Guess Who?

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It was a piping hot bank holiday Monday so what better time to stay indoors and play ‘Guess Who?’ After stumbling upon an original version (circa ‘82) my friend and I thought it would be fun to revisit the game where you attempt to narrow down a line-up of faces to a single mugshot via a series of questions about their appearance. We noticed that, this being an early incarnation of the game, the ethical diversity of the Guess Who gang was slightly limited, and, that the women made up just over 10% of the population (although they were all conveniently huddled together in one corner of the playing board so they could all easily be knocked down in a single handspan – thanks Hasbro!)

Inevitably, before we started playing, we carefully studied the characters’ faces. By doing so we began to discuss what sort of lives they’d led and soon we had hit upon a neat idea: Would it be possible to play the game by asking questions about their lives and experiences rather than their appearance? For example, which of the Guess Who gang has no desire to be promoted above their station (Herman), which character would not help out a friend in need (Claire) and who loathes their job and is trapped in a loveless marriage (Robert). It turned out that you could play Guess Who in this manner, thus proving that you can judge a book by its cover.

After a successful 90-minute match (ending in a stalemate of three wins each) it was time to go home. But I couldn’t get these colourful – praise be for Anne, last name ‘Token’ – characters out of my head. The more I thought about them the more I became convinced that I had met them all before…they’re all educators!

Susan susan

Sweet on the surface but self-assured Susan. She’s taught in every year group and there isn’t anything she doesn’t know about education. Whenever a new initiative is launched, you can rest assured that Susan is somewhere in the staff room, rolling her eyes, and whispering to the NQT next to her ‘Oh, they’re trotting that idea out again, are they? I remember doing that in the 70s.’ She’s only ever taught in one school. She has a planning file that she will not deviate from. She’s never gone for a senior leadership position, but everyone knows she’s the real ruler of the school.

 

Herman

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Quiet old Herman. Last to leave the staffroom when there are cakes on the table, so he can pop a few in his pocket for later when no one’s looking. (Well, it will save him from having to eat tinned chilli again when he gets home.) Everyone likes Herman although nobody can remember ever having a conversation with him. He is described by everyone as kind but dull. The advancement of ICT has nearly ended his career twice: once when he failed his performance management technology target after his head found out that he hadn’t even turned on his very expensive visualiser at any point during the year, and a second time when the ICT technician punched him in the head after he used permanent marker on the electronic whiteboard. But still Herman survives.

 

 

Bernard

bernard

Bernard is a God on Twitter. His uncompromising views on education policy, discipline and teaching styles have seen his followers grow to Mariah Carey proportions. (At one point he was even considering getting his account blue ticked.) He courts controversy and will fight to the death (well, to the block) over issues that mean a lot to him or even more to someone else. His teaching has been described by each of his line managers as ‘average’ – something he sees as being proof that education in this country is going to hell. Bernard is not a happy man.

 

 

Richard

richard

Old smug-chops! Richard is always ahead of the curve. He knows about every initiative at least an hour before everyone else, and by the time they’ve finished reading the memo he’s already blogged about it. Richard describes his teaching style as enigmatic. ‘I refuse to be labelled as a ‘this’ teacher or a ‘that’ teacher,’ he says. ‘I just do what’s right for the kids.’ His colleagues call him Mr Fad and believe his penchant for insisting he be called by his first name is the reason why he is so popular with children and also why the children do not behave for them. Richard’s goal in life is to set up a progressive free school in Kenya.

 

 

Alfred

alfred

All Alfred ever wanted was to be a bass player in a hard rock band. He no longer cares about anything to do with teaching. The only reason he turns up is because he needs the money to support his excessive gig-going lifestyle. In class, Alfred has two settings: angry and less angry. He has nothing but disdain for school leaders and he holds his colleagues in contempt. His pupils, however, can provide an occasional respite from the drudgery of teaching, when they ask him to once again go through the differences between the bass styles of John Paul Jones and Craig Gruber. Alfred hasn’t marked a book since 2009.

 

 

Maria

maria

She’s passionate. She’s cool. She’s full of ideas. Few of them are any good, but her colleagues feel so protective over this enthusiastic young teacher that they haven’t the heart to tell her. She once wore a green beret when teaching MFL and got judged ‘outstanding’ by her university tutor. Maria now has an extensive collection of hats. Before and after school she can be found marking her books, bare footed, whilst listening to Fleetwood Mac and Eva Cassidy on spotify.

