Posts Tagged ‘bullying’

Education: Crap for Teachers and for Students Too. Part 2.

March 5, 2017

Education: Crap for Teachers and for Students Too. Part 2.

And so to part 2 – the crapiness of an education system that suits no-one at all, let alone the poor clients – the students. Think about that for a minute – if we were to adopt a business style of model and had to sell education to students how do you think that would work? Would the client – the student – buy what is on offer today? No, they would not. And perhaps that is a good place to start.

What student would choose to be tested from the moment they arrive at school? What child would choose to sit still all day long having a range of information shoved into them that they struggle to connect to? What child would choose to be measured against others and told repeatedly that they are failing in one way or another from the age of 5 to 18? What student would choose to have no choice about the way they learn or the subjects they want to take on their way to a meaningful career? What child would choose to sit in a room of 30+ other students experiencing a one size fits all education, that doesn’t cater to their needs or interests? What child wants to be invisible in that class of 30? What child wants to put up with the poor behaviour of others who don’t want to learn, who are never consequenced enough by the school system to make them behave? What child wants to spend a year with a teacher they don’t like or respect?

Pal's pals@GCSE

The answer is too obvious. No-one does. Yet this is what education is about for too many students. Too many of them are not getting a fair go in our schools. This is not a surprise to teachers, they, as mentioned last week, have their own suffering to endure, but that does not mean that they are ignorant or unsympathetic to the plights of many of their students – except the ones without pens!!

Most of us know what a good education looks like. Most of know that what is currently on offer is not even close. Students know this too. They know what a good teacher is, what they like about learning, what they don’t like and they are all too aware that what they get too much of the time is not what it could be. They also know, because they are not fools, that most teachers (yes, stress on the most) are doing their best and care about them.

And no, I am not going to talk about those teachers who don’t give a shit who should have been axed years ago, or never come into the profession in the first place. Shit teachers are not identified purely by age.

 

So, let’s to a few specifics of how the current government sector (especially but not exclusively) is failing young people:

 

1.Relevance of the curriculum – a good education should prepare a young person for the world – as a worker and a citizen. It should offer them opportunities to succeed, to take risks, to learn about things that are relevant to their world and then take them beyond that. The challenge is to mix the classics and basics of learning and the constancy of the new. It is difficult, especially in our changing world. Who’s to know what bit of learning occurring today will be relevant when they end up out the other end of compulsory education? So, relevance is tricky. But it is clear that some sectors of education, some subjects, are not being as relevant as they could. Take my subject – take English. We could be doing so much with how the media presents itself, how language is being mangled and manipulated, or reading some very fine modern relevant literature. But what are we doing aside from his royal dead-white-male-Godness Shakespeare, who will be done in perpetuity, even as the final flames of destruction engulf the earth? We are doing 19th century literature, specifically Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, mainly in truth because it is short and like its predecessor on the Literature curriculum, Of Mice and Men (that evil American text) can be read in class if need be, and with many students across this land, who won’t read on their own, it needs to be. J&H is a misogynistic tale of self important/self indulgent privileged white men who think they can play God, where women barely rate a mention. Where’s the relevance in that for your average English child? Oh, no, stupid me – totally relevant after all!!!

 

2.Relentless change – how many times can you change a curriculum? How many times must successive groups of students be the latest victims of the whims of a politician? This current debacle of 100% external exams is unfair and will achieve nothing – only hurt schools and students. Several years ago when shifting the goal posts of assessment became the main game, I had a group of bright and able GCSE students who completed the 20% Speaking and Listening assessment in year 10. But by the time they had got to year 11 the 20% had been abolished and added to the exams and now their assessment was 60% exam and 40% course-work. All their brilliant speeches no longer counted. How is that fair? Just as the year my daughter and her mates had the grade boundaries shifted from the January to June series and made harder for those not doing early entry. How is that fair? How can schools predict accurately and how can students have faith in their teachers or the system when the shifts occur arbitrarily and within an academic year? Certainly my current year 11s who are the latest victim of unjustified change (to 100% exam assessment) are bewildered by this and do see it as terribly unfair.

