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David Thompson
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February 01, 2014

Comments

svh

Tar and feathers.

David

Personally, I favour public sack beatings. Televised, of course.

Connor

Cue comment by a Guardian-reading head teacher:

"Schools are entitled - indeed required to have healthy eating polices and to enforce them. Personally… after talking to the parents about the issue and trying to get them to understand the very sensible rationale behind our food policy, I would have told them that non compliant items would be removed from now on and given back directly to parents at the end of the day. Problem solved."

http://discussion.theguardian.com/comment-permalink/31442993

So how do we solve the problem of Guardian-reading head teachers?

tempdog

"It is to avoid putting the children in a difficult situation. If the policy is not being abided by then that potentially harms that pupil."

A policy so potent that it can be threatened by Mini Cheddars? Ah yes, I can see that we must suspend & possibly expel over that.

David

So how do we solve the problem of Guardian-reading head teachers?

Quite. As so often with such people, you have to marvel at the casual arrogance. Just whose children does she think they are? To her mind, there isn’t a problem with the policy itself and the behaviour it encourages and excuses among staff; the only problem she can see is non-compliance.

But to draft and enforce, and then defend, this kind of petty, bullying intrusion – apparently oblivious to the absurdity and authoritarian overreach – suggests a mind dimmed by ideology. And not coincidentally, by a delight in exerting power over both children and their parents - a particular kind of nastiness not uncommon among educators and educational bureaucrats. It’s not unreasonable to ask what kind of personalities would be willing to punish and humiliate a six-year-old and his parents, and waste everyone’s time and money, in order to police lunchtime snack consumption. The answer seems pretty obvious.

Anna

"Those of you who say head teachers should stick to teaching and not 'sticking their noses in' totally misunderstand what schools are for. We are their to educate families, not just children."

Oh boy.

JuliaM

The problem here is that (assuming the head is truthful) they are the only family who are non-compliant. Can you imagine what ghastly little drones the rest of them must be like?

Dom

Did he give a cracker to another boy? DID HE GIVE A CRACKER TO ANOTHER BOY?

Patrick Brown

This nasty bit of petty primary school authoritarianism reminds of another one from last year, where a primary school organised a trip to a university to "explore other religions" in a secular, academic context, which seems perfectly reasonable to me, but threatened that any child who didn't attend would have a "racial discrimination note" on their file for the rest of their school career.

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielhannan/100247284/refusal-will-result-in-a-racial-discrimination-note-being-attached-to-your-childs-educational-record/

pst314

And note that it's a Church of England school. Sometimes it seems as if the entire C of E has been taken over by Stalinists.

fnord

So how do we solve the problem of Guardian-reading head teachers?

The phrase pour encourager les autres springs to mind.

David

“Those of you who say head teachers should stick to teaching and not ‘sticking their noses in’ totally misunderstand what schools are for. We are their [sic] to educate families, not just children.”

The head teacher quoted above, whose grammar and spelling aren’t quite what one might wish, is Ms Clare Sealy. I notice that the school Ms Sealy runs – St Matthias in Tower Hamlets - has an Ofsted report that isn’t exactly glowing either, with lots of ratings of ‘3’ and not a single ‘1’. And yet despite these shortcomings, Ms Sealy believes her time, and that of her colleagues, is well spent policing the contents of children’s lunch boxes.

In fact, Ms Sealy is quite adamant on this point. She starts her comment by saying the student’s suspension is “really stupid,” then - in the next breath - insists that the school in question is quite right to behave as it does, even though the policy she defends has led unavoidably to the “stupidity” she bemoans. She suggests that parents who object should “discuss” their grievances with the school’s head, but doesn’t think the head should alter the school’s policy, which she regards as “very sensible,” and which makes any “discussion” unilateral and, for parents, rather pointless. Parents, you see, will simply be talked at until they “understand.” And comply.

Our Guardian-reading head teacher doesn’t see why any parents should object to such meddling as both laughable and obnoxious. It’s “what schools are for,” says she. That, and “educating parents.” She does, however, suggest that parents who find it laughable should take their children elsewhere. Because, in her mind, the policing of tiny cheese biscuits is how “sensible” people spend their time. And taxpayers’ money.

