The State of Education

When you live in Blackburn and you are the parent to tweens and teens, it is hard not to take notice of the rumour mill cranking its way round the local schools.  Moreso when you have the utmost responsibility of selecting a high school for them.  Luckily (if you see it that way), we don't live in a "lottery area" so the choice of schools is pretty much on an even keel, with the faith schools slightly out-performing the traditional comprehensives.  We do, however, live in an area that is performing below the national average.

I come from the era of "old school" when teachers were respected, you stood up at your desk on the rare occasion that the headmaster entered the classroom, blackboard dusters were thrown with regularity in the direction of unnecessary behaviour and if you got a detention you missed your bus home and had to yomp into town to catch another.  There were only ever one or two students that were recognised as being 'difficult' or 'naughty'.  We were also 'victims' of the NUT strikes in the 1980's but the teachers were striking over pay rises back then and disruption to routine was the only way to make anyone sit up and take notice.

So when the teachers of a school local to me - and one that was on offer to us when choosing high schools for our children - decide to take the extreme motion of industrial action over poor management from the head teacher and violence and threats from pupils you have to ask who is to blame.  This culture we have generated - very much a nanny state and a 'where there's blame there's a claim' attitude - has removed the hierarchy of respect in many situations.  I also believe that the upper level of teaching staff (head of department, deputy headship and head teachers) in some situations are under-qualified and/or under-confident.

Not so long ago, my own son (now 17 years old) was involved in a fracas with a teacher (last year in fact, not long before he left school).  I haven't written about it until now because I was unsure what public reaction would be.  Michael was in class with a long-term substitute teacher and said out loud, "Sir, I don't know what to do," in reference to the work set.  The teacher responded with, "Weren't you listening?" to which Michael asked him to explain again.  Now, this isn't "mum speak" but anyone who knows my second-born will know that he is the last person to cause trouble anywhere and generally has difficulty saying "boo" to a goose.  The teacher asked him to step outside of the classroom, looked around for the corridor cameras (yes, I know), gripped Michael by his blazer lapels, pushed him against the wall and threatened him not to speak out in his class ever again.  He then told Michael to go back to class and he'd "deal with him later".  Obviously upset by the incident, two of his friends encouraged him to go to the Head of Year to report the incident, which he did. Now, I'm not sure how he explained the situation but the HoY offered to investigate and sent Michael on his way.  When I found out about the incident later in the day I immediately phoned the Head Teacher (always, always, always go straight to the top - it's the only way to get anything done!) and asked what her her stance and view was on the situation.  She had no idea what had happened.  Needless to say (and to cut a long story short), action was taken there and then, and the teacher was suspended immediately.  In time, a tribunal took place and the teacher was dealt with in an appropriate manner as he admitted he went "too far".  As a parent, I don't believe I over-reacted in any part of this incident, I didn't ask for compensation but I did request that if a school has a policy of not being able to touch a child to administer first aid then they shouldn't be shoving them up against walls for a power rush.  We have dealt with all other matters relating to the incident privately and Michael is happy with the involvement and support that we provided as parents.

My personal belief is that if you nurture and encourage your child, they will perform to the best of their ability.  If you work with the school to provide the best education for your child, the child will succeed and flourish.  Not all children are academically-minded which is what annoys me greatly about the recent government proposals to scrap vocational studies (and don't get me started on the elimination of Educational Maintenance Allowance).  I think we need to re-introduce a zero-tolerance programme like the one in the Community College in Ely but it also needs the backing of ALL parents.   We don't need to go back to the blackboard-duster-throwing (eliminated really after the introduction of interactive whiteboards) but we do need to instill a modicum of respect into our children.  This sounds like a 'back to basics' and a 'Oh, I remember the good old days' rose-tinted type of rant but I think we need to eliminate some of the facilities available to children and put the adult/child relationship back into place.  Too much emphasis is on "treating them as equals" and rewarding good behaviour.  The good behaviour should be a given and rewards should be in place for performance above and beyond expectations.

And I say all this as a parent to three children, one with ADHD who was often rewarded for 'good behaviour' at school - something which I did not agree with. I am a great believe in praise and encouragement and goals appropriate to the child and their individual ability.