Tom Bennett

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Everybody be cool. Why the EBC is nothing to be scared of.

‘We feel the Ebc is both a good and a bad thing.’

I have noticed that whenever things change, my pupils often resent it: a new teacher; a different room; a new pupil in the class. Then people get used to it and everyone calms down until things change again, and then we all get upset and pine for the good old days. It’s like when they change the layout of Facebook.

In a different league, now we have EBCs. Man, people are lining up like Swap Shop presenters in mufti at the ticket counter of Heathrow to have a pop. It’s the most fashionable piñata in town. Anything that unites the NUT, Ofqual, Graham Stuart, Michael Rosen and Tory backbench unspectaculars has to be something special. But behind the light of the unhappiness, is there any heat? I’m not so sure there’s anything to fret over.
1. Having one exam board might destabilise the industry. Frankly, I’m not too bothered that Ofqual worries about this, because I’m left wondering why examining students needs to be an industry, rather than an enterprise for the common good.This is one of those areas where you don’t want competition, where you don’t want a Darwinian race of survival based on self promotion. The gory sight of exam boards pimping out their syllabuses for the love of money should have turned your stomach by now on this matter. Oddly enough, I hear many left wing commentators worrying about this absence of competition.
2. Some have complained that the EBC will kill creativity. This seems an odd proposition, given that English, one of the core subjects, is an incredibly creative, critical, analytical subject, and that creativity can be learned through any subject. Are we saying that maths can’t be creative? Plus, when schools actually stop teaching art and PE and Drama, instead having timetables full of nothing EBC subjects, I’ll believe the claim that schools will drop them. People are naturally creative. You can hardly stop people being creative. It’s in everything, everywhere.
Oh, and forgive me for not really giving a monkeys what Stella McCartney or David Puttnam have to say about education.People often complain about non-educators sticking their oar in, but become suspiciously supportive of it when it’s a sleb with whom they share an opinion. 

Is this what you want? IS IT?
3. This is a return to the 1950s. Give. Me Strength. For a start this isn’t an argument, and I’m still perplexed as to what people actually mean when they say this. But then it isn’t an argument; it’s a sound bite, and people should be ashamed of making it.  Empty of content, it sounds like it might have something plausible underneath it, but it doesn’t. It’s rhetoric, sophistry.There is a good deal in education since the 60s that needs a long walk from a short plank: Brain Gym; Thinking Hats and so on. Because education isn’t a science, improvements are neither incrementally guaranteed not linear. These reforms aren’t a return to the 50s, and even if they were, I have no problem with men wearing hats again, or films by Alfred Hitchcock. Modernity isn’t the womb of quality, nor is innovation a guarantee of improvement. See: onesies for details.
4. Others have problems with linear exams, with fewer options of retakes. I’ve always seen modules and resits as the snooze alarms of assessment. ‘Five more minutes’ the students say. ‘Then I’ll properly start revising.’ If everyone gets the same opportunity, then everyone has the same chance at the outcome. Allowing successive bites of the cherry simply skews the benefit towards other groups, for example ‘People who don’t fancy coming into their lessons on Monday morning.’
But the best argument of all is to look at the state of GCSEs. They are, as they stand the walking wounded. 30 years of grade inflation. Years of lunatic BTEC equivalence. Successive, incremental, Darwinian dilution of content in favour of vapid, vague skills that rely on content to exist but ironically are starved of it. Reform or replace, the outcome is the same. The system needs to change. The venom directed at certificate reform is what we could expect of any change in the system. 
You wait. If it gets a chance to bed in, give it fifteen years and people will be out on the streets with placards campaigning for its preservation if anyone dares to meddle with it.The EBC might be fantastic. It might be the Ragnarok of civilisation. But the arguments levelled against it don’t convince.
Plus ça change.  Everybody, be cool.

What do we want? More rigour! How do we want it? We don’t know! Leaky cauldrons, draughty doors and the English Curriculum

‘I want them doing bare Homer an’ Ovid an’ that.’

There’s a draft English curriculum floating around, in advance of actual proposals in the next few months. How do these things escape from the laboratory? They should frisk everyone leaving Sanctuary House. Or just stop telling people, which ever’s easier. If there’s a draft, shut the door.

