Tolerance and the job description

A common theme I’ve noticed in schools (both primary and secondary) is the promotion of Tolerance as a concept to be taught to the pupils.

In general, this is admirable, in practice this impossible. Not so much in the ideals of the concept, but more so in its delivery.

This is because tolerance is neither permitted nor promoted amongst the staff. Schools are run as a very tight ship and people can be made to feel very uncomfortable if they disagree with the prevailing orthodoxy.

I have to state at this point that I am not talking about racism or any other illegal or dangerous ideology. Rather, I mean the simple concept of a difference of opinion and the ability to express this. Or, to put in another way, freedom of speech.

Teachers are often told that they must “uphold the ethos of the school”,  frequently this is included in their contracts. This is, in itself, a reasonable request of allegiance. After all, a Catholic school can expect that a member of staff would, if not to actively promote Catholocism, at least not take every opportunity to actively undermine it. However, the term ‘ethos of the school’ seems to be becoming ever more fluid, and this is where the problems arise.

Teachers who signed on the dotted line many years ago now find that the schools they work in are rapidly becoming unfamiliar to them. They no longer have the same working conditions, nor are the same expectations made of them. In other words, the ‘ethos of the school’ that they originally signed up to has changed dramatically. Some choose to quietly go along with the new systems, others choose instead to leave. The final category of these teachers are the ones who chose to stay, but refuse to remain silent.

It is here, at this point, that the lack of tolerance becomes clear.

I have worked in many schools where members of staff have been off on long term sick leave, often caused by work related stress. Going into the same staff rooms (where schools are still lucky enough to have one) over a long period of time, shows some depressing trends. Despondent, demoralised, demotivated staff who are too scared to question some of the things they have been told to do, for fear of being put on Capability. Those that do go down the capability route are generally the ones who are signed off with stress.

Management imposing new targets, demands for ever increasing amounts of paperwork, and the constant need to supply extensive evidence of all of this, means that many teachers are finding that work intruding into every aspect of their lives. When this is raised, they are often told that they need to find ways to cope, or are they admitting that they’re not really up to the job? Older teachers are generally the ones that find this the hardest, but I’ve noticed that teachers with young families are increasingly choosing to go part-time.

At first I thought this would be so they can spend one or two days a week at home with their own children, and whilst this is certainly true, I’ve discovered that many of the ‘days off’ are actually spent in doing paperwork such as planning or marking whilst their children are napping. Those that have pointed out such a system is unsustainable are often also to be found ‘on capability’ a few months later.

I’m not going to discuss the excessive workloads teachers are expected to cope with, nor am I making a point about the changing age demographic of the workforce. I’m simply struck by the correlation between the teachers who express a differing viewpoint about new initiatives, and those that end up leaving their jobs because they find them untenable.

Essentially, any new idea or suggestion made by the management teams, is suddenly considered to be part of the ‘ethos of the school’. I’ll accept that when it relates to a religious belief or an expectation of hard work and links to wider society within the school body, but I’m not so convinced when told that it includes marking in a particular colour.

If expressions of disagreements with regard to working expectations or implementation of new policies, is regarded as a capability issue, where is the tolerance in that?

If teachers do not work in a tolerant environment, how are they meant to teach such a concept to their pupils?

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Ofsted want to see…

“Ofsted want to see…”

“Ofsted expect…”

“Ofsted are very keen on…”


Are you saying this because you’re an Ofsted inspector, and this is something you’ll be looking out for when you do your next inspection? Or are you saying it because it’s something you heard someone else say Ofsted want to see?

I’m fairly confident that the majority of such conversations fall into the latter category. The main reason for this is that they tend to focus on instigating new practices or promoting a certain teaching style. Both Sir Michael Wilshaw and Sean Harford have said that this is incorrect – Ofsted do not want to see a particular teaching style. And frankly, they’re the ones in the best position to know what Ofsted wants to see.

And yet, there are too many members of SLT who confidently trot out the Ofsted line, in the strong belief that no one will contradict them. This has led to staff meetings and INSET days where SLT have announced that from that point on, all teachers must ensure they include an element of group work in their lessons. That the pupils should have an opportunity for kinaesthetic learning, or a chance to share their work with the whole class every single lesson.

Every single lesson.

