I’d been asked for a piece on knowledge for an outfit of whom I was suspicious. I arranged to get up close to the commissioner one dark afternoon before agreeing. I went easy on him as he was so baby-faced he could have passed unnoticed among year 10 without the tweed jacket. He reassured me he was old enough to be out buying coffee for women so we agreed on the article and then he asked me about centralised detention.
My hearing isn’t great in a crowded room. What? I said: do you mean where an Assistant Head gathers all the sluggards who’ve been late for lessons into the canteen at the end of the day and annoys them? Like when a Deputy, steeped in treachery and low cunning, sits with egregious offenders until 16:30 on a Friday? Or a Head of Department gathers homework defaulters on a Tuesday? Or a Head of Year gets irritants together on Thursday and badgers them for an hour? Yes. It was a bit like being asked how I feel about GCSEs, or assemblies, or lining up for a fire practice. As kindly as I could, I said: I don’t think it’s new. He said, everyone’s talking about it on the blogosphere. I made a cross-eyed face: is that a fact?
Sure enough, a couple of weeks later the uber-school of the new rigidity advertised for a Director of Detention. Is that all they’re going to do? Someone described it as recruiting an official school bully, but that’s unfair. We all do detentions. Our own good Sheedy could be called Director of Detention, but its only part of his work on engagement and good behaviour. I’m amused by this oldest and unsubtlest of sanctions being gussied up by new schools who are very keen on saying what they DON’T do: they don’t mark books, they don’t do wall displays, they don’t let children talk, but they’re very keen on detention. Surprised they need it. Funny old world.
New schools in a deregulated landscape are on my mind. We’ve been talking to anyone who’ll listen about an aspect of the Progress 8 measure. P8 is a good measure in that it doesn’t present perverse incentives at the C/D borderline which skews schools’ approach to teaching. All grades count equally and the school is judged on its average deviation from the national norm, each year a different dataset. (Actually, all grades don’t count equally until next year, therefore favouring the grammar schools, but that’s a rant for another day). The problem is the disproportionate effect a non-achieving child has on the whole outcome. So, our final grade for 2016 is -0.05 against a national average of -0.03. That includes 8 young people (of a year group of 270) who, for a range of sad reasons, weren’t with us daily by the end of year 11. Without them, it would have been 0.1, quite a different outcome. But we weren’t without them.
So, this year there’ll be consequences of compassion again. We have young people not in school. Some did things that mean that they can’t be in the Tallis community, some are ill, others the victims of atrocious circumstance. All are being educated otherwise, but they remain on our roll until the end because we chose to find them a positive alternative to the oblivion-risk of a permanent exclusion in KS4, or keep trying. Local Authorities do the same. However, the protocols that bind all schools together where we share the most challenging young people appropriately and fairly are stretched by the proliferation of schools sailing under different flags. Some partner with us closely, others are more distant. They can’t be compelled to take children who’ll endanger their results.
Harbingers of doom said that the academy programme would lead to the abandonment of the vulnerable. As always, the regulator steps in to prevent sharp practice, so the last school the child went to gets his results. We’re proud to be one of those schools, proud to be inclusive and give everyone another chance and we’ve a lot of colleagues whose expertise makes that possible.
The future is troubling. The planned funding formula endangers support services and therefore further endangers children to whom life has already dealt a duff hand. Who’ll care for the children who are harder to love? Who’ll go the extra mile for children who can’t offer much in return? I’ve an opinion on that too.