What is the behaviour like in many of the schools rated ‘good’ by Ofsted? Katharine’s book ‘To Miss With Love’ exposed chaotic disruption of lessons and bullying of vulnerable pupils. This is the second in a series of three posts (the first is here) republishing extracts online;
Monday 6 January
On the bus on the way to school, four girls, twelve or thirteen, board. The black bus driver in his fifties tells them to get off because they don’t have travel cards. They jeer, shouting insult after insult at him, gesticulating aggressively. The bus driver shouts back: ‘What is wrong with you? Why do you behave like this?’ His Caribbean accent shakes with anger. ‘I feel nothing but shame when I look at you, you know!’
Wednesday 8 January
Mr Goodheart has brought in a behaviour expert. She observes me with 9.5, a class prone to swearing, fighting or jumping out of the ground-floor window with other teachers. Afterwards, in my office, I ask: ‘So, tell me. You saw a normal lesson: too much chat, reluctance. What do I need to do differently?’
‘I saw you telling them off for not doing their homework. Why set homework? I shouldn’t worry about homework with this class: just don’t set it. Instead, why don’t you have games throughout the lesson? They need to have incentives to learn. If they won’t learn under the methods we use to teach them, then we must change the way we teach to accommodate the way they learn. As they have short attention spans, give them gold stars, praise – and chocolate makes a good prize.’ But I want them learning for learning’s sake! I refuse to bribe the kids.
Wednesday 22 January
I’m observing, Mr Bushytail, a new teacher, with my Year 8 class. They look like they’re possessed by demons, chatting away, laughing, pushing each other, banging the desks. Only a few are quietly waiting, waiting for him to take control of the class. They wait. I wait. We all wait. But the control never comes. The groupwork gives them the chance to chat about everything and anything except the work they’re meant to be doing. Then Bushytail puts them in teams. It’s chaos: the kids are screaming. No learning is taking place whatsoever.
Thursday 23 January
I storm down the corridor and run into Munchkin, who’s sitting outside his Maths lesson. ‘Munchkin! Sent out again?’ He’s silent. ‘Munckin, what’s going on with you?’ But he just looks at the ground, saying nothing.
Tuesday 28 January
I organise a trip to the cinema to see the film Coach Carter. It should explain to the kids why we teachers insist on having high standards, that we do it because we care, not because we hate them. Once at the cinema, we have to try hard to keep them in their seats. We have to stop them from hitting each other., throwing popcorn, yelling. Within minutes, a fight has broken out. With the help of other teachers, we separate them and isolate them. I return inside to the darkness. Suddenly, Seething us headed right for me. She shoves me out of the way and shouts, ‘You’re a freaking crackhead!’All I can do is write an incident report: the unruly behaviour, the fights, the swearing, the shoving of a teacher, the disrespect.
Wednesday 29 January
Mr Goodheart decides not to punish anyone for their behaviour on the trip. He says it’s best to draw a line under it and move on.
Friday 14 February
My year 8s are misbehaving, so I pause, as I often do, and explain to them that we are wasting learning time. ‘You misbehave, and we fall behind. Don’t you get it?’ I raise my voice, exasperated. ‘You have no idea what others are learning and achieving in other schools. The competition is fierce out there!’
Monday 24 February
Seething and Deranged start arguing. Kids gather round, laughing, shouting, cheering them on. ‘‘Tramp!’ ‘Bitch!’ ‘Yeah! yeah! Yeah!’ screams the mob. I try to separate them, try pulling them apart, try pushing them apart, but nothing works. They are ripping each other’s hair, grabbing each other’s throats, whacking each other and me too as they bit each other. They other children are yelling like jackals, Furious the loudest. Other teachers arrive to disperse the girls, and then the mob. My bag, wallet, cards have fallen out … but my phone? Where’s my phone? It cannot be found. My favourite phone ever, and it’s gone.
Wednesday 26 February
In a lesson with my Year 8s I somehow get talking about how yesterday I had no phone and no internet. The class lets out a gasp of horror: ‘No internet?’ ‘No telly?’ ‘But Miss, what did you do?’ Their mouths are open. ‘No internet? Can you imagine? What do you do? What can you do?’ The room is buzzing.’ Just go to sleep,’ yells Munchkin. ‘Yeah, sleep: that’s all there is left.’
‘Right! I want everyone’s attention! No internet, no TV, what can you do instead?’
‘Or the cinema’
Eventually, someone says, ‘you could read, Miss.’
No one takes any notice of this idea. No one mentions homework. Why would they?
Saturday 1 March
Two hundred children went on a trip out of London for activities like archery recently. After scenes of chaos and disobedience, twenty had to be sent home. The trip cost thousands. Ten kids didn’t even bother to show up, even though their places had already been paid.
Monday 10 March
I’m on duty outside school when I notice Excluded. He was asked to leave the school permanently a year ago because of a terrible track record of constant disruption, bullying and aggression towards teachers and pupils.
‘Excluded,’ I call.
‘What? What you doing, man? I ain’t done nothing!’ His manner is aggressive, snarling like a fox cornered by dogs. ‘What you doing coming up to me like some kind of policeman?’
