Public Behaviour

Ten years ago I started blogging about my experiences of working as a supply teacher in the UK. I’d thought about it for a while but had remained unconvinced that this was something I should, or indeed could, do. After all, what did I have to say that was so important it needed publishing on a public platform? Who would bother to read it? Would anyone take notice? Would they care what I had to say?

At around the same time I watched a clip of a speaker at the Tory party conference, one which seemed to cause much discussion and surprising outrage. It was the speech by Katharine Birbalsingh, now the headteacher of Michaela School. At the time she was a teacher in a standard comprehensive, and life-long Labour supporter, so her appearance on stage with the Conservatives caused shock, disgust and condemnation. She lost her job as a result.

It also brought to the fore wider discussion about behaviour in schools. Not those institutions which were known to be ‘bad’, but everyday schools where the daily grind of trying to maintain order whilst at the same time attempting to instil some education into the most recalcitrant of students was never mentioned in polite society. Teachers were going into work knowing that the unsaid expectation was that they had to battle to convince the students to listen. That if those students chose not to listen, not to learn, not to behave, that the fault lay with the teacher and not with the choices made by those children.

Friends who were not teachers were shocked.

I wrote my first blog post (Freedom of speech? Not if you’re a teacher) and watched the public response to Ms Birbalsingh’s speech. It wasn’t as I had hoped, that is supportive of her courage in highlighting the issues many teachers faced. It was two years before I wrote another post, partly due to my reticence to open myself up, even anonymously, to the rage other teacher bloggers faced.

I blogged fairly regularly for a few years before stepping back again. During that time I had been encouraged to venture onto Twitter in order to engage quicker and on a more personal basis with both other teacher bloggers and those in educational research and policy. I posted my thoughts, I responded to the posts of others. I had my ideas and opinions challenged and I learnt a lot and discovered things in the world of education which I may otherwise have missed. I didn’t agree then with everything I encountered, I still don’t, but on the whole I enjoyed the exchange with others and felt I was part of an inquiring online community.

Then things started to change. Factions broke away, cliques set up and the challenging but welcoming atmosphere I had encountered at first melted away. Individuals were belittled, mocked, misquoted and misrepresented in frankly appalling ways. Then came the doxxing, the revealing of identities of previously anonymous bloggers, people who knew that their jobs were at risk if their real names became public. The accusations flew left to right, right to left. It was horrible to watch.

These weren’t the actions of disgruntled students though, these were practising teachers and educational consultants, the very people who instruct others on how to behave!

I called out one individual for their poor behaviour. In return their supporters became, in some cases, openly hostile. This wasn’t what I had joined Twitter for. I quietly walked away, leaving both Twitter and blogging alone.

The Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 has brought me back to Twitter. As a supply teacher my job is to go into many different schools over the course of a week, covering a variety of classes across all the age groups as I do both primary and secondary. I made the decision not to work at the moment as deliberately coming into contact with a high number of unconnected people seems contrary to the whole idea of class or year-group ‘bubbles’. I’m fortunate that I’m in the position to have that choice, I know many people aren’t.

Jumping back into EduTwitter has been interesting. As I write, we’re awaiting a formal announcement of the winner of the US presidential elections, we’ve had a summer of protests on a range of topics and teachers and educational professionals have, quite understandably, incorporated these events into their tweets. President Trump has announced that he intends to sue areas where Republicans did not win seats, he doesn’t agree with the result and so it must be wrong, corrupt, a conspiracy. He’s smeared his opponent, announced his intention to ignore the result and generally behaved in the most appalling manner for a grown adult. His words and actions are garnering disbelief throughout the educational Twitter-sphere, why can’t he gracefully admit defeat, accept that voters may genuinely hold a different political opinion from him? That opposing voters are not bad people, that they may have a valid reason for holding their opinion – and that they have the right to not only hold these differing opinions but to voice them in public and to act upon them at the ballot box.

It’s into this mix that an established educational blogger has written a post which has caused a storm amongst those on Twitter. It really shouldn’t be such a divisive post. It discusses what should happen to students who commit sexual assaults in school – should they be excluded or is the act of excluding always wrong, even in these circumstances. I won’t discuss the ins and outs of that here, it’s the response to this post by those on Twitter which has left me astounded.

