Thursday, 26 November 2009

Adrian Elliott - debunking myths

In the series of TES articles 'De-bunking education myths' Adrian Elliott claims that behaviour now is no worse than it ever has been; really? Well, that all depends on what you mean by bad behaviour.

When I was at school, many years ago now, yes there was some very bad behaviour. I remember the music teacher staggering out of his room with blood pouring from his nose having been thumped by a local tough. Teacher being thumped was not a particularly remarkable event. And, yes, we did get up to some pretty awful stuff that I, as a teacher, don't see these days... BUT! - and as buts go, this is big! (no, really, it's big!) - we could all sit quietly and work when required to do so. We could, and would, be quiet when told to be so. These days, I personally don't see the more extreme extreme behaviour like the teacher thumping of my youth. However, this has been replaced by the drip, drip, drip of constant, low-level off-task behaviour; constant chatting, turning round, can't stay in seat, inability to concentrate for more than three or four minutes at time. Dealing with this 5 periods per day, 5 days a week is draining. As soon as you stop speaking, they start chatting. They deem it unreasonable and against their human rights to be required to sit still for 10 minutes. Just the simple, everyday lack of cooperation, having to constantly repeat requests, having kids argue and answer back, even to the most simple and reasonable of requests, is exasperating.

It is this constant low-level misbehaviour that gradually wears you down, wastes time in lessons and which lower the quality of the teaching and learning experience.

So, Mr Elliott, in one way I would agree with you; certain aspects of pupil behaviour are no worse than they have been in the past and indeed have probably improved; certainly violence against teachers has reduced since the abolition of the cane. But what has got worse, much worse, is the constant arguing, chatting, answering back, failure to follow instructions and general lack of respect and lack of discipline of today's pupils. Add to this the pressure of written lesson plans, Ofsted, etc etc etc and it all adds up to an intolerable level of stress for classroom teachers.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Are schools now going to stop recording incidence of poor behaviour?

The outline guidance for inspectors regarding the assessment of pupil behaviour states that "Inspectors should take account of documentary evidence about pupils’ behaviour, including records of: racist and bullying incidents; the use of any ‘on-call’ system; the use of ‘remove’ or ‘seclusion’ rooms; and the types of incidents which occur at break, lunchtime and social times"
It also says "Where records or observations indicate that behaviour disrupts learning or threatens well-being more than very occasionally, it is likely that behaviour will be judged inadequate overall". Correct me if I'm wrong, but there seems to be much scope here for schools shooting themselves in the foot; inspectors will want to see records of poor behaviour. If the records show that the misbehaviour occurs "more than very occasionally" (whatever THAT means!) then you're graded 4 (inadequate). So, a school which rigorously pursues good behaviour and diligently records all incidences of misbehaviour is clearly lighting the petard fuse well before it's time to run. On the other hand, St Mayhem's High School down the road cunningly only records a fraction of the misbehaviour and thereby gets a glowing report. Here's a cautionary tale in a similar vein:
Remember when we had half an inch of snow last winter and the country ground to a halt? One school near me lost no time in closing down to give the head a few days extra holiday. Another school struggled valiantly on with teachers arriving by dog sled and skis to keep the school open - for the 15 kids who actually turned up. As the school was open, all the absences were counted against the school stats, putting them near he bottom of the LA league table for attendance. But Closedown High School however, being closed, did not have any absences counted. The head told me, as he scanned the skies for signs of snow, that in future he will close at the first available opportunity, which I thought was being rather optimistic, it being the middle of June.
So the message is clear; play the game by your own rules. Given that 27.6% of all statistics are made up on the spot anyway, why should any school return the correct numbers, and get thrashed for it, when they can simply ...er ... cheat? Answers on a postcard ...

Monday, 16 November 2009

Is it now impossible for a school to get an 'outstanding' rating for behaviour?

If you've not yet had a peek at the new Ofsted inspection schedule, then you may still be blissfully unaware of the guidance given to inspectors for assessing behaviour in schools.

As of last September pupil behaviour will, for the first time, be assessed formally. This extract from the evaluation schedule provides outline guidance and grade descriptors for the judgements that inspectors will report on when inspecting schools under section 5 of the Education Act 2005 from September 2009:

"Outstanding(1) - Pupils’ consistently thoughtful behaviour is an outstanding factor in their successful learning and creates an extremely positive school ethos. Pupils are highly considerate and very supportive of each other in lessons. Behaviour for all groups around the school is exemplary and pupils encourage others to conduct themselves well. There is no evidence of disruptive behaviour."

Scuse me? "There is no evidence of disruptive behaviour". Let's just unpick that a bit. Does 'no evidence' mean literally that; none, nix, zero, nothing - not even a little teeny, weeny bit? Or are we in Queen of Hearts territory where "When I use a word it means whatever I want it to mean!"? And what constitutes 'disruptive behaviour'? What guidance (if any) is given to inspectors in order to ensure at least the semblance of consistency in this area? Say, for example, school A is inspected by Mr Floggem Hardy, goose-stepping down the corridor shouting "Mein Gott..." (ooops, no, sorry, stop there. Bit of cheap unfounded national stereotyping with xenophobic overtones there. I'll start that again..) "My god, did you see that? That child just dropped a sweet wrapper! What terrible behaviour!".
School B, on the other hand, is inspected by child of the 60's Amanda Do-goody; "Oh, how nice that pupils here are able to critique the quality of the lesson and teaching style in in such an open and uninhibited way.." as yet another teacher is told his lesson is shit.
Now consider this bit:"Behaviour for all groups around the school is exemplary and pupils encourage others to conduct themselves well". ALL groups? Exemplary? Well, I certainly hope that doesn't include the staff!
Ah, hang on.."Pupils are highly considerate and very supportive of each other in lessons." I think I may be ok here. Danielle spent most of my lesson supporting Francheska who would otherwise have slid off her seat, having been at the vodka and Lucozade all break.

Anybody out there working in a school rated 1 for behaviour? Let me know.