Djeca tranzicije

Djeca tranzicije  (Children of Transition) is a 2014 Croatian film telling the stories of Marta, David, Lana and Natalija, four children navigating their way through life.

In the first scenes we see who we learn is the mother of 15 year old Marta, ascending a set of stairs, sobbing as she empties a bag of belongings on the table in her living room. Throughout the rest of the film, the online life of Marta is shown, including extracts of the cruel messages she received through the networking site ask.fm.  Scenes with her grieving parents and sister gradually reveal the events leading up to Marta taking her own life.

For the other children in the film, there is a sense of change, new beginnings.

For David, who we first meet demonstrating his ball skills in front of the crest of the Slavonski Brod’s Budainka football team, transition is eagerly awaited in the form of a ‘piece of paper’ inviting him to La Maisa (home to the Barcelona youth squad).  The usual transition from elementary to secondary school don’t interest him, he does’t want to go.  He sees his future in football, as well as the things this will bring him:

“I think I’ll be a good soccer player.  I’d enjoy having a good car and girls and stuff”

Named after David Beckham, his future in professional football is certain, according to a local shopkeeper, and pigeon fancier.  The head of the Ivana Brlic Mazuranic Elementary School however, reduces his talents to a more objective assessment:

“He’s shown exceptional psychomotor skills”

Meanwhile, David continues to attend school where he learns from his teacher that there is a correct way to draw stars.  His artistic efforts quashed, he sets on erasing his efforts and starting again.   Similarly, the piece of paper from Barcelona never arrives.   His family, desperate for him to succeed, for their benefit as much as his, are disappointed.  But, he returns to play for Budainka.  There are, perhaps other roots to success, just as there are other ways to draw stars.

Natalija, 11, whose face we never see, plays outside in what appears to be an idyllic country scene. She rides on a tractor as it rumbles across the farmland and tends to young chicks.  She gazes out across open countryside, though, bizarrely, the shot includes a functioning electric fan.  However, we learn that in material ways Natalija is poorer than her classmates, and that this has led to bullying so severe that she has to change school.  As we follow, at ankle level, Natalija chasing an excited piglet through the farm the camera moves effortlessly to follow another child’s feet.  Inhabiting more sophisticated, red high heels, 6 year old Lana leads us into her house.  Posing by the light of the front door, Lana twirls before showing the contents of her wardrobe.    In the first words she speaks to camera she lists the contents of her wardrobe.  The subtitles follow the list with “this is my wardrobe, skirt, sweater, sweater, sweater” but they do little justice to the Croatian which is much more powerful.   Dressed in a burberry skirt and high heels Lana plays with her iPhone before clambering into an electric toy car to drive around the grounds of her house.

Lana is sophisticated and precocious, yet vulnerable.  In one scene we see her singing:

“No one’s bought me a drink for ages or undressed me with their eyes”

Scenes swap between Natalija and Lana as if to pose the question –  which girl is the richer?

Both girls are facing a transition in their schooling. The Prvi dan Škole for both children could not be further contrasted.  Lana, due to start school for the first time, plays to the camera in her pink fairy like outfit as she sits astride a matching bike.  Schooling is an unwelcome distraction to applying make-up, dressing up and singing adult songs. Natalija, meanwhile, climbs into the back of her father’s car as he reassures her that things will be different in her new school.  Her journey is interspersed with scenes with the film’s other characters, reinforcing to us the message that she has a long journey to school.

The issues considered, bullying, aspirations and inequality are not uniquely Croatian, and neither is the documentary style of the film.  However, transition of Croatia, politically, and socially and in terms of film making does provide a unique context. See for example Pavičić (2010) and Vojković (2008).

Towards the end of the film we are returned to where we began with Marta’s mother, emptying the the bag of her daughter’s belongs, having just collected  it from the police.  We cut to David, who has still to receive a piece of paper from Barcelona, watching the pigeons fly from their loft.  Where are they going, we don’t know.  Perhaps there is a clue in the clip from Marta’s social media account shown in the final scene: Bogu iza nogu (the back of beyond).

Continue reading “Djeca tranzicije”

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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.

Cyberbullying of Teachers

It is Easter, and Easter is the time when teachers’ unions hold their annual conferences. It is not unusual for the British Press to cover these conferences, providing stories of a discontented workforce who are threatening to strike over the testing of children, as well as the publication of league tables. The same is happening this year, with reports that at least two of the main teaching unions are threatening to boycott this year’s Key Stage 2 ‘SATs’.

Additionally, this year, the subject of social networking sites and its impact on teachers has received attention media. The ATL (The Association of Teachers and Lecturers) conducted a survey, along with the Teacher Support Network of UK teachers on the use and experiences of social networking sites. Findings from this survey were discussed at the ATL conference and have been covered in the press. The news reports have focused on the cyberbullying of teachers by pupils and teachers, contributing to a popular discourse of the Internet as a dangerous place, where teachers are at risk.