From this rather benign beginning, the blogger has been tarred as both a racist and a misogynist, via a rather circuitous route. Those who have disagreed with this view have been labelled as ‘hateful’.

The individual I called out for doxxing back in 2013 has not only been embroiled in this melee, but has also repeated the action again, this time with regard to another blogger. When I pointed this out I was called ‘pathetic’, a ‘nasty gossip’ and, essentially, a liar. I was also blocked by a number of their coterie on Twitter. Highlighting the hypocrisy of accusing someone of behaviour which you then go on to do yourself is, apparently, wrong. Pointing out verifiable fact, and indeed prior admission of wrong-doing by an individual, is now considered beyond the pale. Of course this is only true if you are on the ‘wrong’ side of the debate. Where have we heard that argument before?

Blog posts and tweets are being judged not on the veracity of their content, but on the tribal affiliations of the author. This is ridiculous. These are public Tweets, anyone can read them. Throughout this pandemic teachers have been subject to criticism by the press and public alike, accused of being lazy and work-shy despite the fact that schools have remained open throughout and teachers have continued to teach. We are already under the microscope. To state, on a public site, that the people with whom one disagrees are liars, cheats, racists and misogynists, without any proof at all, hardly does our profession any favours. Is this stabby nit-picking really the face we are happy to present to the world? When journalists, parents and students can all read and see the bickering and infighting, how professional do you really think we appear?

To further rally the troops on your side, to put out a call to arms to block and discredit, does you no favours whatsoever. Preventing the individual with whom you disagree from having a means of reply because you have blocked them whilst at the same time continuing to talk about them, only serves to highlight just how low you can sink. We may not always agree, but preventing the other side from being heard at all is hardly a means to a constructive discourse.

Now healthy disagreement I can agree with, I think it adds to our awareness and it broadens our knowledge. But backstabbing and bitching I do not admire. I admonish students when they behave in such a way, I tend to expect more of adults.

For those adults to be, as I mentioned before, practising teachers and educational consultants I find both astonishing and worrying. People charged with bringing out the best in young people are actively promoting actions and behaviours which they censure in schools.

So I’ll continue to call out hypocrisy where I see it. I care little if someone thinks I am wrong to do so and subsequently blocks me rather than engage any further. The loss is theirs, not mine.

Because frankly, if you’re exhibiting the kind of behaviour you decry in Trump, you seriously need to rethink your choices.

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Is the return of Grammar Schools really such a bad thing?

Theresa May’s announcement that Grammar Schools are to make a return has been greeted with near universal dismay. Grammar schools are seen as divisive and instruments of the very social engineering that they are supposed to counter. They, the argument goes, cause more social division by promoting the life chances of those who can afford tuition in order to get in, at the expense of those who cannot. And that may well be the case for the previous and current incarnation of grammar schools, there’s certainly a wealth of data and research which backs this.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The main opposition to grammar schools is that the counterside of the coin means that you will automatically get secondary moderns. These schools, which have largely disappeared, were set up to cater for those who weren’t able to get into the grammar. Whilst some may have provided a decent education for their pupils, the majority didn’t. Quite rightly, this led them to gain a reputation as a sink-hole, very often condemning children to leave with no qualifications whatsoever. The low aspirations extended beyond academic ability and into behaviour. This led to schools where the staff had barely any control over the behaviour of the pupils, and a vicious cycle of poor expectations, poor behaviour, poor performance. Children who failed the eleven-plus were often reduced to tears at the thought of going there. This was partly due to the schools’ reputation, and partly due to the label that they were only going there because they were grammar school failures. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the bar crept lower and lower.

There is no reason for history to repeat itself. On the basis that only a fool makes the same mistake twice and expects a different result, if more grammar schools becomes a reality we need to ensure that we don’t also create secondary moderns and somehow expect them to perform differently. Instead we need to totally rethink both the way in which we provide education, and the way in which we view education.

One of the often overlooked sections of the tripartite system which gave rise to grammar schools and secondary moderns under the 1944 Butler Act, was the Technical School. These were meant to teach science and engineering to those who intended to go into industry, some also included agriculture. Due to the specific requirements of selection, pupils often went to these at 12 or 13, rather than directly through 11-plus selection. The intake was usually made up of those from the top end of the secondary modern stream. Unfortunately, this led, in part, to their demise. The equipment need to outfit these schools was also expensive and very specialist in nature. However, it seems that they did provide a good education and enabled the pupils to pursue practically-based careers. The stigma of being the poor-man’s grammar was hard to shake off, and in competition with apprenticeships they faced an uphill battle to survive.