As usual with such things, a bunfight has emerged. Dame Gove has been castigated by Stephen ‘Equaliser’ Twigg for, among other things, an apparent lack of rigour. It is, La Twigg claims:

‘..preparing to introduce a narrow and out of date curriculum that will take us backwards.’

What definition of narrow he’s using, I’m not sure; the curriculum is, if anything, becoming more fluid and open to interpretation and personalisation. It’s becoming less prescribed. If that’s narrow, then I wouldn’t like to see him reverse a Transit Van backwards into a parking space. And ‘out of date’? Please, God, don’t let this be another allusion to the apparently essential 21st century skills that so many have unwittingly adopted as dogma. Alas, it probably is, as the cult of the 21st century (or now, as I like to call it) appears to count the Labour spokeman as a celebrity member, like Scientology, but without the evidence base.

‘Incredibly there is no mention of the importance of spelling…’

That takes balls, I tell you. Marks for spelling, as a government source mentions (check his pockets, by the way, there’s draft documents just walking out here) were removed by the previous opposition’s predecessors. So that’s a funny thing to get all cocky about.

‘There’s no mention of creativity and being able to think critically or understanding opposing points of view in any of these sources.’

Now that’s odd: to criticise something for being too narrow (and previously, too prescriptive, too didactic) but then to try to finger it for being lacking in substance, is a tricky piece of legerdemain, and I salute the attempt. But it doesn’t make sense. The proposed curriculum (and of course, it might look nothing like the finished article) looks set to be far less set in stone, and far more open to teacher and school customisation. It’s Gradgrind in reverse.

The complaint continues: the draft ‘makes no mention of the importance of taking part in structured group discussion or listening skills to judge and interpret what a speaker has said.’

That might be because the teacher should decide how best to teach their own students, and not be subject to the donkey-headed assumption that group work is the only or best way to learn anything. It’s a strategy, nothing more, and not always a particularly effective one. It seems to me that the only ones talking from the hip today are the opposition benches, and carelessly at that. And the only ones who seem to be suggesting that the government issue Mosaic tablets of what kids should and shouldn’t learn, and how, are Labour. 

Every ministry, everywhere wrestles with this demon: do we allow individuals to have power, or do we centralise? The temptation to inhale all autonomy into the centre is understandable- why go into politics if you intend to give power away?- but history teaches us that this is the struggle between tyranny and the barbarism of the state of nature. Teachers have trudged like yoked cape buffalo for decades in a curriculum that seeks to obtain almost daily direction, in a witless attempt to generate precise, mathematically calculated results. The recent moves to loosen these chains has the potential to transform teachers from galley slaves to, at the very least, the bloke with the tom-toms and the broom handle, if not actual captains.

That’s something to be desired, not feared. Of course, for many of us, it will be an uneasy transition. We’re so used to be being told exactly what to teach that having the cage door opened will terrify. I saw an experiment once; monkeys, bred in captivity are offered an open door for the first time. As you might expect, it takes a while for any to dare to poke their noses outside, even when tempted by bananas. Some of the stalwarts who do so pad around nervously in their brave new world before….going back into the cage. And then closing the door behind them.

If the door is being opened for us, even a crack, we need to be bold enough to cry freedom and tear through, pushing it hard with out shoulders to allow others to follow. I mean, have you seen the bananas out there?

Quotes from article here

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters: Mock outrage causes outrage

I am outraged. I’m fuming. How can people be so insensitive? They should be ashamed of themselves.

In fact, I’m so outraged, I think I might be able to wring a decent article out of it. The source of today’s horror is the news, reported in the Telegraph, and no doubt coming soon to a media outlet near you, is the news that in the recent AQA Religious Studies exam, they had the temerity to ask this question:


‘Why are some people prejudiced against Jews?’

The Jewish Chronicle led with this; Michael Gove jumped in with his size 12s. Lou Mensch hit Twitter like it was being rationed by Francis Maude.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, branded the move “insensitive”.

He told The Jewish Chronicle: “To suggest that anti-Semitism can ever be explained, rather than condemned, is insensitive and, frankly, bizarre. AQA needs to explain how and why this question was included in an exam paper.” 

