Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Answer Is NOT To Fine Schools

So now it is official: the riots were the fault, not of wanton lawlessness, not of societal failure, not of economic deprivation … they were the fault of THE TEACHERS!!

To be honest, few teachers will be surprised. Everything eventually is traced back to being the teachers’ fault – teenage pregnancies, knife-crime, drink-driving, AIDS… I suppose it is a miracle for which teachers need to be grateful that the newspapers have not come round to blaming them for the 2008 financial crisis, but the press seems to have found an alternative scapegoat for that.

In the same way, for years, politicians have announced that the answer to every social problem from anti-social behaviour to unemployment is ‘education, education, education’. It is a lazy avoidance tactic which says ‘We don’t have a clue what to do about this, so we’re going to make it someone else’s problem’.
And then they tell the schools that they are failing (THAT’S the buzz word, of course) to address the issue properly, and that they must educate the children properly.
And then some patronising ‘consultant’ on huge salaries or fees goes round making money out of the ancillary INSET industry that this nonsense has spawned, and half-assed schemes of work are tacked onto already over-stretched curricula all over the country, and another box-that-must-be-ticked is added onto League tables and Ofsted forms.
And the irony of that, of course, is that now it really HAS become ‘the teachers’ job’, and they really CAN be blamed when things go wrong.

Illiteracy and the Riots
Anyway, the panel investigating the riots last year has come up with the utterly unsurprising finding that many of the yobs taking part were illiterate.
There is, of course, no reference to the hundreds of thousands of decent illiterate people who sat at home and cowered in their front room as their rioting peers ran berserk through the neighbourhood.
There is in this, of course, no admittance of the fact that a correlation does NOT prove causation.
There is, of course, no suggestion that educational failure might be a SYMPTOM, not the cause, and that illiteracy might share an underlying cause with the riots … which the politicians have failed to address.

Above all, there is no recognition that many of the youths who were rampaging through the streets were the self-same youngsters whom the teachers had to corral in groups of 30 into their classrooms next day and try to teach about Pythagoras Theorum.

No. ‘About a fifth of school leavers have the literacy skills of an 11-year-old or younger, leaving many with no stake in society and no reason to stay out of trouble’.
So in an awful sleight-of-logic, it is the teachers’ fault again.

I wonder how much this panel cost the country to come up with this lazy, shoddy, second-rate, ‘cheap-shot’ thinking?

A worthless solution
And the panel’s solution?

“Introducing fines, which would then be used to help bring children up to the required standards, would help ensure the risk of future riots on the scale seen last August was ‘significantly reduced’, [the panel] said…
“Every child should be able to read and write to an age-appropriate standard... If they cannot, the school should face a financial penalty equivalent to the cost of funding remedial support to take the child to the appropriate standard.”

It reminds me of the Treaty of Versailles, where we teach the pupils that Article 231 (which blamed Germany for ALL the loss and damage of the war) was an essential precondition for the reparations clauses – in the same way, once you have asserted the schools’ CULPABILITY, you can then move to PUNISH them.

And thus, in some perverse sequence of twisted logic, you have moved yourself round to a situation where we are punishing the teachers for the rioters’ riots.

Punishing the teachers for the failings of the pupils
To teachers, of course, this will come as nothing new. They have been punished, personally and corporately, for the failings of their pupils for some time.
GCSE results day used to terrify the pupils …no longer! Every August nowadays, teachers gather, ashen-faced, to wait for their pupils’ results, because it their school’s success and their careers, which rest on those results.
For the ‘failing’ teacher, who has ‘failed’ to coax a sequence of above-average results out of his pupils over the last few years, they could mean the difference between having a job and not having a job.
For the pupils, many of whom will put the certificate in a drawer and barely look at it ever again, they are much less significant, and every year many cannot be bothered even to find out what results they achieved.

Many people reading this article will be unaware the way teachers’ targets are calculated. Even as the pupils arrive in secondary school in Year 7, a ‘School Improvement Partner’ will be telling the school how many GCSEs-with-English-and-Maths (and a whole load of other targets) the school must achieve with these pupils. That figure is no longer based on the pupils’ prior attainment, but on government and local target figures. The SIP will then return each year during the lustrum to demand increases in those target figures … and then the school (whatever its intake) will be judged against the performance of other pupils in other schools anyway.

The negatives of punishing the teachers
Even on a simple common-sense basis, surely someone has to see the foolishness of fining ‘underperforming’ schools? Here we have a school which is struggling to raise its pupils to an acceptable level of literacy … solution? … let’s take some money away from them, and make their job even harder.
Whether the school is underperforming because it intakes from a particularly difficult area, or because a number of its staff are inadequate to the task, reducing the school’s resources to address the problem is surely a stupid solution?

In addition, however, there are many problems with making teachers responsible for their pupils’ failures in this way.
One is that there is no ‘consequence of failure’ in most of our schools today.
Lazy? Disruptive? Unreliable? Don’t worry; we’ll lay on mentoring and do
all the planning and thinking, and someone will work with you in the hope that we may be able to coax something out of you.

The problems of this kind of approach should be obvious.
On their part, teachers are wearing themselves to a frazzle rushing around after lazy and disrespectful pupils, pleading, making revision sheets and dredging up easier alternatives, so that many staff spend their lives in a state of nervous and physical exhaustion.
Meanwhile, the opportunity exists for feckless and lazy pupils utterly to fail to learn any kind of responsibility during their time at school. Many of them realise that they hold the whip hand and actually decrease their effort as they get older.
And the danger is that an attitude develops whereby the whole caboodle is based on getting through, by hook or by crook, to the end of Year 11 when we can wave goodbye to them (hopefully with some kind of results) and send them on their way and they are, thank God, somebody else’s problem from now on. The current system of League tables and punitive regimes for schools and teachers encourages an approach which defers and defuses … and never seeks a solution to this individual’s glaring inadequacies.

OF COURSE nobody is saying that disadvantaged pupils should be allowed to fail, and to come out with lower results than advantaged pupils.
OF COURSE nobody is saying that teachers should be allowed to be second rate, and that there should be no drive to push up standards.

But what I AM saying is that, if the riots panel could have found a more damaging solution to the societal problems which caused the riots, it is hard to think of one.


  1. You mention correlation and causation. Did you know that the number of births in Sweden each year correlates with the number of storks nesting. Perhaps the committee would draw the conclusion that the stork delivers the baby and make recommendations accordingly.