Little_Mavis' rants and musings

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My excuses

I’ve been musing (nothing new there) about why I find the “no excuses” approach in schools so … unpleasant.

If you follow me on Twitter (@little_mavis) you will see that my bio says “Passionate about fairness” and I am. I like everyone to be treated fairly and I will even sometimes, speak up on behalf of people I do not agree with if I think they are being unfairly castigated. (Though having said that I think some people are so far beyond the pale that I cannot bring myself to say anything in support)

I think I may have found a logical and practical reason for my not being happy with overly strict ways of dealing with school children.

For now I am leaving aside the moral consideration of whether it is right to ignore personal circumstances or special needs when imposing and judging misbehaviour or that of the fairness/morality/effectiveness of the form that the punishment seems to take. I’m just going to make a point on the practical consequences on ordinary, average, non-troubled/troublesome kids.

You see, many of us think our kids behave & it’s others who cause all the problems. But, even with uniform lists & sets of rules, you can’t always be certain you won’t fall foul of uniform requirements you interpreted in a different way, or another child maliciously blaming yours for something they didn’t do, or of a teacher having an off day. These excessively strict systems are not renowned for giving the benefit of the doubt. And if there is anything which will make a well behaved child lose confidence in the system, it’s being punished for something when they didn’t do anything wrong.

I was punished in infant school for something I didn’t do. I still resent that now. Remember that Twitter meme where it asked for your longest standing grudge? That’s mine. The girl who lied about me to a teacher more than 50 years ago.

I get that life isn’t fair. I’ve told my own children and students that. But the whole point of the “no excuses” system is meant to be to teach children that good behaviour is right/desirable/rewarded, and I’m not convinced it will do that.

I am by nature a rule follower. I suspect that’s why I rail so much against rules that I see as unreasonable or unfair. And I’m just not convinced that the supposed beneficiaries of the “no excuses” culture, those quiet, well-behaved children that we are trying to protect from hooligans and malicious troublemakers, will be as well served as we imagine. (As an aside, I’m not as convinced as some that there really is an army of malicious troublemakers as some but that’s another discussion)

Maybe it’s not the “bad” who will learn new ways.


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Conformity or Variety?

A very quick two penn’orth on the issue of criticising/praising schools.

For what it’s worth, and feel free to ignore me but, in my personal (& humble) opinion, it’s good to have schools with different ethos(es?). I doubt there is a single way that works for every child (assuming we could define what we mean by “working” for every child). And even if it did there will be teachers and parents who would find it morally uncomfortable to follow some practices whether they be strict discipline or too much freedom. Maybe we could just accept that different provision should exist for different requirements.

Some fortunate children will thrive in any circumstances because they are adaptable and have an enriching and knowledgeable home environment. These are the children that teachers describe as “a joy to teach”. Some will also thrive in any circumstances through sheer grit and force of will. On the whole, these are less well liked by teachers because they can make life uncomfortable but they are valuable because they can teach us something about ourselves and how we relate to those who do not fit our image of what a good student should be like.

Sadly there are others who need something different. Yes, the quiet children who might suffer because the classroom is too rowdy (by the way, if we are being really keen on developing “grit” shouldn’t we apply it to this group? – Not advocating this, just pointing out an odd inconsistency in some current ideas) but also the misfits who struggle to conform or to concentrate. They may need something different.

What I find worrying is the idea that if something works in a specific setting it should be applied everywhere and, if ever this then doesn’t succeed, it’s because people just aren’t doing it right. That may be the case, but it also may be that the idea isn’t universally transferable to elsewhere.

I’ve seen arguments/discussions recently about whether it’s OK to praise or criticise specific settings or people. I’ve seen concerns about obedience and conformity.

Personally, I’m not keen on obedience as a concept, I’d rather instil a knowledge of what is desirable or acceptable in varying circumstances and have children understand why certain behaviour is required and then do that because they want to. I’m also not keen on enforced conformity, which is odd, because I tend to conform. Maybe that’s why I dislike petty rules so much, because I can’t just do the sensible thing and ignore them when they get in the way of common sense. I need to fight them.


