A shame, because today is coat exchange day. A duty colleague nearly as old as me, steeped in age and treachery, borrows a coat each week for duty and he doesn’t much care what it looks like. I twigged this the day he was wearing a pink sprigged affair which even in these gender-fluid days could only be described as a ladies’ mac.
My year 10 political correspondent caught up when I managed to get out yesterday. Turning our attention temporarily away from the parlous state of the nation, I put her onto the Philippines and she’s not at all happy with what she’s found. ‘Peoples’ rights are being trodden on’.
Not just in the Philippines. I’m heartened by Emma Hardy, a Hull MP who in her maiden speech in the summer said,
We should not be making our schools into learning factories who churn out compliant, unquestioning units for work. We want our children to be creative, to question, to inquire, to explore and think independently, especially during this era of fake news. We are discussing the reform of drugs law without asking ourselves if we only ever teach our children to obey adults unquestioningly, how can they ever understand when they shouldn't?
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity and in conformity with the present Convention.
Don’t misunderstand me. Behaviour in school needs to be good, systematised and consistently enforced. It’s not easy. Behaviour Policies are a very particular kind of document, statutorily on the website but really a document of last resort. Ours is immensely long and tries to cover almost any eventuality upon which the Policy might be brought to bear. Actual behaviour on the ground is simpler, modelled by teachers and supported by praise and sanctions where needed.
Our problem as ever is that we mistake our proxies for our goals. Schools bear many of the nation’s proxies: examination results are a proxy for learning, super-strict behaviour policies a proxy for developing good character. Both try to measure something that’s very hard to measure. Exams help us tell if a person is able to remember and process information in such a way that will make us be able to trust him or her as an adult ; you wouldn’t want an innumerate accountant or a doctor who was clueless about chemistry. Behaviour tells us if people can regulate themselves and be kind to others because we don’t want selfish and vindictive adults. But what if our exam accountability measures actually don’t measure learning, and our behaviour management just generates compliance or anger?
Accountability is really important but really hard. Every change in the GCSEs is part of our national attempt to get the examinations to prove something and we’re still way adrift. There aren’t any easy metrics for character development because we don’t really know what virtues we value as a nation. Is it quiet kindness and reserve, our bottomless creativity or the shouty skills of the marketplace? If we could just take the time to set out what we value, what we hope our young people will be, then perhaps we could set about generating schools that actually produced them. Monitoring and accounting for that would be very expensive to generate, but what a difference they’d make to all of us.
It’s not that our young can’t show us the way. When the Salvation Army food bank in Catford ran out of food and clothes two weeks ago, RE set sorting that out as year 8 homework. They staggered under the weight of generosity and kindness as our families gave them good measure, pressed down and running over. There’s no policy for that.