Tom Bennett

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It’s Clobbering Time! Get ready to open up some cans of Whup-Ass.

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‘Homies better step the fuck off, or the shizzle goes dizzle.’

‘AT LAST! TEACHER IS BACK IN CHARGE’

I read yesterday’s Daily Mail headline with the usual mix of self-loathing and grammar anxiety (mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa). According the the Daily Hate,

‘Disruptive pupils who wreck the schooling of millions will be given an ‘unambiguous lesson in who’s boss’, the Education Secretary vowed yesterday.

And doesn’t that sound splendid? I like the use of the word ‘vowed’. It makes me think of Batman at the grave of his parents, waging a mad war against PC Educational super-lefties (The Pen-Pusher? Two-Chance?). How is this game-changing turnabout to be achieved?

‘In a new war on ill discipline in the classroom, Michael Gove will loosen rules on the use of physical force by teachers and increase penalties for parents who allow their children to play truant.’

So far it’s sounding like knuckledusters and Kevlar Equalisers. I’m imagining Heads of Learning sitting like spiders at the heart of an enormous CCTV Panopticon, and corridors equipped with head height trenches of ANSUL riot foam dispensers.

But soft! Teachers ALREADY have the right to use ‘reasonable’ physical force in order to prevent a crime being committed, and in order to prevent substantial disruption to a lesson. The word ‘reasonable’ will be decided in a court, of course, which is entirely proper- no rule could regulate every human circumstance. But the point is that these powers aren’t new. Of course, many teachers are unaware of this, and I think it’s fair for teachers to be trained in what they can and cannot do. But teachers must get over this ridiculous phobia that if they, for example, put a finger on a pupil’s shoulder to direct them back to work, then they are guilty of assault.

Then he carries on with these measures:

  • New rights for teachers to restrain pupils without recording the incidents

This is a bit odd isn’t it? If you need to restrain someone, you need to restrain them. Worrying about filling out an incident report later isn’t going to affect that, unless you restrain people, like, ten times a day. It also seems proper that a teacher should have to record these things- if I had a child who needed to be restrained physically (as opposed to verbally, I suppose) then I suspect I’d like to know about it formally.

  • Increased financial penalties for parents of truanting children
Using cuddles to drive independent learning.

Fine, so long as there are exceptional clauses where the parent can prove that an effort has been made.

  • More male teachers as role models

Is this the real issue? Yes, primary schools are packed with women- when I passed a primary stand at an educational recruitment fair a few years back, I was nearly drugged with a hypo and kidnapped- but surely the proof of this as a lack would be significant differences between the acknowledgement of male vs. female authority in secondary schools. Has this study been done? My experience tells me that gender doesn’t play a huge role here- what matters is how teachers conduct themselves.

  • Anonymity for staff accused of misconduct

This was announced some time ago- still, it’s a welcome 

  • The power to search children for any item

Again, nothing new. Despite the fuss this caused when first announced, this will have a relatively small impact on how schools currently conduct themselves.  It just means that schools will have to define, in advance, what they consider to be  prohibited materials. I suggest the Daily Mail.

  • Heads allowed to expel pupils without being over ruled

This is the one big opportunity lost. I cautiously approve of some of the behavioural reforms, but this one, the biggest one, is an inexplicable fumble. It’s terrific that Heads can now exclude, with no threat of some frilly-knickered Governing body getting all misty and over ruling it (do you know how HARD it is getting a pupil to this stage now? Any school body that over ruled the Head at this stage should be invited to teach the buggers for a fortnight and see what they can with them).

But now schools will be expected to FUND the buggers in their NEXT school. Sorry, I try to avoid cheap, capitalised emphases, but reading the Hate has given me a taste for it. That’s the kiss of death to exclusions in all but the most desperate cases, as schools are, despite their similarity to dream factories and fairy republics of hope and optimism, run on money, just like everything else. If you reduce every exclusion to the blunt, fiscal skeleton of ‘He’s worth five grand’, then you won’t se many of those happening.

That’s bad enough, but the real kiss of death is the idea being floated that the expelled student’s final KS4 results will be counted as part of the expelling school’s pass-rate statistics. Excuse my capitalisation, but DUDE? ARE YOU ON DRUGS? There can be no academic reason for this CBeebies bit of logic- it’s clearly a punitive measure, designed to deter exclusion.

Both of these flaws aren’t just minor weaknesses- they’re deal breakers. Exclusions should never be lightly arrived at, but sometimes they are the right thing to do: not the last resort- the right thing. Just as a community’s penal code sometimes requires the sanction of ‘Go to Jail’, school sanctions need to go somewhere- there has to be a terminal point, and it has to be something that stings. It has to be serious. It has to mean something. If you remove this terminus, then you collapse all behaviour measures that precede it, all the way down to the five minute detention. Because why would a student turn up for even that, if he knows that, with persistence, all privations can be evaded? And some students are very tenacious indeed.

And it only takes a few to ruin a classroom, and to reduce school discipline to a  constant battle to put out fires. Only a few.

  • An end to the requirement to give 24 hrs notice of a detention.

Cheers, for that. This is actually a good one. You know all those people who huff about, ‘Oh my little Barney can’t walk home in the dark, how awful,’ you know them? You know what I suggest to them? Their kids shouldn’t be mucking about in schools and getting detentions. How d’ya like them apples?

