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. 



Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Hillsborough: The Truth at Last

15th April 1989 is one of those dates that stands in the memory of football fans across the UK; one of those 'What were you doing at the time?' days.

The tragic events of that day changed the game forever. Smart safe grounds, the influx of television money, the profile of the game across the class structure of the nation.

Today we learned the truth.

Actually most of us knew the truth on that Saturday evening. The inadequacies of the police leadership, the failure to identify the packed nature of the pens, the shocking state of the stadium which had seen similar, if smaller scale crushes at semi-finals in previous years. Surely nobody believed that the city of Sheffield only had one ambulance.

The memories of that day are indelably etched. I am used to an era of live football only being on the radio- Radio 2 it was in those days- and I clearly remember the great Jimmy Armfield describing the atmosphere 5 minutes before kick off, including a seemingly throw away comment that the pens seemed very full. Eleven minutes later the game stopped, and I switched the television on to see the horror unfold.

The manner of the deaths and injuries, the instantaneous cover up begun by the police, the story that The Sun ran; having just delivered an incredible Olympic and Paralympic summer, in is difficult to believe that within living memory sports fans had been treated so poorly.

The story ran of fans urinating on each other. In being crushed, bladder control is going to be lost. As for pilfering the bodies; had nobody heard of looking to identify people.

We are all indebted to the families for the campaign for the truth. Trevor Hicks, who lost both daughters and his marriage as a result, has been an eloquent spokesman. Anne Williams, whose son Kevin may have been alive well after 3.15, equally strong.

Names and ages of some of the victims are inscribed on the Hillsborough memorial at Anfield Stadium, the home of Liverpool Football Club

Today we have more questions to be answered. How can 164 witness statements have been changed and nobody notice? How is it that 41 people could have been saved? What did the politicians of the time really know?

This afternoon and evening, Liverpool has shown the great dignity it has always had. Steve Rotherham  has told us firmly that the fans were not to blame. Alison McGovern was clearly emotional in her response, and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Andy Burnham for his part in the campaign.

Now the truth is out, only one thing remains to be asked for. Justice.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Fifty More? Surely not!


Yesterday I commented on my views about the Fifty Shades books in general. Today I went to W.H.Smith, no different from any other branch, and very similar to any High Street/mall/retail park bookshop I am sure. Nothing unusual about that you might say; a typical middle aged retail visit for a Sunday afternoon! I am no typical middle aged man remember!

There were two six foot high displays of books, the second and third set of shelves from the door, of the Fifty Shades series and the associated ‘copycat’ literature.

This is to be expected of any best-selling genre: there are several Scandinavian style crime dramas on show of varying degrees of sophistication; books about young teenage geniuses at obscure Scottish or North Country public schools; even the occasional entirely original text. Imitation or parody is, I suppose, the ultimate accolade of one’s talent.

These books are clearly there to build upon or exploit the market created by the Fifty Shades phenomenon. However I believe, from the title alone, that these further promote the kinds of abusive and disrespectful behaviours that the original series appears to promote.

‘The Diary of a Submissive’: excuse me, but no decent, self-respecting woman would submit to the will of any man, however strong willed, if they had any sense of honour.

’12 Shades of Surrender’: Surrender in Japanese belief in World War II was the sign of fear, failure, and lack of respect for oneself.

‘Haven of Obedience’: ‘obey’ is barely present in modern wedding celebrations; ‘respect’ and ‘honour’ even as very old fashioned terms, have more credence, even in an age where so many marriages barely last beyond two-three years.

‘With My Body’: oh please; if I was younger, single and desperate, the implications of that would be too much. As someone more mature in years, married, and with a deep held respect for women, I find such a title beyond belief; the term in the old Anglican marriage service is about respect, duty and loyalty, not anything remotely suggestive.

There was a further section of books entitled ‘Tragic Life Stories’. I was quite inclined, as I have been in the past, of moving copies of Mr Blair’s book to ‘True Crime’. In the end I didn’t, as nobody appeared interested in these books on this occasion.

However I believe, through the suggestion of the titles and the way the content is discussed, that these books only encourage the negative, submissive and repressive attitudes that the original books suggest. Don’t buy them!

Fifty Shades of Abuse


I first became aware of Fifty Shades in the US on a family holiday last Easter. We were in Boston, one of the most literate and creative cities in the States, and there was an article in the Boston Globe about this phenomenon- they called it 'mummy porn', and explained that what had started as an e-book had become such a talking point amongst California housewives that the text went to print. Later that day several of the bookshops had displays of all three volumes. I dismissed this as an American trend, but on returning to the UK discovered that it was on sale here and that ELJames was a Brit.

