In cold weather this glorious green space – which only one person ever calls the Tallis Bistro – is quite the place to be. As someone who turned never-going-outside-in-cold-weather into an art form in my own schooldays way north of Harrogate I have every sympathy with the inmates. That doesn’t extend to sympathy with shoving and other uncivilised behaviour when there are a hundred or so more souls than usual indoors who may not be entirely occupied with nutritious eating. In order to prevent annoying clumping we’ve therefore removed most of the pundit chairs at the high benches. This caused a wave of concern among little chaps who like to keep an eye on the scraps for Sir’s dog and the ganneting teachers around the plates trolley, so we saved a couple for them.
Children are creatures of habit, and those habits, good or bad, are largely formed by the adults around them. Schools are where society looks after its young until they’re old enough to assume the mantle of adult citizenship and everything the adults in schools do is scrutinised by young people, both the what and the how. Those teachers aren’t just modelling eating standing up while using a knife and fork properly, but food choices, friendly conversation and eyes in the back of their heads.
And so much more. We had a governor visit to scrutinise how we spend our Pupil Premium funding and whether it is having any impact. PP money is meant to improve the educational experience and therefore outcomes of children who meet one of a series of disadvantage indicators. We get about £400k a year, so it’s important to our (£13m pa) budget. We have to account for what we spend it on and the statutory document is available on the website here. (Just before you get too excited about it, PP was a Coalition hat put on money already in the system, so the idea that schools had the leisure to spend it on anything new and innovative was always a bit of a stretch.)
We spend a lot of our PP money on our ‘first class’ Pastoral Welfare Team, who wear out their sturdy shoes supporting behaviour management. Governors asked some PP-attracting children about this: did they think this was a good thing? Oh yes, yes indeed.
This is interesting, money spent on adults who spend all their time talking to children about how to behave is seen as an obvious good by the children. They’re not just modelling Tallis Character but the values and virtues of the good life, how to be honest, fair, respectful, kind and optimistic. The children see that in adults other than teachers (who are a breed apart and tend to go on about this kind of stuff) personal virtue, taking responsibility for your actions, is important.
I’m thinking about this on a national scale. The Ethical Leadership Commission I wrote about in June launched its report in January and since them we’ve had quite a bit of publicity. Our thoughts aren’t revolutionary, but fundamental. Children will only learn how to behave well if adults behave well. Adults running schools have to put this above all other structural considerations. Fancy outcomes or badges can’t be got at the price of poor behaviour. We have to do right, or do another job.
The Ethical Leadership Commission now has a Framework set of words, a pathfinder programme which 200 schools have already signed up to, some developing work in teacher and leader training and a new Ethics Committee and open forum at the Chartered College of Teaching. Tallis’s governors are pathfinders. It's slightly terrifying work: there’s a real risk in sticking your dishevelled head above the parapet and saying ‘we should behave as good role models for children’. Everyone’s made mistakes, but the real human skill is reflection and change, in a spirit of humility. I’ve written a book concurrently too, but that’s me ranting, not the measured tones of the great and good commissioners.
Reflecting on our own behaviour doesn’t mean introversion or compliance with injustice. So much school policy in the last 20 years has danced around the elephant of privilege guarding the powerful. Ring-fencing money to support disadvantaged children is good, but it’s an Elastoplast on inequality. Our responsibility as good adults isn’t just as models of good character. Society should be fair and children’s lives not blighted by poverty and struggle. Those who have never needed any funding to give them a leg-up, or who have never known want, or who exist only within a bubble of other privileged people undermine the fair chances of the many by passing power around among themselves. Good people should be outraged abut this.
I’m reading (myself obvs, matchless prose, but also) Friedman and Laurison’s The Class Ceiling. They observe:
...when the following wind of privilege is misread as merit, the inequalities that result are legitimised. This leads those who have been fortunate to believe that they earned it on their own, and those who have been less fortunate to blame themselves.
St Valentine’s Day 2019