It becomes a mantra for the school, and soon it worms its way into some written policy. Once written, forever followed.

I think that trying new things can work well, that we shouldn’t assume that all new ideas are rubbish. I’m happy to try out new things in my classroom, but I do it on the understanding that if it doesn’t work I’ll go back to doing what I know to be productive. Equally, I want to be trusted to make my own decisions about the efficacy of something that I’m trying out in my lessons. If it works, I’ll do it, if not, I’ll stop.

I don’t want to be told that I must persevere against all reason just because that ‘something’ is expected by Ofsted. Repeated written comment and response between pupil and teacher actually takes time away from my teaching, and adds, well, what exactly? A greater marking workload certainly, but does it actually benefit the pupils?

If you want your staff to adopt a new policy or scheme, give them a good reason for doing so, don’t use Ofsted as an excuse. If it works, there’ll be a lot of evidence to back up your assertions. You’ll be able to pinpoint how this will benefit the pupils, how it will help the teachers, and how you’ll assess whether it’s working in the context of your school, and thus whether it’s actually worth continuing.

If it’s just some vague rumour you’ve heard, or that is doing the rounds of the local schools, stop and think before you insist that all your teachers adopt it. If it doesn’t work, or if it just bogs the teachers down in unnecessary work they won’t thank you for it.

In fact, they’ll see through you, and you’ll just look like a fool.

Posted in Ofsted, Policies, SLT | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

A fresh perspective

I’m back.

Blogging, that is. I never went away from supply teaching.

But something happened that made me think I needed to reappraise my position and ideas with regard to teaching and following educational policies.

I had just described a typically maddening day, when a friend asked “Why do you do it? You can’t stand the things you’re asked to do and you think half of it is pointless, so why do you do it? There must be something you like, or you’d walk. So what is it? Or is it just that things aren’t really as bad as you say?”

I was taken aback. I’m used to people saying that I complain about the way things are, and wondering why I don’t leave, but I realised that I’d never actually had someone ask what it was that kept me going. The last bit, slyly proposing that I might have exaggerated some of the more baffling procedures I’ve been instructed to follow, stopped me in my tracks.

Had I been exaggerating?

I knew in my eyes I hadn’t, but what of those of an impartial observer? Could I step back and look afresh at the current reality of teaching?

Over the intervening months I made lots of notes, but I didn’t write them up into posts. I decided to leave it until the end of my ‘experiment’ and see what I thought then. Would the value of hindsight add or detract from my initial observations? Would I find that comparing my observations from a number of schools would mean that they made more sense than if looked at individually?

I’m going to start writing those notes up now, reflecting and comparing policies, routines, statements (of missions, intent and otherwise), requests, demands, instructions and edicts – and I’m going to include both my impressions at the time and my latter thoughts on the matter.

I’ll go through my experiences of marking in various shades (quite apposite, as it turns out), starting every lesson to a prescribed formula, regulations regarding internal emails, rewards and sanctions, workload expectations, INSET activities, encounters with consultants and cover requirements.

The word ‘Ofsted’ may be mentioned a lot…

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The 23-point behaviour policy – revisited

I went back to the school with the mad behaviour policy (see this post) today. The school has a new head who started in January, so I expected to find that a number of new routines were in place. The new head was the deputy the last time I went to the school, so I didn’t expect major changes, but I did hope that the behaviour policy would have been overhauled.

Well, I was partly right.

As I entered the classroom, I noticed that the same behaviour charts were on the wall. The children still start on Gold and go down the chart after instances of poor behaviour. The chart is still reset at lunchtime. Now, however, it is also reset at break.

Thankfully the multiple warnings are no longer in place, the children now have one warning before being moved down a level. However, having the chart reset twice during the day means that a child could, with determination, manage to achieve 15 instances of poor behaviour before acquiring a sanction. As before, the only sanction is a phone call home.

Still, I guess a 16-point behaviour policy is better than a 23-point one, right?

gold star

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Damaged Children: Ross

Ross isn’t understood by his family.

They think he’s got mental health problems.

His mother told me how much work he is, and how worried she is about him. She thinks his younger brother might be OK most of the time, but every now and again she worries he’s turning out a bit like Ross. Nowhere near as bad, mind. Just a little bit like Ross.

Ross’s mother, Marie, doesn’t work. She has a bad back and depression, so she spends a lot of time at home. A lot of time worrying about Ross.