Evidently Ms Sealy’s reasoning is as shaky as her spelling and the standards of the school for which she’s responsible.

D

any child who didn't attend would have a "racial discrimination note" on their file

This is amazing for so many reasons. The obvious ones are, first, that the child is punished if his parents don't want him to go. Apparently they intend to blackmail the parents into compliance with threats against their child. Second, that "racial discrimination" is something that a school thinks it can track and a trait they think they can accurately ascribe to a student. Third, that there is any way in which they would use a "racial discrimination" note -- presumably by recording it they intend to use it. The only use I can imagine is that if the child is accused of something by a student of a different race later in school, it would be used as evidence that they are surely guilty. Finally, I would love for them to explain what race Christians are, or Muslims, or Kabbalah practitioners, etc. Even Judaism is practiced by people who aren't ethnically Jewish.

It's as though these lefties want to accuse people who disagree with them of something, and they just default to "racist," even in contexts where race doesn't really enter into it. It tends to make one think that race is on their minds rather more than it is for the people they accuse.

AC1

Placing your child in the state indoctrination crèche seems like child abuse to me.

Steve

"... Placing your child in the state indoctrination crèche seems like child abuse to me..."

So you think that myself, my wife my parents and her parents are all guilty of child abuse do you AC1?

Bloody hell.

David

At my nephew’s primary school, parents have been formally chastised for allowing their children to bring a jam sandwich for lunch, along with a banana. The banana was deemed acceptable, but the jam sandwich apparently crossed the line into child endangerment.

AC1

@Steve,

Can't see it being very good use of your child's time. ILTM like a PG version of one flew over the cuckoos nest.

Furor Teutonicus

XX Pop-Tart. XX

You mean Debby Harry?

Henry

With regard to the headmistress who proudly parades her illiteracy in the Guardian comments section. It seems that there is an Ofsted requirement to ensure healthy eating. I don't know how strictly this is enforced, and how much is over-zealous interpretation by school staff. So some of this nonsense comes from above the level of the individual schools.

However I recognize very well what David calls "a delight in exerting power over both children and their parents". Also the fact that certain teachers (who've been in the job a while) start to talk to parents (and everyone else) as though they were misbehaving children in class.

This is exemplified by Ms Sealy. After telling everyone that "it's like going to a Chinese restaurant and complaint [sic] that they don't serve Sunday roast" she goes on at length:

"We pretty much poke our noses in where ever we think it will make life better for your child- however angry that might make you. It's not about you- it's about your child. Children are too precious and valuable to leave their education just to their parents - it takes a village to educate a child etc etc - and we are the village elders"

There isn't enough space here to list every inaccuracy and wild boast which she's packed into her tirade. But it's welcome when such people display their true colours so openly.

Min

"it takes a village to educate a child etc etc - and we are the village elders"

Jaw-dropping arrogance.

David

Henry,

But it’s welcome when such people display their true colours so openly.

As a measure of her school’s standards, the policy in question and state education in general, Ms Sealy tells us more than I think she appreciates.

As you say, good to know. If not actually good.

Steve

AC1

"Can't see it being very good use of your child's time."

How disgustingly presumptious of you to presume to know what is the best use of my child's time. You must think you are one of the 'village elders'. I'm sorry that my modest salary will barely cover london living costs let alone the cost of private education, healthcare etc. The problem is that I was poorly advised by my pedophile parents who were too ill-educated to warn me of the poor re-numerations available in my chosen profession.

Not that it's any of your business, but my child is doing just fine actually. She has a reading age 3 or 4 years ahead of her actual age is becoming an accomplished cellist and, in spite of being both very young in her year and physically very small, happy, confident, self-posessed and able to mix with children of all backgrounds & abilities. The trick is an old-fashioned thing that used to be known as parenting. We can't afford to pay others to do it so we make sure that we do. Just like our parents did.

Hal

. . . to "explore other religions" in a secular, academic context, which seems perfectly reasonable to me, but threatened that any child who didn't attend would have a "racial discrimination note" on their file for the rest of their school career.

