Crime and punishment

Now that the riots of earlier in the week seem to have fizzled out there has been endless talk about what now. Most of this rhetoric has been about who to blame and how to punish the offenders. Callers to radio talk shows are keen to string em all up or at least ship em out to Afghanistan with nothing but their hoodies and stolen trainers.

The prime minister has declared it to be the fault of the police and the police blame cuts. Parents have come under fire for not being able to discipline their little darlings and the rest of us tut about society break down and the youth of today.

In today’s Guardian G2 Alexander Chancellor declares that teachers should shoulder the responsibility and that parents should, ‘somehow be coerced into siding with schools.’ Good luck with that and don’t forget to tune into Thursday evening’s #ukedchat on Twitter to see what real teachers think.

My local Co-op. Business as usual.

So who is to blame? I think we all need to take some responsibility here. Much as I’d like to blame everything on the government (and believe my teeth are gritted as I write that sentence ), as I wrote in my previous post before everything had really kicked off across the country, many factors have come into play. We all need to take responsibility be we parents, educators, politicians or ordinary folk about our daily business.

I also think we need to think carefully about the punishments the guilty receive. Custodial punishment needs to coupled with proper rehabilitation and restorative justice. Lock em up and throw away the key is really not going to work in the long run. I’d like to see those involved in looting working activitely. This might be cleaning up, working at the youth centre, shopping for old folk or digging flower beds. I’d also like to see them listening to those affected by what‘s happened. I think there is a view that stealing is a victimless crime but it’s important to understand how many lives have been turned upside down as people have lost their hard-won business (and all business that are still standing after the recession are hard-won) or their homes. I’d like to see looters listening to old folk who are scared to go out of their homes, families that are moving out of their homes because their afraid for their own safety and business owners and workers who are now unemployed and struggling. I’d also like to see the looters and arsonists come face to face with the guy who watched his family furniture shop that had stuff for five generations first burn and then be demolished. 

So let’s stop pointing the finger at each other and accept responsibility. It’s up to all of us to make sure this doesn’t happen again.  Are you listening Mr. Cameron?

 

 

 

What do we want? Pensions! When do we want them? Before we’re too old to enjoy them.

When I was a little girl and went to play at my friend’s house we would bandage her teddies and give them pretend medicine but when it was her turn to visit me, we would line up our toys and pretended to be teachers. Many years later she grew up to be a doctor and I grew up to be… well I think you can guess.

When I was that little girl I didn’t think about pensions or the public sector I just wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. And even when I went to university, in between lots of practice snogging boys and drinking too much alcohol, I worked hard to learn my profession. I can’t remember rubbing my hands together in glee and planning to work in the public sector because of the pensions or because it was an easy option. Nascently political, I wanted to teach in state schools so I did.

But teacher pensions are a perk in a job where you get yelled at by parents on a daily basis, abused occasionally by the kids you try to teach and slagged off regularly by the media and politicians. So I’m behind the strikes on Thursday. Michael Gove has already got his knickers in a twist at the thought of striking and calling it a ‘massive inconvenience.’ It will be, especially to some working parents who, as Guardian journalist Suzanne Moore points out, use schools as a child-minding service. It’s frustrating and annoying when train drivers or airport staff go on strike but it’s a last resort and it lets the world know how fed up people are.

The ATL (Association of Teachers and lecturers) is striking for the first time in its 127 year history.

Gove (circled) on strike: teachers will lose respect of they strike .

Perhaps you should start listening to the teachers, Mr Gove. Because of course you’d never go on strike yourself, would you?

For more on this debate read the excellent page in The Guardian. I appear at 1.40pm.

That’s Life! The government appoints charity to sexual health advisory group

The trouble with health education and dealing with issues like sex, drugs and alcohol is that many people have very fixed ideas about what children and young people should learn. Add to this the fact that teachers are often anxious and unsure of how and what to teach and parents are anxious about their children are learning and we have a very shaky situation. When the phone rings and someone offers to come and teach about sex or drugs to students, many head teachers and teachers breathe a sigh of relief and quickly book them in.