I don’t especially want to stop other people running their schools in a way I dislike. I just don’t want people trying to make all schools work the same way and I would be most unhappy if I had no choice but to send my child to one.

Just stop telling other people they have got it all wrong and you are right regardless.

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The kids know!

I got into a conversation one morning at the end of last week about dealing with stroppy year 6s.  Ultimately, I suspect, my main problem with them the previous day was that I was tired and a bit irritable so that fairly minor poor behaviour was irritating me more than usual. The main point still stands though. Currently Year 6 children are attempting to throw their weight around. SATs are done. They haven’t yet had results and many of them believe that there is no point in any of their work they are doing now, however interesting or ultimately useful it may be.

Some children, maybe most, will still want to learn, simply because they always do, some are naturally co-operative and obedient but there are always those few who just keep pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable behaviour.

In general, I like to look for the cause of poor behaviour and tackle that. I reason rather that threaten or punish but some children seriously test my resolve. The ones I find most difficult are the arrogant ones who seem to genuinely believe they deserve special treatment, that the rules don’t apply to them. They are the child equivalent of adult drivers who park in disabled spaces or double yellow lines because they are “just popping in”. You have all met them. They perfect the art of sighing and eye rolling well before the rest of the kids and always have a (totally ridiculous) excuse.

These are also the ones who are most acutely aware of the hierarchy that exists in schools. They will modify their behaviour for the head and somewhat grudgingly for the deputy or senior staff but not so much for newer, less experienced teachers and if, like me, you are support staff, they regard you as irrelevant and unimportant.

I used to be a teacher in sixth form. I have taught all kinds of students from level 1 to A level, and, although classroom management wasn’t in all honesty, my strong point, I wasn’t routinely ignored when I issued instructions. Even there the hierarchy was evident. The most graphic illustration of this was in one of our very rare assemblies. A student was talking as the Principal was about to speak and did not stop quickly enough. The Principal asked her to leave.  In typical student fashion she argued and insisted she would be quiet now, he was having none of it “You either leave this hall, or you leave the college. Your choice.” No-one else could have said that! In turn Department Heads or Programme Managers were known to possess more power than classroom teachers. The students know this! They will adapt their behaviour accordingly. If students play up a teacher but behave for someone more senior it may not be that the senior teacher is that much better at behaviour management  (It may be of course but that’s a different issue).

But, back to support staff. As a TA working with the top group on their weekly mental maths I had a pupil argue with me about the the answer to a question on percentages. They firmly believed they were right and I was wrong (I wasn’t), but it was indicative of the general regard in which we are held. I also work, as many TAs do, as a Lunchtime Supervisor. These are the members of the school staff who are apparently the lowest of the low. We are routinely ignored when implementing the (minimal) rules that are in effect at lunchtime. Our initial sanction is to put miscreants “on the wall” for a limited period. (Is this universal by the way? – Standing students next to the person by the entrance to the school). If this is not effective the next step is to send them to stand in the dinner hall or to the Deputy Head which is really simply relying on a higher authority who may not always be available and, in all honesty doesn’t seem to have any real long-term effect. It can make for a very fraught hour some days.

I suppose, ultimately, this post is simply asking you (especially senior staff) to note that if you believe you have behaviour in your school sorted, check with your support staff to see if they are still having issues, make sure you have systems in place for them to use and make sure you back them up in practice.

In some ways it can be tough down at the bottom of the school hierarchy.


Oh. And if you do have advice for dealing with especially arrogant children I’d be delighted to hear it.


To click or not to click?

Quick post on the current clicking discussion.

This makes me uncomfortable & I’ve been trying to figure out why. I haven’t sorted it out yet but I am bothered by the trend in education of getting kids to conform, and I suspect my uneasiness is partly to do with this. If we are going to get kids to conform we need to think very carefully about what we are getting them to conform to and why. Who are the long-term beneficiaries from this? And what do we lose if we continue down this road? Some kids love structure & belonging to the crowd. Some will go under if they are forced to do this.