From this link

I had to rub my eyes a few times to make sure I was reading that right. We can’t question why prejudice occurs? We can’t try to understand the frankly obnoxious reasons that people might discriminate against any segment of the population? We can’t try to unpick the stitches in racism, anti-Semitism, or hate-thought?

How utterly, utterly, endlessly, bottomlessly appalling. Prejudice needs to be challenged; it needs to be understood; its brittle bones broken. The fog of discrimination grows darker in the shadows. It doesn’t emerge, like a miasma, from nothing. It is a primordial soup of ignorance, half-truths, fear, cruelty and imagined injustice. Suggesting that the only appropriate reaction is to condemn it, does the reverse; it condemns us. I have been to Auschwitz several times; after the abysmal anti-life that this place represents, many were inspired to say, ‘Never again.’

Well nothing is dispelled by treating it as something transcendent, mystical and unintelligible. You analyse and confront; you do not retreat into dogma and simplifications. The German people are not inherently evil, nor were the people of Rwanda, Serbia, or any other ghastly gardens of genocide and intolerance. Hate is not defeated by ignoring it, or pretending it arises ex nihilo, like a genie. Understanding it takes us a step towards dispelling it. Refusing to even question its origins is a step towards ensuring that it perpetuates like gangrene in the wounds of the world.

This was a valid question, and always will be. I teach RS, and I have always- and will always- expect my students to understand why humans can hate each other. AQA understood this when they set the question; good RS teachers understand it when they teach and discuss it. Rentagobs, manufacturing outrage are the enemies of wisdom. This question was well-worded, and anyone free from a fetish for headlines and populism can understand that this question, in this context, wasn’t just permissible, but vital; urgent.

Sometimes I feel that we are doomed to repeat our mistakes. Sometimes, as someone who tries to help students understand why reason sometimes dislocates in favour of race-hate, I feel so weak in the face of the cyclical nature of ignorance and ugly sentiment. The faux, proxy offended play to the sentiments of the bigoted when they classify all explorations of racism as racist.

Humanity deserves better than this. Our children deserve better than this.

Soylent Green is Teachers: why we need to defend education from the predators of profit

Your new school governors. What?

I am not, nor have I ever been, a communist. I believe in America. I begrudgingly concede  Milton Friedman’s point that capitalism (with all its faults) is the least bad system we’ve devised yet. It remains riddled with anti-life equations; Marx’s analysis of its weaknesses was more or less correct, although the alternative he painted remains a sketch.

Some of its central structural flaws: its dependence on desire as the driving force of delivery; the utilitarian obsession with valuing what it can measure, until all else is not only ignored, but becomes forgotten, as if it had never existed. And in its Darwinian quest for advantage, it favours those just vicious enough to maintain a status quo of cooperativeness. It seeks short term goals, it pits all against all, and without regulation, it would return us to an age of robber-barons, and perhaps it soon will.

That’s the good news. But to be fair on Adam Smith, it delivers on many levels: as a conduit between perceived need and supply, it approaches cartilage in its connective powers. But there is one circular charge against it which can never be squared: it values profit above all things. Marx called profit theft; more generous commentators call it the fuel of ambition and innovation, the psychological egoist pay-off for competing and striving.

Profit, above all things. Kant claimed that the only true moral motive was the good will- the desire to do good for its own sake. Anything else fetishised the intention, and made good an instrument to an extrinsic goal. For example, if I am an honest shopkeeper because I want my business to prosper, then what I really seek is prosperity, and the minute I can pursue this without honesty, I do so. That is what is so damning about profit: whatever one does in its name, if profit is your sole goal, then all other goals become subservient to it. I believe I’m not conceiving anything controversial when I say that money is an intoxicant that ruins the keenest of hearts.

The future of law enforcement

And profit sits very uneasily with education; not because I cannot conceive of anything educational having a margin, but because of the temptation to see the playground as a marketplace. There are many aspects of state schooling that, like the health of the nation, cannot be amended to the spreadsheet, because they are intrinsically non-profitable- financially. Listening to a kid who’s depressed; talking to a parent about ways to get their kid back into school; teaching with passion because you love your subject and you want your kids to do so as well. These, and a million more things, are what education is about. They aren’t done because of some loathsome hedonic calculus, or because we quantify experiences that are essentially qualitative. They are done because they are intrinsically valuable, not because they reduce to a bottom line, or a monetary value.

