Bedale’s Bog Standards

Gabriel Chevallier’s Clochmerle is clearly not on the reading list at Bedale High School this term. If it were, the school’s management team may have been able to predict that a new toilet access policy might not have ended well.  Instead, a policy designed to limit ‘free’ access to the toilets to specific time slots prompted a pupil protest, starting in the girls toilets, then spilling out on to the school playing field.   The police were called; they determined, unsurprisingly that it wasn’t a matter for the police.  The school responded by fixed term exclusion of some 38 pupils.

Local news agencies broke the story on Friday 10th March.  The Harrogate Advertiser ran with Police called during student protest at Bedale High SchoolRichmondshire Today went with a  no less  descriptive headline:   Students protest about toilet breaks at Bedale School.  Predictably, the story made it to some of the Nationals, ensuring some unwanted, but warranted publicity for the school.

The protest was a response to recent changes in school rules which included altering the access arrangements to toilet facilities. The toilet access being one of a number of rule changes brought in by the school following a recent Ofsted inspection which concluded the school “requires improvement”.  A statement from the school, issued on the day of the protest, appears to be an attempt to clarify the toilet policy.  The statement also positions the school as reasonable,  reducing the protesting pupils’ actions disrespectful disobedience, thus justifying the school’s actions in excluding the miscreants.  Here is an extract:

“the school has reminded students that toilets are freely accessible during specific periods at lunchtime and break time but that students who need the toilet during lessons, or need access for medical reasons, will always be given access on request. Toilets are therefore accessible at all times.”

However, the wording of this statement, along with reports regarding the prosaic reality of this policy suggest something more problematic.   It appears there are gradations of accessible referred to here.  The school use the term ‘freely accessible’ when referring to the ‘time slots’ allocated for pupils to undertake acts of personal hygiene.   News sources have reported that the toilets are ‘open access’ between 11.05 and 11.25.  The school’s newsletter informs its pupils that the toilets will be open again from 13.10, five minutes before afternoon school starts.  While the assertion that “toilets are therefore accessible at all times” appears to suggest that human rights are being upheld, there is something more going on here involving the control of pupils, their bodies, and expectations of discipline and obedience.   Some reports suggest, that while the toilets may not be locked outside of these hours, pupils have to be escorted to the toilet.  Perhaps, there is a specific job role here?

There are a number of perspectives we can use to make sense of what has occurred .  From a Marxist perspective Bowles and Gintis (1976) suggest that the school functions to socialise children to thinking that hierarchies are normal and natural, and so learn to be obedient and subservient.   Unable to negotiate a resolution the pupils turn to protest, for which they punished and reminded who is in charge, as the school reminds us:

“Unfortunately, a small group of students have attempted to undermine our work to improve the ethos at Bedale High School.”

According to Bowles and Gintis, schooling thus corresponds with the world of work.  We could also look towards Foucault (1991) to consider the ways in which the school timetable operates as a disciplinary mechanism.  Time is used to regulate the body, and the body becomes the target of power.  In short, the school toilet is a site of spatial politics (Millei and Imre, 2016) where children are trained and civilised  (Elias, 1978).

Another problematic aspect of this incident was the report that some pupils could claim access to the toilets at any time, for medical reasons on production of a ‘medical card’.  If true this is a peculiar form of inclusive practice in the sense that it calls out the disabled, or ‘leaky’ body as requiring ‘special’ treatment, a theme that is explored in more detail by Slater et al (2016).  A dose of dis/ability studies and training in non-discriminatory practice might be in order.

Finally, this display of pupil protest is not unique, there are a wealth of examples from the history of pupil protests and strikes, many in response to punitive actions and material conditions in schools and classrooms.  These could have been studied to inform a more  dialogic process and productive resolution.  Teachers, study your own history.

Continue reading “Bedale’s Bog Standards”

Where is citizenship education?

Citizenship is currently part of the National Curriculum.  Since 2002 it has been a statutory part of the secondary curriculum (Key Stages 3 and 4), and is non statutory at Key Stages 1 and 2.  For how much longer is uncertain.

This week, I was alerted via Involver, the social enterprise which helps young people to ‘do’ democracy in schools, about a campaign to safeguard citizenship in schools. Involver, along with other education and citizenship organisations are urging MPs to support the Rt Hon David Blunkett MP’s Early Day Motion (EDM 1142).

The EDM calls for the Government to secure citizenship education.