Thinking specifically about the clicking, are kids doing it to genuinely show approval of what someone is saying? Or are they doing it because they know it is expected? Does it start as one but evolve/devolve into another?
In my fist job I was sent to a conference. I was confused by delegates asking questions that the speaker had already answered in the talk. Eventually I worked out that they were asking questions so as to be seen to be “involved”.
Could the clicking lead to subtle  bullying, withholding for children who aren’t part of “the crowd’.

I’m not dismissing this just exploring why it makes me feel uncomfortable. I can see why teachers rigidly control classes. I can see how this makes them easier to control and how, initially at least more learning takes place. I’m just not sure it leads to independent learners in the future. Or maybe it’s my own deep-seated prejudices showing?


Are We Uniform?

I was prompted to think about this after reading the story from Ryde Academy. That has all fizzled out now, so I assume the parents buckled and forked out for new uniform items just before the Summer holidays in the sad knowledge that their kids will probably have grown out of them again by Christmas. I know most of the concerns of parents there was to do with the way sanctions were imposed but I generally find the fetish we have for school uniforms rather bizarre. I was surprised, in this case, and others I heard about after asking around, that “knee-length” means “to the bottom of the knee”. (I’d always assumed it meant to the top, though this may be to do with the fact that I was at high school in the late sixties when mini-skirts made their first and most persistent appearance.

This is my (5th) form photo from 1970 mexborough-grammer-class-5alpha-1969 I went to a Grammar School.

We had no uniform in the sixth form and had a successful campaign for girls to be allowed to wear trousers there, though not in the school and never jeans. We were not compelled to wear our blazers at all times and we were not expected to ask permission to remove e them. We had caps for boys and berets for girls. We rarely wore them. There were various rules about shoes, socks and tights. They didn’t seem especially unreasonable or onerous.

Many current uniform requirements seem to be heading towards unnecessary extremes and I have a suspicion the rules are more to do with ensuring the children conform than any seriously practical consideration.

I accept the arguments for uniforms, I don’t entirely agree with them, but I accept them. I also think that when you have rules they should be adhered to, uniformly, across the school. I think this is made much simpler, for teachers, children and parents, if the rules are simple, clear, fair, and seen to be fair.

To this end, my idea of a school uniform is:-

  1. The uniform should comprise items that can be bought at reasonable cost from ordinary high street shops. You should not have to buy through the school, online or through specific, named (and usually expensive) suppliers.
  2. It should be washable. School clothes need to be washed often and need to dry quickly to be reused and avoid having more items than necessary.
  3. It should be comfortable. Personally I’m not keen on ties at all and I’m not convinced making girls, especially, wear ties with shirt top buttons uncomfortably fastened in hot summer weather is really preparing them for the world of work. Are there really that many workplaces with such rigid rules? And I think primary children don’t really need ties at all.
  4. It should not make children objects of derision from other children.
  5. Children should be able to take off jackets when they feel the need, not have to await the whim of a teacher.
  6. Light coloured outer clothing should be allowed. We can’t seriously run campaigns encouraging people to make sure they can be seen in the dark and not allow children to do exactly that. I used to worry about my children missing the bus and having to walk home in winter on a poorly lit road with no pavement.
  7. Girls should be allowed to wear trousers. (I’m Okay with “not too tight” but specifying, say, wool, is impractical)
  8. Skirts. Oooh. How short is too short? Well. Look at the photo. I think most of the ones you can see are too short. I’m not on the front row. My skirt wasn’t that short. I’d also not allow tight skirts. But fussing over a centimetre above the bottom of the knee seems excessive. Especially since children will insist on growing.
  9. Hair. Length for boys shouldn’t be an issue as long as they follow any rules that girls do about tying it back.
  10. Rules on jewellery should be applied impartially. No exemptions on religious grounds.
  11. Allowances for extremes of weather. Wooly tights in winter, dresses or short sleeved shirts in summer.


I think that’s it. Simple rules. Comfortable uniform. Less scope for argument.

I’ve probably forgotten something or missed some nuance. I’m sure you’ll let me know.