstanding.’ He sighed.

In my view, this recent exchange laconically sums up the Government’s education reforms. They have rearranged the furniture, they have even fluffed up the pillows, but the ceiling’s still on the verge of collapse.

Yes, the new numerically graded, linear GCSE specifications in which all exams are sat at the end of the course rather than in modular installments throughout the two years, are tougher, more rigorous and, as a result, more valuable, as shown by a fall in the proportion of entries receiving top grades
But let’s not get too carried away. This, like changing a school’s name and calling it an academy, doesn’t fundamentally change what’s going on in the classroom.

Most Head teachers are still fanatically committed to ineffective, so-called progressive teaching methods despite the rigours of the new syllabuses – syllabuses that demand, more than ever, a more traditional teacher-led approach to pedagogy.

The Blob quite predictably overran the academies that were specifically designed to keep it at bay. Progressive teachers and educationalists regrouped, infiltrated academy chains and reasserted their stranglehold on the profession. They reaffirmed the illusory superiority of child-centred or discovery learning, where pupils are encouraged to learn independently, without being explicitly taught by an adult and, by extension, denounced any teacher with the temerity to stand in front of a class and impart knowledge. Of course, it doesn’t take the sharpest tool in the box to realise that without teacher-led lessons, kids simply can’t learn. That’s why we’re still ranked so low in comparison to our international competitors. According to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), in 2015, the UK ranked 21st in the world for reading, 27th for maths and 15th for science out of 65 countries or regions.

The irony is that the so-called progressive methods responsible derived from the eighteenth-century philosopher Rousseau. He believed that children were infallible and, as such, did not need to be taught by venal adults guilty of their future corruption. He was anti-school, and, whether they’re aware of it or not, the vast majority of our teachers are intellectually guided by him - a misanthropist who believed that adults and schools were harmful. Just let that sink in.

So not only are teachers still forbidden from talking for more than 10 minutes, they are also subjected to daily abuse. Let’s not forget: kids are infallible, after all. Adults are objectionable monsters sent to corrupt them. They must be treated with the contempt they deserve.

According to a recent ATL teachers’ union survey, four out of 10 teachers have experienced violence from pupils in the last year. I suspect this to be an underestimate. In my experience, pupils are given license to verbally abuse and even physically assault teachers with impunity. That’s why there’s an ongoing retention crisis. Academies won’t solve that, and neither will new tougher exams.

In fact, without dealing with the root causes of our current malaise (poor behaviour and airy-fairy teaching methods) some of these changes will simply add to the crisis. Teachers are now expected to help their pupils successfully navigate more rigorous exams whilst still using ineffective child-centred learning strategies, in addition to continuing to be the subject of vilification and invective. Is that really going to help schools retain staff?

As if this isn’t bad enough, our schools, like our universities, are in the grip of censorious snowflakes determined to undermine free speech. Last summer, for example, after the Brexit vote, my young colleagues intimidated those of us who voted to leave the EU into silence. We felt it better (all two of us) to say nothing rather than incur their wrath. On another occasion, a colleague accused me of misogyny because I said, during what I thought was a friendly conversation, that I didn’t really like watching women’s boxing. These young teachers, just out of university, having replaced their exhausted predecessors, are happy to extol the virtues of their own right-on views whilst shouting down anyone who disagrees with them.

In class, their walls are adorned with pictures of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever taught in a school without a house, college or building named after Nelson Mandela. Margaret Thatcher, in contrast, is nowhere to be seen.

This is incredibly concerning. Children are being brainwashed into thinking that some things, whether they be people, places or ideas, are beyond criticism. Others, though, like Thatcher herself or, even worse, the dreaded British empire, are fair game. Perhaps even the very embodiment of evil.
This is going on in many of our schools today – you know, the places where we’re meant to open the minds of the young, not close them.

So, let’s not get too self-congratulatory. The Government has made some important and long-overdue changes, not least of all to our damaged and devalued qualifications system. We now, at long last, have qualifications we can trust again.