 

 

Philip

philip

Philip. Just gets on with his job, doesn’t he? His books are always perfectly marked. His lessons are meticulously planned and his children make excessive progress. He is well-liked by staff, children and parents. He is a supportive colleague. He is even friendly towards Bernard! He arrives at 8:30am and leaves by 4:45pm. On Mondays, he shares tales about his work-free weekends along with the pictures of his healthy children and the treehouse he’s making in his massive garden. Bloody Philip. I hate Philip.

 

 

Anne

anne

Oh Anne, what happened? You were once so full of life. Remember that time you took your class on an impromptu visit to the British Library because none of the children said they liked books? You changed lives that day! But, over the years, the system has worn you down. Some say it all started when you were put in charge of managing the school’s risk assessments. It’s true, you haven’t agreed a school trip for nine years now, claiming that it’s just too darn risky. Last year, you even banned the staff party. Come on Anne, come back to us!

 

 

Paul

paul

Paul is a chair of governors. He has been a governor since 1975. He is a kindly man, even when he is dismissing the headteacher over the school’s recent ‘good’ Ofsted inspection. ‘We were hoping for outstanding.’ He constantly reminds the governing body that they should not be concerned with the operational side of the school. He will then look over the rim of his glasses, towards the Acting Head and ask what time she wants him in tomorrow to help conduct staff appraisals.

 

 

Tom

tom

Tom is now an Ofsted inspector. He joined the inspectorate after failing several headship interviews. He is a positive and diligent man who always looks for the good in schools. Tom is often the third additional inspector during an inspection. It is his role to sit and have lunch with the children and find out about SMSC. Tom feels happy that he is making a difference.

eric

 

 

Eric

Eric is no longer allowed to work with children.

My inevitable exclusion blog

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Where to start?

Well, normally these sorts of things start with a disclaimer, so here goes: I value the safety of everyone in my school community. I would never seek to put others at risk for the sake of maintaining a ‘positive’ exclusion record. I understand that some children, in a mainstream setting, are a risk to others and that this does not mean I am ignorant or intolerant of SEND issues. I believe I can distinguish between identifying where provision needs to improve so that needs are better met and the occasional need to draw a line in the sand because some behaviours are not safe or acceptable.

Now I need to say how difficult I find exclusions.

This bit is easy because it is true. Like all headteachers (surely?) the thought of permanently excluding a child is something that I hope I don’t have to face too often in my career.

Fixed term exclusions, not so much. I’m quite comfortable issuing those. I don’t mean I dish them out like doses of Ritalin at an overly boisterous Kindergarten but, in the right circumstances, it can be totally appropriate to send a child home. It can break a cycle of sudden and escalating behaviour; it can send a message to parents that further engagement from them may be necessary; it re-establishes expectations across the school; it signifies to staff that they can trust you; it gives everyone some space that enables quality restorative reflection and time, so that strategic plans can be made going forward.

It’s also important to know when you won’t issue a fixed-term exclusion. If a child, whose behaviour escalates unless they are well managed, is not ‘well-managed’, and this results in them displaying ‘unacceptable’ behaviours…I may not exclude.

This does not mean that I’m an adult-blaming wishy-washy pupil-apologist. I know that sometimes a child’s behaviour is totally disproportionate in comparison to the adult’s behaviour that triggered it. For example, on any given day, a teacher may be rigidly following the school’s behaviour system whilst not taking into account any contextual reasons that could explain why a child is finding it difficult to manage their behaviour. As a result, when the teacher enforces a rule, the kid kicks off and throws missiles all over the place, smashing windows and calling the teacher a ******* useless ****. Now, I am not going to tell that teacher that they ‘should have known better than to use the school behaviour policy and what did they expect the child to do, so please apologise’. No, I’m going to issue a fixed-term exclusion because that is the right thing to do. The child’s behaviour was disproportionate and dangerous. I’m also going to put things in place that safeguard this from happening again…one of these things might be to support the teacher in being able to use a bit of professional nuance when managing behaviour because behaviour policies are sometimes only as good as the people using them.

