I’ve been reading some very disturbing reports on twitter about sexual bullying in schools. It’s a big issue I think and, I also think, it’s a massive part of pupil underachievement.
Pupil underachievement – isn’t it nice writing pupil? Not “student” or “learner”. Pupil, pupil, pupil, I like it. Pupil, pupil, pupil!
Sure it comes from the Latin: he/she who will sit down, shut up, do as told, practise lots, learn lots, go off and have a brilliant life, having learnt, above all else, the importance of effort and delayed gratification. I think that’s the etymology, if not, well, it would be in my alternative universe!
Back to sex!
As teachers, we often talk about “raging hormones”. The theory goes, Year 8 are pre-pubescent little sweethearts, each and every one a chubby-faced cherub with an insatiable thirst for knowledge.
Then come the Summer Holidays. And, after 6 weeks of internet “research”, Year 9 come back in September, but not the wide-eyed innocents they were just 6 weeks ago – now they’re sex-obsessed beasts – gagging for “love in the 1st degree”. (Bananarama – they were the days!)
There’s some truth to that I guess. All of these “raging hormones” are often used to explain, even excuse, rudeness, laziness, inattentiveness, general sloth and, what we euphemistically call, low level disruption.
And so what if the lads grab a “bit of tit” or a “bit of arse” as one of the girls goes past? They’re just being lads! It’s their hormones – they’re “raging” apparently. And we can’t expect lads to control themselves can we? It’s normal! You don’t want them to be puffs do you!
See, that’s where I think so much of boys’ underachievement comes from, that’s what so much of this macho posturing and sexual bullying is all about. It’s lads demonstrating to other lads that they’re “proper lads” by doing “proper lad things”.
Yeah, “proper lad things”! Like underachieving at school, like never being seen to make an effort, like belittling girls, like being misogynistic and homophobic. Manly heterosexual pursuits! All very character-building I’m sure.
But shouldn’t teachers, and that’s from SLT down, be actively and deliberately creating a school culture that is focused 100% on maximising learning? And if we’re serious about learning, shouldn’t we be tackling indiscipline and unacceptable behaviour in all of its forms?
And where does this bullying, sexual or otherwise, take place? In corridors, on the stairs, in the yard, in the canteen – in fact, all those places that are massively policed come Ofsted inspection time. All of those places that, at inspection time, are bristling with SLT. All those places that, beyond inspection time, are largely free of adult presence. Funny that!
But what about in the classroom? SLT can’t be everywhere. What about those classrooms (so I guess those teachers) where big-mouthed, rude, arrogant kids are allowed to put down their peers, to ridicule them, to shout them down, to generally belittle and, of course, deprive them of a decent education? What about those classrooms where group and pair “work” are used as a cover for the teacher who can’t actually get kids to work silently in a focused reflective manner? What about those classrooms where the lack of basic routines means kids waste hours and hours every week?
Blatant sexism and all other forms of indiscipline and unacceptable behaviour don’t just happen spontaneously. Kids are rude when they think they can get away with it. They learn, in some schools, and with some teachers, that there aren’t any real consequences for rudeness, arrogance, selfishness, laziness.
But it’s society at large! Teachers, we can’t be held responsible for all of society’s ills. I agree absolutely. But surely teachers can be held responsible for school culture? Teachers can be held responsible for their own classroom culture – can’t they?
Teachers, starting from the top, create school culture. Sometimes they create cultures where “teacher talk” is vilified and “pupil voice” is lauded; cultures where the “no hands up” policy leads to a “the mouthy kids shout out” reality; cultures where “boy friendly” strategies lead to low expectations, deep-rooted underachievement and the active reinforcement of harmful gender stereotypes.
So sexism is a massive issue in schools. An issue that should be tackled. But sexual bullying is only one example of indiscipline in schools.
In well-led schools where, not just the SLT, but the vast majority of teachers, actively lead kids, completely assume their role as authoritative adults, as the unquestioned arbiter of right and wrong – in those schools, kids don’t think they can make up their own rules. Sure, kids still try to make up their own rules. They’ll always try! But, in well-led schools, kids soon learn that when adults say it, they actually mean it.
Fancy an anecdote? A teacher friend of mine told me a little while ago of an episode where she discovered a 14 year boy, as she said, “pleasuring himself”, in her lesson. Obviously, she reported this to SLT. The response? “You need to make your lessons more engaging!” Sound advice indeed! Can’t expect Johnny to control his “raging hormones” – can we?
We create school culture, we create our own classroom culture. In the best schools we have inspiring, savvy SLT with the right priorities. SLT who know that the right culture has the power to transform teachers and kids. Then there are the schools where window-dressing trumps genuine leadership and where topiary trumps hacking at the roots.
But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the “leaders” that say “take care of the learning and the behaviour takes care of itself” are right. Maybe we just need to be more engaging.
So remember that next time you’re in a staff briefing and your attention’s flagging and you’re not being sufficiently “engaged”. Maybe you can do like the 14 year old with the “raging hormones”. Try it!
“Mr SLT, you’re not really engaging me. Thought I’d have a quick Tommy Tank. Knew you’d understand! Cheers!”