Saturday, 6 July 2013

Nigella Lawson: DV in the Public Eye

Regular readers of my blogs will be familiar with my opinions on the issue of Domestic Violence. New readers may want to familiarise themselves with these http://whateveverhappenedtothenewman.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/fifty-shades-of-abuse.html on the nature of abuse which I perceive that the Fifty Shades trilogy promotes; http://whateveverhappenedtothenewman.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/we-need-to-talk-about-making-difference.html specifically addresses the public perception of domestic violence and http://whateveverhappenedtothenewman.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/you-have-read-it-now-please-act-on-it.html backs this up with statistics. 

I was moved to add to this sequence by the Press Preview on Sky News last night. One of the top items was the front page of the Mail on Sunday. Recent weeks have seen Nigella Lawson in the news for matters which we would not have anticipated for a public figure, but there cannot be many people who are now unaware of the pictures published in the Mirror taken at Scott's Restaurant. If you buy the Mail on Sunday, or read online, the next part of the tale is played out here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2357634/Im-divorcing-Nigella-Saatchi-breaks-news-wife-exclusive-statement-Mail-Sunday-says-hes-sorry--insists-hand-throat-too.html.

That's right! Charles Saatchi is divorcing Nigella. Not Nigella divorcing him!

Of course, having been brought up to not always believe what is written in the papers, and to recognise that the press often sensationalise stories for sales and to feed the frenzy of celebrity obsession, it is important to be objective. However a number of points merit further discussion. 

The photographs were taken over a period of 27 minutes. In public view, he had his hand on her throat, raised his voice, and not one person intervened to stop him or protect her.

He may well have gone to accept a caution, but that means he accepts what he did was wrong. To dismiss it so it wasn't 'hanging over us' and as a 'playful tiff' belittles the nature of the actions and is an indication of a fundamental lack of respect.

Nigella has not said a word in public about the matter. The article says she refused to defend him. We don't know that for certain, but the point is she hasn't defended him. She has left the marital home and removed her wedding ring. Nigella may be a public figure, but she is a private person. Her first husband, John Diamond, lived his battle with cancer in the public eye through his newspaper column, book and television programmes. She featured in those media, but as John's wife, not the celebrity cook.

Saatchi is using the press to make an announcement that the majority of people would keep amongst themselves. Divorce is a subject that people find embarrassing to discuss. I know a few people who have  been divorced, and they don't make it public knowledge; in fact they only share it when the process is complete. 

The most shocking thing about the article though is the element of victim blaming, turning the responsibility back on Nigella, with the suggestion that she had done the same to him. We are now told by him that it has been a marriage on the rocks for a year now, and that he abhors violence. The suggestion is 'it was only once'. Well once is once too many!!

This was not the only example of victim blaming I was aware of yesterday. http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2013/jul/03/angela-gheorghiu-roberto-alagna-claims?CMP=twt_gu reveals the allegations made by the soprano Angela Gheorghiu against her ex-husband Roberto Alagna. Shocking again in the nature of the acts described. More shocking though is the opinion of Tim Ashley, dismissing this as attention seeking, and beginning the article with the word 'scepticism' and ends with mention of her 'temperamental past behaviour'.  A matter for the courts to decide no doubt.

However coming on top of the appalling attitudes shown yesterday to Marion Bartoli, the comments of John Inverdale on BBC Radio5Live that 'she was never going to be a looker' and comments on twitter that were so shocking that I will not repeat them here. Look at @EverydaySexism if you want to see the worst. On a day of great sporting triumph, did anyone say that many of the victorious British Lions were 'no male models' with their broken noses and cauliflower ears? No: I believe they didn't. Despite the attitudes of many changing, we do still live in a very patriarchal, sexist society. 

Back to Nigella. She is going through a great personal trauma and won't want to speak about this for a while. However as a national icon she has the love and respect of many right minded people. When the time is right she may speak up about her experiences. Domestic violence is rarely discussed, but in recent months a number of cases have shown the issue is one of control as well as abuse; the recent tragic murders in Salford and Birmingham, and of course the sickening Philpott case. 

Nigella is the victim here. The pages of coverage in the Mail on Sunday will embarrass her. Sadly this is the price of being involved with someone with media connections and a huge fortune. We all hope justice will prevail. 

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Hvorfor jeg elsker Nordic tv-drama! or Why I love Nordic television drama!