 

3.Excessive examinations – as they start school, throughout primary, as they end primary school; throughout secondary on their way to GCSE’s, where students can have up to 10 subjects many of which have multiple exams and then onto A levels. Every stage an exam. Every stage a life ending exam. How can students be assessed so often and not feel pressure and anxiety in the run up, and like failures afterwards? The pressure is intense. Students are told repeatedly how this particular set of exams will determine their future, that it is the most important thing in the world. Really, every exam they do is the end of the world? Of course it’s not but the system is designed to make them think so, to make everything a ridiculously big deal. No wonder many of them opt out, or find other dangerous ways to cope. Why would you want to be told repeatedly that you are a failure?

 

4.Teacher turn-over and inexperience – last week’s blog was about the recruitment crisis in education and no-one knows about it better than the students. In some subjects – usually Science and Maths from my 10 years here, but English too – have an extraordinary high turn over: just like a revolving door. The difficulty to attract and keep science graduates is also well known, what is lesser known is the impact that has on students. Consistency matters to them. They want quality and care in their teachers but a very close second to that pair is consistency. A teacher who is there for the year, or even the entire time they are at school. For many young people school is the only stable part of their life and knowing the same teachers will be there matters a great deal. Clearly teacher turn over affects their learning and equally teachers with limited experience also have detrimental effects on students, in terms of their confidence and progress. But when an experienced teacher leaves they are invariably replaced by inexperience. Some students have years of change and inconsistency and we wonder why they turn off….

 

5.Lack of responsibility – Students are not held as accountable as they should be. I realize this point seems to run counter to the last one but there is an issue here. Students fail, sometimes it isn’t their fault – and as said the system is too geared around progress and targets, not learning – but at the end of the day teachers carry the can. And some students in their naïve ignorance think that’s a good thing. If they don’t work then they will fail and the teacher will suffer. But of course in the long term the student does. They fail to reach their target and go onto the course of their choice, or a job, etc. In the end the student fails. They haven’t taken or been given the necessary responsibility along the way, they haven’t learnt through their failures in a safe environment and are in terrible danger of making terrible mistakes that will make a terrible difference to their lives. Responsibility is important, we want responsible citizens, we want resilient citizens and the current system where teachers are always expected to do more does not bode well for robust young people able to take appropriate responsibility for what they do and what they say. Does the world owe them a living? Will someone make excuses for them all their lives? The current school system is telling them it will. This is the origin of the snowflake generation and it does nobody any good.

 

6.Lack of awareness of your average teenage beast – this relentless pressure on exams, homework, targets and progress does a brilliant job of ignoring the life of your average teenager. They aren’t consumed by a passion for learning, they do not want to spend every waking hour thinking about their future, about how to make progress in each and every lesson. They care, to an extent, about education but it is not the centre of their lives and the educational powers that be are fools to think that it is – yet their policies and systems behave as if it is. Young people need a life – they need to play if they are young, be with their friends, be outside, play sport, relax, socialize, be with their families. They are entitled to their own lives, not one consumed by school. Really, why do we pretend that school is all there is to their lives?

 

6b.Lack of awareness of your average teenage beast and the dark side – yes life is radically different for young people these days. Bullying has not gone away but as well as stalking the school corridors it now hides in the dark of their rooms. No parent alive now can be under any illusions about how traumatic a place the on-line world can be. Bullies, sexting, harassment, gangs and Youtube videos: all sorts of nastiness is there preying on teenagers. And as they carry the world in their pocket so they can be monstered every hour of every day and you, as parent, as teacher, may never know – might not know until it is too late. Not to mention the lives of those for whom getting to school in itself is an achievement. Where does homework, or meeting a target or passing an exam rate alongside actually staying alive, of coping with the neglect or abuse that happens at home?