It is odd how the Daily Snail decided to put a fire under this one and blow it onto the front page. It’s like announcing that the Tories ‘disapprove of nationalisation’ or something. Still, I’m sure they know what they’re doing.

As I say, I welcome any measure that seeks to restore the authority of the teacher in the classroom. So here’s my three part plan, in case anyone wants to know:

  • New teachers to be trained to view themselves as authority figures, with clear guidelines on what they will do in the event of disruption
  • All schools to have (and adhere to) a Behaviour Policy that emphasises the right of the teacher to run the classroom, and the rights of children to an education free from disruption and distraction by the selfish and the needy
  • All governing bodies to support the school with this policy
  • Children to be given clear codes of conduct at school for the benefit of all
  • Parents to sign behaviour contracts with schools, and made clear about consequences; their support to be considered tacit after this point
  • Schools to monitor the effectiveness in teachers and their line managers in promoting the behaviour policy

I repeat something I say often: there is no contradiction between setting boundaries and compassion. In fact, when it comes to raising children- when it comes to teaching them- the two are inextricably linked.

And don’t get me started on the Troops to Teachers thing…


12 Comments

  1. Fran says:

    I hope Mr Gove reads your blog.

  2. Sarah Simons says:

    Thank you Paulie Walnuts. Enjoyed your words as always. 100% agree.

    I have found myself focussing/ filled with rage with the stance some writers have taken regarding the need for more male teachers as role models.

    Of course it would be a good thing. No one is saying otherwise. However the lack of men in teaching doesn't mean all of us lil' lady teachers are sighing whilst gazing out of the classroom window, waiting for a knight on shining white PGCE to gallop over the playing fields and make everything alright. It ain't like that.

    Some have used this issue as a green light to trot out a load of misogynistic tripe that only serves to disempower.

    Though comparatively new to education, I've never encountered any of these supposed Bridget Jonses lamenting the absence of menfolk, which some areas of the media are describing.

    What d'you reckon?

    Rant over. I thank you. (fiddle-de-dee)

  3. gillibob says:

    As ever you have hit the nail on the head! My personal bugbear, re exclusions, is the total lack of responsibility for actions and accountability on the part of some pupils and some parents..i use the word 'some' because the majority of parents are supportive. I could carry on, but you have said it all and far more eloquently than i could.

  4. Tom Bennett says:

    @Fran I have absolutely no doubt that he does, in between running the DfE and conducting conference video calls with the New World Order.

    Actually, if he DID read them, I'd be terrified, wondering what a man in the driving seat of our children's education was doing with his spare time. I'd like to think he was reading it while drinking a Rusty Nail and smoking romantically, as I do.

  5. Tom Bennett says:

    @ Sarah

    Thanks, as ever Sarah. I think the male/ female role model thing is a bit of a smokescreen. Yes, it does conceal a deal of extremely subtle misogyny. Does anyone worry that most air stewards are ladies? Although it is interesting that most pilots are male…hmmm….

  6. Tom Bennett says:

    @Gilibob

    Thanks you. An honour to rant, so that you don't have to…:)

  7. Neil says:

    Thanks, Tom, I agree with the previous posters that you express these ideas very eloquently, certainly better than I could.
    But you're not saying anything particularly obscure or earth-shattering, so I think that surely Michael Gove must know all this? He must know that never being able to exclude lowers standards of behaviour. He must know that making exclusions costly in an age of austerity mitigates against exclusions. So why does he pursue these policies? Is it just that referral units cost too much, or he's too scared of the bad headlines that come with rising exclusions? Can someone please tell me, because I'd rather not think the man in charge of our schools didn't understand the laws of cause and effect…

  8. Tom Bennett says:

    @Neil

    The irony is that a little more steel at the exclusion end of matters would actually REDUCE the number of exclusions overall, as discipline strategies tighten throughout the strata of the school. *sighs*

  9. bemused says:

    being very new to all the school stuff and still trying to get in the door, I am not accustomed to blogs. I wish to comment on the TES page about behaviour management i wonder whom, or what kind of person you are referring to by the name of 'Ali Bongo' who would be the laughing stock? iIt conjured up an image of an african person because of the reference to Bongo and the kind of stereotype I have about Africa and drums although I know full well that is a mis representation having met African professors and very serious academic black people. Also Ali is often the name of muslims, were you meaning to make these connections or was that just a coincidence or my internalised racism playing havoc?

  10. Anonymous says:

    Suggested addition to your teacher training packaged: students shown the first 3-4 lessons of an experienced and authoritative teacher meeting a new, previously chaotic class and stamping their mark.

    As trainees, we never see the beginning of the year and I think this is a big problem. Being able to discuss use of space, body language, tone and so forth during the critical initial period with a class would be massively worthwhile.

    I also think it would be useful for trainees to have drama workshops where they learn how to adopt an authoritative persona (again – body language, tone, use of space etc). I found myself trying to learn to do this on the fly in the classroom, where it was a bit late, at least for making an impression on those classes.

    I have just starting out this year and am hoping my training will suffice – enjoyed your book!

    Jonathan

  11. Tom Bennett says:

    Prepare for illumination:

    Or even just

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ali_Bongo.

    It's just your internalised racism playing havoc. Hope this helps.

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