This is all fine, if we’re talking about children who manage their behaviour perfectly well 99.9% of the time. But, if a child whom we know needs additional support and strategies (so that they can manage their behaviour within a mainstream setting) is put in a situation where they haven’t got the skills to survive, that’s a different story. For example, I once worked with a child who, for many reasons, found life a bit tricky. One day, this child was finding it difficult in the classroom and ended up under a table, growling. I was a relatively inexperienced teacher at the time and I didn’t really know what to do, so I tried ignoring it. Some other children, at the back of the class, saw this as an invitation to mess about. This, I thought, was unacceptable. Like an IDIOT, I told them that I already had one immature child in the room who was heading for a detention and I didn’t need any more. The girl under the table stopped growling, poked her head out from under the table and called me a ******* useless ****. She then proceeded to run at me and hit me in the crotch with a bead string. Luckily, at exactly that point, the Head walked in and calmed the whole thing down in about 0.8 seconds. The child wasn’t excluded. A decision I didn’t even think to question because it was my fault. I had humiliated her in front of her peers like the ******* useless **** I was. She remained in my class, did very well and we never spoke of that day ever again.

I have seen similar things happen throughout my career. Incidents like this occur when children – who we all know struggle – end up in situations and the adults make it impossible for them to return to normality, safely. An upset child, prone to anger, will not calm down if they are bombarded with comments related to the consequences of their actions. An adult who rigidly uses school sanctions towards a child in a heightened state of arousal is actually antagonising the situation. A child having a meltdown who is being ‘positively handled’ without any de-escalation is probably going to hurt you. In these cases, it may not be appropriate to issue a fixed-term exclusion because the adult could have acted differently.

Lessons must always be learned. The child must always know, at some point, that their response wasn’t safe/appropriate/acceptable. Restorative conversations must be had, as should better training and support for the adults who work with the child. That way, in the future, if everything that could have been done has been done, a fixed-term exclusion can be issued and more challenging conversations about ‘what next’ can be had.

So, what about the ‘what next’?

How many FEX make a PEX?

And what about negotiated transfers?

I have experienced a few negotiated transfers with limited success. When they haven’t worked I would say it was down to ineffective levels of additional support in place during the transfer. Very rarely does the change to a new school fix everything. It may put a plaster on it, but eventually, the plaster comes off and you see that the wound hasn’t healed. Timing is important. Negotiated transfers should be a phased process. If you rush it then it won’t work. Every stakeholder has to be committed to the fact that a good transfer takes time. But that creates its own set of challenges. Is the child not with any provider on the days they’re not with you? Does that mean they’re at home? Can the parents/carers manage that with their work commitments? Is it safe for the child to be at home? Who pays for any additional provision because, unless I’m mistaken, none of us have any loose change behind the staffroom sofa to pay for six weeks of alternative provision. It’s a complicated process and all too often it is the depressing prelude to a permanent exclusion.

For schools, the end of the road is the permanent exclusion. And what a depressing end to the journey. It wouldn’t be, if it guaranteed the child a place in specialist provision that helped the child better understand themselves and their behaviour. But, I don’t think it does. There isn’t the funding, or the level of specialist provision, for that. Too often it results in a child being out of education for a period of time – something which must rank as the least helpful alternative – whilst local schools argue over who definitely can’t have them. (That’s unfair, actually. I’m proud to be in a local authority that holds panels for ‘hard to place’ children and in my experience, every headteacher who sits around the table has been compassionate, supportive and committed to finding the best solution for these children.)

But deep down everyone knows that a child whose behaviour isn’t safe – not just unacceptable but genuinely and often scarily unsafe – is a damaged child who needs the very best level of care and provision. If they don’t receive this, then who knows where their behaviour might end and how it might impact on them and others? This trumps any concern I have about off-rolling and abuses of behaviour and admission policies, and, is a contributing factor as to why I find it difficult to reach that PEX decision. For I know that as soon as I make that decision my influence on that child’s life ends and this sits uncomfortably with me. I find this difficult because, by the time it’s reached that level, the excluding school has a better insight into the life of that child than anyone else. And, despite the inevitable paper trail, it is a reality that all that knowledge will fade, and eventually disappear. When that child is no longer on your books, people no longer care about your insight.

If I were to make one change in the process for permanent exclusions it would be that the excluding school would have to become an independent advocate for that child until they are no longer of school age. Because, whereas I am fine with saying that a child can no longer be educated in my school because they are not safe and they need better than what I can give them, I’m not so fine with the implied follow-through message of: and I no longer care. If we care enough to say that our setting is not appropriate for these children, we should be made to care about what happens to them when we have told them they cannot return. Closing our gates should not mean the same as turning our backs.