6c.Lack of awareness of your average teenage beast and the growth of mental health issues – self harming and depression are on the rise. As is teenage suicide. Students are under more pressure than ever to achieve, conform and belong. Social media has not helped young people, it has made their world more competitive and threatening. Schools are not equipped for the many students with mental health issues, counseling can be difficult to get and in the meantime many of them drift along in haze of hopelessness, believing there is nothing good or worthwhile about them or their lives. We make a mistake if we think their lives are like ours were – yes we had all sorts of problems but the dangers were easier to spot and the world was kinder and less mad. Today, in an uncertain world young people are angry, frightened and powerless. Not all of them see a bright future.

 

7.Not letting them think – this is the serious and present danger of our education system. Gove’s emphasis on facts and exams means things like thinking and exploring and taking risks are verboten. We don’t want creative subjects, Gove says, because they’re soft, they can’t be properly measured. But the creative arts and English as it used to be before the exam Nazis took over, are what create a thinking, moral, questioning society: subjects that foster curious minds and bright futures for all of us. But, hey we don’t want that in the government systems because we’re too busy teaching a load of nonsense in exams that advance not knowledge or the person or anything. (Note: all subjects allow for thinking and problem solving, I know…)

 

8.One size fits all – despite all the emphasis on differentiation, on planning for differences, in support staff to help a range of students, the reality is they all have to sit the same exams and they are all taught like cattle. Our system still looks to the days when teachers had class sizes of 40 and coped. Well the behaviour was under control and those who failed wore the consequences – namely they were held back, or dropped out because their learning needs were not diagnosed or considered. You sank or swam in the old days on your own. And sadly, to an extent you still do. We all sit in this room because we are the same age and supposedly at the same stage of learning. Even though we know we’re not. And so it goes that many children get lost. They have to be assessed in the same way, regardless of where they are developmentally, of their ability or needs. Never mind that so many children (grown adults actually) can’t cope in exams, that they cannot perform to their best – no they shall all be assessed in the same way. Our friend Mr Gove, and Nick Gibbs seems to be joining in now too, calling that rigor. Most of us call it idiotic. But what do we know, we’re only teachers, and they are only children who have no say at all.

 

So, the next time you feel contempt or disdain for a plugged in teen in a hoodie or wearing a skirt that’s too tight and too short beneath a face trowelled in make up, step back and feel some compassion. For a great deal of our young people school is anything but the best days of their lives. Essentially a succession of politicians and bureaucrats has made it that way and they need to hang their heads in shame. (Image from Private Collection)

 

 

Un-plug: Be still

September 24, 2016

Unplug: Be Still

I think I must becoming old – I find the relentlessness of watching people being plugged in to things all day long quite baffling. I’m as fond of FB and internet chatting of all sorts of persuasions as anyone but surely you need more down time than most modern people seem to have these days?

There are numerous studies about screen time re-wiring young people’s brains: that attention spans are ever diminishing; that the ability to concentrate for extended times is being eroded. And of course every second month someone bemoans the lack of reading by the young especially (that would be me!!).

There are the dangers of fire, the threat of cancer to long term mobile phone users, there is the damage to standard written English through text speak and the growing inability for people to connect face to face. Why have a sustained conversation with anyone when you can look at something inane on your phone or check a message from someone else? People are losing the art of conversation; young people have almost no idea how to listen respectfully and take turns, not shut people down or shout louder. You can now be connected to your work-place 24/7 so you don’t get the opportunity to walk away every evening, or have a weekend. Work is now always with you. Is that a bonus or a blight?

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People rely on their phones almost it seems to the exclusion of all else. Or a tablet, or a PC or a games console. Yes the mobile phone has been on an extra-ordinary journey and it does an amazing amount of things – we’ve all seen the memes showing all the different items that are now amalgamated into one smart-phone.

