|‘Oh Father Sun! We offer you SMW for a bountiful value-added!’|
You know how some people precede their observations on another with the comment, ‘I don’t agree with everything they say, but…’? This makes me tear what hair Fate has left me from my brow, because the chance of you actually agreeing with everything someone says must be something approaching zero probability, unless you follow J-Bieb on Twitter or find yourself chained to a radiator in Somalia. I take it as read that I won’t agree with everyone in this vibrant tapestry of dissent and accord we call opinion. Perhaps you agree? Oh.
So it skewers my soul to see people falling over themselves to align themselves to either pole of an argument, as if discussion were digital rather than analogue. We see this in aesthetics (‘Jackson was a god/ devil) such as the letter column of NME used to host, and obviously in politics. Fundamentalism in any corner of the libertarian/ authoritarian/ free market/ planned economy box is often the easiest to dispute, because universal claims are the easiest to admit exceptions. The idea that the invisible hand of the market is the philosopher’s stone of equitable distribution is soon torpedoed by pointing to a favella. The Marxist’s touching belief in human nature is ruined by the absence of evidence that men will spontaneously collude given a renewal in the gears of production, and so on.
So far, so obvious. It’s why I couldn’t join a political party and lend them my allegiance, when they represent so many incoherent and coherent aims- as do I, as do we all. I used to vote Labour all my life, until the wars, and the marketisation of education, and I vowed, like Batman, to choose more carefully.
|No teacher, yesterday, apparently|
It’s why I wonder at the outrage Michael Wilshaw seems to generate, like dandruff, where ever he lays his mortar board. This week, the digitally literate denizens of the edusphere spasmed like a spastic colon over comments he made at the Brighton College of Education Conference. The main contention was that he claimed teachers ‘weren’t stressed.’ This was reported EVERYWHERE. (caution: haven’t checked this literally)
See? I wasn’t making it up. That was the headline, the claim, and the cause of Twitter storm- and this on a day when Rebeka Brooks was giving evidence at Leveson. My timeline was spinning like Amanda Holden’s pacemaker in a boys’ sixth form college. Or a Geiger counter during the Hulk’s colonoscopy
|Two girls, one cup|
Blogs have rolled out like Panzer tanks; outrage stalked the school corridors like the tenth plague of Moses. Lines have been drawn, tents erected, and the message is clear. KILL THE BEAST. But this is a chronic misinterpretation of the situation, and the current panjandrum of Ofsted
I’ve read the speech, and you can too if you have a spare click and ten minutes. Now get past the first bit, the Alan Partridge jokes and the awful attempts at warmth. He doesn’t do warmth, it doesn’t fall easily from his repertoire. He is no warm up act. He moves past the suicidal stand-up, and briefly says ‘He doesn’t like strikes.’ Fair enough. I’ve striked. I don’t like them, as such.
|‘Welcome to Jamrock, camp whe’ da’ thugs them camp at
Two pounds a weed inna van back.’
Then he goes on to say that he thinks that education in this country needs to be improved. This is often a stumbling block for any spokesman on education. Whenever anyone says that anything could work, y’know, a bit better in schools, they are often seized as enemies of the state, deniers of the sacred truths. As anyone who know my writing will testify, I am hugely critical of the ways things are run in the education sector, and often of the way specific schools are run. But I hope I do so because I love education, love teaching, and want teachers to be well, and kids to flourish thereby. I do a lot of pro-bono advice for the TES because I remember how much I needed help when I was new. But even I’ve had a few bricks thrown at me saying, basically, ‘YOO TORY SCUM WHY DONT YOO FACKIN DIE LIKE THATCHER’ or whatever whenever I point out that all is not well in the secret garden. It perplexes me*. I’ve also been criticised for being too supportive of teachers, over the child, the parent, the DfE. It’s BECAUSE I love education that I want to see it well. Pointing out the wounds doesn’t make me the man with the knife.
Wilshaw claims ‘All teachers are f*ck*ng b*st*rds’ shock
Then, the meat.
‘We need to learn from this and challenge those who have power invested in them to make the difference, but too often make excuses for poor performance – it’s just too hard, the children are too difficult, the families are too unsupportive, this job is far too stressful.
Let me tell you about stress.
‘Stress’ is what my father felt, who struggled to find a job in the 50s and 60s and who often had to work long hours in three different jobs and at weekends to support a growing family.’
(carries on in a similar ‘Never had it so good’ vein for some minutes. Like I say, his style will never see him through any stadium torch rallies)
This is the bone of contention, the sticking point, the pivot from which all the friction emerged. Now, I personally think it was a clumsy piece of rhetoric, inelegant and tiresome. But what he didn’t say was the widely reported falsehood of ‘Teachers don’t know what stress is.’ What he DID say- to a conference of Head Teachers, I need to add, so this is his audience- was that Heads shouldn’t use the stress of the job to excuse accepting low achievement in children.
