Timeline Controversies

Gosh – it’s been an acrimonious week on my twitter timeline.  Mostly my fault.  I’ve had to mute a lot of conversations just because I’d had enough.  I’ve blocked a few rude people too.  That’s my policy I’m afraid: if I don’t know you or can’t tell who you are and you’re just rude – addressing comments to others about what I’ve said and not to me directly or just weighing in with shouty rudeness, there’s only one response: Blocked.  I just don’t have room for it.  One strike and out.  The same goes for comments on this blog.  I don’t know why people think they can post a rude comment and expect me to publish it – of course I don’t. It’s my blog, not a public service channel.  That’s the beauty of these platforms – you can do what you like with them.  I know some people think it’s some kind of social media etiquette faux-pas to block and mute.  Well, too bad.  I do it liberally – including when people decide they can DM me to argue a point. That’s my personal space you’re invading there.  I follow enough people with a range of views not to live in bubble and anyway, life’s too short. 

What’s been going on then? 

First up was colour-blindness.  I’m profoundly colour-blind.  I might not be as bad as some people but I fail all the optician’s tests – I get red and green, blue and green, purple and blue, pink and grey.. all mixed up.  I see colours but God knows they don’t seem to be the same ones my family see.  So what? I see this as a difference; a variation, a characteristic. It’s not a handicap or a disability. It’s barely a deficit at all. I’m left handed too – it’s about the same level of minor hassle every once in a while – and nothing more.  That’s just my view – it’s a talking point.  And yet there are folk out there determined to feel sorry for themselves, almost willing the world to give them a disability badge.  But boy – people don’t want to hear it.  Some people disagree with me and say so courteously – ‘Tom, that’s a bit harsh’.   Ok. I can hear that.  But I’ve had some chap trolling me for a week, tagging on tweets asking if my prejudice against colourblind people (like me?) will feature in events or books… Bonkers.  When one man suggested 1/12 of the male population suffered systematic discrimination at work and at school because people don’t adapt everything for them – I hit the block/mute button.  As if the world doesn’t have 1000 bigger issues to worry about. 

Next up was a tweet about the vast difference I see in the conditions different teachers work in across sectors and the fact this difference doesn’t get the level of recognition it should.  Although it’s probably in my top 5 ‘most liked’ tweets ever,  at the same time I was accused by lots of people of being divisive – we’re all teachers doing our thing, we make our career choices, we all have pressures, they’re just different.  I don’t buy that.  Surely, there are aren’t many more structurally divisive elements of society than stratified schooling – selective, independent, post-code selection etc.  Let’s not pretend otherwise. 

 I used a clumsy turn of phrase – that you might work hard, but it’s “nothing compared” to the work in more challenging situations. That doesn’t mean your hard work is nothing.  It’s just that the work/pressure/stress in some schools is simply on another scale. It just is – in a lot of situations.  What amazes me is how far people will go to rationalise their more comfortable choices by seeking parity with those in what I’d call ‘frontline’ schools – rather than humbly acknowledging the wider and obvious point that, yes, thank God, thank you, thank you, whilst we work in privileged conditions, there are still enough teachers (just about) prepared to commit their careers to supporting the very toughest schools there are.  Why is that so hard to admit? When I was Head of one of the most selective schools in the country I learned that acknowledging privilege and respecting the gulf between my circumstances and those of my colleagues in the neighbouring comprehensive state schools was the only way to be; the only way to legitimately sit in the same room and talk about education with any kind of credibility.  I felt that there were – and still are – things that can be learned from good selective schools; there are ideas to share.  But the ‘different pressures’ argument just doesn’t go very far.  

