“These people run a school!”

This was the exclamation of Vic Goddard, head teacher of PassmoresAcademy during the first episode of Channel 4’s fly on the wall documentary, Educating Essex.

This was his imagined response of some viewers to the antics of himself and his senior management team  (e.g. hiding behind doors, and comic secret santa). His imagination that some would seize upon such behaviour as evidence of unsuitable school leadership qualities was realised, at least by the Daily Mail.  It was nothing, if not predictable in its disapproval of Vic Goddard’s and his team’s conduct.

In its review, the Daily Mail  describes the teachers of Passmores Academy  as “foul-mouthed” (they occasionally swore in conversation with one another) who “liberally use four-letter words”  (though, significantly the article offers no explanation as to why words with four letters are objectionable) . It goes on to claims that the programme paints a “grim picture of life in a comprehensive”.

‘Grim’ is one interpretation, but ‘real’ is another. Mr. Drew, the deputy head teacher,  “evil overlord”, “legend”, and focus of the first episode is far from grim.  As he says to his students:

“You have no idea how much I like teaching you”

He is determined no student leaves a failure, even, as he says that means sleeping all through August to recover from the effort entailed in ensuring students successfully complete their exams. The first episode of Educating Essex reveals Passmores Academy to be a school which deals with the rough and the smooth, where teachers and pupils can have fun, and where Mr. Drew, even after a day dealing with the problematic behaviour of some students is able to put this aside and grumble at the theft of his smoothie from the staff fridge.

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The Cost of Improving Discipline

In a survey of parents carried out for the Times Educational Supplement (TES), almost half  backed a return to the use of corporal punishment in schools.  What is understood as corporal punishment however, is not immediately obvious.  While 49% of parents supported a return to corporal punishment, this figure dropped to 40% when asked specifically about smacking or caning.  Presumably, some methods of assaulting children are considered more acceptable than others.

Alternative forms of discipline, which don’t involve physical assault were more popular still (such as detentions, and  exclusions), with 77% of parents supporting ‘writing lines’ as a punishment.

These findings are likely to be used by the current Government as justification for strengthening the discipline powers available to teachers in schools.  It is fair to say that the current Department for Education are keen on discipline.  In the last few months the DFE has issued new advice on the Screening, searching and confiscation of pupils, advice on the Use of reasonable force, as well as a Guide for heads and school staff on behaviour and discipline.

Such advice is likely to appeal to popular concerns over behaviour and discipline in schools where there is a perception that schools throughout the land are populated by badly behaved children, and, where it is perceived staff and governors are powerless to act.

The Education Bill, currently proceeding through Parliament is intended to be a part of the solution.  It gives head teachers and schools new powers, or freedoms, regarding discipline.

Schools will no longer be required to give written notice to parents, of a detention outside of school hours.  In other words, schools have the power to control the whereabouts of a pupil who has misbehaved, after school has finished. This will appear as common sense to those who believe in tougher discipline, but the consequences of such action are potentially serious.  For some pupils, remaining at school for a detention may amount to little more than an inconvenience.  For some, the impact is likely to be significant, for example, those who rely on public transport, or those who are carers.  It short, it will hit the poor and vulnerable most.

There is a clear ideology behind this policy shift.   As Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove said at the Durand Academy:

“The right every child deserves to be taught properly is currently undermined by the twisting of rights by a minority who need to be taught an unambiguous lesson in who’s boss.”

Improved discipline is just as much about learning your place, as it is about tackling inappropriate behaviour.

Exclusion appeal panels will be replaced with review panels.  Unlike appeal panels, review panels will not have the power to force a school to reinstate an excluded pupil, though they can recommend that a school reconsider its decision.  This gives autonomy to the school, but, a review panel cannot hold a school to account.  Mistakes are made, and, in these cases children may not be readmitted.  This goes against notions of natural justice and in inequitable.  Children may not appeal against a decision to exclude them, but no doubt a teacher retains the right to appeal against dismissal. Again, it is about showing unruly children who is boss.

For schools, this apparent new freedom to impose discipline may not be that free after all.  The DfE is running a pilot on a new approach to tackling permanent exclusions.  In this pilot schools will be responsible for funding alternative provision for those pupils they permanently exclude.  Further, the performance of those excluded pupils will be recorded in the performance tables of the excluding school.  So, there will be consequences for the school, even after the school has exercised its freedom in excluding a pupil.

Pupils who are permanently excluded are often educated in a Pupil Referral Unit, where the cost of education is approximately four times that of mainstream provision[1]. Greater freedoms to exclude, maybe, but this also seems like a  greater disincentive to exclude.

While a decision to exclude should be a last resort, there may be serious consequences for other pupils and teachers of retaining a disruptive pupil who would be best served with alternative provision.

By shifting responsibility on to schools, in the name of autonomy and freedom, you shift the cost, and the responsibility.  While the promises of improved behaviour in schools appeals to populist concerns, what is of greater concern is the ideology revealed by these promises.

Continue reading “The Cost of Improving Discipline”

New term at Waterloo Road

The 7th series of Waterloo Road enables renewed opportunity to examine a popular construction of comprehensive schools. Waterloo Road is a stereotypical comprehensive; it is urban, it is working class, it is struggling to improve standards, pupil behaviour is unlikely to be graded outstanding, and a number of the teachers are portrayed as incompetent. Thus, it should be seen as undesirable, a place unsuited for educating the future generation. Yet, it is estimated that 4.91 million people tuned in to watch the first episode in the new series last Wednesday night [1]. There is clearly something attractive in the undesirable comprehensive school.

