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Behaviour Chat with Charlie Taylor at the DfE: Die Hard- in a ministry

The Department for Education, and it seems, Charlie and Lola.

Mile End station, even by the standards of the staunchest Pollyanna, is an unlovely troglodyte’s cave; get out at Mile End station and you expect to see still-smoking Sobanries on the floor, and wonder when the Soviets bailed. Get out at Westminster, the Jubilee flagship station, and you’re in an alternate dimension of the future where the Empire never waned, all elegant mechanical spires and Olympic engineering. Such was my after school journey last Thursday, when I had the pleasure of attending the Ministry of Funny Teaching, sorry, the Department FOR Education. I emphasise this in case anyone mistakenly thought that prior to the name change in 2009, they were actually AGAINST education. Mind you, they paid for me to do Brain Gym, so who knows?

The raison d’etre was to take part in a Q&A with Charlie Taylor, the incumbent behaviour czar to the government, in a live recording taking part inside the DfE. The brief suggested arriving at five for a seven o’clock start, and I was wondering what would take two hours. I was kind of hoping there would be some kind of secret mission for me. Alas it was only the cover-every-eventuality turbo-planning of someone who was probably used to last-minute-Larrys goofing their schedules. Still, if there’s a next time, I’m chipping up at five-to with a cheeky grin.

An estate agent would describe the interior as generously appointed. It’s quite beautiful, with cities-of-the-future offices suspended around an enormous atrium. It would make, I’d like to suggest, an excellent setting for the next Die Hard movie (‘Yippee-kai-ay, Mumsnetf***rs!’).

NUT ‘most wanted’ list.

There’s even a two-lift system: one of them allows the Morlocks to toil endlessly in the darkness, while another allows the Eloi to ascend to the loftiest heights; access to the second is gained only by, I presume, a retina scan and a password (I tried ‘full pelt’ without success). It reminded me of the lifts in the Waldorf-Astoria in New York; one set accommodates the people wearing fanny-packs, while another allows Paris Hilton access to her private eyrie (a guard told me, ‘These lifts aren’t for people like you,’ and I said, ‘What, with jobs?’)

The waiting room was decorated (and I use the word with caution) with a chronological series of education secretary mugshots; a Butler, a Baker, an Academy Maker, that kind of thing. No M-Gove yet. But how long? The average tenure in the top chair seems to be just under two years per Grand Fromage. One more brown envelope, one more tart talking to the Sun on Sunday, one more cabinet musical chairs, and suddenly there’s another A4 glossy pinned to the wall of the waiting room. Ah, momento mori.

I was hoping for The Thick of It, or at least the Office of Information Retrieval from Brazil; instead I got an open plan layer cake characterised by air, light and space. Of course the damning deal you make with the open plan is that you trade discretion for the Panopticon of the communal space. A chum at the TES described to me how their office goes onto Gove-standby when the Great Man wants his pencil sharpened or something. Pity these mortals then, who are on Def-Con Gove AT ALL TIMES. They must be in a state of permanent priapism.

Maybe not.

Full pelt with a Tranny

BALLIN’

Everyone was charming and kind. There’s a cafeteria (aspirant regime-topplers seeking clues, take note of my blueprint clues) at the base of the beast, open plan, of course. It looks lovely, like the showroom of the Chelsea Habitat. Unfortunately, like a McDonalds drive-through, all the seats are designed to get you off your arse and back on your feet after five minutes. They might as well attach them to the mains with copper wire, for all the comfort conveyed. Does that all sound a bit Michael Winner? I’m sorry *moves to the breakfast area, meets De Niro for snax etc*

The broadcast was fine- I’m happy to talk about behaviour until the universe succumbs to entropy. Charlie Taylor is, I gots to say, one of the most maddeningly reasonable men I’ve met in education, possibly because he knows what the f*ck he’s talking about, which is often uncommon. He’s that rare thing- a man talking about teaching and classroom management who has actually scaled the peaks before telling everyone else how to get there. I rate the fella, despite all attempts to find some significant dispute between us on matters of cheeky monkey management. Alas, I couldn’t find a credit card to winkle into the space between our views. He also looks a bit like Clint, which should please Sir Michael Wilshaw. I have high hopes for Teacher Training.

‘Yippee Kai-ay, memo-leaker.’