But how many schools take the time (or indeed have the time) to do a little research on these groups? A quick google is usually all it takes to find out what you need to know. There are some excellent groups out there teaching SRE and drug and alcohol education but there are an awful lot of charlatans too and my worry is that more and more of these charlatans will find their way into schools because local authority staff are not there to advise them.

I used to get regular phonecalls from schools asking me about groups that had contacted them. Part of my job was the check these people out. I’d observe lessons, check lesson plans and watch theatre groups in action to see if what they were offering was in line with good practice. I’d tell schools to ask for detailed lesson plans and references before booking. Anyone with good track record will be happy to offer these.

A good example of this is Narcanon. A quick search on the internet will tell you that they’re Scientologists and offer lessons based on L Ron Hubbard’s teachings. Now they don’t call up and say, ‘Hi! We’re the Scientologists and we’d like to give your students some spurious Science about drugs.’ If you’ve done your research and believe that they are a group who should be speaking to your pupils then, fine, invite them in. but make sure the parents know what their children are learning and from whom.

Another group who offer talks to schools are Life. This pro-life charity will come and talk to your children about how a baby grows (primary) and about abortion and assisted reproduction (secondary)and to be fair to Life, they offer clear, detailed lesson plans and are a hit with many schools, including faith schools. I advise schools again to do their research carefully and make an informed decision while informing parents of exactly who is talking to their children as part of a well-planned programme of SRE that addresses the needs of all children. The fact remains, however, that Life is a group with an agenda and a point to get across. 

It was interesting to see then that Life has been given membership of the government’s sexual health forum while the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has been given its marching orders.

Abortion issues have always been a hot political potato in the US but in the UK we’ve usually taken the pro-choice stance. It seems now that the coalition government is looking west for all things sexual health. If I was an MP I’d be looking towards countries where teenage pregnancy, STIs and were lower than ours and find out what they were doing right. Our American cousins do many things well but sexual health? Not so much. What next? Looking to see how the US addresses childhood obesity and demanding that chips and turkey twizzlers are brought back into schools?

BD (before Dorries) I’d have been horrified by this latest move but now? I’m feeling jaded, fed up and more than a little depressed. Those of us who are passionate about children’s health are not all leftie lunatics; we do what we do because we believe that we can make things better.

Next time, Mr Cameron et al, just give us a call and we’ll be there to help. Agenda-free.

For more information on pro-choice check out Education for Choice.

Jamie’s dream school again

Dream School is turning into a bit of a nightmare for St Jamie of Twizzler as his ‘teachers’ and students clash and even the head loses his cool.

In last week’s post I pummelled David Starkey for his snobby attitude to the students and his lack of teaching ability and it seems that not much has changed. Following the slanging match between the head and a student in assembly, Starkey thought it would be amusing to take the mick out of the student in front of everyone. Nice. Even the head looked like he wanted to throttle the historian.

But more about that assembly showdown: I’d like to say I was shocked and horrified by the behaviour of the student but I can’t because I’ve seen it all before. I’ve also seen how a simple misunderstanding can escalate into the sort of stand off that would have Gaddafi backing down. I was surprised at how the head managed- or rather didn’t manage- the situation.

The great behaviour guru Bill Rogers teaches about primary and secondary behaviours (which incidentally have nothing to do with the schooling system but are descriptors in their original sense.) It’s very easy to get carried away with the secondary behaviour but you need to focus on the primary.

Here’s an example:

Teacher: I’m going to ask questions and I’d like you to…
Student (Interrupting): Sir, I want to say something.
Teacher: Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking.
Student: You don’t need to snap, sir, I was only asking.
Teacher: I didn’t snap, you’re being rude.
Student: Oh my days! I don’t know why I even bother coming to school, you’re an idiot, sir.

And so it escalates. The interrupting was the primary behaviour and the teacher should deal with that. The answering back was the secondary behaviour and the teacher engaged with that secondary behaviour thereby ignoring the original problem and escalating the situation. Make sense?

The teenaged Vesuvius went off with a mighty bang and a crisis that took time, effort and emotional struggle to sort out was caused. And Lord Jamie of Burger was very sensible and managed to be all things to all people. Although I wish he would stop calling everyone ‘mate.’

Elsewhere in this episode, students stayed in a Biodome but only one managed to fend off her nicotine cravings and remain inside for two days. Her reward was a trip to Arizona to work with some top Scientists. Hell, I’d leave Mr. R and move into a Biodome if those prizes were on offer!