Why is he like he is?

Why doesn’t he do the things the other kids on the estate do?

Why isn’t he normal?

I ask her what she means. What is it about Ross that worries her so much? I’ve spent time with him and he seems untroubled by any discernible mental health worries. I’ve taught him off and on for two months and nothing about him raises any alarm bells for me.

Marie explains.

Ross is on Ritalin, so he’s probably OK at school, but when he gets home he’s a nightmare. She just can’t control him. Her husband helps when he gets home, but sometimes he’s out until 7, and it really isn’t fair to bother him after he’s been at work all day. He’s worried about Ross too.

She asks for some advice. The doctor (a new one) wants to take Ross off Ritalin, but she doesn’t think she’ll be able to cope if he does. What can I suggest? Is it better to travel all the way over to Dr Jewson in the far surgery? They’re not really in the catchment area, but Dr Jewson has helped her in the past. In fact he suggested Ritalin when they used to live over that way a few years ago. He’d seen Ross after they’d all had lunch at the fair, so he knows what Ross is like.

I tell Marie that I can’t make a decision like that, she needs expert medical advice. Perhaps she needs to take Ross into the new doctor for an assessment, things change, and maybe he really does no longer need the Ritalin. I explain that one day last week there was a visiting theatre group and Ross forgot to go to reception for his tablet, but there was no deterioration in his behaviour. Maybe the new doctor is right.

Marie assures me he isn’t. There are really is a problem. Ross just isn’t normal.

I ask Marie to clarify this, I tell her I don’t really understand – what exactly is Ross doing that worries her so much?

Marie tells me. Ross runs all around her on the way home from school. He won’t stop talking. The meds must have worn off because he shouldn’t really be like this. He keeps telling her stories, he goes on and on and expects her to reply. She can’t even look at her phone when he’s like this as she’s worried he’ll step into the road as he’s not concentrating on where he’s going.

She pushes the buggy with his younger brother, at least Darren’s usually asleep by then, otherwise Ross gets him going by talking to him and asking him how nursery went. It’s endless. It drives her mad.

Her sister’s kids aren’t like this. They run off ahead on their own on the way home from school. They’re in the front garden when her sister gets there. Why doesn’t Ross do that?

When Marie gets in she makes a cup of tea and settles down in front of the TV. Her back hurts after the walk to and from school, pushing that buggy is tough as Darren’s quite a big boy. But she can’t relax. Not with Ross all around her. The other kids are out playing on the wasteland at the side of number 13. But Ross isn’t. He says he doesn’t like doing the stuff the other kids do. But she doesn’t think the other kids do much harm. Number 13 isn’t lived in anyway. She locked him out one afternoon. Not for long, just until tea-time. But he still didn’t go away and play with the other kids. He just sat in the garden with a book.

Books! So many books! It’s not normal. He doesn’t go out with the other kids unless they’re playing football in the park. That’s what he should be doing. Not reading things he doesn’t understand. He gets them from the school library – can’t we stop him picking difficult things?

After tea he goes on his computer. Always on his computer. That starts fights with Darren because Ross won’t let him play games on it. He keeps looking at things. Really weird things.

And then he asks questions. He keeps asking questions. He won’t shut up.

“What’s a black hole?”, “How long will it take to reach Mars?”, “If God invented the universe, who invented God?”, “How do rainbows form? Why are they bent?”, “Who invented money?”, “Who’s the richest man in the world?”, “What weighs more – an elephant or a rhino?”

Questions, questions, it drives her mad. Her eldest never did this. He kept quiet until he went inside. Why can’t Ross? Maybe she should see if Dr Jewson will increase the Ritalin? She might get some peace then. Why can’t he just be normal?

And then I understand.

Posted in Behaviour, SEN | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Jeremy Clarkson? He’s in year 9, isn’t he?

Much has been made in the news about the recent ‘fracas’ between Jeremy Clarkson and his producer Oisin Tymon. Essentially, Clarkson was upset that instead of being given a hot steak, he was provided with cold food. His reaction to this was to (allegedly) hit his producer. This was accompanied by an apparent 30 minute expletive-laden tirade. Accounts of this vary, but suffice to say, he didn’t conduct himself well.