Anyway, if you want to see it, the DfE have it on their Youtube channel, and I’ve posted it below. Yes, they have a Youtube AND a Twitter account AND a Facebook and OMG HAVE YOU SEEN WHAT THE DEPARTMENT OF TRADE JUST POSTED ON THE MINISTRY OF DEFENCE’S WALL I NEARLY PISSED MYSELF SHE’S A TOTAL BITCH HAHAHAHA ARE YOU GOING TO THAT THING AT BRUSSELS?


*Michael Gove likes this*
*Stephen Twigg likes this if everyone else does*
*The Daily Telegraph likes this even before anyone else knows about it* 

My New Book! TEACHER- MASTERING THE ART & CRAFT OF TEACHING, out this week

BUY THIS TO BEAT HITLER

 ‘Tom Bennett is the voice of the modern teacher. Everyone involved in education
wants to be the best they can be, to do all that we can for our young people, and
Tom gets ‘us’ as a profession . . . You will be a better teacher if you read this book!’

Stephen Drew, Senior Vice-Principal, Passmores Academy, UK, featured school on Channel 4’s
Educating Essex

 ‘This is a book all teachers need to read, whether they be in training, newly
qualified or experienced. It contains a wealth of golden nuggets for being an
effective and efficient teacher, as well as providing an understanding of the
current context of classroom life. Quite simply, this is one of the best and most
useful books I have read about what we do, and need to do as teachers.’


John d’Abbro, OBE, Head of the New Rush Hall Group, UK and Headteacher on Channel 4’s

Jamie’s Dream School

And who am I to argue with telly’s super-teachers? I’m honoured that Mr Drew, doyenne of  implacable intra-school justice, and Bad-boy D’Abbs,  have even read it, let alone been kind enough to endorse it.

No cheap shots at educational Aunt Sallies this week; instead a shameless plug for my new book out this week: Teacher- Mastering the Art and Craft of Teaching, which launches on Thursday the 7th June 2012.

CLICK HERE TO BE THE FIRST IN YOUR STAFFROOM TO OWN THIS MASTERPIECE

In my ‘umble, it’s my best one so far. The first, Behaviour Guru, was a straightforward selection of best tips in classroom whispering; the second, Not Quite a Teacher, was my interpretation of the NQT How-To guide. And now, this, the far-from-difficult third album. I like it because it’s closest in style and heart to my blog work, and a better representation of what I really think about education and the teaching profession.

Are you tired of the deluge of commandments that rain down on you like someone dropped two stone tablets on your toes? 

Because as a profession, we’ve had a bit of a hammering lately. No day passes without some educational hard-on passing more and more prescriptive definitions of what we should be doing in the classroom. Sometimes I feel we’ve been boxed into the corner of a painted room. We’re beginning to lose touch with what it means to be a teacher, and not some slavish delivery mechanism for the latest fashionable box-ticking measure. NO MORE. Throw your Ofsted planning guide into the bin and chillax with this. When we think about what we should be doing in the classroom, our first thought should be ‘does this further their educational well-being?’ NOT ‘What would Ofsted think?’ The approval of an external examiner should be an extrinsic concern to our profession. And ironically, if you focus on being a good teacher for its own sake, you’ll find that the other quantitative measures of success are obtained incidentally.


YOU COULD ALWAYS BUY TWO IN CASE YOU LOSE ONE MY GOD CAN YOU IMAGINE HOW AWFUL THAT WOULD BE? BETTER BUY TWO JUST IN CASE

This book is my exploration of what it means to really be a teacher, and how we can improve as teachers. What it isn’t is prescriptive; it doesn’t attempt to tell you what the Platonically ideal teacher is. What is does, is tell you what kind of character traits will make you a better teacher. Rather than tell you what to do, it tells you what teachers should be. It focuses on you, not just on rules to follow. That;s the heart of being a real expert, I think. Teaching requires you to think on your feet and make instant, complex decisions. No guidebook can prepare you fo that. So I’ve created a series of exercises and tasks that you can do in order to push and challenge you as a teacher.

I wanted to write something that I thought really went to the heart of being a teacher, and not just tell you how I do it. I want teachers to realise that there’s no one perfect method to teach, and that anyone who tells you otherwise is mistaking their way for the only way. Discover YOUR way.

I’m very proud of it, and I hope you enjoy it.

Tom

Click HERE to buy Teacher

‘This is a deeply thoughtful guide to becoming a better teacher. Bennett’s book
is full of practical wisdom rooted in sound philosophy and long experience.
His use of virtue ethics is a masterstroke, cutting a swathe through the tickbox
and checklist culture so as to reveal the very essence of good teaching:
good character. The ideas and strategies Bennett provides are perfectly
pitched for the busy professional, whatever stage of their career they are in.
All in all, this is a book which gives the reader practical and effective solutions
to the question which everyone in the profession asks themselves: how can I
get better? The answers, ladies and gentlemen, are within.’