Agreeing with D, here, where clarification is needed about the point of the trip. Given the racial interest in a trip to study religion---or, more properly, varieties of faith---, were the students to do a study of the Irish Catholics vs the Irish Protestants, the German Lutherans vs the German R.C., the CofE vs the English R.C, the Reform Jews vs the Conservative Jews vs the Orthodox Jews, the . . . . . . . . . . . .

WTP

Help a Yank out here. Are there no viable options in Colnbrook or is a C of E school pretty much it there? Or is this Ofsted requirement the real problem? Has this Ofstead thing been interpreted this severely elsewhere?

dicentra

It’s not unreasonable to ask what kind of personalities would be willing to punish and humiliate a six-year-old and his parents, and waste everyone’s time and money, in order to police lunchtime snack consumption. The answer seems pretty obvious.

And if it's not…

the frustrated and humiliated intellectual, the rich and scared speculator, the spoiled son, the labor tyrant, the fellow who has achieved success by smelling out the wind of success—they would all go Nazi in a crisis.

laz

They totally considered the hurt, humiliation and lost learning they inflicted by excluding a little primary school kid, but it was easily outweighed by the hazards of Mini Cheddars. Am I right?

The people are lunatics.

David

WTP,

Help a Yank out here.

From what I can make out, there are other schools in the area, some with much better Ofsted reports. And some that are even worse. I don’t know whether the Zero Tolerance Of Tiny Cheese Biscuits™ is ubiquitous yet, but lunchbox policing does seem remarkably common in state primary schools. And with it, presumably, attitudes matching that of Ms Sealy. I’d guess the rationale is that stamping out the occasional consumption of Mini Cheddars will somehow boost the Ofsted rating of a substandard school. And maybe schools that are particularly bad will want to be seen as doing something to improve, however inadequate or bizarre. Though it seems to me the practicalities of such thinking may send a very different message: “Your school is in the hands of prigs, bullies and bedlamites and you should get away from their malign influence as quickly as humanly possible.” Something like that.

[ Edited. ]

Jack DeGaulle Bodger Gillins

Escalate it.
Pork scratchings next day, followed by a block of lard.

Patrick Brown

Hal: "Agreeing with D, here, where clarification is needed about the point of the trip."

The letter the school sent is reproduced in full at the link I gave. Most of the online reports I've read seem to think the trip was primarily or entirely about Islam, but that doesn't see justified by the letter.

Nik White

Yes, the specific circumstances behind 'Mini-Cheddars-Gate' do seem to make the actions of the headmaster absurd and indefensible and, yes, I also felt a little bit of sick in my mouth when I read that Mrs Sealy had decided to appoint herself high shaman of some mythical urban gerontocracy, but in spite of all that I think there is a general principle at stake here that is worth further consideration.

There are two issues, the first of which is why is part of a state school's evaluation even based on the quality of food provided for children in the first place? Step forward Jamie Oliver, a media whore of the first water who from his girth and jaw line seems to be even less shy of pies than he is of standing in front of the camera. His inexplicably popular 'Jamie's School Dinners' campaign was a hit with huge numbers of British parents who as a result of the programme enthusiastically petitioned Tony Blair's government to demand that something must be done, and done immediately, without thinking of the consequences or wider implications.

Naturally, the great Prime Messiah wasted no time in responding to this 'Democracy-as-X-factor-competition' demand for healthier food for all and this, I assume, will have been when the quality and contents of children's packed lunches became one of the evaluation criteria for schools. David Cameron has been no less enthusiastic about the policy and no less ingratiating to Oliver either.

The second issue is the egregious state of discipline in many UK state schools. Readers of this blog are right to be offended by the breathtaking arrogance of Mrs Sealy's comments but be that is it may, she is right in one very crucial sense – a school is not just a place where children learn literacy, numeracy and so on; it is very much also a place where children (should) learn how to behave in civilized society and that entails sometimes having to acquiesce to rules that seem absurd, arbitrary or otherwise disagreeable.