So I watch with horror the vultures circling education as I write, looking to see which part of the school pack looks like the most lucrative place to maul and bleed first. Which part is the most lucrative?

‘Would you like fries with your dreams?’

Of course, schools have outsourced for decades; we are far from soviet. Caterers, cleaners, IT supplies, and so on have all been seen as something that could be run far more efficiently by an economy of scale across boroughs. Now this may be practical on many many levels, but I only have to mention Turkey Twizzlers and you start to get my point: when something is done for profit, profit becomes the sole aim, and other aims- feeding children healthy meals- is not. There was a corner shop next to my old school that sold stink bombs and firecrackers. I am NOT kidding you. When I asked him to stop, he just said, ‘They’ll buy them somewhere else, won’t they?’ Ah, Heroes of Sparta, we salute you.

Two things reported in this week’s Private Eye reminded me of these factors today. One was an article about how private investor forms are ‘circling the university sector hungrily.’ As you can imagine, their intentions are strictly honourable, looking to move into distance learning- that highly regarded and noble part of the tertiary education sector, as the University of Wales knows.

Coming Soon- The Soylent Green Academy

Then there was this article about  Michael Gove’s  long, unedifying history with the now pariah News International Gang, helping them to- almost- set up a News International School in Newnham. Anyone fancy the chances of that now? No. Incidentally, Boris was on the tours to find potential sites too. Eeh, it makes you feel all warm, doesn’t it?

‘Murdoch told investors he sees schools as a “revolutionary and profitable” area for business expansion. In the US, indeed, he bought Wireless Generation, an education technology company that could digitise classrooms. Given its pisspoor record in New York schools, however, Britain – and Gove – appear to have had a very lucky escape.

According to the New York City comptroller (auditor) John Liu, the “costly tech program” was supposed “to help principals and teachers track progress and thereby improve student learning”. But “$83m later, there is little discernible improvement in learning and many principals and teachers have given up on the system.”’

Schools aren’t a ‘profitable area’ into which businesses can expand. They aren’t a line in a P&L sheet. They are not hot dogs.What makes this worse is the emergent (and to my eyes, grossly oversold) IT revolution that has been promising to revolutionise education for decades. It hasn’t. It probably won’t. It’s an enormous con designed to sell white boards, tablets, software, maintenance contracts, etc. These things can all be great, of course, I use them myself. But to suggest that we couldn’t learn properly before them is obviously a lie, and a stupid one at that; and the idea that they will make us all learn…what, quicker, better? is also a lie, because it is without foundation. Most tech I have seen in schools is redundant, foisted on an unwitting staff by budget holders who want to be seen to be cutting edge, but are really just flailing about looking for solutions. And there will always be people willing to sell you solutions.

Soylent Green is teachers.

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

Dear Santa Gove: this Christmas I would like…

‘The cheeky f*cker!’

Dear Santa Gove

I know a lot of people say that you’re not real; I know a lot of people don’t believe in you at all. But in the spirit of Christmas, here’s my wish -list for the teaching profession (and myself) this year. I’ve addressed it to Mossbourne Academy, because that’s where you seem to be the most.

1. An OfSTED inspection followed by a Section 48 Inspection where I get graded Outstanding each time OH YEAH I FORGOT I ALREADY GOT THAT THIS WEEK DAMN BETTER NOT MENTION IT

Sorry, got that out of my system now, I promise.

2. A unified Exam Board, or at least exam boards that don’t whorishly lie back and whisper how easy they are, to tempt a stream of suitors into their boudoirs. The exam system has been exposed this week, in a series of shocking revelations that many teachers, myself included, can only describe as No Shit, Sherlock? Exam boards compete with each other for market share, you say? Surely not! This is the worst kept secret in education. I used to mark for different exam boards, and I was shocked by how easy it was to be recruited- fill out a form or two and you’re in. Training was all online, and moderation was done in a suspiciously positive way (‘I think you’re being a bit harsh’ etc). What was even odder was that I was asked- repeatedly- to mark papers in areas where I had clearly expressed that I wasn’t qualified. Of course, I declined, but it doesn’t say much for the ‘stringency’ that an exam spokesman expressed this week. Sir, you have BALLS in your mouth.