Mike Gershon, sociology teacher, King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds, UK

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

‘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…

If you build it, they will behave: the great behaviour myth of teaching and learning

‘That lesson was bare differentiated.’

Because I don’t get out much, I have a favourite false (or possibly just invalid) syllogism, and it’s from Yes Minister, the satirical political sit-com precursor to The Thick of It that now seems like a Golden Age of propriety and civic integrity. It goes like this:

P1: We must do something
P2: This is something
C: Therefore we must do this.

I mention this because there seems to be many government ministers and policy formers who apparently see this as the last word in logic. These are interesting times in Education; the Curriculum is being shaken down, sorry, up; Ofsted are being retrained to hunt different prey (presumably using the bloody undergarments of teachers who don’t value Geography as scent-markers). It’s all a bit up in the air again, and education has the atmosphere of the Museum of Baghdad after the liberation of Iraq. No one really knows what’s going on, and schools are feeling sore about the new baccalaureate because everyone looks like they do nothing but teach kids how to fail exams. In many ways it’s a great time to be a teacher.

And in other ways it’s business as usual. The Education Committee of the House of Commons has just reported back the following conclusions:

1. The curriculum should be designed to meet the needs of all children

‘The report by the cross-party committee concluded: “Ministers should bear in mind that if the future curriculum is to have a beneficial effect on standards of behaviour in the classroom, it will need to meet the needs of all pupils and contain a mix of academic and vocational subjects, while being differentiated and enjoyable”‘

Says who? Says Graham Stuart, MP and committee chairman. You would hope that, as Mr Stuart has brought the tablets down from the mountain that he would have some kind of solid experience in classrooms to back up these claims. A brief search of his web page reveals…well, a career in publishing, which is nice, and presumably where he learned all that classroom management stuff he’s so good at. Give me strength.

‘Er, sums and Homer and that, innit.’

What other profession would have to endure such uninformed micro-management? It’s a topic I’ve visited before, but I’m happy to drop in again: can you imagine the neurosurgeon just about to perform a cerebrospinal fluid leak repair, when some enthusiastic Sir Humphrey chips in that he should be wearing opera glasses and using a judge’s gavel if he wants to minimise post-operative infection? (On second thoughts, I shouldn’t give them any ideas.)

So why does teaching have to routinely endure the armchair wisdom of so many hapless, uninformed desk-jockeys? Because everyone has been to school, I suppose, therefore everyone has an opinion on it, in much the same way that because I’ve got a mobile phone I have an expert opinion on quadrature amplitude modulation.(I do incidentally; apparently they’re taking all our jobs and living twenty five to a flat. I mean I’m not racist, but they’re not like us are they?)

There’s a recurrent theme here: education is an open field; anyone can have a crack at it. I suspect that this is part of the problem with the Free School idea, but only time will tell. What’s obvious is that education wobbles under the weight of the legion values and judgements of battalions of nosey Norahs who have never set foot in a classroom unless they were learning Latin. The teaching ‘profession’ can barely call itself such any more; the juice has been squeezed from our lemons until these days we’re not much more than vending machines for the latest fashionable ideology or dubious international success story.

2. Good teaching causes good behaviour

‘Behaviour is one of the four key areas to be examined by schools inspectors Ofsted under changes announced.
Ofsted’s last annual report found that in schools where teaching was good or outstanding, behaviour was also almost always good or outstanding.’

Philosophy lovers everywhere can have this one for free: devotees of empirical science will be all over it like hungry dogs. Can you spot the (presumably deliberate) mistake in this reasoning?

P1: Some schools have outstanding or good teaching.
P2: Many of these schools have good or outstanding behaviour.
C: Therefore good teaching leads to good behaviour.

‘One can do it like the man’dem, man’dem..’

Does it? Does it really? As Hume would say, this is an invalid deductive argument. It’s barely even an inductive one. Why not just as easily conclude that good behaviour leads to good teaching? Because that’s exactly what I have observed in my teaching career. If the class won’t behave for you, then you can plan a lesson to the millisecond, involve tumbling dwarves and the Dalai Lama, plan a different activity for every child, have rewards, have them waving traffic light cards and pumping them with SEAL, but you ain’t got a thing if they won’t behave for you. Good behaviour is prior to good learning. If they don’t want to learn, if the class is even remotely challenging, then you can plan your little heart out, but you might as well try to teach a colony of seals on the beaches of Shapinsay.

