Selective Fury

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One of the advantages of not being a politician is that you can smugly roll your eyes and shake your head whenever one of them announces something stupid. Things like announcing how a new wave of selective schools will benefit ‘ordinary’ families. As soon as Justine Greening said this there were people, up and down the land, looking up at the heavens thinking but that doesn’t make any sense!

Firstly, they thought, isn’t the whole point of these schools about selecting children based on academic ability? Some poor children, they assumed, would pass the test enabling them to rise above their ranks as they pursue a life of academia, but surely academic selection shouldn’t be about giving everybody in society an even chance? Then, they considered, the possible implication of allowing ‘ordinary’ families into these new schools in the first place. Wasn’t the reason they voted for the Tories because of the chance to finally get their children away from the ‘ordinary’ boys and girls who don’t want to learn? Finally, they feared, how would this affect house prices?

Now, I get why some people like the idea of grammar schools. I understand the value they place on being able to access a higher level of education (because comprehensives hate all that) and that they simply want their child’s education to be uncomplicated by having to co-exist with different people (because I think we can all agree that nothing good ever came from mixing up the social classes). I hear their argument at dinner parties about how they just want a better option of schools for everyone but I can also see into their cold black hearts that only care about their own child.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. And, if there’s a market, the government will sell. If there’s a need, they don’t always give a toss, but where there’s a vote, they’ll give it a go. How odd then that this new grammar policy won’t really appeal to anyone. I would have thought – and bear in mind I am but a simple-minded headteacher – that just creating more schools would have been a better gambit rather than set up a particular type of school, that has a particular appeal, and water it down in the vein hope that it appears more socially palatable. But what do I know?

Concern about the unselective quality of new grammar schools was not, however, why I rolled my eyes and shook my head when I read Greening’s new announcement. I was more concerned with the state of things in the current education climate and how opening a raft of grammar schools will not help a damn bit.

I’ll be brief.

Our budgets are knackered and the services, that schools can access, to help support vulnerable families are vanishing.

Now, I wouldn’t mind taking a massive scythe to my school budget if it meant the saved money was being ploughed back into essential services. I would happily sack, pretty much anyone, if it guaranteed help for damaged children. The reason I would be so slash-happy is because these services are needed and when they are accessed they make my job of educating much easier.

To put it into context. In Bristol, the SEND budget across the city is becoming increasingly non-existent. Thresholds are rising as the amount of money for each band falls. Early Help, that provides vital support for vulnerable families on the brink of getting into real trouble, are going. In the South of Bristol alone this means that the local authority’s capacity to support these families will fall from above 120 families to just under 60. Social Care is gradually being eroded away to its bare bones. I know of a child who since being placed in care has not been assigned a permanent social worker for 6 months. (Guess how they’re doing?) Behaviour improvement services have vanished. Funding for more specialist provision is being denied: a new setting for children at risk of permanent exclusion but do not yet have an EHCP is now not going ahead.

What is the impact of all this?

Your job, dear teacher, is going to get harder. Why? Because these troubled children and families still exist. And, instead of being able to access the support they need it will be up to you to deal with it. You could just permanently exclude them. But just remember that could be exactly what the school down the road is doing. You may get rid of one troublesome toe-rag but pretty soon you’ll be invited to attend a Fair Access Panel where you will likely end up with another one. So, you’ll just have to accept these kids as part of your daily grind. Many of you, I know, already have. Those teachers who don’t fancy that could always go to work in the new grammar school. (Although, apparently, these schools will be filled with similar children…yeah right!)

Do I mind that teaching is harder when classes are filled with difficult and damaged children? No, of course not. What I do mind is that I can’t help. I can’t access vital support services because they are disappearing fast. I can’t give the children what they need. Therefore, when I find out that funding for existing schools is being reduced whilst the government is financially propping up failing free schools and chucking cash at re-introducing a selective system of education that hardly anybody bloody wants, I get cross.

I get filled with rage at the short-sightedness of the current regime. I want to take every education minister and advisor along with every narrow-minded educationalist who thinks these problems shouldn’t be part of a teacher’s job because they only came into this profession to teach and chuck them into a school with all these children who have nowhere else to go and say: ‘There you go, you’ve got naff all support, get them to the expected standard.’ And when they complain saying that it’s too hard, I will simply double lock their classroom door and say ‘Sorry, this is what it’s like now. Crack on!’

Because, like it or not, these are ‘ordinary’ children from ‘ordinary’ families and building new schools who may not have to take them in does not mean they disappear. Preventing them from getting help will not make society a better place. Denying them social support will not improve their education.

Ignoring these problems is a national disgrace.