The new AQA reps, yesterday.

38,000 papers in England and Wales were regraded this year after teachers asked. 38,000! When 100 people say you’re dead, lie down. When 38,000 people say you’re dead….well, lie down, I guess.

I’ve already blogged about grade inflation (here), but I can confirm a few things: I have heard of examiners passing on ‘tips’ at ‘training sessions’, and I know teachers who have been told what ‘might’ come up. But even without empirical evidence, it stands to reason, by all that’s holy, that when you have several boards all selling their products, the pressure to compete, however fractionally, is overwhelming. They would have to be moral paragons NOT to do it- that, or not-for-profit organisations. Aw, shucks, they are. It is planning for disaster to create a situation where boards compete; it is the point where the market must be absent; when quality is required, not utility or quantity. Capitalism is a fabulous tool for achieving many things, but when it comes to values like integrity and academic rigour, it can f*ck off.

They can’t massively outbid each other, of course- too obvious. So they slack off, year by year, eyeing each other like perverts in a car park, careful not to lunge ahead of the pack. Which would result in a gradual year-on-year improvement in grades. Goodness, which is exactly what we’ve got.

So, Santa, nationalise the buggers please.

2. Stop worrying about Finland, for Christ’s sake. Finland is Finland. Let them worry about how they teach their kids. Stop comparing grades with other countries, like some anxious willy-watcher in the Leicester Square lavvies. How on earth can different country’s grades be compared when- and I say this with some patience- WE DON’T SIT THE SAME EXAMS. I’m no statistician (I use tongs rather than handle the filthy thing) but the last time I looked, trying to divide bananas by porcupines simply left you looking stupid, and your fruit bowl looking somewhat ghoulish. Pisa says we’re falling behind. Others, like the TIMMS tests say we’re just dandy.

‘Now I like Ed Balls….’

Now, I like Pisa. But I also like TIMMS. But which is better? There’s only one way to find out…..

FIGHT!!!

CHILL the FUCK OUT about Pisa, Santa.

3. Remove the requirement that schools that exclude pupils have to suffer their exam grades in the hereafter, AND have to fund their places at their destination schools. You say you’re interested in behaviour? Well, Holy Smokes, me too (check my nick-name if you don’t believe me). That’s because there is NOTHING more pressing in education right now than helping teachers and schools get behaviour sorted. And to be fair, you’ve made many encouraging moves in this direction. But then you blow a hole in the bloody boat by adding that cowardly clause at the end. There is nothing more certain to discourage a school from excluding a pupil than the treat of financial impediment. Schools are propelled by money, and they will do many, many things before they will wave good bye to a £5,000 cheque, even if it does mean holding on to a mentalist and ruining it for others who value education enough not to tell their teachers to go fuck themselves.

4. While you’re at it, how about we INVEST in a few special schools, eh? All these pupils I want to exclude (and it isn’t many) need to go somewhere. Right now they just get passed round LEAs like some particularly vile version of pass the parcel, only instead of a parcel it’s a dog turd.

They need somewhere meaningful to go. That means specialist provision, in institutions run by people who are trained to deal with extreme spectrum behaviour AND are good teachers. Yes, that DOES sound expensive, doesn’t it? Tough. If you’re interested in social mobility (and I am) then you’ll want to prevent all those lovely drop-outs turning into NEETS, and you know how many NEETS end up with the title ‘Prisoner’ before their name, don’t you? You know, those frightful coves smashing up Tescos last Summer? Them.

5. Brainwave, Santa! How about we acknowledge that automatic deference from children is a long-gone social institution, and train teachers properly, which means in SCHOOLS and UNIVERSITY together. And focus on behaviour management just as much as bloody Thinking Hats and Multiple Intelligences, for God’s sake.

IT’S THE ONLY LANGUAGE EXAMINERS UNDERSTAND

6. While we’re at it, let’s have an end to the stream of bullshit and cant that pours from academia into teaching. Let’s put social science back where it belongs- as a commentary on the human condition, not pretending it’s a predictive natural science. That way we can stop guff like learning styles and Brain Gym before they even get to the classroom, and we can mothball catechisms of the education establishment like the Cult of Group Work and the Three Part Lesson. Just because we want to put a genie in a bottle, doesn’t mean it can be done. Just because we can measure something doesn’t make it important.