That’s not to say that good lesson planning doesn’t help the situation, or that interesting activities and well-structured tasks that involve variety and challenge aren’t part of your behaviour management arsenal- in fact they should be- but the suggestion that what teachers really need to be focusing on is high quality teaching activities isn’t just wrong, it’s destructive.

Why? Because on the TES Behaviour Forum I chair, I deal with complaints every bloody day from new teachers who are broken men and women, having been fed this snake oil as the remedy to their classroom woes. When they find it doesn’t work with many kids, they do one thing- they blame themselves.

I learned this the hard way, like many teachers; I went into the profession brimming with enthusiasm and ingenuity, but found that to my new classes, I may as well have been talking in Swahili, as they listened in Armenian, because they couldn’t give a monkeys. It was only when I realised that the focus needed to be the behaviour first and de Bono’s Learning Hats second (and believe me, it’s a very, very distant second) that I made headway. Then, when I had tamed them to a satisfactory level, I could restore creativity and subtlety to the lesson.

These things are never completely separate of course; but the emphasis in the early days needs to be getting the classes under control first. As the control deepens, so too can challenge and intricacy. Putting them the other way around does nothing but break the hearts of those new to the profession.

This myth is cultured in other political Petri dishes:

‘Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said: “An appropriate, relevant and broad curriculum that keeps pupils engaged is absolutely fundamental to good behaviour.’

Again, there is some truth in this, but misplacing the emphasis can lead to teacher training disaster:  ‘absolutely fundamental’ means, to me, ‘cannot exist without it’. This is demonstrably untrue: I know scores of experienced teachers who could sit a class down with an open book and tell them to work through 100 maths questions, and not hear a peep for fifty minutes. Not exactly what you might be looking for in a class necessarily, but it proves the point.

I want lessons to be interesting, challenging, fun and inspirational- who doesn’t? I would love it if they were all like that. But just because something is desirable doesn’t mean that it is a necessary component, or even that it is possible. Put simply, much of the work that needs to be done in order to achieve a good education is boring. (Just saying that makes me feel like Ofsted will burst down from the ceiling on static climbing ropes like Harry Tuttle in Brazil.) But it’s true; it’s not all interesting; in fact I’ll go further- a lot of learning is a bit dull, and takes effort and resilience to complete. That’s not an excuse for all lessons to be boring, but a admission that education sometimes requires repetition, rote learning and routine. To be frank, that shouldn’t even be a controversial statement, unless you think that the suggestion that ‘building up your quadriceps will require exercise’ is controversial.

Somewhere along the line we picked up the assumption that all learning can be fun. Oh really? A big shout going out right now to every single one of the children I have taught who studied and worked hard even when my lessons weren’t based on quiz shows or involved human pyramids or playing at Rock Stars. Nothing hard ever happens without hard work. If we demand that all lessons engage then we are making an electric rod bristling with broken glass for our backs. What we demand is that all pupils try, that they behave. Then it’s up to us to make it as engaging as possible. But I won’t apologise for some lessons that bore even me. that’s the nature of learning sometimes. To accept that lessons must all be engaging simply shifts blame to the teacher when children misbehave. ‘It’s your fault- the lesson didn’t engage,’ the argument goes, which is about as logical as the proposition that people get burgled because their homes aren’t secure enough, or look too affluent.

Free Schools led to unusual sponsors.

The Shadow Education Secretary, Andy Burnham doesn’t want to be left out, either. The curriculum revamp is ‘narrow and restrictive’ he says, and could lead to children behaving badly. Oh aye, they’ll all be out on the streets with burning torches and pitchforks when they have to do Geography and French, won’t they? (Presumably Citizenship and BTECs do nothing but soothe the savage breast. Oh that’s right. They don’t.) Andy Burnham is well placed to talk about the effects of the curriculum on education, having spent a few years as a researcher for Tessa Jowell before entering politics, so he knows exactly how these things work. And next week he’ll be redesigning the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, because he saw Horizon once.

While I have my sopabox out, there are a few observations I’d like to make about the new education Bill:

1.Pornography and mobile phones added to the list of items schools can search for.