Now for any writer, word of mouth recommendation, the 'Tube Book of the Moment', and people following a trend is manna from heaven. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, One Day, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, the Millennium Trilogy and of course the Harry Potter series all sold, it could be argued, in the volumes they did because of this particular channel of communication.

In June 2012 however Fifty Shades took off and copies were being passed around  and conversation about the 'raunchy bits' were rife. I am no prude, but I found the way in which these were described in conversation bawdy at best, uncomfortable at its worse.

An initial thought was 'at least they're reading' even if it was only because everyone else was. We are in a more sexually liberated and egalitarian society than some decades ago, and women are just as entitled to talk  openly about sex as men so often do. However the more that I listened to conversations, it made me realise that these were not just 'books with some shagging'! I haven't read them, but have seen enough on blogs, in synopses, and being next to a woman on the plane this summer reading it, where the words 'he tied me up, and f***ed me hard up the a***' caught my eye. I am no literary fascist either; people need to make their own minds up about what they read.

I used to work in the City of London, and a more sexist, misogynist and repressive atmosphere couldn't be imagined. Extra-marital affairs seemed not only the norm, but compulsory, strippers brought in for birthdays, and always someone who appeared to be the source of hard core, illegal and quite depraved  pornography. As a young man, single and I was told 'not bad looking' it was assumed that every woman I spoke to I was trying to get into bed. Any notion that I was talking to them as friends or equals was beyond many people. Any attempt to explain myself was often met with a harsh 'You must be a poofter then!'. 

So, we can see; deeply held opinions about the role of women from a large section of men in UK society. Which brings us back to Fifty Shades. http://www.50shadesisdomesticabuse.webs.com is the website of a group which campaigns against the domestic and sexual abuse encouraged in this book. There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that behaviours and attitudes amongst women are changing as a result of these books and that some of the things that the female lead allows to be done to her are becoming commonplace. Yes I did write 'allows to be done to her'; in an era of Germain Greer and Erica Jong I perhaps mistakenly thought that this was a thing of the past. Consider this alongside the evidence that teenagers and even younger children are getting their sexual education from internet pornography, and that threesomes, anal intercourse, and encouraging girls to experiment in faux lesbian sex are regarded by many younger people as acceptable, as too it would seem is the use of violence in sexual conduct, or the use of it if sex is refused. As a father to two pretty daughters, that concerns me, though my wife and I have encouraged them to be tough, independent and to know their own minds.

I have a writers blog http://supposeshakespearestartedthiswaytoo.blogspot.co.uk/  I have included  on there three parodies of Fifty Shades, as a bit of gentle mocking of the tastes of some of my colleagues.  I sincerely hope they are reading it only for some light relief and have no desire to be involved in some of the activities described within.  

Domestic violence, sexual violence, rape; it's not rocket science to say it is unacceptable. None are about sex, they are about power. The one time I served on a jury, we convicted a man of rape, of his own sister believe it or not, but that was about power within a family, and not about sex, even though it was a sexual act. He objected to the majority of women on the jury, tried to appeal to the feelings of the three of us, not realising we were of similar opinions to each other, probably more strongly held than some of our female jurors.

It would be naive to suggest that the sexual revolution has ended abuse of women by men, though it has highlighted it's existence. 

I have few close male friends, mainly because I don't associate myself with attitudes like that ones so described. I have many close female friends, strong, intelligent and beautiful; my former colleagues and a number of other men couldn't get that concept, and of the notion of loyalty and fidelity that goes with it.

I am not alone in this though. There are plenty of like minded men out there who would not dream for one minute of treating a woman in such an abusive way. The behaviours that Fifty Shades encourages may only be acted out by a minority, but one case will be one too many. I sincerely hope that the legacy of this trilogy is just in the volume of book sales, and not in a case of someone meeting an untimely end as a result of what it seems to make acceptable.

Whatever Happened to the 'New' Man?

Two weeks after my youngest daughter was born I was introduced as 'our token new man'. Never a term I was truly comfortable with; on reflection though, I could see why I was described in such a way. Though never the 'token man'  I was the one who could cook, ('You're a man who knows his way round a kitchen'), who read, talked about World Cinema, appreciated the pain of childbirth, wore pink without being self-conscious, knew something about female emotions, yet didn't try anything on with my female colleagues.

The term 'New Man' has very much disappeared in the modern vocabulary, but the 'principles' of the movement, if there ever was one, are values which should hold true in modern society.

I am going to use this blog to share my opinions, values, interests and observations on  a range of events, issues and matters of current concern to the World or myself. Feel free to share or ignore as you see fit.