How do you spend your Saturday evenings?


Unless other occupied, for us it's usually BBC4 at 9 o'clock for our regular dose of Nordic Noir, a habit shared by a good many of my Twitter friends. It remains a tweet free zone though: concentration on the sub-titles is essential, to follow not only the plot but the subtle nuances of finely crafted television drama.


In the last three years there has been a rapid growth in the interest in Scandinavian drama. It began of course with The Killing ('Forbrydelsen' in Danish- literally 'The Crime') a mammoth twenty hours of television, gripping from the outset with a trail of red herrings, tension between the police and the family as a plethora of opportunities slipped by, political intrigue, sexual tensions, and a strong female lead dealing with family break-up and facing her demons as a 'bad mother'.


Two more series followed, played out over ten episodes each, and we fell for another detective from Sweden this time, Wallander, later recreated in English by Kenneth Branagh, but maintaining the same Scandinavian feel as the original.


The Bridge (Broen in Danish, Bron in Swedish) followed last spring/summer and was equally gripping, gory, with an aspergic nymphomaniac Swedish detective and her Danish counterpart, philandering and nursing the effects of a recent vasectomy, trying to balance the differences between each nation's laws and traditions; the loss of Scania in 1660 still grates with a lot of Danes.


Most recently, Arne Dahl has brought a harder edge to Saturday evenings. A maverick detective nailed to the wall through his hands by the Estonian mafia should provide enough of a taste there. A wonderfully assembled, completely diverse range of characters builds the tension and teamwork in equal measure.







However the programme that has really provided the most impact for me is the political drama Borgen, two series of ten episodes broadcast here so far and a third to come in the New Year.


This weekend has witnessed Nordicana, the UK's first celebration of Scandinavian film and television drama. We were fortunate enough to attend, and the highlight of the day was a screening of episode 13, in which a right wing politician tries to have the age of criminal responsibility lowered to 12, and Kasper Juul, the media adviser to the Prime Minister, reveals the secrets of his childhood abuse. This was followed by a Q&A session with the writers, directors and one of the actors, and other voices including Paula Milne, the writer of 'The Politician's Husband'.


Danish television made a conscious decision to invest in longer drama series, with high production values. The impact abroad of this project is largely a bi-product of a tremendously professional operation. Much effort goes into the writing of the series, and it was acknowledged that there is a debt to pay to the writers of Yes Minister, Prime Suspect and House of Cards. Indeed Adam Price, also a talented chef, is working with Michael Dobbs on a reworking of that series.


Is Borgen a political drama, or a drama about politicians? Well both really. A strong female lead, PM Birgitte Nyborg Christensen (Sidse Babbett Knudsen); a deliberate decision by the producers, as so much of politics is male dominated, and because the audience would have a different perception of the way a female politician would approach issues such as marital infidelity or the health of a child, compared to the same reaction of a male counterpart.


The decision to have Birgitte 'shag the chauffeur' in series 2 and for her husband Philip to leave her for another woman at the end of series 1 was discussed. The Killing did not feature any relationship for the lead character as Sofie Grabbol felt it detrimental to her character development. Sidse Babbett Knudsen did not want her character to be drunk and promiscuous, but the decision was made 'based on research' and on personal response to the situation. 


There is real life reference too. The episode we saw was based on a real incident when a right wing politician deliberately went to walk through a troubled neighbourhood of Copenhagen and was 'roughed up' to spin some propaganda. Imagine Nigel Farage doing the same thing here!




(Lars Knudson- Bendt- Birgitte's oldest ally- was there!)


Danish TV is setting a trend for the UK to follow- heaven knows we need it. Commissions are all too short; single dramas and 3-5 episode pieces seem to be the norm these days. Broadchurch however, at eight episodes, was an exception to this, and for those of us who follow Nordic drama, the pace, character and plot development was straight from the Scandinavian example. If you are in any doubt, The Killing shows this at its best; Pernille Birk Larsen, the mother of the victim, spends episode after episode staring mournfully into the middle distance, yet her character is completely convincing and genuine.

Such is the popularity of the genre now, it must be ripe for a parody. Fortunately I have written one already. 
http://supposeshakespearestartedthiswaytoo.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/the-bridge-estuary-noir-style.html

Nearly a million people watched the last series of Borgen. It isn't a niche market of trendies who watch subtitled films like it is some kind of exclusive club. If you like genuine drama base don real people, even in powerful positions, then our Nordic friends have much to teach us. The French have picked up on it too. In fact The Returned beckons on Channel 4 right now. Enjoy!!