Fabulous. The power we’ve all been waiting for. Actually, if my biggest worry at school was the possession of a few mouldy Jazz mags, my life would be a lot easier. And frankly I’d be more surprised to not find pornography on the average adolescent’s mobile phone, but there you go, it’s nice to know we can.

2. Schools told they can search for anything they have banned 

Brilliant. So to that list I’ve just mentioned you can add, ‘anything else you can think of.’ Actually this is a rather good idea. I vote for ‘existentialist literature’ and ‘unhappy thoughts.’

‘Nah mate, it’s the fan belt.’

3.Appeals panels are no longer allowed to tell schools to reinstate a pupil who has been expelled, but they can ask them to reconsider their decision.

And we’ll say ‘F*ck off, thanks.’

Inclusion: ruining education since 1978

Sir Alan Steer has been poking his oar in again. From the genius that brought us gems like “Only 2% of UK schools have unsatisfactory behaviour” and “behaviour is no worse than it’s ever been” comes a new report: ‘Excluded teenagers who receive a minimal amount of home tuition are falling into a life of crime and drugs‘. Who would have thought? This just in: Fire Is Hot.

Now Surallun seems like a very nice man indeed; I warm to him; I embrace his beardy jowls. But I suspect that if you were to unscrew his skull cap, fill the brain cavity with hard sweets, and somehow mount his lower mandible onto a spring mechanism, you would have a reasonable impression of a Pez Dispenser. Tony Blair’s Behaviour Tsar (I had to settle for Guru. It’s like a number plate: you have to put your name down on a list, and hope you don’t get ‘Behaviour Monkey‘ or ‘Behaviour Fairy‘) has told a cross-party commons committee that children that get themselves turned out of schools often end up as bad lads, hanging round bus shelters and mocking authority.

I imagine the Committee must have fallen off their sedan chairs when they heard that: badly behaved kids often end up badly behaved adults? But Mr Steer! Surely it’s the well behaved, high-achieving students that fill our high-security prisons? It’s not? Then the world has gone mad! Once they composed themselves I’m sure they thanked Surallun and asked him if he’d mind closing the door on his way out. Seriously; who gets paid for these kind of homilies and home-truths? Who pays for them? Oh yes, us, cheers.
“We have children who are out of school who are receiving as little as an hour a week of home tuition, week after week, month after month,” he says. Oh, the horror, the horror. As a teacher who is regularly asked to coordinate or provide work for pupils on temporary exclusions, I can happily report that the return rate of work provided hovers somewhere around the 1% mark. Obviously schools rightly have a legal obligation to provide work for pupils on fixed term exclusions, as part of their national entitlement to free and compulsory education (and we can get ourselves in hot water if we don’t provide it).

If only there were some way, Surallun, of these children receiving proper tuition in a wide range of subjects, in custom built premises where they were surrounded by curriculum experts, given free materials, support, and a structured diet of mental and physical challenges that eventually led to qualifications and valuable life experience.

Oh wait, they already do. It’s called school. These children put themselves outside of the mainstream community. As a society, we burn a healthy proportion of our GDP on education, and quite right too. The twentieth century saw a progressive increase in the age, gender and curriculum entitlement available to children in the UK, which you can add to Human Rights and the Enlightenment as pillars of Human Civilisation and progress. We try to get as many children into schools as possible for a huge number of reasons. And we mustn’t pretend that they’re all about the beautiful flower that is the child:

1. Children deserve to flourish
2. Society’s values need to be passed on efficiently
3. Societies need skilled work forces across the social spectrum
4. More educated children tend to generate more tax, commit less crimes, and require less welfare commitment.

And so on. It’s better to be explicit about our assumptions of the aims of education, rather than pretending that it’s all about growing beautiful seeds into fabulous butterflies, or something, and let’s hold hands and cry while we talk about how much we love sunrises.

Steer’s comments, while being pleasingly tautological, offer us an insight into the apparent helplessness of our school systems to deal with wide-scale misbehaviour.

It isn’t their fault- it’s ours. Somewhere along the line, we have blurred the definition of responsibility. These children are now the helpless passengers of the school bus, driven to destinies over which they have no influence.

I’m sorry, I must have missed the memo. I teach a lot of Philosophy, which makes me pretty rubbish at most things that involve plugs and building anything useful, but I do know this: moral responsibility assumes the existence of Free Will. If you want to be a Hard Determinist, and speculate that there’s no such thing as Free Will, then fine- good luck to you. But the society you envisage as a result of such a conclusion is very different to the way we normally view the human condition. At some point we have to accept that people are responsible for their actions. Children above 11 can be treated as criminally responsible; my pre-teen nieces know the difference between right and wrong. By the time they get to secondary school, their actions are their responsibility. Poverty isn’t a necessary condition for anti-social behaviour. Children are responsible for their own behaviour, certainly by secondary. Teachers and schools are responsible for how we react to that behaviour.