The survey, however, was not focused solely on cyberbullying, but also asked teachers about their use of social networking sites.

The results show that the use of social networking sites is increasing, and so, it can be deduced that social networking sites are not purely the domain of young people. 57% of respondents to the ATL/Teacher Support Network survey reported having a profile on Facebook. A quarter of respondents also reported that their schools use a range of Web 2.0 applications (such as wikis and blogs) to support learning and teaching. The need for young people to use such technologies was highlighted in the recentRose Review on Primary Education, so we should, perhaps, expect this number to increase in the future. However, over 40% of the teachers surveyed reported that their school or LEA has a policy restricting the use of social networking sites, with half of these banning their use in schools altogether. So, in other words, in school at least, pupils do not have unbridled access to social networking sites, the Internet has not entirely invaded the offline world, and it is possible for schools to restrict access to such sites.

However, it is the issue of the cyberbullying of teachers which has received most media attention. Cyberbullying, is, according to ATL an example of the “darker side [of] social networking”.

BBC News used the results of the survey to claim that “pupils are increasingly using social networking sites to bully and undermine teachers”, while the Telegraph led with the headline: Teachers being ‘victimised’ on Facebook. These are dramatic claims, suggesting that this is a widespread problem which is happening to every teacher in the country, with any child who uses social networking applications under suspicion.

Actually, the ATL survey revealed that 94 of the teachers it surveyed reported that they or someone they knew had some experience of cyberbullying. This amounts to 1 in 7 teachers having some experience of cyberbullying, though not necessarily direct experience as a victim. So, even the figures from the ATL survey do not suggest that this issue is a widespread problem.

Nevertheless, the range of experiences that some teachers report are disturbing. For example, respondents described the setting up of ‘hate sites’, sometimes containing false allegations of illegal activity, while others reported that pupils had posted videos of teachers to YouTube. Unsurprisingly, teachers reported on the stress that had resulted from such actions.

However, it should be remembered that it is not the technology that is the problem, per se. Social networking sites do not cause cyberbullying. Where hate or resentment of teachers exist, pupils and parents will find other ways to express this, if technology is not available to them. Therefore, it is no use following the technologically determinist route of seeking a solution to cyberbullying within the technology.

Further, as the survey reported, teachers, as everyone, need to be aware of the information that they share. Nearly a quarter of teachers reported that they or a colleague had been advised to remove something from their social networking profiles. Internet Safety awareness, already identified as an issue in protecting children, may well also be needed so that adults can protect themselves online.

You can download a pdf of Cyberbullying: Supporting School Staff here. This publication recognises the harm that might be caused to school staff as a result of cyberbullying and provides advice on responding to and dealing with incidents.

Safer Internet Day

Today, throughout Europe, it is Internet Safety Day.

This annual event aims to promote the safer and more responsible use of Internet technologies.  Concerns over the safety of young people using the Internet has followed a number of cases where the Internet, including social networking sites have been used by abusers to ‘groom’ children and young people.   Safety campaigns have sought to find ways of protecting children and young people from adults who would do them harm.   However, as this year’s theme ‘Think Before you Post’ suggests, it is equally as important to equip young children with skills to protect themselves while using the Internet.  This also suggests that individual responsibility for your personal information is being promoted.

Safer Internet Day

Why was Helen Hopewell allowed in a classroom?

Where did Waterloo Road get Helen Hopewell from?  Which University admissions’ tutor interviewed her and accepted her onto a programme of Initial Teacher Training?  Was not concern expressed about her teaching ability during her teaching placements prior to qualifying?

Helen Hopewell is only one of a number of apparently incompetent teachers to have been employed at Waterloo Road.  Steph Haydock as has been demonstrated in numerous episodes is another one, and Grantly Budgen is, if not incompetent, certainly lazy.  Should we be concerned at the tendency of Waterloo Road to recruit and retain the least competent teachers?

If Waterloo Road was an accurate representation of a typical comprehensive school, then yes we should be concerned, but it is not. However, this does not mean that the portrayal of teachers in this way should not concern us.  Such portrayals deserve to be examined.

Chris Woodhead, when he was Chief Inspector of Schools told us that around 15000 teachers were incompetent nd should be sacked.  More recently Ofsted highlighted a  ‘stubborn core’ of teachers who were failing to inspire their pupils.  Researchers have also observed the incompetent and lazy teacher to be a feature of fictional portrayals and news media reports. 

Focusing on Helen Hopewell, a more detailed consideration of her character than the series has provided us with so far, might point to the unlikely scenario that there are Helen Hopewell’s to found in comprehensive schools throughout the land.

