Month: April 2011

Teachers Bullying Teachers

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Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I recall many years ago a head that I worked under making public announcements that there was ‘no bullying in my school’ – he was somewhat deluded. There is bullying in all schools most often short-term. The same head then decided that the school needed a ‘bullying policy’ (I kid you not). I questioned this and said, ‘surely we need an anti-bullying policy rather than one promoting bullying?’, I was asked to see him in his office and told never to embarrass him in front of staff again. Remember, he told me, I am the head and I can make or break your career!

Well, he neither made it nor ‘broke’ it (I think).

The recent report that many teachers feel that they are being bullied in their workplace raises very interesting questions. When is ‘strong management’ bullying? If someone is ‘underperforming’ in their post should you place them under intense scrutiny and add pressure to see if they can improve or should you support and help them and, where necessary provide extra training?

It is, in part, about management style and knowing how and when to use different leadership and management approaches. My concerns though are on the way that the new coalition is taking teacher education and changing the terms and conditions of teachers’ employment (by stealth – even though it is self-evident when you think about it).

Teachers are covered by national terms and conditions and some heads, managers and subject leaders feel that these provide too much protection to weak teachers. Add in unions and getting shot of inadequate teachers is, they say, very difficult. So this could, I would infer, lead to bullying in the workplace – especially if some feel that this is the only way to get rid of poor teachers.

Many NQTs do not pass their induction year. In total about 5%. Very few fail but many leave their posts at short notice to avoid a ‘fail’. In my role on the TES forum I advise NQTs about their rights and responsibilities during induction. There are some shocking things happening on induction if the posts directed to me are to be 100% believed.

Here is another problem. On an anonymous forum I only have one side of the argument and invariably it is from those who claim unfairness and bullying. I can’t see the big picture, I can’t question the mentors and Heads about what really goes on. So I cannot generalise.

But even if only a small percentage of the claims are true there is still a worrying picture out there of schools not fulfilling their responsibilities (legal ones at that) and of NQTs being driven out of jobs rather than helped.

If Michael Gove intends to redefine the standards and possibly the induction of teachers to concentrate on things like behaviour management, there also need to be safeguards in there where the responsibility for management of poor behaviour is not just on the individual but which requires the management of schools to also deal with behaviour issues collectively.

I predict that induction year problems will increase if ‘strong management’ is left to individual heads.

So am I just a wet ‘academic’ who only wants to keep poor teachers in schools?

Absolutely NOT.

Poor teachers are often not poor, just the wrong type of teacher in the wrong school. We have a mentality here that says that qualified to teach means you can teach anywhere. That is just not so. Certain teachers suit certain schools and certain kids. One of my jobs is to advise trainees on where I feel they are best suited to teaching. I can’t make them follow my advice, but I can at least warn them of the consequences.

Heads also have a duty to root out poor teaching – but they need to do it properly, they need to follow the rules and ensure that the teacher in question is properly assessed supported and provided with the right advice. Bullying is bullying – it is not acceptable if you call, it ‘strong management’. It is not acceptable full stop.

Getting rid of poor teachers should not be a long, protracted difficult process, but neither should the process be so easy that it can be abused. Adequate protection is needed for the children suffering poor teaching and protection is needed for teachers who are doing a good job, but for some reason not living up to unrealistic standards imposed by school leaders.

NQTs who are told that they are ‘failing’ if their lessons are not adjudged as ‘good’ by OFSTED standards serves no purpose. If schools only wish to employ ‘GOOD’ OFSTED standard teachers then they should not employ NQTs. We have to remember that at present teacher training is just 36 weeks. It’s like having to pass the driving test. By stating that from day one they must consistently perform at the OFSTED ‘good’ standard is like saying that although you have passed your driving test you cannot get your licence to drive as you are not at an advanced driving skills level.

Do we have a probelm with RE in Schools?

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Creationists love to get an invite into a bona-fide academic institution. Many have e-mailed me because I work at a University to ask if I would like to host a debate on evolution and creationism. I always refuse. Then come the inevitable – ‘ah, so you are scared to debate the truth then are you?’ comments.

I don’t mind a true debate (and yes, my side won that one), but debate is the last thing you get with a creationist. What you get is a polemic on why the world is wrong and creationism (of a specific evangelical Christian type) is right. There is no debate. There is no presentation of argument and a chance that those engaged in the debate could shift their view. They are not interested in any debate, just in getting a captive audience where they try two things.

  1. Fill the venue with creationists to shout down the ‘evolutionist’ (hate that term) and vote against evolution so that they can proclaim loud and clear that ‘victory’ was theirs against the atheistic (regardless of whether he/she is or is not) ‘evilutionist’ (no, not a spelling mistake).
  2. Use the debate on their flyers and CVs to show that they are respectable academics who engage in proper academic work etc.

