Sunday, 13 May 2012

Quis custodiet custodes?

Jane read me some letters from The i newspaper today, which I found it hard to credit, about the head HMI saying that teachers don't know what stress is. I found it hard to believe until my brother came to tea and confirmed that Sir Michael Wilshaw had indeed been saying this to headteachers. So I looked up the report on line. There, along with a pose which he likes to adopt, I gather, looking down on us lesser mortals, was the article:
Teachers don't know what stress is, says Ofsted chief
from The Independent
"Teachers don’t understand the real meaning of the word stress, the new Ofsted head, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said today.... Sir Michael told a conference of headteachers... : 'Let me tell you about stress. Stress is what my father felt, who struggled to find a job in the Fifties and Sixties and who often had to work long hours in three different jobs and at weekends to support a growing family.
“'Stress is, I’m sure, what many of the million-and-a-half unemployed young people today feel – unable to get a job because they’ve had a poor experience of school and lack the necessary skills and qualifications to find employment.'
"He added: 'Stress is what I was under when I started as a head in 1985 in the context of widespread industrial action. Teachers walking out of class at a moment’s notice, doing lunch duty on my own every day for three years because of colleagues who worked to rule, covering five classes in the sports hall when there was no one to teach them....'"
What a crass and unprofessional inaccuracy (to use the noun Lord Leveson preferred to The Sun's "a lie and a slur")!

It puts me in mind of Brutus' description of the rise of a tyrant in Julius Caesar:
                           "But 'tis a common proof,
    That lowliness is young ambition's ladder,
    Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
    But when he once attains the upmost round.
    He then unto the ladder turns his back,
    Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
    By which he did ascend." How well Shakespeare understood human nature! In case you're not clear quite what Brutus means, he's saying something like it's common experience that ambitious upwardly mobile characters, having climbed the ladder from the bottom, when they reach the top, regard themselves as gods and despise the lower rungs by which they climbed. Sir Michael's comments display not a little scorn for the ranks of the profession by which he attained his present lofty position. 

They also display an amnesia of the elementary principles of good teaching and good management - as I'm hearing Ofsted inspections are doing too. It's almost as if he and his cronies are kicking the ladder away regardless of the number of young teachers who fall off in the process. (No doubt Ofsted would regard it as a justifiable "rattling" of the professional ladder.) However, encouragement achieves better results than destructive criticism, as all good teachers know. There's of course a place for constructive criticism, and it's the job of HMIs to point out to schools where they could improve. But now, it seems, if one element of a school's performance, let's say, for the sake of argument, its academic results, is weak and in need of improvement (which might, to be fair, be a result of a weaker cohort of pupils following a particularly good one), no other elements can be rated higher (such as pastoral care, behaviour or community involvement). In other words, no recognition is given to the parts that are good, and thus all the teachers' efforts are rubbished and their morale undermined. It is not the way to treat people. 

A good teacher is not uncritical of an essay, for example, but he will find both good and bad aspects to comment on. To concentrate simply on the bad is a mere exercise of destructive power. To tell teachers, whose job patently is stressful, that they don't know what stress is similarly is an abuse of power.

In church today we were considering the commandment, "You shall not steal", and it occurred to me that officious Ofsteding (if there is such a word) is a form of theft. It's an irresponsible stealing of confidence and undermining of competence. And it's theft both from the teachers and also their pupils. Professional enjoyment and pride is replaced by fear as the motivation for performance - and as Britain's Got Talent proved last night enjoyment produces far better results than fear, even for dogs like Pudsey, whose reward is an appearance at the Royal Variety Performance and possibly Hollywood. Teachers' monetary rewards are not great, but the job satisfaction is - which is why most teachers teach. To have the job that you do rubbished by the equivalent of Simon Cowell must cause you to wonder why you bother. The question is "Who keeps an eye on the Inspectors?" Quis custodiet custodes, as the saying goes in Latin.

Having said all that, I noticed that Jesus didn't write off the likes of Zacchaeus, the Bible's archetypal "fatcat" who gave himself whopping bonuses. In fact he got him down off his perch, and described him and those like him as "the lost" and "also a son of Abraham". I find it quite challenging to love chief HMIs and top bankers, as Jesus appears to have done.... 

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