But what I wonder about, what I worry about, is how do so many people – the young – turn off their brains. How do they know how to be still, how to be alone and quiet…

At the end of a phone or a laptop or computer we are always a tap and a click away from connection – a message, a like, an emoticon of approval. But how useful to our ability to just ‘be’ is it all?

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Stillness, doing nothing, boredom even, allows your brain to roam, to think, consider; ponder things all on its own. It doesn’t need reference to other people, information or the plethora of mis-information out there. People need space to do nothing, time to recharge their own batteries; time to calm themselves down.

I worry for our future artists and writers. If you are eternally plugged into other people and nonsense how can you dream, how can you imagine other worlds, other realities and want to explore them? How can you watch people and soak up the madness of the real world and write about it if you never pay attention to it? How can you question things if you don’t have the space to think about matters?

be-still-art

I worry for our young people in a world of increased pressure, exams, appearance; being monstered in the ‘sanctity’ of their bedrooms by friends and by casual strangers who thinks it’s fun to trash some naïve girl’s selfie in a bikini, or that it’s somehow okay to text naked pictures of your girlfriend to the universe. Young people are increasingly anxious, increasingly depressed – perhaps all this connection is playing a significant part?

Being plugged in gives a sense of connection, of belonging. It also brings bullying and trolling. The internet is both wonderful and terrible, in all its manifestations. It has become a central part of our lives. I do not wish it gone: I love it too. But it has become a monster that has over-taken too much of our lives. It is possible to step outside the house without your phone. You can walk your baby without being on the phone. You can sit on the bus and just stare aimlessly out the window, letting your mind roam.

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Take the time to un-plug your connections. Move away from the screen (after you’ve read this) and be still. Talk face-to-face, go for a walk without anything electronic in your pocket. Gaze at the world again and see its wonder and beauty. Be in this moment and not worried about what is happening somewhere else. The message will still be there when you turn on again, the world will not have stopped turning just because you were un-plugged.

Go on, un-plug, let yourself be still, even if only for half an hour. I’m sure you’ll feel better for it. (Images from Private Collection)

The Fish Rots From the Head

October 4, 2014

The saying goes that the fish rots from the head. Now, even though I’ve been a fishing girl all my life I cannot attest to the veracity of this statement but I like it and it has a certain ring of truth. It makes sense that the rot would set in from the head, given the brain and eyes and liquidy, mushy things reside there. I’m sure we rot from the head too, given the right circumstances.

But if we take the saying metaphorically, which is how it is meant most of the time, we can see the truth of the matter. Most organizations don’t fall apart from the bottom. No, businesses, companies and countries founder on the decisions and errors of those at the top, those with the big salaries, the big responsibilities, who are supposedly paid these astronomical figures to not fall apart.

When the banks went bust a few years ago, it wasn’t because of the tellers, or even your personal manager at the Commonwealth or Barclays. It was the traders, the CEO’s, the guys who deal in numbers not people, who earn ridiculous salaries for playing all day with other people’s money. Yes, a few got sacked, but we all know their bonuses are as robust as ever, while we, the innocent pay for their excesses with this endless English Narnia winter of austerity. When Greece and Ireland went bust a few years ago it wasn’t because of the normal taxpaying worker. No it was greedy governments, corrupt businessmen, grasping corporations. And now people can’t pay their bills or feed their families.

This unpleasant truth can also be applied to families. We learn everything first from the home. We learn how to behave, how to treat others, how to learn, how to take responsibility for ourselves. You name it, it all starts at home. And if the head of the family – the parents – are useless, absent, negligent, abusive, casual, unloving, uncaring (you get the picture), you can hardly blame the poor children for not knowing what’s what. A family is a little business, a little company all of its own making and parents shouldn’t even begin to start their own ‘company’ if they’re not going to ensure they do the job properly, with some integrity and consistency.