Sunday, 31 March 2013

“Wasted investment? Why do so many teachers leave the profession in the first 5 years?”


I contributed to blogsync edition 1, was too busy for number 2 but wish to add my contribution to the latest collection of teacher musings.

The BBC recently reported that there are a growing number of teachers leaving the profession.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-20585457  Likewise The Guardian added that half of newly qualified teachers leave teaching within the first five years.  

Clearly this is a matter of great concern: to schools; to the teaching profession as a whole; indeed to the nation too, because if we can't staff our schools with good, qualified teachers, what hope do we offer our children.

First of all a couple of disclaimers:
1. Unless I specify otherwise, nothing below relates to my own experience or my own school. I have been very happy in my teaching career, and have benefited from good support and close friendship, which I have passed on in return. I have seen a few colleagues leave the profession, but they have left for reasons both personal and private. 
2. I do however converse with a great many teachers in my LEA and across the country through the 'Twitterverse' and through events and courses I have attended.

Why do so many teachers leave the profession so quickly? There is no single obvious answer to this question, but there are a range of aspects to consider.

Let's take the obvious one first. The current Secretary of State for Education is likely to be judged historically as the most destructive force ever in the state educational sector, particularly if the Government is unseated in 2015 and if we have an extended period of non-Conservative administrations following that. Even simply undoing what has happened so far will reach far into the life of any new Government. His PR standing among the teaching profession is not terribly high, but anyone who witnessed his recent appearance on Question Time would be put off entering the profession. Here he said that he did listen carefully to teachers, but if you analyse his words closely, he actually meant that he listened only to those who agreed with him. It is true that selective soundbites from Michael Gove and the head of OFSTED, Sir Michael Wilshaw, could be used to their detriment, but the overall message emanating from both is highly negative towards teachers as a whole. 

It is too simplistic to simply lay the blame at the doors of Gove; he has after all been in office for less than three years, and the exit of teachers predates the 2010 election, albeit a recently accelerated process. Constantly shifting 'goalposts', diktats about what is 'good teaching', changes to curriculum and the National Strategies, and a small rainforest of files, papers, guidance and suggestions poured forth from the Department under Labour, producing a range of mixed messages particularly for new teachers: was it compulsory or a good idea, or something that brought derision from others when it was brought back to school. I have seen many a young teacher confused by this volume of material. It is the younger minds in teaching that often bring the more progressive and creative thinking to the profession. For them to be turned off, and turned out, is going to leave a gap in the balance of professionals in schools.

Many complain of a culture of bullying in schools. This can take a variety of forms but it seems to be a current issue,certainly looking at the Twitter traffic, in making judgements on teaching for Performance Management . These judgements are not easy to make, and many teachers find they are down a grade from previously. How, I do not know, because surely with feedback from an observation a reasonable teacher would at least consolidate if not improve. I do know that a number of 'tweachers' feel they have been very harshly judged, and with futures and salaries potentially in the balance, some people will surely wonder why they should put up with such pressures. This does of course depend on the culture within a school. Isolated incidents can be referred elsewhere in schools with good support networks. If the culture emanates from aggressive management however, there would be genuine fear. 

I have heard an apocryphal  tale of a male NQT who lived close to his school being pressurised to take on caretaking duties when the site manager took long term sick. The time pressures of this soon spelled the end of a promising career.

Bullying can take different forms, even in matters that some might consider petty. I have heard of schools with a highly specific dress code, with disciplinary action if staff
 broke this. Most schools have a dress code, but this was an example of sartorial fascism! Petty it may seem, but if Senior Leaders are on the backs of staff for matters not related to teaching, it builds on the pressure of a job where levels of anxiety are heightened as a matter of course. 

Bullying exists in all workplaces, and often appears on the social media too. Tweachers enjoy a healthy debate on professional matters on Twitter, but there are a number of voices on the network who would appear to disagree with almost anything thrown at them; not in a one-off comment but in a constant stream. Any new or inexperienced teacher, perhaps a little sensitive, facing this will feel bullied under this barrage. We can't agree on everything, but Twitter is an effective communal voice for the teaching profession. Don't let us down!