So he’s pointing the finger at Head Teachers, not all teachers.
He’s talking about HT that use ‘this job is tough’ as an excuse not to care if children succeed, not all HTs
|ALL IS WELL, BE CALM|
That’s as clear as a bell to me, and it was the first, last and everything I connoted or denoted from those words. And I’m pretty damn sure that’s what he meant. Or to put it another way, to take from this meagre soil the weed of ‘Teachers don’t know what stress is,’ is just wrong. The fact that he then followed it with ‘stress is…’ (like some kind of deviant 70s bedroom poster for cynics rather than romantics) was just a way of saying that the stress of trying to turn a tough school around is comparable, and often exceeded by other disastrous stressful consequences when things go wrong in schools.
And as it happens, he also said THIS six months ago:
THIS version of the Great Satan apparently believes that teachers are under too much pressure, need less paperwork, and should get sabbaticals to unwind and chillax. Hmm, that’s odd. I thought he was saying teachers didn’t know what stress was? Ah.
We need to be more than Twitter gadflies, flitting from one outrage to the next, settling on, not just one speech, but one line, one phrase at a time. Surely perspective demands that we adopt a holistic approach to understanding knowledge. Isn’t that what we try to teach our kids- knowledge in context? Or is that only for children, never the adults who teach or inform them?
This was the smallest part of the speech; but it provided, to those who sought it, fuel for a bonfire, because many have decided that Dame Wilshaw, if he be not entirely for us, must be against us. And it’s BURN THE WITCH all over again. He seems to be a bit of a hard-ass; he seems to have somewhat of a penchant for tough talk, which doesn’t spin well with those who prefer the gentle touch. But I asks ya- how do we propose someone who’s remit is reform should speak and act? Do we want a man composed entirely of focus groups, consensus and compromise, like so many politicians today, who more closely resemble holograms of impalpable ingratiation?
Are we so addicted to the modern news dialectic, where politicians are so afraid to put a word out of place that they employ professional ideology hairdressers to comb every nuance into consistency; where they mow the tall poppies down so that the lawn of political language is even and flat? God, give me a leader who speaks his mind, however spiky and irregular it may be. At least we understand each other. Wilshaw is no career politician, like so many who make me despair that politics will ever be anything other than a ping-pong between the poles in the centre middle. He was a teacher, and a Head Master, and an extremely successful one at that. Mossborne is a small miracle- both sides of the House agreed on that, and sought to show its success as capital for their success- and it doesn’t matter how you spin that. Hackney is the poorest borough in England. There aren’t enough pockets of affluence in it to stitch together a demographic destined by birth for success, as some opponents claim.
|Twitter: ‘BURN (-fill in blank-)!’|
So he’s no consultative hard-on with a lifetime spent learning how to tell people what they want to hear, or a graduate from PPE who went into twenty years of telling people how to do their jobs. He’s got school form. And after a decade of seeing schools and teachers creak under the burden of misbehaviour, I’m glad to see an Ofsted Head who thinks it’s more important than SEAL. Misbehaviour is the elephant in the classroom. Some of his reforms seem sound. Some, I suspect as flawed. C’est la vie. He’s not there to campaign for teacher rights to the exclusion of others. He’s there to improve education. Ruffling feathers are practically part of the job description. Teacher feathers. Parent feather. Student feathers. He may be right, or he may be wrong, but let them ruffle.
Most teachers I know are great; some are rubbish; some are fine. Have you seen a profession where this wasn’t true? I haven’t. Same for schools. Some SLT are Gods; some are monsters. Some teachers should be shaking fries at BK; some should be knighted, made into constellations, and have cocktails names after them. There’s a good deal to reform in education. I want to see an end to the obsession with data, FFT, targets and Mickey-Mouse performance measures that currently dog and devil us; that, and ignoring behaviour, is crushing education, believe me. I want to see training reform; I want to see SLT being freed from the fear of micromanagement; I want teachers empowered to teach; I want the balance redressed between the teacher’s rights and those of the child.
I want the moon, just like everyone else does.
Like Rebekah Brooks’ masterful LOL-dodge at Leveson, this misinterpretation was seized upon by many as the summary, the distillation of the entire speech. Which is a dreadful shame, because he said a lot in it; some of which I agreed with; some of which I didn’t.
Because, you know, I don’t agree with everything he says.
*Also, I will vote Conservative when Hell freezes over.