Reflections

There were two interesting stories this past week that in other circumstances might have gained more attention; the report into the future of work from PwC and the report to the DfE on behaviour in schools. However, along with the UCAS end of cycle report on ITT recruitment in 2015/16, the year of recruitment controls, they were overshadowed by the terrible events at Westminster.

The report on the future of work was good news for education and those that choose to educate future generations. However, I am not sure that I fully subscribe to the notion of a largely unchanged balance between people and capital in the form of technology in the learning process, but education, at least at the school level, will continue to be a people centred area of work. The understanding that further education has a key role to play post BREXIT is really good news but, after years of funding cuts, it will need to see a serious resource boost. No doubt the new Apprenticeship Ley will help, even as it sucks money out of schools in a merry-go-round of government money that does little for anyone, except the accountants.

The Bennett Report on behaviour says many sensible things, as I would expect from someone I once hired as a seminar presenter on the topic of managing behaviour. My own experience, many years ago, of teaching in a school where discipline needed firm management for learning to take place, is that creating order out of potential chaos is a prerequisite for any formal learning to take place. Informal learning takes place whatever the state of the environment, but it may not be what society wants and expects of its schools. I recall when Mike Tomlinson was sent into take control of a West Yorkshire school in the 1990s, he started by suspending a large number of pupils for a short time. Once control was regained, learning could restart effectively.

If we are moving away from the era of naked competition between schools, where it could be assumed at Westminster that schools with poor behaviour would be shunned by parents and eventually close, to a more realistic appraisal of the use of public assets, then investing in overcoming problems such a schools with challenging behaviour and lots of exclusions, as we now term suspensions, is a sensible way forward. How these funds are managed is still an interesting debate. How long before someone suggests funding local behaviour consultants? Could we start to see the re-birth of advisory and support services for local schools? Of course, MATs can provide these services, but many are too small and lack geographical coherence to tackle the issues in any one locality. Someone needs to coordinate the advice from good quality research with the training and development for teachers at all levels from classroom to the head’s study and the governor’s meeting.

This is a far more important issue that grammar schools. If the Prime Minister wanted to create a real and lasting legacy for herself in education, she would recognise the need to create a school system where all can learn together at all ages in an environment that meets the need of a post BREXIT world, where technology is changing the life chances of future generations.

 

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Human Rights

There’s a great story in the Daily Mail today about a BBC programme to be shown on tuesday evening that follows a group of Chinese teachers when they spent four weeks teaching in a Hampshire comprehensive school. Result; teenagers need more discipline. That was pretty predicable.

But, the glorious line in the Daily Mail has the following quote from one of the teachers: ‘If the British Government really cut benefits down to force people to go to work they might see things in a different way.’ A Marxist Chinese teacher telling a Right Wing Tory government to cut benefits. I am indebted to LBC Radio for bringing this to my attention. Hopefully, they will also ask Jeremy Corbyn for his reaction. Does he support this Marxist line of ‘conform or lose benefits’?

At the heart of this debate that will no doubt make for great television in the same way as ‘tough young teachers’ and the Educating Children in various parts of England series did is the question of whether respect for authority is earned or implicit in our society? The great thing about selective schools and indeed, private schools is that a lack of respect for their values gets you slung out.

Even in the 1970s you had to earn the right to teach those teenagers that didn’t want to learn. There is a previous blog post I wrote two years ago in August 2013 celebrating the Newsom Report about secondary modern schools. This was a government report published over 60 years ago that recognised the need for teachers to acquire the skills necessary to teach in a culture where individualism is more important than uniformity.

I would also be interested to see the CBI’s reaction to the programme since they seem to want both intellectual ability and the softer skills of teamwork, personal confidence, leadership and other attributes that aren’t brought out easily by rote learning in large classes.

Perhaps at the heart of this debate is the classic British desire to look for the failures in our society and celebrate defeat rather than identify where our education system is doing well and consider how that success can be replicated.

There is certainly an issue with some aspects of authority in our school system as the DfE figures released last week on exclusions demonstrate with figures for the increase in exclusion of primary school pupils. So, will the next Tory announcement be, a loss of benefits if your child mis-behaves at school? I hope not because I suspect all that will happen is that parents of some of these children won’t send their children to school and they will fall further behind and then become even more troublesome on the days that they do attend.

Personally, I think we need to revisit the curriculum for teenagers and ensure we focus behaviour management strategies in training on dealing with teenagers that find singers more interesting that statistics and tablets more fun than tables.

Finally, I wonder what the Chinese word or symbol is for dumb insolence; perhaps they don’t have one.

Hawks, doves and the art of leadership

Watching the TV programme ‘Educating the East End’ on the day that Ofsted published its well trailed views on discipline in schools was illuminating, not so much for what happened on camera as for what was happening around the framed shots. If you put together that evidence with other programmes such as ‘tough young teachers’ and both ‘Educating Essex’ and Educating Yorkshire’ a pattern begins to emerge of what it is like teaching in these schools, especially for some teachers.

Overall one has to say that edited highlights of hours of filming that are need to fill a brief to entertain, inform and educate in that order may not be entirely reflective of the norms of a school. Nevertheless, the lack of graffiti, clean, mostly litter free corridors, and open spaces and classroom where displays can exist without being totally trashed suggest that there is an overall sense of order in these schools, with leaders having a clear sense of direction and teachers and pupils having an understanding what is expected of them. These are not ‘blackboard jungles’ in the fictional sense of the term or as depicted in the 1960s and 1970s by TV series and films such as ‘Please Sir’ and the St Trinians films. But, they are places with large numbers of adolescents starting the change from childhood to adulthood in a society where respect for authority is rarely a feature of everyday life outside of school.

Each lesson witnesses the battle of the soap opera that exists in many classrooms and this is evident in the TV programmes. The average pupil still too often tunes in at the start, tunes out once they know the plot of the lesson that continues to run in the background and only tunes back in at the end, especially if homework is being set. In the meantime whether they participate effectively or do their own thing depends upon how well the teacher handles the most disaffected elements in the class.

What I hope the Chief Inspector is saying is that time on task, and hence learning, is closely related to the classroom environment and that in turn is set by the level of control over the lesson that the teacher exercises. In a school, the tone is set from the top. This is especially important in those parts of the country where we now have large numbers of relatively inexperienced teachers. The number of such teachers will grow over the next few years as pupil numbers expand and assuming funding remains stable.

Creating learning environments for all pupils took me five years to achieve as an untrained teacher in the 1970s. These days we should expect better results from the preparation courses as we know so much more about learning and society than in the 1970s when teachers were coping with the new world of non-selective secondary schools. My field these days is not teacher preparation, so I don’t feel qualified to say how we should prepare our teachers or even really how we would run schools on a daily basis, but I suspect the moving line between authority and anarchy still exists in many schools. Creating learning for all while not stifling individualism is a tough ask and I respect those leaders that achieve it whether by being hawks or doves.