Money guru Alvin Hall, who is all sorts of bow-tied camp deliciousness wrapped around a steely core, had a tricky start when two students decided to try and throttle each other.

Soon, however, the entire class was bent over calculators doing real Maths and there wasn’t a peep. One student even stayed on after class to talk about how many ‘woman’ goats he would have to buy to become a squillionaire. Top tip: If you’re going to be a goat farmer you may wish to know that ‘woman’ goats are usually called ‘nanny’ goats. Just saying.

I can’t wait for next week’s episode when Alastair Campbell makes his return after instigating a fight in his politics lesson, the students are introduced to the joys of Latin and its routing of Carthaginians and poetry and the ‘teachers’ hoist Sir Jamie of Chip’s under-crackers up the flagpole.

Probably.

Jamie’s Dream School

You have to hand it to old Jamie Oliver: he’s not shy about a challenge. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the first episode of Dream School but gave in and tuned in for the second helping. So what does Saint Jamie of School Dinner know about running a school? Well, nothing but he’s well known for having an incredibly successful career following an incredibly unsuccessful school career so he can empathise with the students who have also failed at, or been failed by, school. When it came to his cooking lesson he made a good fist of it (B+). Others were not so lucky.

 David Starkey, privileged, highly intelligent and passionate about his topic wasn’t a huge success. In fact his behaviour was such that, were he a newly qualified teacher in an ordinary school, he’s have been in serious trouble. Calling a kid ‘fat’ and then whining that he didn’t start it is not very professional or indeed mature. Jamie, bless his little turkey twizzlers, handled Starkey incredibly well and although the historian insisted that the students were ‘feral’, Oliver didn’t give up and got him back in the classroom. Mark: F. See me.

 Alastair Campbell equally came a cropper. After humbly showing the class a TV clip of himself in pitbull mode and talking about how fabulous and brilliant he was, he got the students debating. Except it wasn’t proper debating with the proper debating rules that most schools use. The rules are there for a reason: they stop the discussion from becoming a bun fight where anyone can join in. More importantlly, it also stops the debate becoming personal. Campbell’s debate ended up being very personal and a student walked out in tears. Mark: D- (at least he didn’t call any of them fat.)

 Jazzie B of Soul ll Soul fame ran a brilliant music class. He didn’t assume that the students would love him because he was famous. He didn’t assume that his topic would be inalienably interesting to all of them. He praised their efforts and challenged them to do more. He established good behaviour and maintained it consistently. This is a man who obviously knows teens and knows how to capture their interest. Mark: A+

 Photographer Rankin also had a good connection with the students and drew the best out of them and, as with Jazzie B, he didn’t assume that he was the star of the show. Mark: A

 Teaching isn’t as easy as it might seem.

 A lot of comment on the programme has focussed on the poor behaviour and attitudes of the students so I’d like to say a word in their defence. The voiceover told us that several of these kids had been rejected by their chaotic families and were living in council flats alone. Now imagine being rejected by those you love, being alone and vulnerable and not seeing much of a future for yourself beyond alcohol, drugs and the job centre. There’s no one in the world who will stand up for you or to be on your side.

 Now, are you ready to get yourself up in the morning, go to class, sit still, listen and learn?

 And what happens to thes youngsters once the programme finishes and all the fuss has died down? I can only hope that the producers will continue to support the students and that the celebrities might find it in their hearts and busy schedules to be there for them.

Spending cuts: how much do they know?

I’m running a series of briefings for teachers about the future of our services and what they need to be doing right now. We were about to launch a really exciting new phase of projects in school but of course, this has now been changed and we’re still waiting to see what the replacement will look like.

Sprinkle liberally

 I planned to talk about these changes and link them to the wider picture in education by talking about the white paper. I had an emergency PowerPoint on the white paper courtesy if the DfE but I thought the teachers would know what was in it and I’d only need to chat briefly about it.

 Wrong.

 ‘So who’s read the white paper then,’ I asked cheerily.

 Silence.

 ‘Who knows the things in the white paper that will affect your day to day working life?’

 A tumbleweed rolled by.