Some of this bullying may result from a lack of professionalism, and here the teacher training establishments need to be including this within their training. I recall during my own PGCE a number of fellow students falling foul of the authorities for an overwhelmingly arrogant attitude, reported back from their placement schools. And we had training on being professional! 

Good induction in schools, and a support network for NQTs, can aid the process of professional development, but some young graduates come to the employment market and to teacher training believing the world owes them a living. Without reverting to a cry of 'Thatcher's Children!' or 'Blair's Britain' it can be said that the change in the political climate since the 1980s towards an emphasis on the individual prioritising working for her/himself as opposed to the greater good of society has impacted on the expectations of the younger generation, in an almost mirror image of JFK's inauguration speech. A good student teacher is worth their weight in gold, a poor one is a burden on the school they are in. I have sadly seen students drop out during a placement because they didn't really appreciate the pressures of their task.

Finally, teachers drop out because they don't always feel appreciated. 'Thank you' costs nothing and whether it comes in assembly, in a staff meeting or in passing in the corridor, it means a lot. A lack of recognition, or seizing on the negative despite a wealth of positives, can be a real downer for teachers. For hardened old hacks this might be water off a ducks back, but for less experienced teachers this could tip the balance to them taking another direction in their working life. A plate of cakes at the end of term or after an inspection may not seem much, but every little counts!

I am sure there are many more reasons for the teacher drop out rate, and fellow bloggers no doubt go into more coherently argued cases, but given that it takes three or four years of training and tens of thousands of pounds of public investment for each individual, serious attention needs to be paid to this issue to stem the tide. 



Thursday, 31 January 2013

“The Universal Panacea? The number one shift in UK education I wish to see in my lifetime”

My one true wish for the future of education in the UK, or in England at least, is to see politicians removed from education. Not politics you understand, but politicians. We are in a political profession, even if we profess no party preference, or if we express that we have no political interest, those are actually political decisions.

A Department for Education, not run by elected politicians, or career civil servants, but by good educational professionals would be my Utopia. This is my presentation as part of the #blogsync initiative http://share.edtronic.net

I am not going to say 'Michael Gove is an idiot', because that it too easy to write, and in doing so we are not actually doing our profession any good whatsoever. We are professional and reasonable people; name calling and mud slinging do not represent intelligent thought. Like it or not he was elected democratically (don't start me on the democracy of a coalition) and in this country we don't rampage through the streets and shoot down helicopters because there is a new curriculum initiative.

However this does not stop us having rational debate and saying that what he is doing is wrong.

Like many teachers at a senior level, I have an MA. Three years of hard work in my own time, travelling up to 80 miles on a round trip once a week or so, I wasn't going to waste my time. The time I used was spent on gathering evidence, from the research of others and from my own work in the classroom. No evidence, no MA basically. There is little evidence in Gove's ideology.

The one source he has quoted, Daniel Willingham, is a cognitive scientist, not a primary or secondary school teacher, in the USA, a country with perhaps more rigid curriculum rules than our own. He has researched brain mechanisms and memory, and has dismissed the usefulness of learning styles. He appears to be Gove's guru, and the source of his obsession with rote learning and the rigour of exams.

Phonics: I am not opposed to phonics as such, it is a way of teaching reading, but not the only one. The evidence base was very narrow. A study in Clackmannanshire, the smallest authority in Scotland, is the basis for the introduction of synthetic phonics in England. Too narrow a base, in a part of our nation with a different educational system. The testing too is a political tool. The use of nonsense words, whilst enabling new language learners to show their phonic skills, actually penalised good readers who for example might read the nonsense word 'dess' as 'dress' because they want to start reading real words to make sense of the nonsense. This appears to have penalised more able readers in their scores, and impacted on schools in the 'leafier' suburbs.

Rote learning. One small aspect of our battery of teaching tools. Useful for some children, not for others. Examinations. I am not opposed to them per se, but they prove what? Memory of facts, memory of set answers. Do they prove application of known skills? Already there is anecdotal evidence from the few remaining selective schools that children are being tutored purely for the entrance examinations, and not for their school work. As a result children are going to the grammar schools with level 3 and in some cases Special Educational Needs (other than ASD and Aspergers) that such institutions have not had to deal with before. Realistically if a child is going to cope with the demands of grammar school and the competition with other pupils, they need to be going there at level 5.