Anatomy of a joke

Person A walks onto the stage. He explains to the audience that although his Twitter name shares a word with someone else on Twitter, they are not to be confused. He then makes a gentle joke about how different they are by saying ‘He’s much taller than I am.’ (This is not a good joke and gets a murmur of a laugh across the audience. It is designed to be a gentle introduction. The audience are laughing politely and hoping things will get better soon.)

Person A then begins, in earnest, to talk about how he’s been looking at a lot of educational based research which is going to inform his talk. Person B enters and tells Person A to stop. He points out that he shouldn’t be doing research because, as we all learnt last year, this pretty much means you are a eugenicist. (This is a good joke for two reasons: firstly, it is a totally ludicrous suggestion in of itself; secondly, it harks back to a twitter-storm from the past that everyone in the room can remember. This joke will become funny again nearer the end of the talk for reasons we shall see later.)

Person B then reference the lame joke about Twitter names. He tells Person A that he has now been blocked. (This joke works because it recalls the sometime action of the referenced Tweeter and takes it to an absurdist level. Of course, the Tweeter would not have blocked someone for such a benign comment. The Tweeter only blocks when he has been insulted, trolled, threatened or vilified. He does it publicly with screenshots so everybody can see, hence why this joke gets a strong reaction. The audience are familiar with the context and are laughing at the exaggeration.)

Person A then asks for the reason that has been given for the block. Person B says that the reason for the block is because Person A has been antagonistic towards a Trad. (This joke works because it reminds the audience of the prog-trad wars that occur on Twitter. The joke would work with any combination of words as long as ‘trad’ was in there somewhere – or ‘prog’ for that matter.)

Person A then asks for the duration of the blocking and Person A replies that it is temporary. (This makes the audience laugh because it reflects one of the duration lengths that the referenced tweeter often assigns to tweets they have taken offence to. It also gets a laugh because Person B is using a dalek voice to deliver the line. This is funny, not because the referenced tweeter sounds like a dalek, but because it puts into the mind of the audience a picture of offending tweeters being exterminated, thus exaggerating the already ridiculous notion that such an innocuous comment would result in a blocking. The dalek voice also serves to lampoon the hysteria that the act of public blockings causes on prog-twitter. More importantly however, the dalek voice makes the word ‘temporary’ sound very funny.)

If you took the remainder of the talk and held up various sections as isolated segments, you could take offence, or at least be alarmed by, two leaders who, without any hint of irony…

  • Ask members of the audience to retrieve excrement from a bag.
  • Scream at, and berate, an unsuspecting member of the audience,
  • Advocate the forced tuition of yoga to teachers.
  • Recommend only doing things because people on twitter will like it.

If you saw the whole talk then you would have seen it build up to a climax with Person B admitting that they themselves had been conducting evidence based research in their own school. Riddled with self-loathing and stupidity, he then draws the only conclusion he can: he must be a eugenicist. (The audience find this funny because they recognise it as a call-back from the beginning of the show.)

Person A then explains to Person B how he is not a eugenicist and that he is a wonderful headteacher. (This is a joke because, as is revealed in the slides, Person A is only saying this stuff to increase his twitter following. This joke serves to undermine their entire talk and present them to the audience as two desperate social media ladder climbers. The show ends with Person B’s number of followers reducing to one solitary person. He has failed in his desire to use leadership in order to become popular.)

Postscript

Taken out of context, few jokes work. If people want to assign meaning to other people’s words, that have been taken out of context, then they are free to do so. Nobody can really stop that. If a joke offends, when it is taken out of its context, then so be it. The Joker doesn’t need to apologise because to do so would require them to write out the jokes complete with a full contextual commentary in italics, and only an idiot would attempt this.

If a joke, within its context, offends then it may be because the subject is either too close to the bone (which may not necessarily make it a bad joke) or, it is just a bad joke.

Permission does not have to be granted for humour to be found in other people’s public actions. This is especially true if the purpose behind the humour is to drive home wider points within a specific context. But, of course, you won’t understand what that is if you haven’t been privy to the big picture in the first place. You will instead take the joke at face value, or at least, give it a value which suits your personal bias. The Joker cannot do much about this, that choice and interpretation has been yours and yours alone.

So, to conclude, if anyone wants to make a joke about anything I have ever publicly said or done then they are free to do so. I am fine with that because I understand that I write and say things in public. If it is a good joke, I’ll laugh along. If it’s not, and I am bothered by it, I may contact the joker personally and tell them I didn’t find it funny. They could then explain it to me, or apologise, or both.

If they didn’t, well, I could always block them.