Whilst the actions of Jeremy Clarkson don’t surprise me overly much, I am truly horrified at the campaign that has sprung up to support him. I am even more appalled to discover that some of my friends have pledged their allegiance to this cause on FaceBook. the justification, being, apparently, that he is valuable to the show, and it wouldn’t be the same without him.

I mean, REALLY?

Imagine you’re sitting in an empty train carriage and another passenger gets on. He chooses to sit opposite you, crosses his legs and proceeds to swing his raised foot back and forth, in such a way that it repeatedly makes contact with your shin. You ask him to stop. He launches into a shouty rant, where he repeatedly uses language designed to upset or intimidate you. Looking around, you notice the ticket inspector has entered the carriage and is standing watching the whole thing unfold.

You go over to the ticket inspector and ask him to intervene as you are feeling very uncomfortable and not a little aggrieved.

However, instead of the ticket inspector telling the passenger that his behaviour is unacceptable, you are subject to a lecture about how the particular passenger is a frequent traveller (and thus valuable to the train company) with a very demanding job, and he was probably just letting off steam.

You are advised to move, or to find ways of coping with the onslaught.

Well, you’d be horrified, wouldn’t you?

How is the reaction to Jeremy Clarkson any different? Noel Edmonds has even gone one step further, blaming the BBC for failing to “give Clarkson the support that such a mercurial talent requires.

Yes, that’s right. Jeremy Clarkson’s inability to control his temper is someone else’s fault.

Where have I heard that before?

Now clearly Jeremy Clarkson is not really in Year 9, but his behaviour most certainly is. Early this morning, Andrew Old tweeted about a piece in the Telegraph, in which the author was celebrating the revocation of guidance that would have enabled a headteacher to more easily exclude a problem child.

The author (Mark Greaves, director of the School Exclusion Project), states that:

It is of note that the latest set of statistics released by the Department for Education showed that students with SEN account for seven in 10 of all permanent exclusions, despite making up only 20 per cent of the school population.

That suggests that far too often young people with SEN are simply treated as “naughty” and kicked out for “misbehaviour” which they shouldn’t be held responsible for.

I take issue with this statement.

I have noticed, that many of my non-teaching friends have an association of the term ‘SEN’ with the word ‘disabled’. That is, a child with special needs has either a physical or mental disability.

Unfortunately that isn’t always the case, and in fact I’ll write again specifically about this article.

As Andrew Old rightly pointed out, many of those children labelled SEN are simply naughty. They have been pandered to throughout the educational career, until they reach the point at which they can no longer be expected to conduct themselves properly. How else do you explain the child who apparently ‘can’t follow any form of instruction as he has confrontational issues’, thus can’t be expected to even write his own name at the top of the page, let alone write a few sentences without a TA to scribe, before he needs a ‘brain break’ to enable him to calm down. Yet somehow, this same child can happily concentrate intensely for an hour when either sat before a computer or following the instructions of the scarily strict football coach. SEN? Really?

My analogy with Clarkson and an explosively-tempered train passenger may seem to be stretching the comparison. After all, if such an incident occurred, you’d move and then make a complaint to the rail company. You’d hope that it would be dealt with appropriately.

But, just for a moment, imagine you’re 14 again.

You’re being bullied by a pupil in your class. When staff aren’t looking he hits you, he calls you names and generally succeeds in making your life in school pretty miserable.

You’d hope that if you told a teacher it would be dealt with pretty quickly. But what if it wasn’t? What if, after a number of incidents, you were told that you would have to learn to deal with it, because it wasn’t the bully’s fault? That he would receive no punishment because ‘he couldn’t help it‘. How would you feel? The injustice would cut deep. The very people who you turn to, to look after you, would have let you down.

How would you feel if, as a teacher, you were told that the bullying pupil would not be excluded as he was a Pupil Premium child, and so ‘brought in an extra income stream‘? Speechless? I know I was.

Consider Jeremy Clarkson again for one moment. Apparently he also threatened the producer’s employment, saying that he would ensure the producer lost his job over the lack of hot food.

Well, we’ve heard that one before, from the school bullies and the uncontrollable children, haven’t we? Furthermore, he took to Twitter to joke about which film could be aired in place of the cancelled Top Gear episodes. Sorry for his beaviour? No, not a bit of it. He even went as far as to crow about pushing a piece about Ed Milliband further down the news agenda. And, in the Daily Mail article, it seems that, as in so many schools, the badly behaved triumph as he had his steak cooked by the general manager, eating this in a private dining room.