Why the concern?

As has been discussed here, the Schools White Paper, published recently, outlines plans for “a radical reform programme for the schools system”. This involves slimming down the National Curriculum, and, with it, a greater emphasis on academic subjects.  Citizenship does get a mention, briefly, in the foreword, which states:

“It is only through reforming education that we can allow every child the chance to take their full and equal share in citizenship, shaping their own destiny, and becoming masters of their own fate.”

That is the only mention of citizenship.  With the rhetoric of the Big Society, citizenship should, by rights, be at the centre of a proposed new education system.  In the foreword the White Paper claims that reforming schools will allow children to play a full part in citizenship, but there is no real explanation of how this will be achieved.  It appears that citizenship follows, automatically, as a result of the radical reform of schools proposed in the White Paper.

So, citizenship can be argued to be at the centre of  these school reforms.  We need though, to be careful about what this means.  For example, we have heard about plans to improve the prestige and esteem of teachers ( see my previous post) by increasing their powers regarding discipline.  This move may reflect an authoritarian ideology which renders the child inferior to the teacher, as well as voiceless and powerless.  It may not, but without any explicit consideration of how citizenship will be promoted in schools, and with the slimming down of the statutory curriculum, citizenship, as a National Curriculum subject is under threat.

Free Schools, the Norfolk Model

The current government is keen to adopt free schools, citing parental choice, and freedom from the LEA.  On this site has been a number of posts critically assessing this development. However, maybe the left, in their oppostion to free schools is missing some potential with these proposed schools. They could look to their own history.

There is an example of an English school, established with support of pupils, and parents,  which was sponsored by numerous organisations, and was free from the control of the local council.  It sounds every inch a free school, it was open to local children, it did not charge fees, and parental choice was a key feature.   However, it wasn’t funded by central government, so, in this sense it is distinct from proposed free schools.

The school was established in April 1914, and was located in the Norfolk village of Burston, near Diss.  In, perhaps an early example of pupil voice, pupils from the local council school marched on the village green to protest at the dismissal of their teachers, Tom and Kitty Higdon.  At first, the school was located on the village green until donations came in from trade unions and co-operative movements to build the ‘Burston Strike School’.  The building is still standing today, though the school closed in 1939.  Every year, during the first weekend in September there is a rally in Burston. If you do visit the school look out for one of the foundation stones, indicating sponsorship from Tolstoi.  This is a romantic idea, but, it might be wise to check up on the history of this supposed sponsor before accepting the this sponsorship stone as evidence of the great man’s support of the school.

It is fair to say that this is not the type of school envisaged under the free schools model.     Continue reading “Free Schools, the Norfolk Model”

Pupils revolt on facebook

The Daily Mail must have loved this story. Pupils from a girls Grammar School in Buckinghamshire used facebook to voice their displeasure  about the appointment of their new head.  The newly appointed head then withdrew from the post, before she actually took the post up.

 

The pupils had been involved in the selection process,  (a form of ‘pupil voice’) and preferred the acting Head over the one who was actually appointed.    So, according to the Daily Mail, the disgruntled girls starting a bullying campaign on facebook. The appointed Head felt unable to take up the position amidst all this hatred, and the acting Head is still th acting Head.  A case of pupils rejecting authority, it may seem.  What makes it worse is the fact that this is, according to the Daily Mail, sanctioned by the new Labour Government (though readers of the Daily Mail may be more familiar with the phrase ‘Nu Liebour’).  Its political correctness gone mad!

A previous post here referred to the NASUWT’s response to ‘pupil voice’.  The Daily Mail suddenly finds itself on the side of a teaching union, highlighting how its members are concerned over government sanctioned ‘pupil voice’. 

Of course, this post is hardly going accept the Daily Mail’s version of events without question.

The School in question had involved the pupils in the recruitment process.  The use of pupils in this way is encouraged under a wider policy of ‘pupil voice’, though recruitment is not the only way in which ‘pupil voice’ is manifested.

The girls did favour the acting Head, not the eventual successful candidate.  It is the governing body which has ultimate responsibility for making the decision, so it could be a simple case of the pupils preferring one candidate and the governing body preferring another.  In such case disgruntled expressions from pupils, or anyone else are really out of place.  However, it could also be the case that ‘pupil voice’ didn’t really take place.  The Daily Mail glosses over a meeting called by the governing body.  Here, a representative of the staff claimed that the views of staff and pupils had been overlooked in the appointment process.  This is not just a case of disagreeing over the choice of candidate, it is an indication that the process in which pupils are staff and pupils are consulted may not have worked as well as it could.  Also, this does not suggest a ‘crisis of adult authority’, the pupils are not taking over.