7. Also, a pony.

That’ll do for now. I may think of some other things I’d like. If I do, I’ll let you know. Merry Christmas.

Tom

Why NOT kill a President? The Book of Gove.

‘And there was a mighty rush of unknown people…’

A Bible is, or will be on its way to every school. This, of course, has sent precisely half the chattering world into diabetic shock, and the other half into a righteous forced march. In 1858, the first transatlantic cable was sent from Queen Victoria to President Buchanan; it read; ‘Glory to God, and peace to his people on Earth.’ The cable had taken years to unwind across the uncertain plateaus and trenches of the Atlantic; every time it broke, they started again, usually from the beginning. Nowadays, people get upset when Bibles get sent to schools. I imagine if a new transatlantic message were to be composed today, it would be created by committee, and would be as exciting as a bowl of custard. Sic transit Gloria Mundi.

I’m an agnostic, and a militant one at that, not some woolly, uncertain gimp, but a soldier of agnosticism. My banner reads Uncertain in a polite but assertive way. I despair of fundamentalism on all points of the faith spectrum. I despair of the certainty that vilifies and demonises anyone who doesn’t agree with the sacred truth of anybody, from Abu Hamza to Philip Pullman.

But, Bible -Bashers, why so serious? I’ve been thinking a lot about the roots of ethical systems lately, usually while accidental catching a flicker of TOWIE or ‘I’m a celebrity‘ and wondering if these are the end times spoken of in the Revelation of John of Patmos. Where do we find value? Where does our idea of goodness come from? This kind of question genuinely disturbs my sleep; it’s fundamental to the human condition. Why do we do what we do? What is the point of my, or your life? What is the point of education? Why do we teach? What are schools actually for?  Everything is linked.

‘Blimey. Rule 34 ain’t wrong, is it?’

All ethical systems have to be rooted in something (in philosophy, we could call this cognitivism, the offspring of moral realism) otherwise they are adrift. There has to be some kind of universal, undeniable value system to which we attach ourselves, otherwise we are making it up as we go along. If you’re happy with the idea of moral relativism, that everyone gets to invent their own versions of right and wrong, then you’re jolly welcome to it, but be aware that you commit yourself to neutrality and self-imposed silence on matters such as slavery, female circumcision, suttee, the death penalty etc etc, on the grounds that ‘it’s all relative, isn’t it?’ If you commit to realtivism, then  nothing is intrinsically right or wrong, and no one can stand in judgement of any other. ‘Only God can judge me,’ as the vile narcissist that is P-Diddy once said. Well, Mr Combs, not even him.

Possible anchors include: self-interest; virtue; duty. But an anchor is needed. The problem with rationalism and the ascent of reason as the rule and the tool of human ambition, is that it can never provide us with aims; only means. We cannot reason the nature of goodness; rather we believe in it, and then reason its execution- we reason the means to that ambition, not the ambition itself.

So when I read reports that Michael Gove wants to send every school in the UK a Bible, I recoil in desperation from the response of some who say, ‘What a waste!’ and ‘Well, I hope The Descent of Man gets sent out too!’  Gove’s actions may imply prescriptivism, but it isn’t the prescriptivism that people are accusing him of. He isn’t alluding to Biblical orthodoxy as some kind of state sanctioned Jesuit imperative that all schools should follow. Rather, it is the prescriptivism of the claim that the King James Bible is a core text in our civilisation and culture, and make of that what you may, but its position stands. The Bible doesn’t need my shrill agnostic defence of cultural utilitarianism- I imagine it’ll be just fine whatever I say. The Origin of the Species is a transformative scientific text; the Bible is not. Fair or foul, it is one of the lynchpins of our schema. Talk about it, spit on its face, weep on your knees before it, but don’t ignore it.

Your argument is invalid.