The next controversy was one I dipped into and catalysed but didn’t directly engage in.  Following Natasha Devon’s announcement that she’d resigned from her TES affiliation because of an article about supporting transgender students in schools, featuring an organisation called Transgender Trend, I asked a couple of questions: Why exactly is it so problematic?  Well… I was responded to in no uncertain terms.  To some TT is an outrageous transphobic hate-peddling organisation doing damage to young people.   To others, it represents a legitimate science-based perspective on gender/sex and gives sensible pragmatic advice.  I’ve read lots of the links I was sent.  I have experience of supporting transgender teachers and students so I know a little about how different people have felt but at this point I feel I couldn’t make public comment about each case being presented;  the level of ferocity of the exchanges in this debate make it almost impossible to join in.  I have since received lobbying emails from both sides and I can hear the sincerely held views from both sides..  In that atmosphere, teachers and parents with children who experience strong feelings of gender non-conformity with or without additional questions about their sexuality are understandably going to find it difficult to get impartial advice. One thing is for sure – you can’t have a debate if people call you a hater unless you completely agree with them.  

Finally – behaviour! I’ve not engaged too much on this beyond lending some support to Tom Bennett as he surfs another wave of social media abuse and misinformation.  Tom can defend himself without any help from me but sometimes it pains me to see people lay into him when he’s promoting two massively important areas in school life probably more effectively than anyone else: excellent behaviour and research-informed teaching.    I’ve been to 20+ ResearchEd events which have opened my mind, led me into a world of ideas that have supported me in my work with teachers around the country. It’s brilliant. And he does it all without personal profit.  People don’t want to hear that.

 I’ve been involved with Tom’s training on behaviour – it’s just the most sound, principled, practical and well-constructed set of ideas I’ve encountered. Culture, norms, routines, consistency. Total sense.  Tom gets how tough schools work and he gets that schools are all different; it’s the people on the ground that have to make them safe and happy places and need to construct systems around their values and contexts.  The idea that he is some kind of Nick Gibb mouthpiece prescribing rigid no-excuses regimes everywhere is just wrong.  Of course he has views and biases. Who’d have thought!  Sometimes his humour and playful hyperbole is wilfully misrepresented. But you only have be 5 minutes into a training session to find out that he is serious, sincere and is promoting a nuanced set of ideas. The Tom Bennett attack squad need to get some perspective. 

Thankfully there are lots of good people out there who know how to have a mature discussion.  This kind of thing: 

  • Really? Gosh – I don’t agree with that at all but it’s interesting to hear your perspective. 
  • My experience is the opposite – I probably see things differently to you. 
  • That worries me a little. I don’t dispute the key idea but was that the best way to say it/do it? 
  • Do you not think, that the process could be more transparent? 

I’m no saint online – but there are plenty of people who manage to exchange opposing views without launching some major personal attack or without being rude, dismissive and sarcastic. It can be done!


  1. Blissfully unaware – I deleted Facebook and Twitter accounts a few months ago and feel strangely liberated and time-rich by comparison.

    I’ve worked in large, complex and tricky comprehensives and in small independent schools. All teachers in all schools are stressed, stretched and under pressure. I wholly agree with you. In the vast majority of schools, teachers are, thankfully, not under physical/mental threat. It is very hard going to work day in day out to be confronted by swearing students, low-level criminality (at the hardest school I worked at, everything was up for grabs from the contents of vending machines to the keys carelessly left by a teacher on their desk) and the possibility of a minor confrontation turning into a major GBH incident. I lasted 2 years and my admiration and respect for the colleagues who were there (and some still are there, nearly two decades later) is huge. The commitment to working with tough students experiencing tough lives is immense, and there really is no comparison with the experience of a teacher in a calm school with those handling daily extreme situations.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well said Tom. I think you are such an inspiration and so balanced in your thinking. I don’t agree with every single thing you say, but I struggle to think of what I disagreed about -probably nothing of any significance. You are right. life is too short to get bogged down with disputes that can go nowhere and become more and more acrimonious. Often it is just about listening, really listening to the other person and not jumping to huge ill-founded conclusions. And that, I suppose, is the huge limitation of twitter.

    Liked by 1 person

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