But don’t be under any illusions: our schools continue to be plagued by poor behaviour, ineffectual pedagogy that stunts the intellectual, social and cultural growth of our children and a climate of fear that forbids the pursuit of truth through free intellectual inquiry. The introduction of academies and more demanding GCSEs do very little to alter this fact, I’m afraid. The cancer is in the personnel, not the structures. Like I said: you can rearrange the furniture…

Monday, July 17, 2017

Headteachers are flouting the law to keep unruly pupils in school - against the interests of the terrorised majority

My niece is being bullied. She's been threatened and abused at school, on social media and even in her own home. Two weeks ago, the bullies screamed obscenities down the phone at her, in earshot of her distraught parents. The ring-leader and her malevolent sidekicks are serial offenders, from challenging backgrounds - by all accounts -  and on the local area watch list for shoplifting. My brother, her father, is going out of his mind. His daughter is hurting and, as any parent reading this will understand, he is hurting, too. Last week, and with the agreement of the school, she didn't go in at all. She simply couldn't face the abuse.

Her abusers, of course, had no such fears, even though they'd admitted to harassing her, and to circumventing her desperate attempts to block them on social media by setting up new accounts and continuing to hound her with abusive pictures and hurtful messages. It is terribly cruel, and my niece is both tormented and deeply upset, perhaps unalterably. It really is an awful burden for any young child to bear.

At every turn, her father has been ignored and fobbed off by the pastoral leader responsible for her safety, his daughter advised to make new friends - even though, through fear of being targeted next, the other children are reluctant to mix with her – and the perpetrators given ineffective punishments that, instead of getting progressively more severe, simply get repeated time and time again – a risible merry-go-round that renders the sanctions feeble and inefficacious.

Undeterred and angered by the school's inaction, my brother organised a meeting with the Headteacher, during which, to his astonishment, she couldn't even locate the school's bullying policy. When she eventually did, she was embarrassed to discover that it was out of date and should have been reviewed some time ago. She clearly didn't even know what was in it - a breath-taking oversight, especially when one considers the prevalence of mental health disorders linked to childhood bullying, and the high number of suicides committed by victims every year. (This, incidentally, and quite unbelievably, is a partially selective school with an outstanding reputation. Based just outside North London, it is feted by politicians and luminaries of all stripes. One well-known MP sent her son there.)

My brother rightly protested and made clear his view that the school was failing in its duty to protect his child. When he asked what the school intended to do regarding the bullies, the Headteacher initially refused to tell him, apparently due to pupil confidentiality. After he persisted though, insisting that any victim has the right to know the punishment meted out to their attackers, she reluctantly obliged. They were to be placed in isolation, for how long wasn't specified.

Anyway, the day after the sanctions were enacted, the girls continued to attack my niece. They clearly hadn't worked. Now she's refusing to attend school, quite understandably, her education disrupted by persistent abuse and recidivists determined to make her life a misery. More to the point, though, is the fact that they are being empowered by a school that refuses to effectively sanction them, even though, by the Head's admission, they have a charge sheet as long as her arm.

With this in mind, I read this week's TES. According to an article by Warwick Mansell, Headteachers are breaking the law to offload pupils with behavioural issues. Unable to provide the authorities with the evidence to support fixed term and permanent exclusions, they are unlawfully and informally pushing pupils out with managed moves and threats of expulsion - ostensibly, and rather selfishly, to improve their results and ultimately secure their positions.

Knowing the propensity of schools to bungle paperwork, I suspect that this is more the result of incompetence than any malign conspiracy to get rid of unwanted and unvalued pupils in a bid to improve headline figures. In other words, if schools kept accurate records and consistently followed clear behavioural policies, it is often the case that pupils unlawfully pushed out would've been legally and permanently excluded instead.

Indeed, whether pushing them out unlawfully or finally deciding to permanently exclude, most schools do it as a last resort.

In fact, in my experience, Headteachers are flouting the law to keep unruly pupils in school - against the interests of the silent, harassed majority, as the treatment of my niece demonstrates.