My good friend, Sir Michael Wilshaw has also noted that schools rot from the head. He’s on the record about the importance of good leadership, of good governance, of accountability and holding head-teachers to account more rigorously.

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But what is good, effective leadership? There are tomes out there about it, the qualities you need: there are endless training courses to become an effective leader. Education has its own special training for aspiring leaders – Future Leaders. But I will not dwell there, not even for a nano-second.

Based on a meager 30 years in Education at a mere 11 schools across the planet, this is what I think good educational leadership looks like.

1.Vision – personal, true and realizable, that people understand and go with

2.Energy – drive and passion about education and children – that inspires others

3.Intellect – a clear understanding about what education is, how it works and what is needed to make it work

4.Integrity – personal integrity, and for the organization – follow the maxim that if you can’t tell your partner about what you did today then perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it

5.People skills – a clear ability to understand your staff, what they need, how to support them and take them with you – not in a matey over-familiar way but in a ‘we’re in this together, making it better together’ authentic way. Key to this is the ability to listen to your staff and students – to accept their views, giving them serious consideration, after all the school does not belong to the head-teacher alone

6.Courage – to do what is right, to stand up to external forces of darkness and do the right thing by the students, the staff and the parents of the school

 

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Whereas this is crap leadership

1.Bullying and intimidation – despite schools supposedly being ‘bully free zones’

2.Telling people what to do – are we all in the army now?

3.Changing procedures and requirements all the time – never giving anything time to bed in, be reviewed or improved or allowing the TIME for things

4.Not listening to anyone, because as you’re HT, you know it all – especially not allowing staff meetings where matters are discussed

5.Not understanding that education is a human endeavour – it’s about people not numbers and data, and teachers aren’t machines, nor are students

6.Constantly monitoring everything teachers do – because clearly having a university education means we are incapable of thinking for ourselves or doing our job if someone isn’t there to make sure we are!

This is the cascading shit model of leadership, shit decisions made at the top, cascaded down to the minions at the bottom who simply have to do, not question, no matter how non-sensical or counter-productive, who end up in shit up to their knees, because they can’t shovel it away quickly enough before the next wave comes down. This is the epitome of crap leadership, and a lot of it’s to do with fear, fear of the masses, who might actually know something, so at all costs they cannot be allowed to speak or question. Just do.

The sad fact, as observed by Douglas Adams amongst others, is that all too often the exact people who shouldn’t be in leadership positions are often the ones who are! Think about your average psychotic leader – Hitler, Idi Amin, Vladimir Putin, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Abbot, etc and I think you get my drift.

Perhaps we need more dolphins in charge – thoughtful, intelligent, sociable creatures? But didn’t they leave the planet just before the Vogons struck… (Images courtesy Private Collection)

Bullying – a lifetime calling

October 13, 2012

We like to think that bullies from school somehow got their just rewards, that somewhere someone bigger and nastier than them got them back. And you were karmically rewarded for your own suffering. But, sadly just as bitchy girls grow into bitchy women, so schoolyard bullies grow into workplace thugs. It may be subtler and harder to pin down, but bullying in the adult world is endemic.

I find this terribly sad. I was one of those bullied as a child. I was never sure why. It was girls much, much older than me who seemed to find it amusing as tough grade sixers to monster a child in grade two. It must have made them feel wonderful. There was a girl in my class (grade 2 still – must have been a great year) who played the more devastating bullying games of you are my friend, you aren’t, you can come to my party, you can’t. Essentially she was a bitch and one of my happiest days was when she left school at the end of that year – off to torment someone else, somewhere else.

For years then I was free of torment, had friends, got on with my life, went to uni, got married, had kids, made a life. But now I find myself in a work-place where bullying is endemic. It is part of the culture it seems. Is it because that’s part of the culture in this country?