Discipline in many UK schools is so utterly atrocious that 50% of newly qualified teachers leave the profession within the first five years. Of course, not every novice teacher will drop out on account of the verbal abuse, which includes death threats as well as threats of rape and sexual violence, or the actual physical or sexual assaults some teachers are unfortunate enough to suffer, but it is undeniably a significant factor.

If children cannot be socialized while they are in school, then what results is an annual seepage of mercurial, aggressive, emotionally incontinent and narcissistic young adults. And just as it only takes one or two vicious little hoodlums to completely wreck a lesson for the other 30 in the class, it likewise only takes a very small number of these urban barbarians to make a trip to the shops to buy a pint of milk an uncomfortable or even terrifying experience.

Right up until the late 1960s and early 1970s, a boy entering a British state school could be stopped at the door by a teacher in order to have the length of his hair measured with a wooden ruler. If the hair was deemed to be too long according to the measurements allowed by the school rules, that child would be excluded until he had cut his hair. That situation is as absurd as it is also true and for many students at teacher training colleges and universities in the '60s and '70s, it was nothing short of Fascist oppression of the working classes right to self-determination and a barely disguised form or Nazism to boot.

That the imposition of the rules about the length of hair might actually have had a social purpose, was apparently either not considered or not felt to be important by the young radicals studying education at that time. Truly, it is a slightly ridiculous rule not to allow boys to have long hair but although it was likely motivated by the homophobia then prevalent in British society, it still supports a general principle: every society has rules and we are not allowed to simply pick and choose which rules to follow according to whether or not we think they are sensible, but must follow all of them or face punishment. No one, for instance, should be allowed to allow their dog to take a shit in a public park and then not pick it up afterwards on the grounds that their taxes contribute to the upkeep of that park and so, in that sense, they have as much right to do what they bloody well like there as anyone else has.

I feel uncomfortable making an argument for something that is as utterly absurd as excluding pupil on the basis of a pack of mini-cheddars but on the other hand, I also subscribe to the 'broken windows theory'. If the school has a rule, the rule should be followed. Enforcing said rules may be even more crucial in the case of a failing school or a school with a poor Ofsted rating because the reasons for that failure are usually a lack of discipline and not only from the students but also from their parents.

I have worked in an inner city school (many years ago now) where abuse, threats and actual assault of teachers by parents, never mind the bloody kids, was not exactly unknown. Similarly, one parent of a child at that school famously dropped his boy off at the gates with the memorable injunction: 'Remember what I told you son, all teachers are fucking bastards!'.

More recently, a former colleague told me of her horror of teaching in an inner city primary school where it was not unusual to find children in reception class (so children who are 4-5 years old) who were still not fully toilet trained. One little boy dropped his pants and took a shit on the reading mat in the corner of the classroom, something he was apparently used to doing at home. Another child who this time made it to the toilet returned without his underwear or trousers, having left them strewn on the floor of the washroom. I think she must have felt the horror even more keenly as she was a highly educated and articulate graduate from a post-industrial area of Poland. She found it almost unimaginable that such a state of affairs could exist in a wealthy country like the UK (Naturally, she is no longer a teacher in British state schools, which is another lost opportunity for our children to have a good teacher in my opinion).

In such a context, a general principle of zero tolerance of even quite minor breaches of rules or conduct seems justifiable, or at least comprehensible, even though, yes, in this case the Mini-Cheddars does seem to be rather over the top. But then again, is it worth more responsible parents such as Ms Mardle curtailing a really quite trivial freedom - and only within the bounds of the school building - if there might be longer term benefits from having a wider population that learns to abide by rules?

PS Clearly brevity is not the soul of my wit, such as it is.

Kevin Donnelly

In other news:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2540494/Boy-11-taken-Cornwall-school-mother-kicked-classes-VW-logo-shaved-hair.html

I completely agree with David and others who have criticised this absurd rule and the unbelievable defences ot it.

But teachers are really up against it with some parents...

Ted S., Catskill Mtns., NY, USA

but lunchbox policing does seem remarkably common in state primary schools.

The State is the biggest bully of them all.