Academies. Another example of double standards. Entry criteria differ for a start. Teachers do not have to have recognised qualifications, yet there is a requirement to reach a certain standard in mathematics. There has been a head appointed at the Pimlico Academy Primary Section without any educational qualification. How on earth will there be any credibility there when a qualified and experienced teacher is criticised. Roke school in Croydon, a previously outstanding school had one rogue set of poor SATS, was put into category and is being forced into academy status in the Harris chain.

Decisions about school status aren't new though. Comprehensive education was a debate from the 1960s, but even then as a sop to Edward Heath, Harold Wilson agreed that Bexley would retain its Grammar Schools.

The Curriculum. We are being bombarded with changes in terminology. Is it inverted commas or speech marks? Determiners or articles? The Government is in place to run the country, not to dictate to us the way that we speak and the grammar that we use.

Mr Gove, like so many of his predecessors, is not a teacher. It is very easy to knock teachers. Just look what the panel did on last week's Question Time on the subject of school closures, even the normally logical Ian Hislop. Criticism of the decision to close schools based not upon the considerations of the Health and Safety of the children or staff, or on the ability of the school to offer an adequate day's education, but on the inconvenience of having to take a day off work and look after your own children.

Enough knocking of Gove. At least he is an Education Secretary to remember. Apart from Ed Balls the only one I could remember without reference to Wikipedia was Kenneth Baker, and I am someone who keeps an eye in with what goes on in politics. Oh there was that woman from my primary school days who took away my free milk. Name slips my mind at the moment. Even Shirley Williams, one of the few politicians I have time to listen to, and an eloquent supporter of the comprehensive system, made sure her daughter got a place at a selective school.

The current reforms, including academies, free schools and federations of schools, may sound the death knell of Local Education Authorities. Not a bad thing some people might believe. I have heard various authorities described as incestuous (metaphorically), corrupt, short sighted, and self interested. Again politics comes into play here.

LEAs are in the firing line of Government criticism if they appear to be failing their childrren. Derby and Coventry seem to be areas where an axe is likely to fall. Other authorities too are under pressure, and inevitably someone will pay the price. The nature of political self interest though means 'blame someone else'. This is true at National and Local level, and unfortunately in some schools too as some of my Twitter followers will attest to.

Is this personal you ask? Yes it is. Previous readers of my blog will know the experience my wife has suffered. One set of poor results due not to bad teaching but to the fact that the LEA had forced children upon the school who were not going to achieve level 4s. The current year 6 will achieve good results. Three other heads were dealt with in the same way, in word for word identical situations. The quota that the LEA could say to the Government to protect themselves for a while longer. Well: this affects people. The social, economic and emotional strains that this has imposed on our family probably mean nothing to the people who made that decision. My inability to speak out to a greater extent, down to the love and trust I have for my wife, is heartbreaking.

Politics you see affects people and unfortunately that has hit us hard.

Local politicians it seems are always putting their nose into schools for their own benefit. My old primary school, I discovered recently, has the former Lib Dem candidate for Parliament, and a local councillor, as its chair of Governors, and many of my old school friends, now parents at the school, tell me the feeling is that he holds the position very much for his own self promotion. His children don't go there. He lives in a different part of town.

Unions too. You don't escape my ire. Not the people at the top. You do a good job in the most difficult of circumstances. I mean the so called activists. Active you may be, but on whose behalf. Calls for strike action, refusal to hand in plans and cover for sick colleagues! Like I said before we are professional and children are at the heart of what we do, and a single day, even a single hour wasted can impact on the learning of a child. Much of this activism is aimed at getting up the noses of Heads and the SLT, and is often lead by teachers who are themselves ineffectual. Majorities in strike ballots may be mentioned, but many members don't vote. Not because they can't be bothered, but because they remember incidents such as David Blunkett cowering in the toilets at the NUT conference to escape an angry mob. Not a nice man I would agree, but a blind man, a frightened blind man. A most embarrassing day for the profession and manna from heaven for the right wing press.

We all hold political opinions- that is only right and proper in a democratic and free thinking society, and as good teachers we encourage debate and discussion. But politics affects us all as I hope I have illustrated.

Governments change, and bring their policies with them. It would seem unlikely at this stage that the current Government will be returned in 2015, though you never know. Likely then a new agenda, possibly one very different from that of Michael Gove, a man making more change than any of his predecessors. More upset, more change.

