Actions and Consequences

‘I think we all owe Howard a debt of gratitude for coming up with the solution to all our difficulties,’ said one of Kirk’s [university] colleagues.

Kirk took this as his due and nodded, ignoring [the] accurate observation that all the difficulties had been created by him.

The assembled academics had all just tunnelled through the service area under the student picket lines which had been brought into being by Kirk and had surfaced in a conference room to deal with problems which had been fomented by Kirk and had finally got around to passing resolutions in conformity with the wishes of Kirk.

— Clive James, review of 1981 TV adaptation of Malcolm Bradbury’s The History Man, from Glued to the Box, 1983

I am sure all teachers have been in that student disciplinary meeting that suddenly goes all Kafkaesque in a manner reminiscent of the academic conference described by Clive James above: what begins as a formal gathering to address the many difficulties created by the student, challenge the obfuscations and untruths put in place by the student, and alleviate the problems fomented by the student; suddenly and inexplicably, often at SLT’s behest, turns to passing resolutions in conformity with the wishes of the student. For example, Kayleigh gets to come off Red Report and SLT will have a serious chat with her teachers about their “questionable attitudes towards her” because, after all, “Kayleigh wants to do well“.

I started thinking about actions and consequences in response to the Quirky Teacher’s provocative post Is Hardship Really So Bad?

TQT argues that perhaps people today are too insulated from genuine hardship. While I think he has a point, I would argue (as in the example above) that, although Kayleigh may well have hardships enough in her life, what the education system as it stands is insulating her from are the long-term, serious consequences of her actions — until it’s too late.

It seems to me that there is, or can be, a widespread acceptance of misfortune and hardship — although perhaps it can often be characterised as sullen rather than stoic. What is different from the world I remember being raised in, is the precipitate rush to don the holy mantle of victimhood; as if the fact that that other individuals or institutions were involved in creating the unfortunate situation absolves the “victim” of all responsibility whatsoever.

At times, of course, the victim is truly the victim and, in all fairness, no portion of blame can be attached to her.

That given, what I am attempting to highlight is an unfortunate trend in modern culture that seems to hold that if one has been sinned against, then by definition, one cannot have sinned: in other words, victimhood = sainthood.

This is, I think, the mindset behind the demands that students cannot be “allowed” to fail and that it is entirely the responsibility of the teacher to make sure that every student not only passes, but achieves their over-inflated “aspirational” (dread word!) target grade.

I disagree: of course, the teacher has a responsibility to ensure that every student in her care is as well prepared as possible. But the student is also responsible for her own preparation and I am concerned that the balance of responsibility has shifted too far towards the teacher (and, to be fair, towards the school and SLT — which is why the pressures are passed down the line management structure).

It has been said that a pennyworth of example is worth a pound of preaching. I cannot help but feel that having more students (and parents) being aware that failure is an option and that success is not a birthright would result in a healthier educational culture.

You must reap what you sow. There is no reward, there is no punishment, but there are consequences, and these consequences are the invisible and implacable police of nature. They cannot be avoided. They cannot be bribed. No power can awe them, and there is not gold enough in the world to make them pause.

— Robert Green Ingersoll, Ingersoll Again Answer His Critics IV, 1891

Weasel Words in Education Part 1: Intervention

Intervention (n. and v.)

– as in “What interventions have you put in place?” or “We’ll have to intervention this!” or (even more common) “You’ll have to intervention this!”

Meaning: doing stuff of doubtful or unclear efficacy mainly for the sake of being seen to do some stuff.

Some words sound better than others. For example, “I kicked some butt at work today!” sounds better than “I wrote a stiffly-worded email to query an invoice.”

So with the word intervention. “I staged an intervention to address underachievement in the Year 10 target group” does sound more dynamic, proactive and energetic than “I got a bunch of Year 10s to stay behind after school and nagged them for a bit.”

This is a word beloved of SLTs* and similar riffraff. Essentially, it is a long-winded way of “Do something!”. The unspoken subtext that should be tacked on to the end is “…so that I don’t have to.”

Most interventions happen outside of the normal school day. After school interventions are a perennial favourite. Never mind that most researchers (correctly, in my opinion) identify such activities as “High Effort, Low Impact.”

When the test scores are down and the going gets tough, the tough get . . . some unenthusiastic kids together in a room and read some powerpoint slides at them. Or, get them to do some card sort activities, where cutting out and laminating the cards takes up to seventeen times longer than the bloody card sort activity itself takes to do. Or, nag them. Yes, nag them with as much energy, sincerity and passion as you can summon at the end of a full teaching day when you are knackered and bursting to go the loo.

This is the way to the educational promised land, my friends. To a better place that is overflowing with the milk of EBaccs and the honey of Ofsted-approval, and yet which remains free of the evil spectre of grade inflation!

Let us all put interventions in place now! Interventions today! Interventions tomorrow! Targeted interventions for all!

After all, its not as if the kids were actually taught this stuff in lessons during the normal school day, is it? I mean, it stands to reason, doesn’t it? It’s not their fault that they weren’t listening/trying/paying attention, is it? Otherwise, they wouldn’t need all these sodding ‘interventions’ all the time…

*Senior Leadership Team