Gosh – what a weekend.
For the record, behaviour has been an important area for me since joining Highbury Grove but, by no means the only one. We’re also working on our curriculum and pedagogy, building a strong trust culture across the staff, exploring research-engagement, changing our professional review systems to take out data targets and the fear of PRP ; using the ideas embedded in the Trivium to shape learning, creating a Baccalaureate-style post-16 model, building the Sixth Form, tackling homophobia – amongst other things. You can see the whole school development plan here, just to get things in perspective.
I wrote about our ideas about behaviour just before I started : Towards ‘Impeccable Behaviour’. Together I’ve set out some principles for a behaviour system – stressing that the system isn’t an end in itself; we need it so that learning can flourish. I was delighted that Sam Freedman picked up on this on his twitter feed.
I also reported the process we’d gone through and the final details of the system: Towards Impeccable Behaviour Part 2: Ready for Launch
In January I wrote an article for the TES – they asked me to write something and this seemed like a good story to tell. It throws up all kinds of issues about school culture, what we mean by standards, how schools need to work with a diverse community of students and parents and how systems need to have a certain spirit. I tried to capture some of that, including the pain barrier we’ve been through to make improvements. I was being honest and open – why be anything else? This included a reference to the need to bring parents onside including someone (one person) who felt a detention was ‘Orwellian’. When the article finally came out on Friday I was horrified. The headline twists the emphasis in a radical way: ‘How my school came to love Big Brother’. What?? A sub-heading further on reads: ‘Surveillance Culture’ and the magazine has a large jokey image of a security camera on someone’s head. Ha-bloody-ha. So – you can’t even trust the folk at the TES to treat a sensitive story with a bit of respect. Yes – I know. Doh! How naive.
For the record – we don’t have a surveillance culture at Highbury Grove; the detentions are not Orwellian – there is nothing Big Brotherish about our behaviour system that we have come to love. That’s not how it is. We’re explicitly trying to show our students how it feels to inhabit a world where ‘impeccable behaviour’ is real – so that they learn to be self-disciplined, motivated learners. The initial wave of detentions dropped within a couple of weeks; we’re at a new equilibrium point now – preparing for the next push where standards will rise further still. Slowly, steadily, sensitively with love and care.
But the TES disappointment was just Phase One. OMG – when the Daily Mail pick something up it’s time to brace yourself…
The whole thing is cast as the story of a Super-Strict Headmaster transforming an unruly school by dishing out detentions. It’s all very….. Tabloid! Some of my friends and colleagues love it. They’re saying ‘well done’. But I’m not relaxed about it at all. It is pretty weird to read our story as told to please the Mail Mafia alongside the recipes for ‘menopause muffins’. For the record, Highbury Grove was not an unruly school when I arrived – there were difficulties; standards needed to improve but ‘unruly’ suggests something else altogether. Behaviour has improved for sure – but the idea that things have been transformed isn’t accurate at all. We’ve only just started – and we’re building in a sensitive way towards a culture of learning that anyone would embrace.
Reading the comments below the Mail Online version is eye-opening. I’ve never experienced anything on this scale before – polarised views of what we’re doing thrashed around with all kinds of assumptions made about me and my motivations: eg ‘I bet Christmas is fun in his house’, ‘big man picking on little children’, ‘In North Korean it’s called dictatorship’, – and apparently I’m a power hungry careerist. Strewth. On the other hand, the supportive comments dominate – albeit in a way that reinforces the idea that we’ve introduced some kind of oppressive regime. For some, I’m the new age Rhodes Boyson, just a cane short of the real deal. Well – for the record – Highbury Grove doesn’t feel like that I can assure you. There seems to be no room for nuance in the way this story is told! And since when was a strong discipline policy the preserve of Right Wing thinking?
All of this goes to show how difficult it is to walk the line. It was probably a mistake to write the article. Reflective posts on my blog clearly don’t translate to a mainstream publication; there is a price to pay. Lesson Learned. I’m so much more interested in what the school actually is than what it sounds like or looks like from the outside but there’s a risk that the message is getting distorted. Right now I’ve also got a fairly major responsibility to deliver on the National Baccalaureate; that’s hugely important to me and all of this Noise is a distraction we don’t need. I’ve got work to do.
So, no drama, but I’m considering shutting down for a while so that I can focus on my school a bit more privately. I’ve got a huge backlog of posts to write and lots to talk about and share but for a few weeks at least I may need to do the day job behind closed doors. It’s just too hard to manage the message. I might hang one of these up (metaphorically – obvs). Knowing me, it won’t be there for long.