Sunday, February 4, 2007

Slough of Despond

The evening news for London on BBC1, Friday last, had a story about Baylis Court School, Slough. That video report (which Malcolm is using below) is here: the abbreviated text report is here. Despite the moderation of the BBC, the loonies are astir and the braying racist right is already having its bellyful.

The story was presented by Padraig O'Brien (? spelling: he does not seem to be credited on the BBC website). The talking heads were Andrew McLusky, a supply teacher of certain years, and Ray Hinds, a young Deputy Head—and who, in this case, was the designated and unfortunate flak-catcher [© Tom Wolfe].

To summarise: McLusky had arrived on Monday for the first day of a short-term commitment. He had been sent into a Year Seven RE class with the assignment of an essay on "the advantages and disadvantages of religion". Malcolm's guess is that the school wanted McLusky to set the writing task, and then merely child-mind, keeping some kind of order. Instead he tried to teach: prefacing the written element with a discussion to establish some key points. Inevitably, somehow the topic of suicide bombers came up. "Somehow predictable, that", thinks Malcolm.

Baylis Court School then promptly dispensed with McLusky's services. O'Brien asks Hinds if the accusation is to do with the opinion that "all suicide bombers are Moslem", and Hinds replies "I believe that was one of the comments that were made".
O'Brien: "Do you think that comment is, of itself, racist?"
Hinds: "I don't think it's important what I think: it's what the pupils think that were in the classroom at the time, and they were very upset."
Notice, though, Hinds still implies that McLusky has been deemed "racist".
Later, in a second clip:
O'Brien: "Someone would think that [the school's treatment of McLusky] was a little heavy-handed, or that it could have been a group of over-sensitive 12-year-olds dictating employment policy here."
Hinds: "I think what I would do is come back to my first statement, which is the welfare of our pupils is paramount."

"Welfare" is a curious word to use here. In its context, it is another smear on McLusky.

The impression is explicit that McLusky had been treated shamefully, and, indeed, is the moral winner in this little contretemps.

A view from the chalk-face

Malcolm knows that McLusky's experience is almost the norm. Little Darlings have elevated supply-teacher baiting into a blood-sport, and many wimpish schools are condoning this.

Example 1:
Supply teacher, covering an art class, tells a group of pupils (including at least one white student) to come out of a huddle in the return corner of the classroom. One of the students heaves an oil-drum sized waste container across the room at the teacher. The supply teacher is reprimanded because the pronoun "you" is possibly racist.

Example 2:
Supply teacher, covering a cookery class, reprimands a boy for shouting "fucking slits!" through the door at the girls inside. Said supply teacher tries to remonstrate with boy about inappropriate language. Teacher is further abused by boy. No action is taken against boy. Teacher is reprimanded for delaying student's arrival at his proper lesson.

Example 3:
Supply teacher sent into a GCSE English class, and told to teach a particular poem from the "other cultures" section of the anthology. The poem seems to be along the lines that a house may have different rooms, but it's all one house. The interpretation would seem to be that, despite cultural differences, we are all human. Teacher takes students through the poem, giving explanation and exegesis, then proposes a framework for a response essay. Since this is a lower-attainment class, the framework is exhaustive, including a final paragraph of "personal response". The teacher is pressed for a suggested "personal response". Reluctant to be pressed, and put words in the minds of others, teacher finally and diffidently suggests that he would have to admit having "issues" with the divisiveness of "Black History Month". Hysteria ensues: teacher suffers same fate as McLusky.

What's your point, Malcolm?

Well, he says, it comes down to this. Hinds (see above) got it almost right. It is the duty of an employer (which includes places of education) to ensure the health, welfare and safety of all inmates.
  • "Health" includes intellectual health, including the ability to question and view all perspectives: no teacher who denies (or is denied) the right to question is doing a proper job, at any level.
  • "Welfare" is just that: doing and faring well: using the term to imply some kind of deviance is unforgivable.
  • "Safety" includes professional and physical safety, and McLusky and others in his position are—quite literally, as the evidence quoted here shows—being put at risk.
And there is another dimension. Supply teaching is just another aspect of our culture of "disposable" workers (see Malcolm's posting of last November). The TUC highlighted this last June:

Life as a temporary worker in the UK too often means earning less than permanent colleagues, being denied access to a pension scheme, having less annual holiday entitlement and no sick pay ...

In almost nine out of ten (87 per cent) of the 85 workplaces - employing over 100,000 staff and 15,000 temps - surveyed by the TUC, agency workers were earning less than directly employed staff, either taking home less per hour than their permanent workmates, or losing out on overtime or other bonus payments.

The EU proposed an agency workers' directive some five years ago. As far as Malcolm knows, it still remains a proposal, somewhere between "on the shelf" and "down the drain".

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