Eyes rolled, head shaken. I’ll be quiet now.

Oh my word, not another flippin’ blog about progs and trads! I mean seriously? You honestly think this is necessary?

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Happy holidays!

Why not relax by engaging in some professional to-and-froing with your twitter brethren about teaching? Sounds like fun, don’t it? And quite often it is. Sometimes – and by ‘sometimes’ I mean ‘often’ and by ‘often’ I mean ‘pretty much all the time’ – you could be forgiven for thinking that Twitter is on the blink as your timeline appears to be nothing more than a rehashing of comments you remember reading last holiday, and the holiday before that, and the holiday before that.

Fear not technophobes, your shiny new phone isn’t on the blink. It’s just that us teachers can’t move on from a single subject. For some reason our tiny minds are fixated with discussing the merits and failings of two different approaches to teaching. These approaches, or depending who you follow, theories / philosophies / beliefs / ideologies / disciplines / concepts / dogma / ways of life / only thing that matters / reason to walk across a crowded room in order to punch someone in the face, currently represent – if twitter is to be believed – the only thing that matters in education.

Forget the dire financial situation schools are currently in. Forget the collapse of social care around the country. Forget the increase in social, emotional and mental health problems that we are seeing in every area of our system. Forget the systematic dismantling of local authorities in favour of selective education. Forget the disconnect between key stages in relation to what is ‘expected’ of our pupils and students. Forget the ever-changing goal posts informing us of how better things need to be before we’ve had time to adjust to the last change. Forget the high-stakes system of results and Ofsted that cause panic and frustration when things are perceived to have gone wrong. Forget the pressures all of the above place on leaders, teachers, support staff and children.

None of that really matters.

What really matters is whether you’re a Trad or a Prog.

You should, according to some, know which one you are as knowing which one you are will improve your teaching. (As long you’re the right ‘one’ of course, if not then you’re just wasting everyone’s time.) Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to start bashing either side or try to stop the debate. I think people thinking stuff is fine. People passionately believing in something is great. Evidence based research is, not exactly a laugh a minute, but can be interesting. Putting across your beliefs with the kind of feverish zeal normally reserved for religious preachers on dodgy cable-tv channels can be mildly disturbing but is seldom damaging. Watching debates on Twitter escalate can be a marvellous way to spend the time whilst you’re waiting for your morning egg to poach.

I love it. I don’t care that much about the trad/prog debate but I enjoy reading about it and sometimes I learn stuff. Only today I read Get Kids Cultured by the only man in the 21st century who can make a toga look both sophisticated and seductive: Martin Robinson. It was a right good read. Not only did I learn what neo-progressivism means but I also learnt that neo-progressives are a bunch of cynical swines obsessed with global capitalisation. It was very interesting and made me feel quietly smug that I too, like Martin, value ‘great art, literature…the humanities…a continual dialogue, a great cultural education’. I know nothing else about the chap but these few hundred words of his made sense and represent what I have tried to promote during my teaching career.

The important word in that last sentence is ‘tried’. Sometimes it’s hard to pull it all off because, well, you know that earlier paragraph where every sentence started with ‘Forget the…’? It’s hard to deliver that richness in education because of all that stuff. All that stuff gets in the way sometimes. Sometimes what you face in the classroom has to be dealt with first. And this isn’t wishy-washy bleeding-heart liberal child-centred clap-trap. It’s the reality of being a teacher and working with small but complicated human beings.

I did a teeny-tiny twitter poll recently about what teachers thought about the whole prog/trad thing. 71% of those that responded said they didn’t know what it all meant and didn’t really care either. Since that poll it appears to have been discussed at length on twitter. Opinions were mixed. It was a very badly executed and puerile poll. The divisive nature of such a poll indicates how low some educators are prepared to go to sully professional debate. These 71% are a disgrace to the profession. The fact that these teachers are disengaged with the most important educational issue of our time could indicate that those talking about it must be very dull. Maybe it’s not that important after all. The fact that some people don’t think it’s important proves that it must be important. I could go on…but don’t worry, I won’t.

The most Didau of all the Davids, David Didau, referenced the poll in his recent blog The Great Education Debate saying that it was ‘fascinating’ (thank you, David) and that the outcome could indicate that if teachers ‘aren’t clear about what’s at stake then it’s perhaps no wonder that they’re not willing to ante up.’ He then makes four points about the subject that are very wise and logical. I agree with his sentiments that sometimes teachers disengage with this debate because it can become ‘boringly repetitive’ and ‘ill tempered’.