 So I spent more time than I intended on informing the group about the white paper and how it will affect their schools: changes in behaviour management, a greater focus on bullying and synthetic phonics (luckily the two are not inter-related), exclusions, academies and free schools. Their head teachers are probably well-informed but sometimes the infromation doesn’t always filter down to the class teachers.

 The other aspect of the changes they weren’t entirely aware of were the cuts in local authority staff. My lot know that my post has been deleted but I don’t think they yet realise the implications of this. When they need me they pick up the phone and ask or drop me e-mail and I help to the best of my abilities. It’s my job.

 A head teacher phoned me this morning and explained that some of her parents were very anxious about a certain policy the school had just redeveloped and how she wasn’t sure what to do.

 ‘Would you like me to come and run a workshop for your parents?’ I said.

 ‘You’ve just sprinkled magic fairy dust over my day!’ she replied.

 I think this means she was pleased. And it solves everyone’s problems: the parents are reassured and informed, the staff can get back to teaching and I’ve got the knowledge at my fingertips to run sessions like these.

 It will be interesting to see how schools react when they don’t have the support of staff  whose job it is to translate government policy, share their expertise with schools and be there for them. Sometimes just for a chat and a bit of support and maybe to sprinkle a little fairy dust on someone’s day.

PSHE- the forgotten subject?

In the comments on my post about student demonstrations, ‘Citizen CW’ drew my attention to the website of the Campaign for Real Education so I dropped by and had a look. As an educator who is passionate about excellent learning in the state system I was horrified. I haven’t read such fantasy since Goldilocks and the Three Bears and the CRE have attacked PSHE in particular.

 PSHE (Personal Social and Health Education) is the forgotten subject of the national curriculum. It’s non-statutory so schools don’t have to teach it but I’ve yet to meet a school that doesn’t have PSHE on the curriculum even though there aren’t any qualifications in it and in these legaue table-driven times that’s saying something. Where it’s taught well, students are engaged and interested and learn the knowledge, skills and attitudes that support them in life.

 The previous government wanted PSHE to be a statutory subject area in schools but they waited until 2009 to bring in a bill and this was lost at wash-up at the beginning of this year.

 We didn’t have PSHE when I was at school because it was expected that our parents would teach us the stuff we needed but the world has changed immeasurably since then. PSHE is essential in order for all students to be well informed on all aspects of health including learning about sex, relationships, drugs, alcohol, money, food, bullying and mental and emotional health and wellbeing. Problems we simply didn’t experience a few years ago are now part of our children’s lives and need to be tackled via PSHE: cyber bullying and online safety is a massive issue for young people and sexual bullying is on the increase. Knife crime and hate crime are daily occurrences in all children’s lives and not just those living on sink estates in cities.

 Good PSHE gives children the skills to deal with these issues and offers them the space and time to reflect on their own attitudes and learn skills to cope. It shows them how to access support and help if these are not available at home and gives young people the tools to be safe and healthy in all aspects of their lives. 

Sadly, where PSHE is taught badly it’s a waste of everyone’s time and this is why teachers- particularly those in secondary schools who are not PSHE trained- need support, networking and training. Try teaching a class of teens about contraception if you’ve not had the training or answer questions about how harmful the latest legal and illegal drugs are.

 But the CrE have their own ideas and these are absolutely not grounded in fact. It describes Sex and Relationships Education (SRE, the word ‘relationships’ is absolutely key), an integral part of PSHE as being ‘value free.’ The most recent government guidance on SRE is from 2000 and clearly states that SRE should include these attitudes and values:

learning the importance of values and individual conscience and moral considerations;

learning the value of family life, marriage, and stable and loving relationships for the nurture of children;

learning the value of respect, love and care;

exploring, considering and understanding moral dilemmas; and developing critical thinking as part of decision-making.

Not so ‘value-free’ after all.

It also calls SRE ‘a disaster’ as teenage pregnancy rates have remained stable (nationally) despite SRE being taught in schools. Good SRE is one factor in teenage pregnancy but only one. There are many more factors including social housing and deprivation. Where I work we have reduced teenage pregnancy significantly through a huge joint operation and partnership working but it’s an uphill struggle. Blaming schools and one subject area in particular for teenage pregnancy is way too simplistic. We may as well say that every sixteen year old should be a Maths genius because they’ve been taught it at school since they were five years old.