Neither of these positions will I willingly or knowingly support.

They also like to go to schools where they will have a captive audience of children that they can bamboozle with their false arguments about science and evolution. This is, in my view insidious. The speakers are fully aware of how children can be bamboozled. I know, when I taught twenty-five years ago in one school, I would always have an evolution and creation debate. I would debate as a creationist and always win – because I knew more than they did. My point was that in order to debate you need to know the other side of the argument as well as your own. I stopped doing this when I realised that one or two children were actually taken in and couldn’t see the point I was making. I was very naive 25 years ago about argumentation and how to properly teach the skills.

So I was particularly disturbed to read of a school in Exeter that invited a creationist to talk to year 11 about RE.

If the creationist has stated that his views were non-scientific but evangelical, that he was espousing a faith-based position that was not backed by scientific evidence but a literal interpretation of the Bible I would say OK, off you go, provided the children were aware that your views are a testament to your faith and not a testament to science then at least that would be honest and upfront.

But no, the creationist proclaims his scientific credentials and presents creationism as an alternative scientific standpoint.

Here is where I vehemently disagree. Creationism is not science, never has been, never will be.

I’m aware of the work of the creationist in question, Philip Bell, a former science teacher and scientist trained to teach at Exeter University, who taught science in schools.

He is entitled to his faith, he is entitled to believe what he likes about the origin of the universe, creation and the origin of life. Like all teachers, he is not entitled to deceive children, promote anti-science and he is not entitled to flout the government guidance on presenting creationism or intelligent design as anything other than a faith position (of course it could be argued that the school flouted the guidance and he knew nothing at all about it, but I’m willing to bet he knows exactly what the guidance states and that he would try to exploit the one loophole in it – that’ teaching about’ is not the same as ‘teaching’). The guidance is clear, creationism and ID must not be presented as science.

Sadly the school got it wrong. I suspect they are ignorant of how the creationist community works. Their ideal is a captive audience that they bamboozle.

I’ve not looked very closely at the RE specification and examinations – I feel a summer project coming on…

Of course creationists will say that teaching evolution is ‘indoctrination’, that evolution is faith-based, blah, blah.

Should that be the case, so then is all science.

There are some very very reasonable Christians out there

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I was (am? still am?) a Christian. I was born (without my explicit consent) into a Christian household. I went to Church, was a choir boy, a server of the sacrament, I was inducted into the Guild of the Servants of the Sanctuary and still have my medal that I proudly wore when in the choir.

The fact that I was born into it doesn’t bother me, I don’t mind.

Am I still a Christian? In some ways yes – that’s my ‘natural’ home – I thought about it when I filled in the census – do I proclaim that I am a Christian or do I put down something more truthful – that now I am more ‘no religion’ than religion. Parts of the ‘faith’ conflict with my scientific training. I don’t accept that there is a supernatural being that directs my life or anyone elses, much less do I think that this being judges me now, in the past or at ‘judgement day’. So ultimately I went down as ‘no religion’. I’m comfortable in Churches and with the religious, but very uncomfortable with the evangelicals (more annoyed than uncomforatble I think).

I’m not against a creative force in nature which is ultimately responsible for the initial creation, but that’s as far as it goes for me. After the initial creation/beginning of the universe natural processes take over and we are what we are and we arrived where we are through evolution (of the universe, solar system and life). There, that’s the best I can do on this at present.

So why do I battle the creationists? Why do I seek to keep their views out of schools and why do I feel that some of them are dangerous? Simply because they willingly lie to children, they distort real science and try to blame all the ‘evils’ in the world on evolution.

I suppose I am at best an agnostic. I do feel that science and religion cannot oppose each other as they reside in different realms (one in the natural and the other in the supernatural). To this end I like Stephen Jay Gould’s idea of NOMA (Non-Overlapping MAgisteria). Religion should stick to religion and science to science and the two do not need to overlap.

Recently there have been a couple of interesting articles by devout Christians that fly in the face of the evangelicals who cannot abide anything other than a strict literalist interpretation of the Bible.

Have a look at their posts/articles. It gives me hope that not all Christians are intransigent.

Citizen’s Voice: Why intelligent design doesn’t qualify as science

Once more on fees…

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Just a thought, but surely £9,000 per year tuition fees is rather cheap? After all, if you were a student at Wellington or Harrow and other independent schools I suspect that you will be thinking that £9,000 is a bargain basement price. A full degree from any university including the best (like Sussex) would only cost you £27,000 – about one year’s fees for a top independent. Cheap as Chips!

… Ok it’s not cheap, but there is a serious point here. If you can afford Wellington, Eton and Harrow then you can afford £9K per year and have NO extra costs total cost £27K. If you can’t afford £9K then  it could cost you £50K+?? Surely a graduate tax would be better?