For me though, another reason why many teachers do not know/engage/care about the prog vs trad saga is that they are too busy with those complicated external factors that threaten to derail children’s learning. There are times, on Twitter, when I feel that these factors are brushed aside as an inconvenience. Dismissed as a symptom of the damage done by those uncaring traditionalists or pampering progressives. It is, of course, always someone else’s fault that children have problems (unless you are a spectacularly bad or unprofessional teacher) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t your job to try and help. That may mean that your preferred teaching approach needs to be suspended as you take the time to create an environment that enables these children to become receptive to your teaching. This is neither a traditionalist nor a progressive approach. It is simply responsible teaching and what most of us do daily. It is the reason, I suspect, that 71% don’t know about or care about the trad/prog debate. They are too busy reflecting in the moment and adapting as necessary to get the job done as best they can. They are also probably too knackered to think that deeply about their philosophical approach to teaching. That isn’t an appalling refusal to engage with educational debate, it’s work-life balance.

I hope those who do manage to find time to ponder the great philosophical quandaries of education continue to share their thoughts on blogs for others to read. I hope discussions continue on Twitter and that they remain animated without being offensive. I hope teachers will always feel able to try out new approaches and share what works and learn from what doesn’t. I also hope that the academic discussions on the merits and failings of traditionalism and progressivism know their place and don’t interfere with teachers’ professional freedoms in the real world. I also hope that Edu-Twitter doesn’t completely disappear up its own backside believing itself to be an executive authority rather than a minority of people thinking stuff. Well, I can hope, can’t I?

See you at the next Twitter poll.

Trolling Con

TROLLING CON

Welcome to the hippest convention of 2017. The UK’s first single-genre uni-platformed mass event for the introverted edu-nation. The event promises to see tens of edu-bloggers and tweeters gathering in the Shepton Mallet Scout hut to celebrate, and learn even more about, the distinguished art of trolling.

First up, we have a key-note delivered by a distinguished troll who will work the crowd into a frenzy by reading out a choice selection of their most tedious comments. We don’t want to give any spoilers but we’re pretty sure we’ll see some old favourites such as:

@******* thinks what I do is wrong.

Replying to @******* Um, yes you do!

Replying to @******* you implied it by stating the opposite.

Replying to @******* I’m not being abusive, this is how a debate works.

Replying to @******* find me a tweet where I said that.

Replying to @******* that’s not what I meant.

Replying to @******* you clearly don’t understand.

Replying to @******* you’ve proved my point. Goodbye.

Once inside the hut, fans will get the chance to visit all our trolling guests who will be hanging around the place waiting to have their pictures taken with you. Why not ask them to send you a trolling tweet?

Regular insult: £5

Example: You’re clearly nothing more than a left-wing progressive.

Special insult: £10

Example: You’re clearly nothing more than right-wing alt-trad monster.

Sub-tweet £25

Example: So apparently, the person that just paid me for a sub-tweet thinks accepting money to be unpleasant is morally reprehensible. They didn’t mind paying for it though, did they? What a hypocrite.

The main event, of course, is our ‘battle of the trolls’. Gather around your own phone screen and watch a plethora of online arguments begin. Each conversation, sorry, ‘trollersation’ will begin with a seemingly innocent link to a moderate education blog, but will quickly descend into flurry of tedious online abuse. You will be amazed by how long these things can go on for. You will be flabbergasted by the lengths our trolls will go to in order to win. Expect to see a range of out-of-context tweets, from as far back as 2007, being used to make apparently relevant points. Only the dull will survive.

For those who paid for our advanced ticket, you will be able to tune into Troll FM where some our distinguished guests will be providing a commentary to the online trollification. Hear their uninteresting views about why the comments from their friends do not count as abuse. Listen to their analysis about why they are right and how any other viewpoint should be considered as a passive-aggressive attack on them.

The convention will end with the medal ceremony where our most successful trolls of the day will be bestowed with the honour of becoming blocked. Each winner will have their username taken away from them and be given a new duller twitter handle accompanied by an egg profile pic.

But it doesn’t end there….

The after-party is where it really heats up. Follow the hashtag and expose yourself to the truly explicit and hate-fuelled bile that is online trolling. Get caught up in the moment and maybe even dip your own toe into the cesspool. See how much happier you feel when you trade genuine discussion for insults, social graces for pathetic one-upmanship, your real-life sense of worth for online status. Enjoy the dizzying highs that can only be achieved by hounding people for longer than is necessary as you degrade your own professional currency with a trumped up artificial sense of superiority. Take pleasure in the self-perpetuating myth that you are the only one who isn’t afraid to tell the truth. Convince yourself that what you are saying matters.

So, what are you waiting for…get trolling!*

 

*Obviously, don’t. You idiot.