It's astonishing (but unsurprising) that every time I hear a moral panic-induced news report about the so-called crisis that is bullying, it never discusses they way the State bullies people, especially in the form of government-sector schools.

Watcher

The consequence, probably unintended, is that a child -- subject to a rigorous discipline of what one can or cannot digest between the hours of 9 and 4 or whatever silly times now pass for education -- will no doubt meekly follow the rules at school but once outside and wallop! said child can go bananas. Or if not banana then perhaps go rubbish pizza with extra sugar toppings, and a side order of fatty goop.

The idea that not eating mini-cheddars in school will somehow make them always turn down mini-cheddars in the greater world is a nice fantasy but not realistic.

Horace Dunn

Some time last month I heard an edition of Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 devoted to eating disorders. The contention was that so many women and girls (and, in fairness, they freely admitted that men and boys were not immune from this) developed eating and other psychological disorders as a result of the guilt that they were made to feel for eating the “wrong” things, or because they ate too much. A couple of times the Woman’s Hour presenter helpfully threw in, as fact, that capitalism was to blame for this (because it pushed women into eating things that were bad for them, and this would result in an less-than-ideal body-image which would then cause distress and lessen their life-chances). I’m simplifying, but this was the central contention of the show.

Yet, when the state authorities shame and humiliate a six-year-old boy, indicating to him that eating the “wrong” things means that he of necessity must be separated from the school community of which he is part, this, somehow, won’t contribute to future eating disorders or related psychological problems. How so?

This is a rhetorical question of course. One thing I have learned about left-wingers is that one looks in vain for consistency and compassion in their approach.

D

Nik White,

You have a general point. But I think the issue is that hair length, for example, was enforced as a way of bringing the kids into contact with the idea of social norms. It was about politeness, and presenting oneself well to others. This idea could be expected to be upheld at home as well as at school, so that the children learned that certain behavior was contrary to how good people ought to behave.

That's very useful and correct, but I don't think the sort of rule under discussion here is going to have that effect. First, this rule is about what a child eats for his own lunch, as opposed to how he presents himself or treats others. As such, I don't think it communicates the idea of social norms in the same way. The old rules only applied to things that affected others and the way you came across to them, leaving the individual otherwise alone to be himself. This demonstrates to the child that he can have his own thoughts and opinions, and will be respected to have them, as long as his behavior towards others is correct. But of course upholding correct external behavior has a corrective effect on the inside as well. But it makes the issue about the choices the child makes with respect to his behavior and presentation, rather than trying to tell him what he's allowed to think or want.

And second, I doubt that many of these schools are really presenting the idea of social norms to the kids anymore, and especially not as a real good for themselves and for society; many of the teachers would probably insist that they are a manifestation of capitalist oppression or some such, having been through the Marxist indoctrination that makes up much of teacher education these days. As such, upholding rules such as this one or various "zero tolerance" rules in the US that lead to absurdity probably does not lead to better discipline generally, since it is not integrated into a whole view of one's interaction with others.

Kevin Donnelly

The thing that isn't mentioned in this article is that a four-day suspension ("exclusion") is *far* more than he would get for punching, kicking, biting or otherwise bullying another child. The only thing I can think of that would merit that long an exclusion is proven, sustained bullying.

In over 15 years in and around these types of schools, I've never heard of a four-day exclusion.

AC1

@Steve I've left you some time to clam down and de-personalise things a bit. If you weren't taxed so much (in ways you can and can't see, i.e. most of the subsidy of schools is recycled into land prices surrounding the rare non-shit ones, while IME most "good" schools are nothing except schools with fewer shit parents), with the gain from both parents working being recycled again into land prices (this is called Ricardo's law of rent, you can look it up).

My main grief is that parents think it's fine to demand this subsidy, and then think their better off for it too. When all you're doing is sponsoring banks and teachers unions.

Henry

Nik White.

Very useful counterpoint to my critical remarks. I'm sure teachers encounter all sorts, and would have many similar horror stories to tell. Teachers seem to be perennially overworked and feel undervalued and criticised.