So I would like to see a Department for Education, and local administration of schools, whatever form that takes in the future, free of politicians and political motivation, but run by education professionals, without a personal agenda, not driven by the desire to force people out and humiliate them, but with the desire to build independently minded and compassionate young minds. If this country is going to have the future leaders that it deserves, this is where they will grow from.


Sunday, 27 January 2013

You have read it, now please act on it.

Last week I posted a piece about  my perspective upon and the affects of domestic violence and abuse. 

It has generated a lot of response- my second most read blog post to date, and I have moved some of my readers to tears. 

However I also requested that readers sign the current e-petition which aims to raise the profile of what is seen my many as an 'invisible' crime. In the last week 21 signatures have been added. Twenty one! Vingt et un! 4000 signatures per week are needed before the petition expires in August.

Many of my readers will have signed it already, but I don't know what is stopping you! You won't be blacklisted for expressing this opinion. You aren't advocating hunting of wild animals, or expressing an opinion that will marginalise a section of society. 

YOU WILL BE SPEAKING OUT AGAINST SOMETHING THAT IS A CRIME!

People who have experienced this are affected. They may feel it difficult to trust another partner again. They may feel paranoid and depressed. They might also be suffering the long term effects of injury.

Perhaps some figures will convince you.

One in four women and one in six men in the UK will experience some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime. 

It accounts for anything between 16% and 25% of all recorded violent crime.

Police take an average of one call a minute reporting domestic violence. 

In any one year there are typically 13 million incidents of violence to or threats of violence to women by their partners and former partners.

On average,two women are killed each week by their partner or former partner. 

(Source: http://www.womensaid.org.uk

And you wonder why I'm cross?

Here is some light reading for those of you with a little more time to spare http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestic_violence

So here is the address of the petition http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/36837

It takes less than a minute to sign. A minute to make a difference. Surely you can spare that!

Saturday, 19 January 2013

We Need To Talk About Making A Difference

Back in September I mused about the effect of the Fifty Shades books within society in general, and with a few references to my own observations. Little did I know the impact this would have and my Twitter follower numbers jumped as a result. There is a wider issue to address here though. 

Domestic Violence has always been with us; so long as groups of two or more people have lived in the same place in fact. Whilst I was growing up, it was very much a subject that wasn't discussed. I remember hearing the term 'Battered Women' or 'Battered Wives' as a youngster. How patronising do those words sound now?

'Polite Society' in our very middle-class town on the Lancashire coast didn't discuss such issues like this, or divorce, mental illness or alcoholism. Going comprehensive was enough of a shock for a town with two reputable grammar schools. Sociology wasn't even an A-level option at my sixth form.

It was only when I was about to leave home for University that I found the truth about why my mother's two sisters had divorced their first husbands. Abuse had begun for both on their honeymoons; one verbally abused and belittled, the other beaten on a regular basis. This was my first realisation of the way that some men could conduct themselves. My father would never have done this to my mother; 52 years together attests to this.  Now I knew why I wasn't allowed to meet my uncles again. 

When I met my wonderful wife, she told me of how her father had treated her and her mother. Again this was something unspoken and unchallenged. His behaviour was not faced up to other than by social exclusion. Though driven by alcohol, gambling and what would probably be diagnosed now as a form of autism, the patriarchal nature of society meant that my mother-in-law was unable to leave him until after nearly 30 years of marriage when the divorce laws changed, and to allow my wife   to prepare to take her O-levels without  fear of what might happen next. 

I have never directly experienced or even seen or overheard any form of Domestic Violence, but the experience of loved ones has made be realise over the years the extent of what takes place behind closed doors. The perennial 'I walked into a wardrobe door' or 'I slipped on the stairs' is sadly a real life experience for many women. In my first real job, one young woman came into the office each Monday morning with obviously thickly applied make-up, covering bruises on her face. Her partner met all the stereotypes; thuggish, muscly from the gym, never accepting that anything he did or said was wrong. Her brave actions in eventually going to the police, together with a diary of her injuries that, unknown to the rest of us, had been kept by a very quiet and sensitive lady colleague, eventually saw a court order barring him from the house they shared and the area around our offices. 