Behavioural and bullying policies, if they even exist, are inadequate and inconsistently followed. Persistent rule-breakers are given chance after chance and innocent, hardworking children are prevented from learning in a safe and secure environment. I couldn't tell you how many children I've taught who have - and here I paraphrase the DFE's 2012 exclusion guidance - seriously and persistently breached school behavioural policies and harmed the education and welfare of others. That so many have done so with impunity is unforgivable. It is also unlawful. Schools have a statutory duty to protect the welfare of their pupils. They can't without robust responses to poor behaviour enabled by clear, unequivocal policies. In short, this duty is not being fulfilled.

My niece is a victim of her school's wrong-headed determination to keep disruptive, abusive and violent children in school, contrary to Mansell's contention that schools are only too eager to unlawfully move them on. By refusing to fulfil their obligations to prevent bullying and protect her right to an education, they are placing the perceived need to avoid managed moves and exclusions above her welfare. It is nothing short of a disgrace. It's also about time the TES dispensed with its anti-exclusion, bleeding-heart narrative that puts the welfare of bullies above that of the innocent, silent majority. Perhaps they could run a piece on the need to protect children from teachers and Headteachers who, through inaction, give their violent peers permission to terrorise them. Just a thought.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Brexit is Lady Thatcher's baby. Let's hope the eternal pessimists don't undo her good work.

When one considers our historic, ever-changing and uneasy relationship with the European project, one can't escape the conclusion that it's predicated upon a post-war diminution in national self-confidence brought about by the decline and fall of the British empire.

Our victory in the great twentieth-century struggle against Nazism, Fascism and Japanese Militarism may have led to unbridled celebrations and unprecedented feelings of national pride, but, ultimately, and quite unexpectedly, it introduced a period of national decline and soul-searching, punctuated by the odd awakening, until 1979, when a more long-lasting and irreversible revival took place. Indeed, last summer's vote, one could argue, was the consequence of Thatcher's revolution and the resurgence in national pride and confidence that accompanied it.

During World War Two, the contradiction immanent in Britain's fight for freedom against Nazi imperialism whilst presiding over the largest seaborne empire in history was necessarily ignored. After victory, however, this was no longer possible. It had to be confronted. The British empire had become morally unjustifiable and consequently unsustainable, as well as, after the financial strain of the war, economically unviable to boot. In 1947 the jewel in Britain's imperial crown was granted independence and violently partitioned into Pakistan and the new self-governing nation of India; Ghana gained independence in 1957 and Nigeria in 1960; indeed, throughout the Fifties and Sixties, like dominoes, Britain's imperial possessions fell into the hands of charismatic, indigenous leaders armed with the language of freedom used by the British themselves, and promising self-determination.

Britain had become a shadow of its former glory. Britannia no longer bestraddled the world, mistress of the seas, trident in hand; instead, she sat passively, seeking handouts from her new creditor and master on the other side of the Atlantic - an ocean once dominated by the imposing guns of her navy. In 1956, in a final coup de grace, her master and patron chased her out of Suez with a swift, humiliating reproach. Britain's hegemony was at an end.

Let's just imagine for one moment what this meant to its people, how disorienting it must have been. Everything they had known, everything they had taken for granted, their identity and the sense of self that came with it, had been turned upside down. It is unsurprising that a great loss in national self-confidence ensued and, to make matters worse, Britain, exhausted and demoralised, peered across the English Channel and enviously observed the economic miracle taking place in Europe.

In West Germany, for example - as a result of Marshall Aid, currency reform and responsible labour relations, as well as the opening up of global markets -, industrial output doubled and Gross National Product grew by 9 to 10% per year between 1950 and 1957. Between 1947 and 1973, moreover, the French economy grew by, on average, 5% per annum. Both countries, along with Italy, which also experienced phenomenal growth rates during this period, caught up to and eventually exceeded Britain's GNP. Furthermore, from 1950 to 1965, Britain's GNP per capita slipped from 7th to 12th in the world. By 1975 it was down to 20th.

Riddled with inflation, beset by poor productivity, declining industries and truly dreadful labour relations, not to mention a precipitously haemorrhaging empire and concomitant decline in global prestige, Britain's leaders desperately sought to find a new role in the world and forge a new identity by joining the Common Market and, they thought, tying themselves to Europe's economic miracle. After being refused entry in 1961, Edward Heath's Conservative administration finally joined the European Economic Community in 1973 - a decision ratified by the British people in a referendum two years later. The loss of national self-confidence that resulted from our post-war imperial retreat and relative economic decline had led to a decision made of desperation and fear. We indeed joined the EEC in a fit of both pique and panic.