Pupils had nicknamed her ‘Hopeless Hopewell’, and from the outset it was clear to see why.  While teaching, her classroom management skills left a lot to be desired.  Outside the classroom she revealed herself to be emotionally vulnerable and dependent on  Max Tyler for providing her with a sense of self-worth (she was having an affair with him).   She begged Max for help on numerous occasions and in one episode accused Michaela White of pushing her down the stairs and was determined to get her excluded. She displayed other, problematic and immature behaviour such as  writing apparently threatening notes and bumping a pupil, Micheala White in the common room.   After an unfortunate episode with some spilt orange juice she made an even more unfortunate error of judgement by wearing one of Steph Haydock’s tops – one which enhanced a part of her anatomy which it was probably best not to enhance in a classroom full of hormone fuelled teenagers.   Was she not aware of the attention that she might attract wearing that? Indeed the wearing of that top did result in a cacophony of sexual harassment.  As previously mentioned, Helen Hopewell’s Internet safety awareness was, somewhat lacking and her pupils arranged a party at her home, without her knowledge, causing her to exclaim “Waterloo Road happened!”  It was as if she had stumbled into a Rochdale Comprehensive school rather than having chosen teaching as a career. In a moment in vulnerability in the classroom she revealed her motivation for wanting to become a teacher, she had ‘liked school’.

Helen Hopewell, motivated to do well in her inspection because Max had done so much to help her, faced up to the event by vomiting in the toilets, her affirmations where she told herself how good she was, had it appeared, not had the desired effect.  Her feelings of hopelessness not dissipated, she then paid a pupil, Amy Porter, to ensure good behaviour.  Amazingly it worked.  With her renedwed confidence she announced to her Head of Department that she was relaxed about the inspection:  “Today’s going to be a breeze. Trust me”.  Indeed the inspection went well but her career remained doomed.

When she at last decided that enough was enough she attempted blackmail with a copy of a DVD, which, we have to assume shows her and Max Tyler enjoying some sort of sexual activity with each other.  It can hardly have been a ‘one off’ or on the spur of the moment as she had time to set up the recording equipment and conceal it from Max during those tender moments.  Maybe he was so carried away with showing his appreciation for Helen that failed to notice the video camera in the corner of the room.  So the proof was there, and as we all know by now Max Tyler had given Helen Hopewell a job because he had been sleeping with her.  Of course!  Is it a  typical scenario, that in order for a women to get a job she has to be sleeping with the male boss?  Before we accept this we might ask the following questions:

  • Where was the rest of the interview panel? 
  • Where was the head of department on the day of the interviews? 
  • Or another member of the senior management team?  Where was a representative of the governing body? 
  • Where were her references (especially as it transpired her previous head of department didn’t rate her at all, not even to make the tea as Jo Lipsett announced in Episode 8)? 
  • What were the other candidates like?

These are the steps that teachers in the real world have to climb in order to be allowed in a classroom, the Hopewell story is just an entertaining and exaggerated representation of a teacher who isn’t performing at her best.

“Hopewell’s had it”

This was the warning of the Waterloo Road pupils this week.  Indeed Helen Hopewell did get it when a group of pupils turned up on her doorstep for an impromptu party, ruining her quiet night in with a rather large glass of red wine.

The pupils had discovered Miss Hopewell’s home address through her social networking site.  As one of the pupils, Michaela White commented, “has she never heard of security?” Clearly not.  This scenario is interesting in the context of recent campaigns over Internet Safety for children.

In Waterloo Road, at least, it would appear that young people have a greater awareness of Internet Safety than do adults. Certainly, Internet Safety campaigns are focused on young people, having being identified as being particularly vulnerable to online grooming from paedophiles.  Yet in Waterloo Road it was Miss Hopewell who could clearly of benefitted from memorising the motto of the Government’s recent Internet Safety campaign: Zip It, Block It, Flag It.

Hopewell’s lack of knowledge of web privacy also highlighted the issue that a number of teachers have to face when using social networking sites such as facebook.  In a recent poll by Teachers TV, almost half of teachers were concerned that pupils might be able to access their personal information through social networking sites.  The advice is use privacy settings, or, alternatively don’t use social networking sites at all.

However a number of recent news reports indicates that maybe adults, and it this case teachers are in need of some ‘Internet Safety’ awareness training.  Consider the case earlier this year of Sonya McNally who was suspended from Humberston School in North East Lincolnshire for expressing negative comments about her class through facebook.  Then there was the case of Phil Ryan, a now retired science teacher from Liverpool who performed a ‘funky chicken’ dance as an end of term treat for his pupils, only to find it posted, by his pupils on YouTube.  Interestingly the Daily Mail’s story on this, headlined Humiliation of science teacher’s Funky Chicken dance in class highlights YouTube threat,embedded the very clip while simultaneously highlighting the “threat” of Internet technology.

The Government’s Teachernet website gives advice to teachers on cyber bullying and harassment of teachers by pupils, suggesting that they use search engines to check what information is accessible to the public.  Maybe Helen Hopewell should have taken the free advice publicly available on teachernet.

Though Waterloo Road is fiction, and is often way off an accurate representation of reality, Internet Safety is clearly not just an issue for children.