So whilst I’m dismayed at the support Clarkson has received, given his appalling behaviour, I’m not really all that surprised.

For too many years schools have existed in a bubble of ‘anyone’s fault but the perpetrator’s’. Is it any wonder then, that there are now adults who feel exactly the same way? They have grown up with this outlook and really can’t see how inappropriate such actions are.

And incidentally, I bet that if Clarkson really was in Year 9 now, he wouldn’t be called naughty, rude or aggressive – he’d be labelled as SEN…

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Living in London

I’ve just got home from a four day break in London. My brother and sister-in-law are leaving as my brother’s company is transferring him abroad.

I had a lovely time, filled with friends and fun.

But I also became acutely aware that I could never live there as a teacher, most certainly not as a supply teacher.

I just don’t earn enough.

Many of the friends I saw work in sectors where the starting pay far outstrips that of a teacher. By the time they have been qualified 6 or 10 years, they’ll be earning about 5 times that of teacher at the top of the main payscale. Some of them are still renting, finding that even with a good salary, buying in London is all but impossible.

I’ve looked at the prices of studios, one and two-bed flats in Zone 2 only – I know Zone 1 is out of the question! Prices range from £999 pcm for a studio in Kensal Rise, to £1500 pcm for a one-bed flat in Vauxhall. Two bedroom flats (well, we all like a bit of space, don’t we?) start at £1199 pcm in New Cross. None of these prices include either council tax or services. And they’re all the lowest prices I could find, ignoring beds-in-sheds and buildings that look as though they ought to be condemned.

Figures for percentage of income spent on rent vary from 25% to 59%, depending on which source you look at, and where the rental property is located. Taking this as a source, simply because it gives a spread of UK data, I worked out the average salary a renter would need to be on.

In order to pay the prices I listed above, which have to come out of net income, and taking a percentage of that net income being spent on rent as 26.2% (from This Is Money article, 2011 figures), a renter would need to have:

  • A monthly net income of £3,812.98, which equates to an annual gross income of £66,576.79 for the Kensal Rise studio.
  • A monthly net income of £5,725.19, equating to an annual gross salary of £109,371.20 for the 1-bed flat in Vauxhall.
  • A monthly net income of £4,576.34, equating to an annual gross salary of £82,370.44 for the 2-bed flat in New Cross.

Clearly this is absurd. The 2013 figure given by shelter of 59% of net salary spent on rent is far more realistic. Even so, that gives:

  • A monthly net income of £1,693.22, which equates to an annual gross income of £25,535.17 for the Kensal Rise studio.
  • A monthly net income of £2,542.37, equating to an annual gross salary of £40,520.17 for the 1-bed flat in Vauxhall.
  • A monthly net income of £2,032.20, equating to an annual gross salary of £31,517.17 for the 2-bed flat in New Cross.

In comparison, the monthly rents as a percentage of a teacher’s net salary are as follows:

Kensal Rise: 55.29% at M1, 42.52% at M6

Vauxhall: 83.01% at M1, 63.84% at M6

New Cross: 66.36% at M1, 51.03% at M6.

I’ve used the website The Salary Calculator to help work these out. I’ve also used the current upper (M6) and lower (M1) limits of mainscale pay (2014-2015) at Inner London rate to calculate the percentages of income. For the purposes of simplicity, I haven’t included either pension contributions or student loan repayments in the deductions. Factor those in, and the available net income falls even lower.

Unless you’re on the Upper Pay Scale, take on lots of extra responsibility or live far further out than Zone 2 (not helpful if you work in Zones 1 or 2), a teacher is simply not going to be able to afford to live in London on their own. The only way round this is to flat-share.

But even that doesn’t come cheap. A double room in Mile End is advertised for £642 pcm, excluding council tax and utilities.

How do teachers in London manage? Are they mostly in house-shares?

London is a great place to live, I can see why it attracts so many people every year. I can see why bankers, barristers and media people love living there.

I can’t see how public sector workers are expected to do so.

And don’t even get me started on the cost of public transport in London …!

350 (1)

Room available to rent in Wimbledon!

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