However, Thatcher changed everything. Her radical reforms, unapologetic patriotism, uncompromising will and remarkable character lifted the nation out of its post-war torpor and restored its self-confidence. The unions were tamed, fiscal profligacy was replaced by fiscal restraint, markets were liberalised, inefficient nationalised industries were privatised, inflation was controlled and, consequently, annual growth exceeded 4 percent during the late 1980s. A British 'economic miracle' was being enviously mooted on the continent - a truly remarkable turnaround from the stagnation and misery afflicting the nation just 10 years earlier. Successive governments, even Labour ones, refused to reverse the Iron Lady's reforms and, in 2015, Britain was crowned the fifth largest economy in the world, largely thanks to her courageous endeavours - endeavours wisely left to bear fruit by her successors.

Most important, though, was the national pride restored by Lady Thatcher's indomitable spirit and sense of moral purpose. Along with Reagan, she led the free world's fight against the inhumanity of Soviet Communism; in 1982, she ignored her doubters and successfully dispatched a task force to wrestle back the Falkland Islands from Argentina's military junta; and in 1990, just before her downfall, she encouraged George Bush senior, then American president, to dispense with the wobbling and stand firm against Saddam Hussein after his unprovoked attack on Kuwait. Like Britannia, Thatcher bestrode the global stage, handbag in hand, and gave Britain back its pride and self-confidence.

That this national revival led to rising public disaffection with the EU cannot be gainsaid. Why should a wealthy, self-confident country like Britain sacrifice its sovereignty for a sclerotic, unresponsive, undemocratic, supranational and meddlesome bureaucracy like the European Union? On 23rd June 2016, the answer was clear: it shouldn't.

If Britain joined what was to become the EU in a moment of disorientation and self-doubt, it voted out as a confident, self-assured, optimistic, outward-looking and independent nation state. For this, we have Lady Thatcher to thank. I do hope that the eternal pessimists, with all their threats and scaremongering, don't undo this wonderful affirmation of patriotism and national self-confidence.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

John Simpson claims that Brexiteers are as intolerant as Erdogan

Last week I listened to a report from Istanbul by John Simpson, the BBC's world affairs editor,  with a mixture of alarm and disbelief. Maybe it was my own sensitivity regarding the ongoing Brexit debate, but he seemed to put undue emphasis on the 48% who rejected  President Erdogan's proposal to extend his powers in Turkey's recent referendum. In fact, there was so much emphasis on this minority and Simpson's expressed belief that President Erdogan must listen to them, having only received a slim majority thus a questionable mandate, that I suspected an ulterior motive, a veiled message specifically designed for a British audience and, in particular, a pro-Brexit one.

In my view, he was mischievously using the tenuous and entirely coincidental parallels between Brexit and Erdogan's referendum victory to confirm his own prejudices and question the Leave vote's legitimacy. He wanted his audience to believe that last summer's victory was some kind of moral equivalent to Erdogan's rigged vote and corrupt, autocratic regime.

The fact that 48% rejected Erdogan's argument, the exact same as the percentage who wanted to remain in the EU, was too delicious a coincidence to ignore. He thus set out to extract greater meaning from it than it deserved. If Erdogan must listen, so too must the Brexiteers, it said. 

Okay, I thought, perhaps I'm the one extracting too much meaning from a short news report by an experienced and highly respected journalist. Perhaps I'm suffering from 'reds-under-the-bed' syndrome. But then I read John Simpson's article in this week's New Statesman. I wasn't imagining it, after all. My suspicions were correct. On this occasion, though, he was less subtle. He explicitly, unashamedly used Erdogan to denounce and delegitimise Brexit: 

'It's been impossible not to be reminded of...Brexit...during the past week or so,' he said. 'Like the Brexiteers, he only just managed to squeak through; like them, he and his allies are shouting loudly about the will of the people and the duty of everyone else to accept the result. And like them, his instinctive response in victory is to be aggressive.'

