My thing is Radio 4 so it was fun to open the day with a visit from a journalist from The Westminster Hour. He was interested in the way we’ve responded to the London knife crime issue and was recording a piece on our wanding of tutor groups after assembly to check for weapons. As parents know, we decided this was the better way of doing it. Rather than having a big set-piece with knife arches and lots of police outside school we have Mr Brown and Mr Sheedy with a wand each giving a randomly selected tutor group the once over, one at a time. He talked to some of the children and then to the three of us. It was intended to take 15 minutes, but he was with us for another hour once we got started.
We talked, as ever, about safety and keeping everyone calm and happy. We talked about security and the different ways we find out Stuff We Need to Know. We talked about the kind of public spending cuts that means that youth work is disappearing and the Police struggle to respond. We talked about the effect of highly academic curricula on students who need another route into lifelong learning. We talked about the pressures on schools and the cost of student support services and the other things that parents now expect us to do that we don’t get any money for. We talked about schools as model communities and our responsibilities to demonstrate the actions and calm responses of a good citizen.
We also talked about old fashioned teachering. The way that schools build up good relationships with students and families so that everything is do-able and nothing ends up as a big fuss or a stand-off between the fearful and anxious on both sides. He’d seen 300 students walk quietly into the Dojo, half of them with their shoes in their hands and sit listening to a range of announcements followed by a poem. He’d seen us chatting to the chosen form group about the wanding and the sensible discussion we had.
If he’d been in earlier in the week he’d also have seen Sir and Sir so absorbed in the experience that they then set off purposefully through school in just their socks. A third Sir suggested to them that they’d need shoes at some point in the day. Especially as they were wearing four different socks between them.
Cogitating on the days, I’m brooding not so much on all of the above, but another conversation with a visitor. She was with us from A Notable Teacher Training Organisation and had some questions for me. She was bright, keen, open and honest, excited and apprehensive about what she’s taking on. Good for her. But the questions annoyed me and we had to laugh about that: it wasn’t her fault.
For a start, teacher training is teacher training. It’s a worthy and honourable undertaking: why does it have to be called ‘leadership development?’ Doesn’t that undervalue the older folks who’ve been at it for a bit, learned the craft skills and are now actually doing leadership development, rather than the most difficult initial learning of all, how to survive the classroom?
Another question was ‘What are the barriers to raising aspiration’ which almost begs the answer‘My own mediocre leadership and determination to do a bad job’. Yes, we can all do better, but aspiration is a social issue. Poor children, unhappy children, stressed and sad children, hungry children and those whose parents have to work zero-contract, gig-economy jobs to make ends meet and can’t spend any time supporting their school work may find that aspiration comes second to surviving. Poverty and a massive teacher shortage don’t help. Can I reiterate that: a massive teacher shortage?
Combined with no youth workers and fewer police, what picture does that paint of the way we care for our young in this so-called advanced society? Why are serious, aspirant young professionals being sent out with loaded questions before their bewilderingly quick training? They need an understanding of detailed, thoughtful, long-term solutions, not blame-laden soundbites.
I’m a third generation teacher and I’ve been at it for a bit. I’ve seen things change and develop. None of us in the past set out to do a bad job. It’s not just the bright and shiny new intake who’ll want to change children’s lives, it’s all of us. And it has to be government too.
That’s an old-fashioned teacherly view. It doesn’t mean we’re wrong.