Fairness is one of our Tallis Character traits and particularly valued among the young, understandably as powerlessness attracts injustice in our flawed world and who has less power than a child? Football manager above didn’t want the indignity – or the football-affecting inconvenience? – of a conversation to establish how he got into trouble. Or perhaps he was wary of those whom he’d dropped in it. Perhaps dear readers are gnashing their teeth now. What a performance about a football Haven’t they got something else to do? What about Sir’s lesson?
Don’t fret. While this 30-second legal wrangle was going on outside the door I was inside the door purring over the geographers, many of whom I’d known as puppies. I admired their height and wisdom and what a pleasant combination the gods of the option blocks had thrown together. I reminded a huge specimen that he’d been foolish in assembly and he had the grace to look sheepish. Books were given out, everyone settled. I didn’t even have time to ask what Zoe was reading before Sir, with a parting shot of ‘This is me being reasonable’ returned to the earth’s crust.
We’d had a furious complaint from a parent the previous night about our method of dispensing justice. Why must the innocent be questioned? Outrageous infringement of human rights. Well, we take rights seriously and the innocent must be questioned so that justice is dispensed fairly. Innocence and justice must be protected and supported so that the community is safe and happy. We actually staff this. We spend money on it so there’s always someone to hear a story, take a statement, and, where possible and reasonable, broker restoration. When a youth comes blundering back into class late with the excuse ‘I had to have an RJ’ that’s what she means. Restorative Justice: a bit of a trade name, but useful none the less.
On Tuesday Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector offered reflections on the difference between education and examinations. She talked about the need to offer children real learning and the value of all the grades at GCSE. I’ve been arguing this point for years so I can’t disagree. What she says, however, feels different at the sharper end: fine words are bowdlerised into tick-lists for inspectors. Ofsted have tried to deal with that too. But HMCI can’t address the high-stakes accountability in which a confused system is mired and someone needs to be honest about that. But we can’t until we have a clear view of what education is and isn’t for, and what a civilised and developed democracy actually wants for its young and sets about doing it as fairly as possible. There needs to be a restorative process between the regulator, the department and the profession, which will take time and good will. At least she’s not calling us enemies of promise.
(I’ll return to the Ebacc argument in the piece when I can summon the strength. Sufficient unto the day are the troubles thereof.)
I’m a fan of the American philosopher and jurist John Rawls, insofar as I understand him and in particular, his fundamental principle of justice as fairness. Justice must not only be done, but must have a fair effect. Rawls underpins this with his concept of the veil of ignorance (I’ve have written about this before, sorry dear readers). Imagine that you were setting up a system in which you have no idea about the characteristics of the people it serves, or your own characteristics. Will it work as well for rich and poor, for all genders, ethnicities, aptitudes? If it won’t, then its not fair. Try again. Try again DfE.
There’s a marvellous scene in that film of high art, Nuns on the Run. A hapless policeman lurches into a convent looking for the villains who are having jolly adventures disguised as nuns. After being unable to tell the Superior who or what he’s looking for, or why, she says ‘We’re all very busy here. When you know what you’re looking for, come back, and we’ll tell you if we’ve found it’.
It’s like that in education at the moment and all we can do in schools is to get on with the day job and account for ourselves as best we can. I’m trying very hard to persuade educators to think about the purpose of schools and our social role in loco parentis before we think about examinations and assessments. In the meantime, we’ll work hard like year 11 and try to be fair, like Sir and the indoor football.