So let's get this right: Brexiteers are indistinguishable from Erdogan's administration and supporters. They crush dissent, rig elections and play lip-service to democracy whilst undermining its defining precepts.

Pull the other one, John. You're meant to be an intelligent man. The only aggression in this country is coming from the forever whinging, forever whining Remoaners who control the airwaves through the all-powerful BBC - a fact ironically demonstrated by you this week. I don't see Erdogan's opponents controlling Turkey's primary media outlet, do you? Nor do I see thousands of Brexiteers marching on Parliament and angrily accusing their opponents of racism and xenophobia. The amusing irony is that John Simpson has more in common with President Erdogan than any Brexiteer. He has used his privileged position to make entirely false comparisons and angrily denounce his opponents. Hard to believe and very alarming indeed.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Brexit rejected Blair's utopian vision

'A new age is dawning, is it not?' These were the words of Tony Blair after his landslide election victory in 1997. They were meant to usher in a period of 'friendly' capitalism, unconstrained by the astronomical and punitive levels of personal taxation beloved of previous Labour governments, but ultimately altruistic and caring when it came to protecting society's most vulnerable. Bankers, traders and entrepreneurs of every hue would be free to let rip, get filthy rich and, in doing so, help finance public service reform.

In reality, though, not only did these words inaugurate a shameful period, characterised by stealth taxes as the government deceived the voters and refused to admit to the contradictory nature of its message; they were also and more importantly the starting gun for an aggressive, intolerant, insidious and mendaciously executed assault upon the very foundations of our national identity. Mass immigration was encouraged, multiculturalism promoted, and anyone who objected to the truly radical changes being forced upon their communities was denounced as a bigot, a racist and a xenophobe. Remember Gillian Duffy?

This latter point is of most concern here. Brexit was a rejection of Blair's internationalist vision in which borders and nations no longer exist. It has indeed uncovered a new political battleground, inadvertently crafted by the master of spin himself.  The old left-right divide, based upon the size of the state and reflected by our political parties, still exists, of course, but its remaining, much reduced importance is mainly predicated upon habit and brand loyalty, which is diminishing by the day. In short, our existing political parties are anachronisms that no longer reflect voters' concerns. Due to Blair's disastrous assault upon Britishness, people are now and understandably exercised more by threats to the survival of our culture and national identity than the level of taxation. A new age has certainly dawned.

But anti-Corbyn Labourites (and, in particular, Blairites like Tristram Hunt, the MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central who resigned last week, exasperated by the current leader's open contempt for Blair's beloved centrism, and still kidding himself that elections are won on the centre ground) seem to think, rather astonishingly, that if only a Blairite could take the reins, everything would be okay, the nightmare would be over, Labour would be back in Downing Street quicker than an undergraduate can accuse a middle-aged white man of being a tory supporting, safe space desecrating, racist, misogynistic scumbag. And that's pretty quick. Tony Blair even wants to make a comeback, seemingly unaware of the Leave vote's message. It was a great big collective raspberry blown at the ex-Labour leader's vision and worldview.

He really is, along with his fellow travellers, deluding himself. Labour centrists are now as unelectable as Jeremy Corbyn. They just don't seem to get it.

As Brexit exposed, the public is now split between a minority of internationalists who believe in uncontrolled migration, multiculturalism, open borders and the death of the nation state, and the patriotic majority who still cling to notions of nationhood, loyalty and shared identity. Recently, after years of bullying by the former, the latter has struck back. They have finally spoken and been heard. The nation does still matter, they said.

Both the Corbynistas and the Blairites - once seduced and, in Corbyn's case, still possessed by Marxist utopian aspirations - have naively embraced and pushed the country towards a romantic and delusional vision of a post-nation-state world in which war is abolished and different peoples and cultures, all equally valid and valued, co-exist peacefully. This is a nonsense promulgated by dreamers.

It's also the reason why both factions are unelectable. The public has at last seen through the lies and pretensions and woken up to their real intentions.

