Warning: Rant levels contained in this feature- Gale Force 8 on the Daily Mail Beaufort Scale.
I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. Why? Because I’ve just read the latest data, hot off the spin cycle, that suggests expulsions and suspensions in England have fallen AGAIN in the last year, by 12% in 2009-10, with suspensions down 9% for the same period.
‘Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said there was no evidence of weak discipline in the statistics.
“Fewer and fewer schools now need to resort to the ultimate sanction of permanent exclusion, a fact that should be celebrated, ” he said.
“Clearly the existing powers on behaviour have been good enough for major progress to be made.’
BBC News Website, 2011
In fact, I got through the whole article, shook it upside down like a cereal packet, and still couldn’t find anyone saying the obvious thing, the true state of affairs behind these figures. So I’ll say it: the reason why schools now exclude far, far less than before is because a school’s exclusion rate is now considered in its assessment by OfSTED inspections and by the LEA. There is an enormous pressure on schools not to exclude these days, and the simplest way of achieving this is by..well, by not excluding. Simply not doing it. Keeping kids in more and more detentions; giving kids ‘time-out’ in coolers and ‘special’ rooms up and down the country, off the books and off the Self-Evaluation Form.
That’s it; that’s the simple explanation behind these figures. Every teacher knows it; every senior teacher knows it. The problem hasn’t been solved, it’s been magicked away by legerdemain, effortlessly, mathematically proven not to exist. It is the educational equivalent of seeing no ships. It is the natural result of a monitoring system that lends itself, begs itself to be gamified, because doing so is a faster solution than actually solving the problem, which is big and messy and difficult to execute.
Using this as evidence to prove that behaviour has improved is like shutting down the 999 service and claiming that crime has dropped because no one’s called. What did they expect would happen? When you make the observational criteria extrinsic to the property being observed, you lay the system WIDE open to all of a school’s energy and resources being diverted to adjust and improve the external performance indicator, in this case, exclusion rates. It doesn’t mean behaviour has improved; it just means that less pupils are being excluded, which means that more kids who deserve to be excluded are being kept in classrooms, disrupting lessons, making life Hell for teachers, and just as importantly, not learning anything. You want to know why we’re (apparently) falling behind in literacy, numeracy, STEM subjects in every international survey? Look no further than the behaviour crisis. If even a tiny percentage of children want to wilfully disrupt a lesson, they can; it only takes, as Hobbes said, ‘one thief in a community for all men to bar their windows.’ A well-behaved learning environment is spectacularly easy to destroy, and they are, they are, I assure you.
This is a howling, howling, mad-dog scandal, and I am furious that statistics like these are allowed to pass into the mainstream without comment or criticism. From my Behaviour Column in the Times Educational Supplement, I think I get a pretty fair view of the national picture, and I stand by this: behaviour in schools is often appalling because of this tendency to negate exclusions rather than tackle the behaviour itself. If you have a disciplinary process in a school then there has to be a terminus to that process, an ultimate sanction, a point of no return, otherwise the whole process falls apart: if a child misbehaves, a sanction (say, a short detention) is set. If this is missed, the sanctions escalate; if the child still fails to cooperate, or fails to attend, then the school must, must, must reserve the right to suspend its duty to teach and care for that child. If they won’t obey simple, reasonable instructions hen we can’t guarantee the child’s safety- or the children around.
But if the child knows- and some do- that sanctions can simply be ignored, and little will happen if that ignorance is sufficiently strong-willed, then why on earth would they cooperate? The misbehaviour then becomes entrenched; other pupils notice that the penal system lacks teeth, and start to emulate the behaviour. And then teachers start to give up trying, certain that their efforts will result, in the long run, with no support or success. It is the dry rot that devastates a school from the ground up. It is the bullet in the gut to a school’s behavioural boundaries, a slow and awful demise to watch.