We have, it is true, lost much of our industry, so a school focused primarily on this sector is not really feasible. Instead, we could take the best of this system, the provision of a quality education and high expectations, and incorporate it into the new replacements for secondary moderns. These new schools, let’s call them College Schools, could redefine the educational provision for the less academically able. They don’t have to fail those pupils in the way of the old secondary moderns.

So how would these schools work alongside the grammars? It would entail a redefinition of the grammar schools, but given that everything seems to be up for debate at the moment, I’m not sure that’s beyond reason. Rather than allowing the grammars to elect to only educate the top 25% as happened previously, we should look to a system where the grammars widen their intake a little. To balance this, the ‘college schools’ would overlap with some of the traditional grammar-stream intake, and provide the sort of academic education that’s currently found in good comprehensives. In conjunction, these ‘college schools’ could provide subjects that the grammars don’t, but with the same expectations of behaviour and perseverance that the grammar schools employ. I’d like to see the two schools linked, so pupils may transfer between them, with the grammar school pupils able to receive a more technically-based education if that’s the route they wish to pursue, without the feeling that they’ve been branded a failure. Pupils who express a wish to work as a car mechanic but who are not academically able, would be able to receive a good quality education and obtain GCSEs, whilst at the same time being given basic training in their chosen career. I’d like to see the hairdressers of the future be exposed to German and Latin, and to be able to study for a qualification in these if they wish. I want the quality of teaching in these ‘college schools’ to be at least as good as, if not better, than that in the grammars. Would it be difficult? Yes. But it wouldn’t be impossible.

Comprehensives already provide both academic and vocational courses to a certain degree. So what would be the benefit of splitting into two distinct schools? The main one, I think, is that it would remove the stigma of the bottom set. Teachers very often dread teaching Year 9 Set 7, and pupils dread being labelled as such. Poor behaviour is often a given with a bottom set, they know they’re the least able in the school, and know they aren’t viewed as valuable in terms of those league table boosting results. Specialist equipment is also expensive and may take up a lot of room, often comprehensives don’t have adequate facilities for the number of pupils who would benefit from the more practical elements I’ve proposed above. Many comprehensives also don’t have the physical space necessary to enable this.

Grammar schools are popular with parents because they are perceived to have entrenched good behaviour and high expectations. There is absolutely no reason that these ideals could not be applied to less academically rigorous educational establishments. I don’t think the majority of parents really want to ‘hot house’ their children. They want them to receive a good education, worthwhile qualifications and to work hard, but they don’t want them to be subject to undue pressure. They also know of the grammars’ reputation for strict enforcement of codes of behaviour.

Unfortunately, we have to face the very uncomfortable fact that not all children are academically gifted. Some are naturally very bright and thrive in a challenging academic environment, whilst others will be unable to cope in such an environment, and are in danger of being left to fall by the wayside.

Schools already segregate children by ability, either by streaming or setting. Very often children of different abilities will not mix during the school day apart from during PE and at lunch. Sometimes, due to the constraints of timetabling or a split lunch hour, pupils don’t mix even then. The most extreme example of this is Stationers’ Crown Woods Academy in Greenwich. This school is split into three mini schools, which operate more or less autonomously. The brightest pupils join Delamere, with the remainder of the school body split between other ‘mini schools’ on the same campus. They all operate and educate separately. Does it work? How do the pupils feel? I have no idea, and I’d welcome comment from anyone with first-hand experience. The school, it must be said, is not without controversy.

As well as splitting pupils by setting and streaming we currently have a school system that divides by income. Wealthier parents are able to move to areas with ‘good’ schools, condemning poorer pupils to go to the schools their better-off contemporaries shun. That in itself is socially divisive and does nothing for social mobility.

What we need is an education rethink, a revolution of academic provision. And we need to start with our perceptions of both schools and pupils.

Why should pupils who are not suited to grammar schools be seen as failures? Why don’t we start to see those who attend the ‘college schools’ as successes in their own right? Selection by ability doesn’t have to mean that only the most academically able are considered worthy of a good education. It also doesn’t mean that schools who educate the less academically able are doing so due to default, rather than choice. A pupil who goes to a grammar school could easily be viewed as being someone who failed to get into a ‘college school’. It doesn’t have to be a one-way system.