So where does this leave the Tory party? Well, Theresa May has rightly promised to honour the referendum result and seems to understand and accept the new mood of the country. But her parliamentary colleagues remain a concern. Indeed, the majority of our parliamentarians, even Tory ones, either explicitly or tacitly support Blair's vision. This is a democratic problem that needs to be urgently addressed. Voters are currently unrepresented.

With its rich history, having been home to the likes of Thatcher and Churchill, the Conservative party is perhaps best placed to reinvent itself as the patriotic political representative of post-Brexit Britain. It needs to encourage integration, reject multiculturalism in practice as well as theory, and control immigration. But to do that, many of its 'heirs to Blair' have to go, especially the ones who still refuse to accept the public's vote last year. They don't belong in a modern, unapologetically patriotic, post-Brexit Conservative party.

If the party doesn't embrace change and re-invent itself, it, like Labour - both Old and New -, will face extinction. A re-alignment in British politics is now inevitable. Whether any of the established parties survive the upheaval is very much open to question.

'The kaleidoscope has been shaken, the pieces are in flux, soon they will settle again.' It wasn't Brexit that shook the kaleidoscope, but the venal utterer of these words - Tony Blair himself.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Obama’s foreign policy closes on a typically low note

Let’s face it: Obama just wasn’t cut out to be the leader of the free world.
First he jetted around the globe and apologised to all and sundry for his country’s previous and myriad misdeeds, by making sententious speeches and highfalutin gestures that amounted to nothing less than America’s humiliating retreat from the international stage.
The era of Pax Americana was declared over in a series of beautifully delivered, high-sounding speeches that, in reality, ushered in an eight-year period of Russian expansionism and Middle-Eastern anarchy. He might make a good speech, but he’s been a disaster, most notably in terms of US foreign policy.
Even his embarrassing intervention in our domestic squabble over EU membership was a cock-up. Just like the Russians and Syrians, we ignored the incompetent numpty.
This brings me to the civil rights lawyer’s latest forays into the realm of international relations. Today he’s been ignored by Vlad the Impaler of House Russia after expelling 35 Russian diplomats over their involvement in attempting to influence the outcome of this year’s presidential election.
Barack is upset. Very upset. The trouble is, nobody cares, least of all Vlad, who decided to dispense with convention and retaliate by inviting all US diplomats and their families to a New Year’s Eve bash at the Kremlin.
Obama’s going. And no matter how many times he implies that he could’ve won a third term in office, if only given the chance by his country’s outdated constitution, he ain’t comin’ back.
Mind you, even if he were to somehow circumvent the Constitution and affirm his pretentions as the chosen one, I’d very much doubt if Vlad’d care. To paraphrase Brian Clough, the man floats like a butterfly and stings like one. He looks the part and certainly talks a good game, but plays the international stage with all the innocuousness of a hot air balloon.
I must be honest: I’m also slightly confused by these Russian developments, and can’t help but doubt their veracity. It seems like a final, last ditch attempt by the sour-faced losers of the liberal-left and Democratic party, led by their outgoing, anointed messiah, to delegitimise Trump’s victory.
Their tactics have been so outlandish, desperate, anti-democratic and extreme so far, along with their anti-Brexit counterparts here in Britain, that I’d put nothing past them, I really wouldn’t, even if it means damaging America’s reputation and strategic position.
Obama hasn’t really done much to burnish his pro-American credentials thus far in his eight-year tenure, after all. So why would he start now?
To add insult to an injurious foreign policy, his Secretary of State has now publicly excoriated Israel’s government for being the most right-wing in history.
That’s correct: he hasn’t criticised Saudi Arabia for sponsoring terrorists; nor has he berated Iran for supporting Hezbollah and other extremist, destabilising Shia radicals in Iraq and Syria; no, his boss apologised to them during his first speech in Egypt back in 2009.
Instead he attacked America’s one true ally in the region. You couldn’t make it up.
Kerry’s attack on Israel is indeed totemic. It neatly sums up Obama’s approach to foreign policy. Abandon your friends; apologise to your enemies; self-flagellate; talk incessantly, but, ultimately, do nothing. Barack, nobody’s listening anymore.
First published on ConservativeHome on 31st December 2016