We cannot stereotype abusers. Many are of the thuggish mentality. I have heard 'I gave the missus a good slapping to sort her out' in the pub in the past. However DVA is not a white working class issue. Abuse transcends class boundaries. There are apocryphal stories of doctors knowing where to hit so the bruises don't show, of lawyers using their professional links to protect themselves. How true these are, we can only speculate, but it happens in every town, in every social group, and it crosses cultural boundaries too. In some cultures it is indeed regarded as acceptable and in the case of the UAE legal to do so. 

If anyone was in any doubt about the nature of Domestic Violence, a viewing of Paddy Considine's wonderful 'Tyrranosaur' is advised. My wife found it painful viewing at times, but it is a portrayal of Domestic Violence and the possible eventual consequences of it. I won't spoil the plot for you, but next time it is on Film 4 or Channel 4, set your box to record.




It blows apart the stereotypes too. Peter Mullan's portrayal of the angered, raging, possibly mentally unsettled social misfit Joseph is not the abusive character that his initial behaviour suggests. Olivia Colman, always marvellous and often underrated, plays the timid Hannah who suffers at the hands of James (Eddie Marsan). They live on the nice middle class estate, where one might believe this wouldn't happen, whilst Joseph inhabits the council estate where street justice seems to hold sway. 

Nor is Domestic Violence purely a male issue. Female to male violence occurs too, the recent Coronation Street storyline telling this very sensitively. Also it affects same-sex relationships too. A dear gay friend of ours recounts a tale of being beaten by a former partner, a bit part actor in Science Fiction programmes in the 70s and 80s. 'I regularly had the shit kicked out of me by a gay Cyberman!' 

The vast majority of Domestic Violence is however committed by men against women, often with injurious or fatal results. And it isn't just physical violence too. As the nature of society changes, so do the tools of abuse. Psychological abuse, 'You're not good enough' repeated belittling in private and in public. Economic abuse through deprivation of money, comments about clothes, size, hair style. The abuser may deny that this is the case, but continual wearing down is symptomatic of bullying. In these days of social media too, when we all seemingly have access to a range of devices, Twitter and Facebook, including the use of fake accounts, the use of snooping devices and the hacking of emails is a frighteningly real occurrence. 

The issue isn't one of violence necessarily. It is about control, which may lead to violence as the only way to exert it. Many men are emotionally incapable of dealing with other men finding their partner attractive, or of facing the consequences of a break up. The beautiful young woman who was scarred for life and blinded in an acid attack is the most shocking example of that. Sadly there are others. 

Men clearly don't reveal themselves as abusers in the early days of relationships, and warning signs might not be easy to spot. What makes a man a perpetrator? That is not easy to answer, but challenging the issue before it emerges is surely one way of ensuring that the incidence of DVA is addressed. 

In my role as a primary school teacher, if we see signs of problems at home we have child protection procedures to follow. For obvious reasons I won't discuss those here. But we also have a duty to challenge behaviours that we see. I always deal firmly with boys showing aggressive behaviour to girls, and I know from teachers in other schools that on occasion sexual language is used by children as young as 5 or 6 towards the opposite sex. Our PSHE lessons address issues such as bullying and inappropriate language and conduct. Recently, in Black History Week, a child expressed admiration for Chris Brown. A reminder of his conduct towards Rihanna rather balanced out that argument. 

Whilst men are responsible for the majority of the issues of abusive behaviour, and whilst figures of the percentage of women being abused is frighteningly high, it needs to be remembered that there are plenty of decent men out there. Most are passive, and wouldn't take part in DVA but probably wouldn't challenge it. Some of us however do speak out!

We aren't knights on white chargers, or even outrageously chivalrous, but believe quite simply that DVA is wrong and shouldn't happen. We would just like to be heard more often!

Some come on Gentlemen! This is your chance. Challenge abusive behaviour when you see it. And to really make a difference ensure that DVA is not brushed under the carpet by the politicians. Sign the e-petition so it is discussed in parliament. http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/36837 should take you there.

So there we are! I hope this isn't patronising. It won't get my daughter her A-Level Sociology if she copies this. But this is heartfelt by someone who cares and wants to make a difference. 

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Whose agenda? Who pays the price?

My wife is a Headteacher. A very good Headteacher. Now, as of last week, an ex-Headteacher unfortunately. Not because of retirement, illness or a desire to get out of the rat race. No! An agenda, get by the current education secretary, to expose so called 'failing' schools, and an agenda delivered by hard nosed, unfeeling hatchet men employed by the local education authority.