It is, of course ironic, because, as well you know I work in a school, where we’re meant to protect the kiddies from such nastiness, where we have anti-bullying policies but where bullying of the staff is a daily occurrence.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked with bullies in the past and dealt with too many students who are failed by school anti-bullying policies. When faced with bullying most schools fail to deal with it adequately. At my last school students were clear that bullying happened and no-one on the vast pastoral team had any real idea it was going on or dealt with it effectively.

It seems to me that bullying is one of those things we know we’re meant to abhor and need policies for but very few of us know how to deal with it effectively, either when we know others are being bullied – our own children, students in our care, friends  – or ourselves.

Part of the issue as an adult is the shock that you are actually being bullied, that you’ve somehow let someone do that to you. It offends your decency, your professionalism, your sense of self-worth. It’s often a sneaky thing, a subtle undermining of your value, your ability to do your job. You’re set deadlines that you can’t meet, not because you’re inefficient but because the deadlines are unreasonable. You’re set a task but not told the parameters of the task, yet if you ask you’re considered incompetent: how can you not know how to do that? You’re signaled out for an offence and ‘dealt with’ while others who commit the same crime are let go. You’re called to a meeting with an hour’s notice and an agenda as long as your arm. How can you be prepared? You are expected to perform in a particular way but nobody else is and if you are found wanting you are called into the office. You may even be disciplined.

Bullying at work is designed to under-mine you, shake your confidence, isolate you, lessen your performance so you can be legitimately sacked, or end up succumbing to illness from the stress of dealing with the on-going bullying.

Bullying at work is carried out by your superiors; someone with power. Think Devil wears Prada. Sometimes by people who are threatened by you: who find something about you, personally, or your performance, unsettling. Are you too good, too qualified, too experienced, do you show them up in some way; are your methods or philosophy not in accord with theirs?

Yes, your work-place may have a swag of lovely anti-bullying policies (ours is Dignity at Work) but try getting one to stand up. Try complaining about your bullying Line Manager. Doubtless they’ll be protected when you complain because the organization itself will be incapable of recognizing the problem and manifestly incapable of dealing with it. Or, even better, they didn’t realize what they were doing, just a misunderstanding, really and truly.

I think the truth of bullies being deeply insecure people holds but it matters not that they may need help themselves, they cause an enormous amount of damage in protecting themselves. Careers and lives are ruined by bullies.

Bullies are everywhere. They run large businesses, banks, governments; they work in entertainment, they manage schools. If you think Jimmy Savile wasn’t a bully you are severely deluded. There was a man with a nasty dark secret to hide and he used his position to abuse and bully young girls and then anyone who stood in his way.

What do you do if you’re bullied at work? Leave. The evidence shows that people who lodge grievances or complain about their bosses never win. Invariably they are bullied even more, forced out of their position, no matter their worth or ability.

What you should do (but you’d probably get sacked) is follow the advice some parents give their children. Hit back: hard, fast and nasty. Some people are never bullied, they’re the scary, mad ones in the corner: the beserk warriors from Norse legends.

Find a bit of the beserk in you – hit back, find the weak point of your bullier, and go for it. Stop worrying about being liked, being the good guy; stand up hard and strong for yourself and your colleagues. At the end of the day bullies are only bullies because we let them be. (Images courtesy Google Images)

Tough Talk on Teachers

January 14, 2012

Omigod, Michael Gove is now getting tough on bad teachers. Are we surprised, dear reader? Not a bit. Of course he was going to this place, of course he has to have a more direct swipe at the teaching profession. Not enough to change and review all and sundry, now we must, simply must, address the on-going problem of bad teachers.

At this point let me refer you to my blog 9 Thoughts about why Education is not as it should be, especially point 1 – ‘every new minister of education thinks they have the answer’. So Gove is doing just that. He is the master: he has the answers.

We’ve been down this road before. If only head-teachers had the power to get rid of bad teachers then everything would be fine. Well, here’s the thing – they do have that power. But most of the time they’re too casual, too lazy to follow the processes fairly to get the result they want. Most teachers in this country are bullied out of the profession, not processed out. The stress and strain of constant observations, meetings, paper-work, poorly performing and badly behaved students does take its toll.