My thoughts are just rough ideas at the moment – there are many holes that could be picked in them, and there are probably a dozen better ways of addressing the proposed emergence of more grammar schools. I think it’s worth considering that although the data shows that grammar schools don’t improve social mobility, and may hinder the options of poorer pupils, our current comprehensive system already fails many hundreds of children a year. For that reason alone, something needs to change.

In order to implement this change and make it a success we need to change some of our fundamental preconceptions. We need to dispense with the idea that the only education worth having is an academic one, and understand that the very best education is the one that is suited to the child and enables them to go into the world equipped to succeed in whatever field they choose.

The perception that the best schools are the ones that get the highest results is wrong in itself. It perpetuates the myth that success is only admirable if it can be measured in exam results and university degrees.

And I think that says more about society’s innate prejudice against the less academically-gifted than we care to admit.

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Should schools send pupils home for wearing the wrong uniform?

Yesterday I was asked to write a short piece (400 words) contributing to the debate about whether Matthew Tate, the headteacher of Hartsdown Academy in Margate, was right to send pupils home for failing to adhere to the school’s strict uniform policy.

My thoughts are now online, along with those of Mary Cooper (Mary Wombat), a retired teacher who blogs as Little Mavis. As the word limit was so restrictive, there is much that I wish to add to this, which I’ll do in another blog post. I imagine that Mary probably has more to say too!

Guardian Teacher Network Debate: Should schools send pupils home for wearing the wrong uniform?


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Welcome Back

First proper day back yesterday, first staff meeting yesterday.

Welcome back. I hope you’ve all had a restful break and are ready to get started on making Leafy Green Primary the best in the area again. We have some new staff starting this term. You may have had the chance to speak to them on Friday, if not, introduce yourselves and show them how much of a team we are. Remember we are a school, not a collection of individuals.

As you know (new staff, make sure you know about this) we had a bad Ofsted inspection last term, and we lost our ‘Outstanding’ title. We now have ‘Requires Improvemnt’. This is disappointing. The parents look at this and decide whether to send their children here or not. If they don’t, and our numbers drop, then there will be job cuts. We cannot afford to keep staff numbers up when we don’t have the income to support it.

Our children are kind, clever and well behaved. They deserve the best. Make sure you give them the best. Our KS2 SATs were the lowest we have ever had – most of those children were the brothers and sisters of children who did well in previous years. They should have done well too.

But something stopped them doing well. Our school is the same, our ethos is the same, but something has changed to prevent them getting the results they deserve. Why? What is it? It can’t be the children, they just learn what you teach them.

I had an awkward meeting with the Governors last term. I had to explain why we got an RI. I wanted to support you, to say that we have very good teachers here, but the Ofsted result makes that difficult. Now we have our lowest KS2 results.

I have another meeting with the Governors on Wednesday. I’m going to have to explain why we did so badly in the KS2 SATs. What am I going to say? What, exactly, can I say to them? They look to me for answers, and I don’t have any. I can’t explain why you didn’t get the children through the SATs as well as you did in the past.

Don’t say it’s because of the new tests, we’ve known about them for enough time, and the children were taught the curriculum since 2014, so you knew what you had to prepare them for. Don’t tell me it’s because of the new scoring system. It doesn’t matter how they grade them, we shouldn’t have got such low results. What happened? What went wrong? I want to know.

As I said, I have to meet with the Governors next week. I need to explain this to them. I expect you all to send me an email telling me why you think we got such low results in the summer. Give me something to tell the governors next week. I need these emails from you by Thursday at the latest, so I can prepare what I’m going to say to the Governors, how I’m going to defend you.

I’ve got the results from the last few years here, along with the expected scores we should have got. The scores we should have got, but didn’t. Take them away, read them and tell me why we didn’t get good scores this year.

I’m worried we’ll lose our good reputation and numbers will start falling.

I’m worried about YOU.

Right, I’ve said all I can, you can finish preparing your rooms. Make sure they look good for the children tomorrow. Thank you.

And to the new staff, welcome.”

Well, this is going to be fun…

Posted in headteacher, Ofsted, SLT | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

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

Posted in Behaviour | Tagged , | 1 Comment

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.

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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…

Posted in Behaviour, SEN | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments