Attacking the Death Star: Getting Y11 ready for exams.

 

Exam season is upon us. We are all anxious, on the behalf of our pupils because we know their results will change their lives, and ourselves because we know the figures will mark out the beat to which we will dance next year. Twitter and Facebook are ablaze with creative ideas for revision techniques and lessons.

But there is little point worrying now. With the exams days or weeks away it is illogical to believe that much we do as the candle begins to sputter and gutter will make a huge difference to what will appear in the August results envelopes of our Year 11s. Any radical changes are more likely to be destabilising than impactful.

By now we’ve made our bets.

Like Luke on the final Death Star Run, we are locked in and committed.

Even if tinkering at the last minute does lead to some improvement, this is dwarfed into insignificance by the attitude of our young people. Either they’re at a point where they are ready to put in the revision hours or they are not, and if they are not it is almost always too late to do anything about it.

The truth, as frightening as it may be, is that the work should already have been done. Ideally it would have started in Year 7. Failing that, when GCSE course began. Failing that the beginning of Year 11. Hoping everything will be OK and only recognising it won’t be at Christmas, or worse Easter, is to invite all the wrong sort of tears on results day.

This post is not about what can be done at the last minute because I’m not sure much can be.

Instead, it is about what we, at TNA, have done from the beginning of the year to try and create a culture in which hard work and independent study are normalised. Early indicators that we’ve managed this are encouraging but this, of course, does not mean I am any less nervous about results. There’s a lot riding on them for all of us. But I can say, that if I were to rerun this year I wouldn’t change much. Annoyingly, this makes me even more anxious because if results aren’t better then we’ll have to question the bets we made back in September.

Here are the bets we made.

Bet 1: Decide on our key messages.

Back in September we thought hard about what our pupils needed to be clearest on. The first message we decided they needed to accept was that to be competitive in their summer exams they had to do at least two hours of work a day after school, and at least three hours at the weekend as a matter of routine. We also made sure they understood this was routine work, and that as the year rolled on more would be expected of them. This was something of a shock to some of our young people, but as we patiently and relentlessly repeated the message gradually it was accepted as true.

Our second message was our children should aim to feel proud of themselves for their hard work, not any specific grades they may or may not eventually achieve. Top grades aren’t realistic for everyone so talking about these is not an inclusive message. Target grades are flawed in too many ways to make these a fair way of judging whether pupils have been successful or not and the inherent unpredictability of exams means that there is no real way of knowing, certainly at an individual level, whether work will equate to a grade pupils are aiming for.

Finally, lots of talk about grades makes children of all abilities anxious, which makes it harder for them to focus on doing the things they need to do to improve.

By making the work the point, all our young people know they can be successful. Our hope is that good results will be a side effect of this, but we don’t want disappointed children who have worked hard to feel we aren’t proud of them.

Bet 2: Provide revision resources for all pupils.

One of the biggest issues caused by vanishing textbooks during the Great Stupidity, was that we took away resources pupils needed to revise from. As well-crafted and helpful as they may be, electronic copies of PowerPoints, online resources and summary sheets can never be adequate replacements. Our Trust has now written brilliant booklets for all subjects in the curriculum but many of these were produced too late for our Y11s.

To compensate for this we bought every pupil in Y11 a revision guide for every subject they study. These were handed out in a sort of formal ceremony, where the teachers who sourced them and the administrative staff who collated were thanked publicly, to make pupils aware of the investment we had made in them. We encouraged teachers to use these in lessons as much as appropriate as well as using them for homework, so that our young people were used to them a long time before they’d need to be really used in earnest. As far as possible without interfering with subject experts, we encouraged teachers to make sure that all revision or homework set should be tied to a specific resource the pupil already had. No ‘here’s a question, go away and google the answer’.

Every task is logged on MILK, our homework app, which means parents are able to see what needs to be done and by when. If work needs to be done on a computer (for example Hegarty Maths), and they don’t have one, then we provide it.

Bet 3: Overcommunicate

Everything we want Y11 to do is communicated again and again. And again. This starts at the school gates in the morning and after school when SLT, pastoral leaders and teachers stand at the gates and repeat, like a mantra, “tell me what revision you did last night?” or “What are your revision plans for this evening?” If pupils look shifty or admit they didn’t do anything, we, without anger (which never works) ask “why?” with pantomimed faces of confusion and concern. If there is a genuine reason they can’t work, we do all we can to fix it.

All expectations and notices are sent out to parents by letter, texted, put on the website and sent out via MILK. If we feel messages aren’t getting to the right places for whatever reason we call and give them face to face. If we find it hard to get hold of home by phone, well we pay a visit.

The aim is that no child, ever, can say “we don’t know what we are supposed to be doing.”

Bet 4: Deploy pastoral support to make sure work gets done.

If results this year are strong the two people who I’ll be hugging the hardest will be Jason and Andy, our dedicated “Year 11 Enforcers.” Working from a designated office, their job is simply to get pupils doing what their teachers say they need to do. The system is simple. If a teacher think a pupil isn’t doing enough outside school, then they email Jason and Andy.

Their job is then done.

Jason and Andy work through a hierarchy of actions. Although specifically what they do for each pupil is left up to them, this might involve mentoring sessions, contacting home or more creative strategies. Perhaps the most remarkable action this year involved inviting in a serving army officer to talk to pupils who wanted to join the military about the importance of working hard academically as well as going to the gym.

That said, my favourite part of the week is probably watching them standing on the school gate at the end of the day and literally turning back pupils who may have ‘forgotten’ they had a revision session or study club.

This only works becausethey are relentlessly warm and positive. Our key message, that it is hard work we value, is repeated again and again and again.

Bet 5: Make hard work high stakes.

Many of our Y11s began talking about prom almost as soon as they walked through the school gates back in September. We know just how important this is to them and we harnessed this by setting very clear criteria, not only around behaviour as is I think quite common, but around specific volumes of work. While we do accept that volume in itself isn’t a perfect measure, it does fit with our key messages and makes the process fair and inclusive to everyone. Volumes of work are overseen and decided upon by our Directors of Learning.

Bet 6: Acknowledge but do not overpraise increased work.

As the year has gone on our Y11 cohort has stepped up and at times it has been thrilling to see.

It has been really hard to find the right line between acknowledgement and praise, but we’ve been careful. However excited we have become, we have purposely and effortfully remembered the aim is that hard work becomes regarded as normal and routine. Shouting at a whole year group they aren’t doing enough doesn’t do this, and nor does telling pupils that you are blown away by what they’ve done when all that’s really happening is basic expectations are being met. Instead, when we talk to our pupils we go for measured, calm and truthful.

In our last assembly, for the first time, I let slip a smile and told them that by and large they were doing enough now. And I think it went down well precisely because it was true.

Bet Seven: Know when to leave well alone.

We’ve done all we can now. Whether we’ve got them wrong or right, we’ve made our bets. We’re locked in our final death star run and anything else we do or say runs the risk of knocking our pilots off course, because it will make us look like we’re second guessing ourselves at the time we need them to trust us the most.

We’re standing back now, hoping and praying that the young people we love so much have done enough for their proton torpedo to land in just the right spot.

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Waiting for Chloe

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A couple of weeks ago I dropped in on my parents. They weren’t there.  With a couple of hours to kill I ended up poking around stuff that had been salvaged from my old room when they’d moved. By the guest bed I found a stack of Calvin and Hobbes comic books. During our teens my parents had given my brother and I these as rewards and the reasons were always written neatly in the front of each. It was these comments, not the books themselves, I found myself most interested in.

“To Ben on the completion of his brilliant Xanadu English project.”

“To Tom on his great 1994 school report.”

I was struck but just how many of these books there were. It seemed that every time my brother or I did well at anything my parents noticed and made a fuss. We were lucky to have them and it’s impossible to know how we’d have turned out if it hadn’t been for their  encouragement.

Many young people don’t have what my brother and I had at home. Nobody really cares how they do and when they do well nobody celebrates with them.  I find it difficult to get my head round the extent this must restrict some young people.

Two days ago at 3.30pm one such child appeared at my classroom door. Her name’s Chloe and she’d just finished an exam. She hovered around, smiling. I looked up and asked how I could help. Chloe shrugged and said nothing. Her class teacher, who was with me in the room, asked “how did your exam go Chloe?”

Chloe grinned so wide I thought her foundation might crack. “Really well! I answered all the questions!”

As she sat down and began to babble happily away about how hard she’d studied and everything she’d written my heart broke a little. She’d been waiting outside because she needed us to do for her what my parents did for me and my brother. She needed adults to make a fuss because when she got home there would be no Calvin and Hobbes book with her name on it. I’m not sure if anyone even knew she’d had an exam at all.

After she’d gone her teacher and I had a sad chat about the unfairness of it all. Then, after agreeing that we wouldn’t have done half as well in our lives had it not been for our parents we realised there was really only one option. So, for a while, Chloe we’ll be your parents. You tell us about how well that exam went. Whatever we’re doing isn’t as important as you are. We’ll be waiting for you so make sure you drop by. Sit down. Drink your coke, eat your biscuits and tell us all about it. We promise we’ll listen. We promise that when there’s nobody else to do it, we’ll make a fuss of you.

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Is bad behaviour inevitable?

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Most people working in schools regard a certain level of bad behaviour as inevitable.

Of course, to some extent, this is true. Some children, particularly those diagnosed with some SEND needs, will always find it more difficult to adhere to rules than others. These children have the same entitlement to education as any other, which means unless there is unethical practice there will always be some undesirable behaviour in most school buildings.

Some go further, suggesting that ‘zero tolerance’ or ‘no excuses’ schools must be acting unethically because they set the bar too high for children with SEND. Invariably such schools respond by explaining that they do make adjustments when necessary and appropriate.

Yet hostility towards these schools remains, and I’m wondering whether this is because uneasiness about how reasonable it is to expect children to behave well at all times spreads much further than those with SEND.

If we, one hundred per cent style, asked adults to write a list of words to describe the positive personality characteristics of children in general I think it would contain lots of words like this: Creative. Enthusiastic. Imaginative. Curious. Questioning. Energetic. In contrast I’m pretty sure there’d be far less words like obedient, polite, diligent and respectful. It feels as if we wholeheartedly want children to have the qualities in the first list but are much more squeamish about those in the second.

If this is true, then unease about strict behaviour systems in schools may be partially explained by the belief they squash the innate virtues of children by forcing qualities upon them that many adults aren’t sure are really qualities at all. Forcing children to be obedient, polite, quiet and calm isn’t reasonable, the argument seems to go, because it is natural for them to be boisterous, enthusiastic, loud and lively. In short, we should let kids be kids, which means allowing them to behave in ways most natural to them.

The trouble is kids don’t stay kids for very long. Before you know it the Year 7 who cutely shouts out the answer while waving his hand is a Year 11 doing the same thing much louder and swearing defiantly when told not to because he’s done it so long he thinks it’s fine. As horrible as this is to face, face it we must; what may have started as excitedly calling out an answer, left unaddressed, can become outright defiance and hurtful verbal attack. And remember this hypothetical Year 11 is not alone. He’s sitting with lots of children who do the same because they too haven’t ever been made to stop. Sadly, in the same class but much less obvious will be lots of once-quiet-now-silent children who’ve learned that unless you’re willing to compete you don’t get to contribute at all.

For schools in communities in which children are expected, intuitively, to be obedient and polite the damage inflicted by a permissive classroom environment is mitigated, but for schools in contexts in which poor behaviour is normalised outside school the effects can be devastating.

As unpleasant as all this is, if it really were inevitable it wouldn’t be worth worrying about. After all kids will be kids. Boys will be boys. That’s just them. Just childish behaviour, really. After all what can you expect?

But it isn’t inevitable.

While it is probably fair to say that wherever they are from, on the whole, young people are more prone to making impulsive choices and less mindful of the consequences of their actions than adults are, expecting children to behave impeccably in schools isn’t unusual. During my years working in Ethiopia I often heard my colleagues refer to youth as ‘the fire age’, in which elders were expected to be more forgiving of mistakes by the young. This, however, did not mean tolerating open rudeness, swearing or drug taking. Instead it meant that when such activities came to light the adults responsible for addressing it would not punish a young person in the same way they would a grown up. For example, this might mean speaking to child’s parents if they were caught cheating on a test rather than immediately expelling them from the school. While children might choose to disobey authority they did respect it. Indeed children went to great lengths to hide negative behaviour from their elders and if caught were invariably mortified.

The problem is that we regard poor behaviour as part of being young, whether this be tutting, eye-rolling, interrupting or worse, we accept it and by so doing condone it. Every time we turn a blind eye to these apparently minor misdemeanours, or make excuses for them by saying “oh well they are fifteen”, then we create the impression that such rudeness is OK.

Some children who behave this way may grow out of it but many others will not.

This is not to say that traditional societies like Ethiopia have necessarily got this wholly right. Respect for authority and obedience does have a cost. But then so does a romanticised view of childhood that stands in the way of schools creating and enforcing rules which regulate the behaviour of their pupils.

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We’re hiring! Assistant Principal needed at TNA.

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We are so excited! We’ve recently heard that in September we have approximately two hundred Year 7 children arriving at the Nuneaton Academy. We’re growing so fast we’re going to be opening more classrooms and have already expanded our curriculum by, amongst making load of other changes, appointing a music teacher for next year – bring on our new school song and all of us belting it out together in assemblies!

The improving reputation of the school in the local area and national education community is already providing us with big fields for the all the jobs we advertise. It’s no surprise. We have a simple, no nonsense approach to learning and behaviour based on TLAC strategies, and centralised detentions are run by tireless and dedicated pastoral staff. We don’t expect non SLT to enter data, have a feedback not marking policy, and give loads of time for departmental CPD. There are visualisers in every classroom with centrally produced curriculum (that we’re so, so proud of) and resources to put under them. We respect our teachers and empower them to be experts who lead from the front, with our most important professional expectation being continually working on improving subject knowledge to make our subjects sing louder and more beautifully.

The children in our school are wonderful and so we tell them we love them a lot. It’s a real school and, of course, there are a few pupils in each year who need extra attention and support to meet our unashamedly high expectations. These are supported by a warm-strict (TLAC again!) culture, mentoring, counselling and an already wildly successful Direct Instruction programme for those who have so far struggled to access our curriculum because of difficulties with literacy and numeracy.

Our teachers are great too. Caring, expert and multi-talented. Just a couple of days ago I was reminded of this when I walked into reception to find our wonderful art and RE teacher playing classical guitar to children waiting for taxis  to take them home.

And we’re hiring!

Here, you’ll find all the information you’ll need to apply for the role of Assistant Principal at the Nuneaton Academy. You’d be joining a small team of four SLT who meet together almost every day. We drink a lot of tea on the move – as everyone in our wonderful MAT seems to – and spend most of our working days walking our school. We drop in lessons all the time, supporting teachers, encouraging pupils and even getting on with work on our laptops if it looks like the teacher might want us to. We are always on our radios, with each other and to everyone else in the school, from pastoral leaders, to our kitchen team, to our site manager (who happens to be a published author). We remind ourselves regularly that we are the kicking legs of the swimming swan, and that our most important job is to provide a climate in which our wonderful teachers can teach, and in which our wonderful pupils can learn, whether that means having a rethink about the behaviour system, a revision of curriculum or picking up litter from a bin that’s blown over on a windy day.

We muck in and we work hard. No job is beneath us. If something needs to be done and we’re there on the spot to do it, we just get on and get it done.

If this sounds like the sort of work you like doing and the sort of place you like doing it in, you should apply right now.

If all this hasn’t convinced you yet, then perhaps a little about the area will. We’re close to the centre of Nuneaton, the home of George Eliot, a proud industrial town with a connection with the Ghurkas and a wonderful Nepalese restaurant in the centre that proves it. We’re well within commuting distance to Coventry, Leicester, Rugby and even some areas of Birmingham. The bright lights of London are only an hour away by train. If cities aren’t your thing then there are countless beautiful small villages close by, which means your commute – as mine is – can very easily be past green fields full of sheep and cows, and past farm shops full of local produce. It is a joy to watch the seasons change as I drive to work.

The only downside is you would have to work every day with me. And given this job is a dream come true for me I won’t be going anywhere. Sorry.

Ring us. Email us. Tweet us. Arrange a tour. Honestly, this is such a huge opportunity.

(I wrote about The Nuneaton Academy long before I was appointed. Those interested can find this post here)

(For how I felt just after joining the MAT have a look here)

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Belong

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We are doing very well at the moment.

Thank you to everyone – and a lot of you have – who’ve asked.

Bessie has been off her feeding tube for ages, is eating like a horse (her new nickname is ‘The Mega-trougher”), gaining weight, babbling away happily and taking her first steps. Much more importantly she’s healthy and with every letter we get from a specialist saying she’s been discharged our hearts sing a little louder.

She showers joy everywhere she goes, and insists that everyone she meets shows her the same love she shows them. Every strand of her perfect DNA seems to happily shout ‘join in with me!’

Almost everyone does and, whether it’s at nursery, at a family party or in the supermarket, it feels like she’s everybody’s favourite.

The best part of it all as her dad is the sense that she know that wherever she is, she belongs there. I imagine Bessie’s day-to-day life as a sort of old style Marioworld, a multi-coloured kaleidoscope of friendly sensory wonder in which everything she experiences is a friend. A world in which a silly face, or a novel sound, or a brand new book about Bears in a Bath are delightful treats that exist just for her.

I’m very proud of this actually.

All of us, our team of family, friends and caring professionals has done everything we can, as we always will, to make sure Bessie’s life is rich, deep, funny, loving and profound. We will do all we can, forever, to make sure that she will always feel she belongs.

Still, sometimes I worry.

At the moment Bessie is only just a toddler and it is easy to protect her, to curate her world and make sure that she knows she is entitled to her place in it.

But she will not be a toddler forever and as she grows up I can’t help but worry the things that at the moment make her so popular now might, in the end, result in her losing this sense of belonging. One of the most interesting ways I’ve heard typical personal characteristics of Williams’ Syndrome described, is that people with it retain the desire to fit in but lose the desire to compete and use others to their own advantage – think of the difference between dogs and wolves if this helps.

On the face of it isn’t this lovely? But practically it can mean sadness and perhaps even depression, with WS people sometimes struggling to understand why their open, trusting positivity is not returned to them in the same spirit they offer it.

I worry this might make Bessie feel like she does not belong.

But I know I worry too much. Nobody really knows what will happen to anyone else. While we all do our best, no parent can know for sure if their child will be happy, or fulfilled, or feel like they belong or not.

Bessie is much more than the charming hiccup in her DNA, which maps out what will happen to her in the years to come with no more certainty than the alignment of the stars in the sky above her head.

She is unique, living a life that nobody has ever lived before and nobody will again.

She is happy right now. So are we. And the most important thing my daughter has taught me is that while worrying about the future cannot change it, it certainly ruins today.

So I’m going to try really hard to stop worrying and assume, at least until something makes me change my mind, that things are going to be just fine.

After all, despite everything, so far that’s the way things have turned out.

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Kalkidan and the Demographic Transition Model: Diverse Curriculum Part 2.

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The first day I met her, Kalkidan told me she wanted to be an astrophysicist.

“Where I come from, my village,” she said, “there is no light at night. So when it is dark you see the stars very well. When I was very young, even before I knew what a star was, I used to wonder if people lived up in the sky. So when I moved to my school in the city, when I found what an astrophysicist did, I always wanted to do that. Now I know people do not live in the sky but I still want to know what is up there, so I still want to be an astrophysicist.”

Kalkidan was a scholarship student at the British International School in Addis Ababa while I worked there, with her fees paid by the embassy because she scored highly on her end of primary Ethiopian National Examinations.

I taught her geography in Grade 10, in a mixed class of Ethiopian scholarship students and international children whose parents paid full fees. It was an odd mix, with the Ethiopian pupils tending to be brighter but not as confident or forthcoming as the others.

We followed an IGCSE course, made even more fascinating by the blend of nationalities and hugely different contexts from which the children came.

I have a very strong memory of Kalkidan from a lesson in which I was teaching the class about the Demographic Transition Model, specifically about Stage 3, in which the population increases rapidly due to a high birth rate and a falling death rate. This was the stage in which Ethiopia sat, which made discussions around this especially interesting.

The international pupils were quick to jump in and offer their opinions. This was a big problem for Ethiopia, they argued, and that it was very important that the government educated people so they stopped having so many children. Some expressed baffled exasperation at why women would have so many children while in poverty and lacking the means to educate or perhaps even feed them. “They need education” was said, in different ways, again and again.

Until Kalikdan couldn’t take any more.

“You do not understand.” She said to the class. “You don’t understand at all. You don’t understand with your mobile phones and your trips to the cinema and your restaurants to go to, and your universities and your flights for holidays and your new clothes.

I am one of nine. My mother lives in a village with no school, or shop, or café or anything. We are all she has. She doesn’t have anything you have. We are all she has that brings her happiness. And you all say she is stupid for having so many children, me, my sisters and my brothers. And you don’t understand at all.”

There was a long, long silence. And because the class was full of nice children, someone apologised and then so did someone else, and I said what a good point it was. And when it was time for the assessments every child in the class wrote something influenced about what Kalidan had taught them, arguing that as well as education governments needed also provide more opportunity and infrastructure for the people living in the least developed areas.

What Kalkidan taught everyone was an important piece of knowledge, a piece of the jigsaw without which there the picture cannot be complete. And also a piece of knowledge we would never have got had Kalkidon not been in the class, because the people who write examination specifications and textbooks do not have mothers who live in villages with no mains power or running water.

This was my fault. The class was entitled to a teacher who did know all the reasons for high birth rates. I shouldn’t have assumed what was in the textbook was enough. I should have looked harder.

This is why I think that creating and developing a truly knowledge rich curriculum means proactively looking for knowledge from a wide range of places, and never being complacent enough to believe that we already know everything worth knowing about what we teach.

This is, of course, very tricky and there are many ways to get it wrong.

I really think we must avoid reductive ‘identity curriculum’, in which what we choose to teach operates on a sort of quota, with certain percentages allocated to ‘black’, ‘Asian’, or ‘white working class’ groups because this is a recipe for hotchpotch tokenism and incoherence, where content ends up being awkwardly shoe-horned in where it doesn’t really fit.

But equally I think we are right to be uneasy if we look over our curriculum and see that all the knowledge comes from the same places, not because there is anything necessarily wrong or incorrect about the material in itself, but because it is very unlikely that this is really representative of the domain in its fullest sense; our disciplines evolve and change all the time and our teaching needs to reflect this. For example, while it may once have been acceptable to teach the abolition of slavery by covering only the work of Wedgewood and friends, this would not now be satisfactory because more recent scholarship has effectively emphasised the role of the black abolitionists and the influence of slave revolts in the American South and the Caribbean.

Getting this right means actively seeking out perspectives different to our own not because of where they came or who said them, but because unless we do we risk oversimplification and myopia. Every one of us, whatever our background, is a product of our context and we can’t count on regular, serendipitous interventions from people like Kalikdan to nudge us closer to the truth. Indeed, it would be very unfair to even imply it is solely the responsibility of those with missing parts of the jigsaw to convince those putting together the puzzle that their piece deserves inclusion.

This is a shared responsibility in which we all have a duty to play our part.