A pupil we had never seen before, Ali Redback,  left her newborn baby in the changing room.  Her decision to leave him in this location meant that someone was likely to find him, sooner, rather than later.  The baby’s chances of survival were also much greater having been left in a findable location[2].   As it turned out, the finder was the new site manager, Rob Scotcher.

In a departure with convention, the staff at Waterloo Road did appear to contact the emergency services, but it was the police, not a team of paramedics that arrived to take charge of the baby. When a pupil asked why the police were at the school, Eleanor Chaudry, the new English teacher offered the rationale that “a serious crime had been committed”.  She is, technically, correct (child abandonment is a criminal offence, however, in appeals at least, police tend to focus on the welfare of the mother rather than a potential prosecution[2]).

Thus, Eleanor Chaudry is constructed as a  character unsympathetic to the lives of the pupils she teaches.   We also know this because Tom Clarkson described his new colleague as “Maggie Bloody Thatcher” in reference to her right-wing political activities.  It is possible that this character was created with more than a passing reference to Katharine Birbalsingh, the author of To Miss with Love. Birbalsingh was enthusiastically received by the Conservative Party conference in 2010 because she ‘exposed’ the apparently failing comprehensive system. Katharine Birbalsingh is an experienced teacher, a former deputy head, and, whether you agree or disagree with her understanding and analyses of her teaching experiences she does appear to have genuine empathy with her (now former) pupils. Eleanor Choudry, judging by the comments she made in this first episode, does not.

Meanwhile, Head teacher, Karen Fisher, identified AIi as the mother of the newborn, and Kyle Stack came forward, believing himself to be the father.  Christopher Mead, who has not always demonstrated the highest standards in sexual politics, gave advice to Kyle on his sexual responsibilities. It is safe to assume that Mead is unlikely to be a fan of Nadine Dorries’ proposals identified in Sex Education (Required Content) Bill 2010-11.

Such curriculum content as recommended by Dorries would  have been inappropriately out of touch with the pupil’s reality in this case. It transpired that Kyle was not the father.  The biological parent, was, after all,  Ali’s stepfather, Callum.  Upon this revelation, Chris, committed an act which might have earned him respect among some.  He punched the paedophile stepfather square in the face, sending him to the ground.  Mead’s justification for this act was that people like Callum are monsters.  If only they were Chris, it would make them much easier to spot.

As ever, not much teaching went on.

Continue reading “New term at Waterloo Road”

When Satisfactory is not Satisfactory

Declining standards of pupil behaviour in UK schools makes good news copy, especially when that behaviour can be used to justify increasing the powers of teachers to discipline pupils.  This week, the apparent declining standards of pupil behaviour in schools was in the news following the publication of statistics on Behaviour in Schools, relating to school in England.

There is no doubt that the current Government sees behaviour and discipline in schools as important.  Elsewhere on this blog I have discussed the eagerness with which Michael Gove, the current Minister for Education embraces school uniforms as a means of raising standards, including behaviour.  Additionally, there are a number of consultation documents on behaviour and discipline available on the Department for Education’s website.

The Guardian reported that Nick Gibb (Schools Minister) was concerned by the statistics, as they revealed that behaviour was judged to be no better than Satisfactory in 20% (one fifth) of schools.

Which means what?

The recently released statistics are based on Ofsted inspections, which, using the familiar Ofsted nomenclature judge behaviour in schools to be either Outstanding, Good, Satisfactory, or Inadequate.

Without knowing the detailed criteria which Ofsted uses to determine their judgement it is not immediately apparent what types of behaviour might constitute Outstanding, as opposed to Good and how they both differ from Satisfactory.  It is however, the judgement of Satisfactory which is the most interesting term.  It can be stated with reasonable confidence that the term Satisfactory means, well, just that. The implication however from Nick Gibb’s apparent concern over these figures is that Satisfactory actually means something else.  Unsatisfactory perhaps?

Ofsted do have another judgement reserved for those schools in which it has judged behaviour to be less than Satisfactory.  That judgement is Inadequate.  Surely the Minister should be focusing his attention on thee schools, not on those schools where behaviour is considered Satisfactory?

So, how many schools are judged to be Inadequate?

Without wishing to diminish the problems that schools, pupils, teachers, parents, and communities face poor pupil behaviour,  the answer is, a relatively small number.  The statistics as at December 2010, reveal:

  • 25 Primary Schools were given a behaviour grade of Inadequate (0.1% of all English primary schools)
  • 32 Secondary Schools were given a behaviour grade of Inadequate (1% of all English secondary schools)

Putting the two figures together, 57 (or 0.28%) schools were judged to have Inadequate levels of behaviour.

What about good behaviour?

The news attention does appear to be on the rather strange concept of ‘no better than’ Satisfactory.   However the key points are clearly stated on the first page of the Statistical Release.  They reveal that:

  • 94% of primary schools were judged to have either Good or Outstanding standards of behaviour
  • 82% of secondary schools were judged to have either Good or Outstanding standards of behaviour

Those figures, apparently do not make such a good newspaper headline.

The Department for Education also details the figures by local authority, as well as providing figures for special schools, and pupil referral units.