All children should be included in mainstream education. Oh you bloody think so? This kind of thinking makes Astrology look credible. The initial aims of this policy were admirable; to make sure that children with disabilities (and I mean proper disabilities, not just ‘gets a bit angry if he can’t spit on you’) weren’t marginalised simply on the basis of physical impediments. I might add here that, for instance, provision for blind children in any kind of education wasn’t made compulsory until ten years after it was made so for the able-sighted.

But this has evolved in the laboratories of simple-minded educationalist panjandrums to include all children, at any point on the behaviour spectrum, whether their ‘need’ is behavioural, emotional, social, or any other definition of ‘disadvantaged’. Suddenly, somehow, children who exhibit extreme-spectrum behaviour aren’t rude or aggressive any more- no, they have ‘Emotional and Social Behavioural Disorders’. Pupils who kick off and swear are sent to ‘anger management’ classes, as if their behaviour was somehow removed from them as people, in much the same way as people with enormous beer guts sometimes pat them disapprovingly and say, ‘I’ll need to get rid of this,’ as if it was something that had been sewn onto them without their knowledge.

Keeping really badly behaved kids in school has been a disaster for children for a generation now. It was the first thing I noticed the very minute I stepped back into classrooms after a twenty year absence, and my opinion hasn’t changed. Which ties into…

The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. I have yet to discover a philosopher or educationalist who wouldn’t die of shame if they were to try to justify this, but that’s exactly what we do. We pretend that the child who brings violence or interminable rudeness into the classroom somehow has needs that must be serviced, even at the clear expense of the vast majority of the room. How many lessons are tied up, ruined and abandoned because some charmless oaf has decided to throw her toys out the pram? New teachers are particularly prone to this kind of attack on the classroom, because they haven’t yet realised that the rules are no longer in their favour. The child has needs, to be sure: they need to shut the hell up and learn.
It should be as hard as possible to remove a child from school. And it is, it is. Not only do Government guidelines clearly express that schools should exclude permanently as rarely as possible, but schools with high levels of exclusion are judged as having unsatisfactory behaviour by OfSTED. So unsurprisingly, the vast majority of schools have resorted to the easiest way to turn down the dial: they exclude less. Which has the same logic as observing that a society with lots of people in prison must have high levels of crime; ergo, put less people in prison. Problem solved! Except it isn’t. The causal relationship runs backwards in this uniquely backwards way of solving the problem. Or to put it another way: every time I go the doctor there’s something wrong with me- so don’t go to the doctor! Boom boom!

Keep them in! Let schools become a prison for all. As you might guess, I support streaming, because it allows children to be taught at a level appropriate to their ability. Mainstream comprehensive education is a noble aim, but we mustn’t be blinkered by orthodoxy to place it beyond scrutiny or critique: it sought to overcome the obvious class divisions of the Tripartite system of grammar, technical and mainstream schools, but it incurred another problem; how do you pitch a lesson to a class of very mixed ability? Oh, there are ways, to be sure, but it’s an enormous challenge to the working teacher, lesson after lesson. Almost inevitably, the middle ability gets catered for far more than the extreme spectrum children, which is why we have SEN and G&T inelegantly stapled on to lesson planning.

Incidentally, I have a solution to this mess; I’m not a doom-sayer (‘Doom! Doom, I say!’). Bring back the Special Schools in an enormous program that creates meaningful, professional environments where children with genuine special educational needs (as opposed to a wheat intolerance) are catered for with a student/teacher ratio that actually makes a difference. You see, I’m not one of those that just wants the difficult kids slung out on the streets- I actually want them to land somewhere that will look after them with a combination of tough love and concerned structure and discipline. Mainstream classes are not the right environment for a minority of the children we ‘teach’; teachers don’t have the time, and the other kids can’t afford the disruption to their lives and educations.

If Alan Steer really wanted to make a helpful suggestion, he could abandon the well-meant but hopelessly undermining attitude that behaviour isn’t really so bad, and that kids will behave well if the lessons are more interesting, and instead tackle the main causes of the behaviour crisis in schools: inclusion, inclusion, and…oh yes. Inclusion.