This debate will function best and be most productive if all participants are proceed in good faith. Insults, accusations, rabble rousing and point scoring are the enemy if what we want to achieve is coherent curriculum that tells meaningful, important and disciplinarily authentic stories. We need to share our versions of truth based on the evidence of their significance and not because we think who makes them is self-evidently important and so above justification. We must explain what is obvious to us patiently to those to whom it makes no sense. We must be in rooms with people we feel we have little in common with and we would do well to remember that, whoever we are, the right to be heard is contingent on a responsibility to listen.

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Let us keep our schools safe.

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Anybody who works in a school will tell you one of the most upsetting things that can happen is a child you care about suddenly and unexpectedly rounding on you with something vicious and deliberately calculated to hurt. This might be a comment like “nobody ever learns anything in your lesson”, or “you know nobody in this school likes you?”

It feels like being slapped in the face. It can make you suddenly short of breath or bring the pinprick pain of bitter tears. In that instant we forget all the wonderful things children say (often by the same child who has just insulted us) and feel weak, degraded and unappreciated.

But we get on. We calmly give the appropriate punishment. We take our deep breaths. We think about something happier. We run it off after school and remind ourselves that the child who has hurt us is a child who isn’t yet capable of understanding everything we’ve done and will continue to do for them.

It’s hard but we do it. Because we have to and because it is the right thing to do.

Following days of politician and commentator moral pontification about how school exclusion rates are driving gang culture and associated knife crime I’m feeling something of the same emotion. I, like thousands and thousands of school staff, from cleaners to Head teachers, from TAs to governors, feel so very, very unfairly under attack.

Of course we all know it to be utter nonsense. We went to schools and paid attention before we worked in them. We understand the difference between correlation and causation. We understand how to interpret statistics properly. We’ve been in the fraught behaviour meetings. We’ve been to the courts. We’ve been on the phone to overstretched social services and the police, and CAHMS, and educational psychologists. We’ve made the plans and revised the plans and made more plans and revised them again. We’ve woken in the small hours and worried. We’ve been in the pub with our friends and family on a Friday night and suddenly gone quiet as we tune out, because a situation has suddenly exploded to the forefront of our minds like a malevolent jack-in-the-box. We’ve taken the calls from concerned parents and from others in the community. Our minds have turned over worst case scenarios if we get a decision wrong, we hear the insistent and insidious whisper of ‘what if.. what if.. what if..”

We know all this and we don’t complain because we don’t have time to and because the stripping away of social support over the last few years doesn’t change the fact that we stand on the front line and, come what may, have children to keep safe and educate.

And we do all this and we don’t complain and yet we are under attack.

We are attacked because by making the agonising decision to exclude a dangerous child we are now told we make society less safe. We are told that we are the reason that children join gangs. We are told that we are the reason that children attack each other. We are told that we are the reason that those we care most about are at risk of prison, injury or death.

Oh and how it hurts.

It hurts all the more because these attacks are coming from those who should be defending us – the same political parties that expect us to raise standards and drive social mobility now tell us that we should not be able to make the decisions that keep our schools safe. They indulge and parrot lazy assumptions that just aren’t true; that we systematically off-roll children just because they won’t get good exam results, and that we expel children for not having equipment or for not knowing Shakespeare.

They take England’s most worrying social problems, they gather them up, they roll them all together and then they flytip them outside the gates of our schools. Then they have the gall to wring their hands about how we can’t find or keep teachers.

Do they actually think we are to blame? Really? Or do they know we aren’t but see the opportunity to score political points by attacking those they think won’t fight back? It is impossible to say which of these possibilities is the more frightening.

None of this will keep me up at night though. I can shake this off. What will is the possibility that the narrative that school exclusions drive crime will be accepted, and decisions will be made that mean we can’t do what we need to do ensure the safety of the schools in which we work.

What keeps me up is the fear that our ability to keep our wonderful safe and happy school will be eroded by stupid, dumb and dangerous politicking. And I care far too much to stand for it.

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