And it is entirely preventable; we have to admit that our sanctions need somewhere to go; somewhere we don’t want, but somewhere we need to know exists. Exclusions should be the last resort. But by God, without them, we’re like a society with judges, policemen, laws and lawyers…but no prisons. Anyone fancy that?
|‘My pills are all gone.’|
Schools aren’t only run on boundaries of course; they need compassion and rigour. But boundaries are what define them, and us. That’s why any society run on altruism and trust has lasted for less than a heart beat. To be civilised requires restriction; the Hobbesian social contract that ties us together so that we may be even more free. Trying to run a school without boundaries is anti-intelligence, anti-love, anti-civilisation. It is brainless, craven and bureaucratic. It is a victory of data over reality.
And the fact that it is trumpeted by the Head of the NAHT fills me with despair; the fact that Alison Ryan from The ATL echoes this as a victory for hard-working teachers everywhere makes me wonder when the unions stopped giving a shit about education. And then I see that the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb said that ‘behaviour was still a significant problem,’ and I realise that he knows more than two representatives of two of the biggest teaching unions.
And I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.
|‘Please teach us, Mr Bennett.’|
|With this, my life will be complete. Since 1978.|
|7/7 Memorial, Hyde Park|
|Wormtongue and Saruman; Klein behind. Not in the pink jacket. Probably.|
|Dreaming of digital e-learning platforms.|
‘And unless we’re prepared to do three difficult, but essential, things, we will never achieve real results: rebuild our entire…system on a platform of accountability; attract more top-flight recruits into teaching; and use technology very differently to improve instruction.’
So let me just clarify, based on what we know his favorite educational policies are:
1. Accountability. Setting targets for students and their teachers. Nothing wrong with teacher led, aspirational targets, but that’s not what he means. He means statistical targets, inevitably generated by computer modelling, which is as individually predictive as typing your likes/ dislikes into a career program to work out what job you should take. Teachers, presumably, will be promoted, graded and granted access to unlock higher pay scales through such means. You can see why the Unions in the US didn’t invite him over for Thanksgiving.
2. Attracting top-flight recruits. Again, this sounds great, who could possibly object? But who? Troops to teachers? The Stockbroker diaspora? People with first class degrees? None of these teachers offer a character and skill set that guarantees, or even increases the likeliness of someone being a great teacher. Great teacher training makes great teachers, as long as they’ve got certain basic qualities. As the Fast Track, and its successor program Teach First shows, the problem isn’t that our current teachers are rubbish. The problem is that there’s an international deficit of fairly traditional, authoritative and compassionate teaching/ schools with clear boundaries and consequences, and high expectations.
3. The Digital Classroom revolution. I am all for new technology in the classroom, used in new and interesting ways. But I have been waiting for this revolution since they introduced BBC Micros into my school, to transform and improve the paradigm of how we learn. And it still hasn’t, because people (and their brains and their minds) are still substantially the same as we’ve been for thousands of years. IT offers wonderful opportunities, and I embrace them. But information on a screen is still information; getting children to work, to focus, to avoid misbehaviour, to think for themselves…all of these teacher challenges are ancient, and unresolved by the format upon which the learning is provided.
But there’s another reason to be wary of a lot of what Klein might represent for education in the US or closer to home: education isn’t a commodity. And any time someone tries to sell you something, you’re right to exercise caution. The market and human welfare aren’t easy bedfellows; sometimes it’s closer to a not-for-profit than a business. So what can they sell to schools?
Answer: IT packages; hardware; software; lucrative support; spurious claims to revolutionary systems that improve learning by 150%. And that’s the hidden danger of the revolution: it isn’t a revolution at all.
It’s a hustle. It’s a corporate take over.
And right now, does anyone want News Corp getting involved in their school?