I won't name the authority or my wife's school or my wife: we don't share the same surname. She doesn't wish me to make a scene.

In the last few weeks we have had to endure more stresses than we have ever dealt with before. However this experience is sadly shared by a growing number of leading educational professionals, sacrificed at the altar of 'standards', 'progress' and the desire to academise as many schools as possible. 

Months of pressure, snide criticism, and twisted half truths inevitably take their toll on a person's confidence and trust in their own abilities. The same pressures applied to staff through the same source only serves to erode the capability of a teacher to perform in class as they know that they can, particularly under the pressure of the presence of an inspector looking to exploit even the slightest flaw in your teaching.

Let me summarise the situation. An offer to support the school to reach a grade of 'Good' was made some time ago, and an experienced  professional brought in to assist. Nothing unusual there, but the agenda this particular man had was quite revolting. Teaching does attract a number of young female recruits; the last thing they want to experience is a man standing in their room staring at their breasts whilst they are trying to teach a class of impressionable children. Nor do they wish to be brushed against in the corridor, or on the stairs, for what seemed an interminable period of time. The inevitable result of this intimidation, equally meted out to male staff too, not in a sexual way, but through staring matches, unfair comments and behaviour that only served to belittle them. Three were in fact forced from their positions.

A suggestion that the entire staff work through the six week summer holiday was met with derision by the teachers, though my wife was helped by me to write an evaluative report, lifted in part from another school, rated Outstanding by OFSTED.

Eventually, a 'mock' OFSTED was held, in which inspectors were hand in glove with the original hatchet man. The wording of the report was actually taken exactly from another in the same authority- only the names were changed. It actually carries no authority whatsoever, but was sold to the governors as if it did. 

A meeting with the Director of Education in which my wife was asked if she was going to resign took the biscuit completely- it is not the position of the authority to demand something like this- only governors can do so. Lies have been told throughout- the decision was made a while ago, only the evidence to back it was required. Some was justified but most was not. 

The area of weakness identified was poor results from the outgoing year six, but that is explained by the vacancies being filled by the authority, in this case with children with exceptional need who were never going to reach level 4. Comments about poor leadership were inaccurate and quite unfair.

Much is being done well. Good teaching- regardless of what the inspection said, you cannot as a teacher possibly slide from 'Good' to 'Inadequate' in that space of time. Results are above expectations throughout the school. Community cohesion is exceptional, care of and safety of children is of a very high standard, behaviour is very good, especially compared to other schools in similar areas. Substantial work to improve the playgrounds and general environment of the school has been undertaken and highly praised locally.

The previous OFSTED inspection included this statement:

"The school provides a satisfactory education for its pupils. 'The school is a happy and friendly place and has been fantastic in helping my children.' This statement reflects the positive views expressed by pupils and the overwhelming majority of parents. In this welcoming, harmonious community pupils are happy and safe and make sound academic progress."

My wife is of high standing in the local community. The way that parents speak to her, in confidence and in public, the range of issues they discuss with her and the way they regard her as a friend first, ahead of being a headteacher, indicates the respect in which she is held. 

A phone call we received at home recently from the local MP, one of the best community MPs in the Commons, affirmed my wife's standing.

In short, a decision made by and driven by the policy of government, delivered by Directors and hitmen, with no concern about, or indeed a reference to, the needs of children. The authority did  this to keep the Department off their back- as if it justifies their own standing!

Nothing could be done to save my wife's position. There was upset amongst the children on the day she left; parents had already worked out what was happening through reading between the lines of her letter explaining her departure. The words 'stitch-up' have been widely used. There is likely to be some kind of protest, though I know it will be in vain.

What must happen is that this must not be allowed to occur again, to any head teacher. The pressure of teaching often leads to dreadful  depression. I wonder how Mr Gove would respond to a leading educational professional taking the ultimate step because of his policies. 

Postscript:
Since posting this blog originally I have had a massive response from my followers on Twitter, and your messages of outrage and support are greatly appreciated. Between us we have met heads and teachers from around the country, and have received messages through Twitter, confirming that this is going on around the country: a number of London boroughs, education authorities for major cities in the Midlands and the North of England, county authorities where several heads have been dispatched since September alone.