The parents, in turn, are deeply concerned for the safety of their children, and encounter many different teachers. Occasionally a parent will be concerned by schoolwork, discipline, and most of all the safety of their children - they will try to talk to a teacher, and sometimes that teacher is cagey, evasive, irritable, or deeply condescending.

As a parent you think "I'm paying you to keep my child safe and teach them, and you're patronisingly avoiding my question". The teacher has dealt with 100s of such parents and thinks of them not necessarily as the enemy, but as someone to be managed.

I'm afraid I have to stand by my observation that some teachers start to talk to everyone as though they were errant pupils in class. Ms Sealy's rant is powerful evidence of something approaching megalomania. Perhaps some of her parents are seriously problematic - but I'd prefer not to deal with a system where it was assumed that I as a parent was the problem in any disagreement, and where you're lectured by self-appointed "village elders" who confidently state in public that

"We pretty much poke our noses in where ever we think it will make life better for your child- however angry that might make you"

(sorry for repeat quote) One immediately wonders how widespread that attitude is, if not always expressed so candidly

I also agree about necessary discipline within school, but if the parents feel they are being bossed around by the teachers, then I don't blame them for being mightily pissed off. I don't think teachers or Ofsted are there to tell families how to live their lives outside school. Controlling lunchbox content and resultant 4-day exclusions cross that line. I also differ with you is talking about obedience to rules however stupid. That's not going to work as a hard and fast rule - and I think the same probably goes for society's rules too.

David Gillies

I think she meant to say, "it takes a village to educate a child etc etc - and we are the village idiots".

Hal

Oh, and rather by contrast, there's a school with a clue in New Zealand . . . .

Hal

---and in parallel, clearly expecting a kid to think is unreasonable!!!!!!


Hal

For another reminder of answering just what is education for; while doing assort--Squirrel!!!!--ed research online, I just recently ran across Behind the closed doors of The Vatican.

I have no idea, yet, of the movie, where the title and the length look interesting enough, so I'll have a look in a while.

In the meantime, one of the youtube commentators rather transparently embodies vox hoi polloi . . . .

it brakes my hart to see all that history locked up. they have no right to hide all those documents. how can we believe these people about the bible, when they hide miles of documents that they are too afraid to let us see. this cult brakes my hart! 

The fellow's identifying icon is a very kludged NSA+Google seal logo . . . .

Somebody go home rather does also come to mind . . .

mojo

Heretics! BURN THEM!!

Rob

It's only fair that these rules should apply collectively. I'm sure Ms Sealy is a very enthusiastic supporter of collective action.

So:

Inspections of teacher's lunches. Anything which breaks the school policy, four day suspension without pay. Second offence, dismissal.

We should also weigh teachers, say once a month. Anyone with a BMI over 24.9 is put on an emergency weight reduction program. If they fail to reach a BMI of 24.9 or below within 3 calendar months, dismissal.

And please, before anyone is outraged, I am only thinking of your own good.

Hal

It's only fair that these rules should apply collectively . . .

Hear, hear!!!

A different Kevin B

I must respond to Nick White. I went to a private boys school in Toronto in the early 1970's which was very much built on the English public school model. One of the masters would try to check every boy's hair length as we filed into Prayers each morning. A friend of mine did his very best to dodge the inspection, including using gel to curl his hair up and under for the 30 seconds it would take to slip by. At the time, I thought focusing on hair length was stupid and futile.

But as I aged, I saw the genius of it. The school knew some boys, being boys, would rebel. So instead of focusing on things that might actually do harm (smoking, drugs, etc.), they made hair length an issue. My friend felt his rebellious nature fulfilled every morning as he scooted into Prayers, yet it caused neither him nor anyone else any real harm. Meanwhile, my friends at the public schools, where anything in the way of dress and deportment went, rebelled by ditching classes, showing up stoned, and getting drunk at lunch.

You can have intelligent policy, stupid policy, or no policy. My friends' schools had the last; mine had the first. Mrs. Sealy and her ilk are the poster children for the second.

Jimmy

I went to highschool in New Zealand during the 90s, and the school cafeteria sold filled rolls, donuts, pies, and hotdogs.

Good times.

When I finished school I was about 5'11, 65kg

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