The CRE also mistakenly lump together PSHE and Citizenship and call it ‘PSHCE.’ This is incorrect. Citizenship is a separate subject and has been statutory since 2002. They also state that PSHE is a ‘secular alternative to Religious Education.’ Again, incorrect. RE is a different subject again and PSHE does not replace RE and never will and there is certainly no campaign among teachers to see that this happens.

In a section on advice to parents the website states that, ‘although all schools may need to pay lip-service to PSHCE, the better ones will give it little time or credence,’ and when it comes to SRE, ‘good primary heads will almost certainly decide they have more important priorities.’ This it rubbish. I work with excellent head teachers and superb schools and the best teach PSHE as both a discrete and integral part of the school day. All teach SRE well and communicate effectively with parents and carers about children’s learning. I haven’t even begun to explore how good PSHE raises school attainment and grades.

It’s difficult enough being a parent without campaign groups like this adding fuel to the fire and it’s bloody hard growing up as a child in the 21st century. PSHE teaches children about the real world in a supportive and age-appropriate climate and enables them to be considerate and emotionally intelligent adults and I for one can’t see anything wrong with that.

Further reading:

Sex and Relationship Education Guidance. DfEE, 2000.

The MacDonald independent review into PSHE, DfE 2009.

PSHE Association- the subject association for teachers of PSHE.

Name, rank and serial number

The business plan for the Department for Education  (DfE) has been published and it makes for interesting reading.

 The overall aims are well meaning but alarm bells started ringing for me at various points. The DfE will, ‘reform the school curriculum and qualifications.’

The curriculum needs regular tweaks and occasional overhauling to ensure that it meets the needs of pupils but I’m anxious about this one. Any major change to curriculum means schools will have to rewrite policies and plans, be trained in delivering the new curriculum and buy the required resources. A new exciting curriculum was set and ready to go under the previous administration but the baby and the bath water have gone out of the window and it looks like this government will be looking to the US for inspiration. Because we don’t have any inspirational educators here, right?

 There’s also a section on reviewing and reforming provision for children with special educational needs and if they don’t rope in Guerilla Mum to help with this, then they’re missing a trick.

 The rest of the document looks interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing how things progress.

 There is a section on transparency, however that makes for interesting reading. As several newspapers have picked up, schools will be expected to publish teachers’ pay, qualifications and absences.

 Will parents withdraw their children from a school because Mr. X has a few days off with a cold every January or Mrs. Y was off having a hysterectomy last year?

 Will little Johnny learn better from a teacher with a teaching degree or a subject-specific degree plus a PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education)?

 Who’s the best Maths teacher? Her with the degree from Oxbridge and two years’ experience or him who went to the Poly and has twenty years’ experience?

 Perhaps there will have be a point system and if the teacher falls below a certain level they get shipped off to Shankem Comprehensive, the sink school for rubbish teacher and kids whose parents have too much going on in their lives to care much about parental choice.

 As for teachers’ pay, I’m not sure what this achieves but if teachers have to show their pay packets perhaps all public sector workers will have to. GPs waving their bank statements around? The military offering up name, rank, serial number, gross pay, tax and national insurance?

The prime minister has already humbly offered to accept a reduced pay packet in the name of public service. Which is very considerate. But I expect that most teachers don’t have a personal fortune worth squillions backing them up.

 So in the interest of transparency and to stand shoulder to shoulder with my fellow educators, here are my qualifications:

MA (school and college leadership and management)

B.Ed (hons 2:1) English and Drama

Grade seven clarinet (pass)

Sixth form French prize (no sniggering at the back.)

Cycling proficiency

Badges from brownies and guides: various including hostess, boatswain and jester.

 Who could possibly pass up a set of qualifications like that?

 Anyone?

 Hello?

Oh my days! talking to da yoot

I was talking to a teacher yesterday who is new to the LA and she told me how she drives into London every day from the Home Counties. She was quite shocked, she said, by the levels of deprivation at the secondary school where she works but more shocked by the way the pupils spoke. She admitted that it had taken the first few weeks of term to understand what the pupils were on about and no, we’re not talking about pupils newly arrived in the country. I guess I’m used to the way da yoot speaks round here, it’s just the London patois made up of a little of this and a little of that.