I ask him what he’s up to these days, and where he is now.
‘Nowhere, man.’ Excluded spits on the side of the road.
‘Nowhere? You must be somewhere?’
‘Yeah, well, you know, I go centre.’ He means the Pupil Referral Unit. And yes, I guess that means he doesn’t go anywhere at all. He struts off down the streets, kicking the pavement in anger.
Wednesday 12 March
Stoic is eating alone in the canteen.
‘Hi Stoic. You know, I’ve been thinking about how extraordinary you are, how hard-working. So what’s made you like this?’
‘Miss, when I was in Year 8, I turned and looked at the others in my year and noticed they were always misbehaving and getting into trouble. To be considered cool you had to be bad.’ He shakes his head. ‘So I decided there and then to go without friends and to work hard instead.’ I look around the canteen and note how the others are taking no notice of Stoic. I think of the resolve and strength of character it must take for a thirteen year old to go without friends in return for future success. If this is what it takes to succeed, it is any wonder that so few of them don’t?
Thursday 13 March
Knock, knock. ‘Miss, can we have a word?’
‘Of course. Have a seat, girls.’
One starts to cry. ‘I just can’t stand It any more, Miss, It isn’t fair. They shout and scream at the teacher all the time and I can’t hear myself think!’ she sobs. The other pupils are so loud and cause so much havoc that no one can learn.’
‘We’re worried about exams. We’re really trying, Miss. But the others are always laughing, shouting and taking the piss. The teacher just waits until they stop. But that takes forever. Sometimes teachers shout and get into arguments. And we aren’t learning anything!’ She lets out a deep breath. ‘It’s not fair. I wanna get my GCSEs. I wanna have choice, like you said.’
‘Have you spoken to Miss about it?’
‘Yes’ she shouts. ‘I’ve asked if I can work in the library but she says it ain’t allowed. We have our GCSE exams in, like, a minute, and they don’t care!’
What am I meant to do? How can I tell these girls to make the effort and then, when they come to me for help, say there is nothing I can do?
Monday 24 March
I turn up at another history lesson to remove Munchkin, who is being so badly behaved that he has been sent out. He storms down the corridor in front of me. “It wasn’t me. She’s always blaming me, man.”
“That isn’t what I want to hear, Munchkin. What is going on with you these days? You used to be so well behaved and nowadays you’re behaving badly across the school. You think we don’t see what’s going on? Fifty and Cent are not boys you should be hanging around with.”
“It wasn’t me, man. She just hates me, yuh know.”
“I’m talking about the bigger picture. You do know they’re a bad influence on you, yes? And you do know that you come to school to learn? So what do we need to do to help you learn better?”
“Nah, Miss, I just can’t be bothered.”
‘OK, well, what do you want to do when you’re older?’
‘I wanna be a footballer.’
Monday 21 March
I speak to the head about the advertisements for science teachers, and there is not a single application. By that, he doesn’t mean a single good application. He means, there isn’t anyone applying at all. Some science departments in London are made up entirely of supply teachers.
Thursday 3 April
Beautiful walks into my office with her long black hair swishing behind her and sits down. He father follows behind, a small Pakistani man, and shakes my hand. ‘Morning, Sir, good to see you again. Please have a seat. So what is it you would like to discuss this morning?’
Beautiful’s father, Mr Serious, lets out a sigh. ‘Well, Ms Snuffleupagus, I am very worried about history.’
‘Miss, it’s like I said. I can’t learn in history. And my dad wants to know what we can do about it.’
‘I know, and Sir, it is very good of you to come in. You know that we’re trying our best to support Beautiful’s class.’
‘I know, Miss, but our class is so bad.’
Her father looks at me, his eyes filled with hope. ‘As her form tutor, is there something you can do?’
‘Now, look, beautiful, you can’t let this beat you. In life, sometimes you hit obstacles. But you don’t let them get you down. You figure out a way to beat them. ’
‘But, Miss, I try to get on and do my own thing. I sit at the front. I ask the teacher for extra work. I get it marked outside of class. But I have to teach myself this stuff at home ’cause the teacher can’t teach. And it’s so hard.’ Tears start to fall down Beautiful’s face.
Her father mumbles, ‘It wasn’t like this in my day.’
I try to reassure her. ‘Now, now, Beautiful, no crying now . . . that means you’ve given up. And we never give up in the face of an obstacle, now do we? We don’t let them beat us!’ Beautiful blinks through her tears and smiles. ‘What did Martin Luther King do, huh? He had a big obstacle to overcome, didn’t he? What did he do?’
Beautiful wipes her face. ‘He didn’t give up, Miss.’
‘That’s right. And when you go for college interviews, and job interviews later, they’ll always ask you that magic question: “What are you like when faced with a difficult situation?”, and you, Beautiful, will be able to talk of this time in your life, when you didn’t let this obstacle get you down.’
Beautiful grins. ‘Yes, Miss. Yes, Miss. You’re right, Miss. I’ll just work harder.’
Mr Serious sends his daughter to school to learn, not to survive classroom chaos. I wonder how it is he hasn’t got angry at our inability to simply provide a school where the teachers can teach and the children can learn.