And actually what is more important, and this is what Gove needs to understand, is that it is this process that does a great deal of damage to students’ education. Teachers go sick. Relief teachers come in, some-one sets cover – is it relevant, is it okay? But even if it is good work the students are unlikely to co-operate. Even the best kids are notoriously poorly behaved for relief teachers. They think they’re having fun, giving the teacher (or succession of teachers) a hard time, but we know (as they do, really) that the only people being damaged are themselves.

Kids need many things in schools to be successful and make progress. Good teaching is certainly one of the main planks. But consistency in teachers is another central tenant. Let me say it again, students need consistency. They need someone they know, trust and will work for. Inner-city kids are more needy: they don’t have much consistency in their lives – school is about it. Teachers are some of the few adults they can trust and rely on. Even poorly performing ones, Mr Gove.

Gove’s bag of tricks say to the profession – we don’t trust you. You need to be monitored, assessed, graded and some of you need to be sacked as quickly as possible. He also assumes that Head-teachers know enough to identify bad teachers and are professional enough not to target or bully a member of their staff simply because they can. This just isn’t true – they are many inexperienced and inept Head-teachers who do bully people out of their school and out of the profession.

As I said – processes are already in place: they simply need to be followed, carefully and properly. And, here’s a thought, if there are so few bad teachers, why the need for this indecent haste, surely a good head-teacher will want to remove bad teachers in a way that is both fair and seen to be fair? The principles of Natural Justice, surely need to apply here?

This simply  grand-standing  from Gove – “look at me, I’m tough on bad teachers”. What about bad bankers – you know, the ones who bankrupt the country? What about bad doctors who remove the wrong organ and kill people? What about corrupt policemen, who are in cahoots with the media? What about politicians who fiddle their expenses and cost the tax-payer thousands? What about all those ‘bad’ people? I think we might mount an argument that they do far more damage than a handful of bad teachers. Are we lacking some perspective here?

Why are teachers singled out for so much vitriol? Why is the profession under such constant attack? The truth is teaching in this country is seriously hard work. Read the TES subject forums, where teachers post candidly about what they do – not just in preparation for Ofsted but as part of their normal business. No other part of the community spends all day in a room with 20-30 young people – being responsible for their behaviour, their learning, their socialisation: dealing with their aggression, their ignorance, their resistance to anything that will improve their lives. Would you do it?

Here’s a suggestion, Mr Gove – sack the bad teachers, the inept head-teachers, turn every school that struggles into an Academy, but pay good teachers what they are worth. If Education is so important to the future of this country then good teachers should be paid in accordance. Surely a good teacher is worth more to the country than a footballer?

 

To Complain or Not – What to do when your child is suffering at school

November 20, 2011

In the best of all possible worlds parents need only be in touch with their child’s school for the good things, concerts, assemblies, reports and newsletters. But what happens when something goes wrong, when there is a problem: when do you need to complain to the school?

Children suffer at school. They are bullied, they do have useless teachers from time to time. They endure it all, in some faint belief that it will make them better people, that this is part of the covert curriculum of school – all the things you learn while pretending to learn about Shakespeare, glaciers and Pythagoras.

Distressed parents need particular handling and many schools haven’t the first clue how to deal with them.  Children don’t want their parents involved as they know the problem can’t be fixed and in fact, their life will be made worse by their parents’ interference. The bullying rarely stops and the teacher who has been complained about will likely become more unpleasant and mark the work less fairly.

The reality is that most parents will not contact the school. Why is this? It’s because the school rarely does anything to solve the problem and improve the situation. Remember Matilda – ‘I’m big, you’re small; I’m right, you’re wrong’? Schools are somewhat the same – ‘we’re the school, you’re not; we’re right, you’re not.’