In a formal announcement today, the Grand Inquisitor or Her Majesty’s Inspectorate revealed plans for ‘surprise trials’ for all baptised Christians of Spanish origin and any school covered by the Education Act, 1988. Miriam Rosen, the interim Inquisitor said that this would end the current practise of schools concealing heretical activities and breaches of Department orthodoxy.
|Students can now trigger Inquisitions.|
‘The catechisms of best practise are there for a reason,’ said Ms Rosen, standing in for Tomas de Torquemada, the previous Head. ‘Mainly so that we know who to burn at the stake and who not to.’
Answering allegations that the dawn raids implied that schools had something to hide, Ms Rosen was characteristically unrepentant:
‘Of course it doesn’t. The innocent, pious mainstream majority have nothing to fear. But anyone attempting to conceal any one of the seven deadly sins with the illusion of good data management…well, let’s just say that the auto-da-fé is just one of the many options we have; also, notices of special measures, but mainly auto-da-fé .’
‘By testing out unannounced monitoring visits, we will see if there is even more we can do to help schools address behaviour problems: for example, immolation. Teachers will be encouraged to confess their sins, before being taken in procession through the town, until they reach the quemadero, or burning place. At that point they find out if they were graded satisfactory, good, outstanding, or damned forever in the fire that gives no light.
In an article in today’s Witchfinder Times, it was reported that there were rumours that Michael Wilshaw, Head of Mossbourne Monastery in London’s deprived diocese of Hackney, would step into the Grand Inquisitor role.
‘We will have three weapons in the battle to reclaim schools as educational spaces,’ he said recently. ‘Consistency, uniform, discipline and clear leadership.’
Brian Mendicant, a teacher who asked not be named, said last night, ‘I wasn’t expecting this.’
Teachers filled the streets last night in tearful thousands as the news was announced that teacher standards would be include ‘tolerance’ and ‘respect.’
|More of this, apparently.|
‘Thank God, thank GOD,’ said one jubilant teacher, ‘This is what we finally needed after all the years in the wilderness. Now I know that I am supposed to both demonstrate and encourage basic manners and civility. Previously I wasn’t sure if I could swear at them, or call them little sh*ts, but now it feels like the scales have fallen from my eyes. Hallelujah! Can I kiss you?’
The New Standards were launced in response to criticisms that the old standards were old, ambiguous and vague.
‘These will be new, ambiguous and vague,’ one government spokesman assured us. ‘For example, teachers will be required to uphold British values. Do you know what that means? No, me neither. It might mean getting flustered in a queue when someone doesn’t have the right change. Or then again, it might mean marching into someone else’s country and strip mining it. See? Something for everyone.’
He added, ‘Teachers should make sure their personal beliefs “are not expressed in ways which exploit pupils’ vulnerability”.’ This finally clarifies the position that teachers must take if they, for example, feel tempted to tell small children that stealing is wrong, or that peeing in someone else’s shoe might be a bad thing. Clearly, the child must decide for himself if such matters are right or wrong- top-down, prescriptive brain washing must be seen as directly contravening their rights as guaranteed by the Geneva Convention.’
‘You are extremely welcome,’ he said, before leaving for an Idea-Shower to rewrite the American Constitution in Trustafarian patois, and updating Delia Smith’s instructions on how to boil an egg.
|The Box Mark II: Now, made from blancmange.|
- Gosh, aren’t there lots of people in the world?
- The world is changing
- Everything we think we know will be useless in about five minutes.
- Shift Happens!
|And this is meant to be a good thing?|
‘If Myspace were a country, it would be the 11th largest in the world.’
‘It is estimated that a week’s worth of the New York Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in his entire lifetime in the 18th century.’
‘The amount of new technical information is doubling every two years.’
‘For students starting a four year technical or college degree this means that half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year of study.’
|The creator of Shift Happens|
|Shift Happens’s greatest fear.|
|‘First Owl Trend ever. Win.’|
Washington Post article
The Sun on Sunday Festival of education: Birbalsingh goes old school, AA Gill, and Starkey’s undercarriage.
|Manners we can believe in.|
|‘Ha ha ha ha- your tears mean nothing!’|
|‘Does this library make my junk look big?’|