Then, there is the successful candidate herself. Mrs Jarrett  decided not to take up the post for personal and professional reasons.  We know no other details.  Is it reasonable to guess that she was scared by a pupil ‘facebook revolt’?  Has she never encountered disgruntled pupils, and dealt with this?  Presumably she has, and, if not, and she has run as fast as she could from these facebooking pupils, then maybe the governing body did make the wrong choice.

There is also facebook itself.  This is really what the Daily Mail is concerned with, though it does seem to be incidental to the case. It is possibly the case that some of the comments made by some pupils were unacceptable. The page has been removed so it is impossible to tell.  In one way, the presence of such comments on such a site is hardly surprising as it provided an unofficial and online context for disgruntled pupils to express their frustration.  However, concern about the process of the appointment was heard, not only in an online space, but in an offline, and official context, namely the special meeting arranged by the governing body. Again, concern was also voiced by staff.

The Daily Mail article can be found here.  It is worth scrolling down to the readers’ comments.  You will find a couple from the pupils, you will be able to spot them, they are reasoned and articulate, and, consequently have downrated by fellow Daily Mail readers.

Pupil Voice or Educational X Factor?

The NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers) held its annual conference recently.  One of the issues they discussed was the role of pupils in the recruitment of teaching staff.  The union is so concerned about this issue that delegates voted to support a ballot for industrial action where the abuse of ‘pupil voice’ or ‘student voice’ is identified.  This doesn’t actually mean that NASUWT members will be on the picket line next term, but that they may ballot members on whether to take industrial action where it identifies an abuse of ‘student voice’. 

Giving pupils a voice in their education is officially endorsed by current UK education policy.  However, this is not a new idea. Humanist approaches to education have long promoted the child as an active learner.  While it cannot be claimed that the UK education system is an example of a humanist  ideal of education, the use of ‘pupil voice’, encouraged by the DCSF has its roots in humanist approaches.

‘Pupil Voice’ can, at one end of the spectrum mean enabling pupils to express their views on education, and at the other, it can refer to pupils having some input into decisions made about their education, including the recruitment of teachers.

It is this later form of ‘pupil voice’ which the NASUWT has expressed concern about.   The Guardian reported that children were asking ‘frivolous’ questions, such as “if you could be on Britain’s Got Talent, what would your talent be?”.  This may be frivolous, but it perhaps reflects the influence of popular culture in young people’s lives, which they then apply to decision making about teachers. 

The Independent also reported on the concerns of the NASUWT, highlighting the union’s fears that pupil voice has the potential to “disempower and deprofessionalise teachers”.

These concerns over ‘pupil voice’ have also been studied by researchers.  Some of the concerns of the NASUWT were found in a study carried out by Bragg (2009)[1] who found that teachers’ professional identities could be challenged by ‘pupil voice’.  However, ‘pupil voice’ is enshrined in policy.  The most obvious manifestation of this are School Councils.  Under the 2002 Education Act every school in England  is encouraged to have a School Council (the Government has the power to enforce their existence, but prefers to encourage), in Wales, School Councils are compulsory.  Wider social policies also important, for example the 1989 Children’s Act which  requires young people to be consulted on matters which affect them.  The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK has ratified also requires young people to be consulted. 

This does not mean, however that pupils should have the power to hire and fire.  There is a legal requirement for children to be consulted, and in schools this could mean pupils being involved in the recruitment process.  However, it is the governing body which has the final say.  This is how it should be, as these adults are responsible for making decisions about the management of the school and ensuring the well-being of their pupils.  And, it needs to be highlighted, the NASUWT is not opposed to ‘pupil voice’ but is opposed to it being used instead of adult decision making.  Pupils can be consulted, their feelings expressed, but, responsibility rests with adults.

It is not just pupils who draw on popular culture to frame their approach to recruiting teachers. Last year, Ambler Primary School in Islington ran an advert for a Deputy Head Teacher, they were looking for  “Someone who has the X-Factor and is a Superstar!”


[1] Bragg, Sara(2007) ”But I listen to children anyway!’—teacher perspectives on pupil voice’, Educational Action Research, 15: 4, 505 — 518