Before you contact the school look at what you can do to help your child. Their fears about retribution from the bully or the teacher are real. The last thing you want to do is make their life worse. It’s your job to help your child cope with these problems – contacting the school is the final straw.

 

Bullying takes many forms, it is insidious, corrosive and the impact on your child can be far reaching. Your child will be reluctant to tell you it’s happening, for many reason, including embarrassment, guilt and fear. They can’t defend themselves and are fearful that if you get involved things will get worse. What can you do?

1. Try to get them involved in things outside school such as sports teams, clubs, music, etc so they have friends and interests other than school. This helps with their self confidence.

2. Encourage them to be in ‘safe places’ at lunchtime, eg go to the library or the computer rooms – somewhere where there are teachers and other lonely souls.

3. Ensure they are safe going to and from school (this is often a time for bullying – away from teachers and home). Either take them yourself or have them team up with others. Bullies aren’t so good with groups.

4. The classroom is trickier. Have your child speak to the teacher about where they sit. Make sure your child can sit away from the bully(ies) – near the teacher is best, either right up the front or at the back of the room with the bullies at the front.

5. Teach your child some self-defence. Send them to karate or judo classes. It will help with confidence even if they never use it.

6. If the bullying is serious and on-going you must contact the school, even if your child doesn’t want you to. Hopefully there is a sympathetic teacher – usually your child’s form teacher or the Head of Year – who can help your child. If they are an aware teacher they will already know of the problem and be taking steps to help your child.

7. If all this fails, even contacting the school fails, then you need to remove your child from the school – their safety and emotional well being must be paramount.

 

Academic progress can be a thorny issue. What happens when your child has a less than competent teacher? Sometimes it simply doesn’t matter – because of the subject, the year level, your child’s ability in that subject. But when things get serious – GCSE’s A levels, HSC – then your child must be well taught by teachers who know what they’re doingWhat can you do to help your child?

1.Ensure your child has all the right equipment – eg, textbooks, study guides (all available in high street bookshops and on-line), on-line accounts for various subjects.

2. Ensure your child does their homework when it’s set. Ensure they have a quiet dedicated place to study. Music can be fine but working with the internet on – unless its to do MyMaths or SAM Learning, research, etc – can be a major distraction

3. If you have the expertise then help your child with their study. There’s no point being an expert in an area if you can’t help your child. I’ve been correcting my children’s essays and stories for years. My husband helps them with their Maths – it’s the only way our baby girl got a B in her recent GCSE Maths unit exam. This is good love, supportive caring parenting. I even correct my daughter’s friends’ course-work!

4. Get a tutor, or enrol in Kumon classes or similar. Many students benefit from an extra couple of hours a week on top of their schooling to ensure they really understand the work. Tutoring is excellent for students struggling with a subject and with those after A* and perfect scores. It can be money very well spent. You do not need permission from the school to have your child tutored. But you must ensure that the tutor is not doing your child’s work for them – then you are cheating and not supporting your child to learn. Also ensure the tutor knows what they are doing – check their credentials carefully!

5. Visit the various exam board and subject sites on the internet, ensure you are up to speed with the various subject requirements.

6. Parent evenings are your chance to challenge the teacher, to ensure your child is being well taught and fairly assessed. If you have any unresolved issues then proceed up the chain – Head of Department, Curriculum Deputy, Principal. You do have a right to ensure your child is well taught.

 

Supporting your child at school can be challenging. It’s not so hard at primary level where there’s just the one teacher to work with but secondary can be a mine-field. Some schools are not good at dealing with assertive, knowledgeable parents. They are not used to being challenged and may revert to bullying tactics. My daughter was told by her principal that parents were not allowed to help their children! This is an Ofsted rated Outstanding school, who needless to say, did not take well to us complaining about an academic matter.

But your duty as a parent is clear, you must be supportive. Do all you can yourself before involving the school but if you have to contact the school be prepared to fight for your child, remember you are the one who loves them best.