What does need defending is the idea that there are some things that should be valued, and resistant to the claims of moral relativism. ‘God is dead,’ said Nietzsche, ‘We killed him. Now anything is possible.’ The syphilitic old rogue was implying that religion had been the anchor of morality for ages, and now that reason, the engine of the enlightenment, had blown out the votive candles, there was no need to be bound by the conventions of a society that only sought to enslave the strong. He was wrong about that- a secular age has birthed an enormous number of moral movements that have their roots in the human condition, Humanism being just one; the New Atheism being another. But what these movements all have in common is that they celebrate values, and hold them…I could almost say, hold them sacred.

Such movements aren’t immune to the absolutist moral philosophy of their religious counterparts; they need them, otherwise anything is possible. The British Humanist Association, so resplendent in its secular representation, says that it…

‘…is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. We promote Humanism, support and represent the non-religious, and promote a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.’

Which is gorgeous, and I march with you brother. But riddle me this- where did we get those values from? It certainly wasn’t reason; reason can’t provide us with a guarantee of justice or equality; reason can press a man to enslave another, on the grounds that his self-interest is served; reason can teach a child that dishonesty is often the best policy, if he wants to prosper in a community of the trusting.

No, reason alone cannot provide values; only a moral choice can do this; we choose, freely or otherwise, those things we hold to be dear. ‘We can do as we please,’ said Bertrand Russell, ‘But we cannot please as we please.’ That simple aphorism holds the key to the dilemma; our intellect cannot govern our desires; our desires govern out desires. The intellect rationalises those desires, breaks them down into taxonomies of possibility and expediency, and somewhere in the fathomless abyss of our consciousness, a decision is made. Whether that decision is its own first cause or not, or merely the end of a causal chain, no one- and I mean NO ONE- has any claim to certainty about it.

Another child lost to vice and mysticism

So don’t mock Gove for sending out a copy of the KJB to every school; mock him for many other things, perhaps. But let’s not forget that, whether you hold the Host to your bosom, or reject it like a vampire, schools- and people- have to confront issues of meaning and values in their own lives. Reason alone cannot produce a society of virtuous men, no matter what the Caliphs of Humanism say- it just can’t. Reason is sterile to kindness, or justice, or bravery; these are attitudes, and have an emotional content. Intellect sparkles with many prizes, but feeling isn’t one of them. Sending out a Bible to every school sends out a powerful and simple message: consider this; consider what you value. Let all schools proceed from that point. What DO they value? What do YOU value?

Then, apply your mighty brain to the tasks ahead of you, awake, and conscious and lucid. We have, possibly inevitably, entered- or inhabited- an age where reason has been in ascendency for some time. I celebrate this evolution from instinct and superstition. Now that we enjoy the fruits of the enlightenment, it’s time to press ahead to the next step of that enlightenment, and cast aside the New Gods and False Prophets that claim all will be well with science and jolly good discussion. They will not. Science is a neutral deity; a medicine or a poison. Reason cannot furnish us with purpose. Purpose is an arrow attached to our hearts; method alone stems from our science.

In the Clint Eastwood’s Western Swan-song masterpiece ‘Unforgiven’, English Bob, the hired assassin is mouthing off in a carriage full of shocked Americans about the relative impossibility of Regicide:

English Bob: [discussing the assassination of President Garfield] Well there’s a dignity to royalty. A majesty that precludes the likelihood of assassination. If you were to point a pistol at a king or a queen your hands would shake as though palsied.
Barber: Oh I wouldn’t point no pistol at nobody sir.
English Bob: Well that’s a wise policy,  wise policy. But if you did. I can assure you, if you did, the sight of royalty would cause you to dismiss all thoughts of bloodshed and you would stand… how shall I put it? In awe. Now, a president… well I mean…
[chuckles]

‘Why not shoot a president?’

Gove, yesterday, with a book. The BASTARD.

Why not indeed? In his oafish way, Bob makes a point. If you want meaning to emerge from rationalisation, then grab a chair, you’ll be there for a while.

The problem is, of course, a political one; all politics can be broken down to a conflict of values, or the means of achieving those values. Once values are exposed, once the flesh of evidence and debate are stripped from their bones, then we can see politics for what it is: a competition of values. Sunlight bleaching those bones is the best cure I know for argumentation; once facts are established, honesty is possible. Would that we were so honest more often.

Why a Bible? Why NOT a Bible? Let people cast their anchors where they will, and hope that we can rub along together without destroying each other.

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…