 Following hard on the heels of uber luvvie Emma Thompson’s comments last week about the way young people speak, this made me think. I love the richness of the English language and the muddle of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Latin with a fair sprinkling of dialect. It’s hell for spellers- take -ough for example, which can be pronounced as in though, ought, through, enough, cough- but its depth is its also its strength. It is also a flexible language that allows for change.

 So who am I, with my BBC accent or Emma Thompson with her Cambridge University- educated vowels to say what is proper although it’s probably not a good idea to call your teacher bro’. Because that’s just wrong, wasteman.

 In case you’d like to understand what young people are talking about, here is a handy guide with translation. But please don’t try it yourself if you’re over twenty cos it’s just embarrassing. Innit.

 What endz are you repping, blud? (From which part of London do you hail, my good man?)

 Your wifey is buff, fam. (Your ladyfriend is really rather attractive, my good man.)

 Oh my days, she is such a sket! (Gosh, she seems to have slept her way round town.)

 You think you’re a nangman but you is buttaz, innit. (You’d like to think you’re jolly cool but actually you’re an idiot, innit.)

 Your mum. (I hold you in such low esteem that I can’t even be bothered to insult you so I will imply something nasty about your mother and leave your overactive imagination to do the rest.)

Teenage dreams

I feel like a teenager again. That’s not to say that I have an overwhelming desire to drink vodka in the park, wear a hoodie or frighten old ladies on a bus but my emotions are all over the place.

 Being a teenager was hideous the first time round so I’d rather not go through it again. Us adults are supposed to be able to manage our emotions with a little more efficiency than when we were younger (people that go Jeremy Kyle don’t count. Come to think of it, Jeremy Kyle doesn’t count) but I’d really like to get off this particular roller coaster and it’s all because of my work situation.

 I’m a grafter. I’ve only ever left jobs when I’ve had something better to go to. I’m rubbish at being ill and can’t remember the last time I took sick leave. I’ve never been unemployed and I’ve never claimed benefit so this being made redundant thing is way out of my sphere of knowledge. I have to deal with stuff called consultation and business case and I’ve got an appointment to speak to a nice lady in HR.

 Today I’m feeling depressed because the letter to all schools and head teachers has gone out telling them the ugly truth about the future of my programme. And that I’m ‘leaving.’ It would be a little harsh to say that I’m being ‘deleted’ which is what I’ve actually been told. Deleted. This is what the cybermen do to humans isn’t it? The letter didn’t look anything like the one I wrote. It was far more business like and less soppy. As it should be. Stiff upper lips and all that, what?

 At times the prospect of freefalling without a job is so heady that I can’t help but get caught up in the excitement and the thrill of an as yet unformed future.

 A few minutes later I’m in a meeting where I have to tell everyone that I’m being deleted leaving. Some people are sympathetic and ask what I’ll be doing next (‘see you down at Jobcentre plus ha ha’) and the occasional person says something supportive like, ‘well we’d better hurry up and get that done before you go!’ Depressing.

 Then I think about the huge pay rises that council chief executives all over the country are getting and I’m so angry that it physically hurts.

 Unfortunately, today I have been mostly grumpy. I even grouched at Mr. Citizen R over my muesli this morning (luckily he was very understanding). I have a meeting this afternoon where I’ll have to break the news to another bunch of people. Miserable.

 Guess how I’m feeling for the rest of week. No go on, it’s a game.

 Today: sending that letter and wondering if anyone will send me a kindly e-mail.

Weds: working with a new teacher at her school.

Thurs: attending a managers’ forum at work.

Fri: meeting with a colleague who is also being made redundant.

Saturday: spa day with the girls.

 The prize for guessing correctly is a warm feeling of accomplishment. But don’t talk to me for the rest of today in case I yell, ‘That’s sooo unfair! God! I didn’t ask to be born. You just don’t understand! I hate you!’ and strop off to my room to watch Twilight.  

Quick update: we’ve been told that the heating in the office is broken and won’t be fixed until November and that we should ‘dress accordingly.’ This has not made my day any better.

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