Friday, 20 October 2017

Restricted Access to A-Levels

It is all very well to talk in abstracts, but perhaps a closer, more concrete take on the issues at hand is needed. Although The Trash has often spoken of Hampstead's obsession with league tables and results, the excesses of this obsession are multiple and varied; so much so that it is often difficult to know where to begin.

Regardless, we must begin somewhere. Beneath the surface of "amazing results" and a "commitment to progression", Hampstead kicked out almost 40 students between Years 12 and 13. Although it is made fairly clear that students must "re-enroll" for the second year, the situation is not as simple as a contractual agreement between two participants (the students and the school). To absolve themselves of responsibility, a first claim the school might make is that "students are responsible for their results, and Sixth Formers should behave more like adults than children". In spite of what truth it might contain, accepting this view wholesale and in isolation leaves us with an incomplete perspective, and ultimately relies on the masses and masses of unspoken rhetoric about "the real world", "toughness" and "facing up to reality" to make any sense at all. For one, the vast majority of Sixth Formers at Hampstead were also at Hampstead throughout secondary school; it ought to be asked where exactly they acquired whatever traits are supposedly responsible for their poor performance at A Level. Equally, where does Hampstead somehow cease being actively involved in the life of one of its students? "You have been here for 6 years, but now, I am afraid, we must throw you to the wind."

We are told that there is a magic line separating GCSEs and A Levels. No such thing truly exists. It is plainly true that a lot of things (must) change as one transitions, but (in Hampstead at least) many things do not. With their strictly enforced codes on uniform and tucked in shirts, their constant watching presence, “planners out all lesson”, and other assertions of power for the sake of it throughout lower secondary, the Management refuses to allow independence, and leaves even the possibility of independence foreclosed. To do well at GCSE, students are largely better off mindlessly swallowing all the mark schemes and factoids they are ceaselessly fed than they are trying to understand, let alone develop a genuine interest in, a subject. Five years of this treatment hardly work wonders for "personal development" or "flourishing", or any of the vapid euphemisms that serve to conceal the fact that those subjected to such a destructive system actually have to live with it. So without independence or interest, students start their A Levels. But if they fall short, it is seen as their fault for lacking the very things of which they have been systematically deprived; a chance to be independent, and a wide space to pursue and develop interests.

When it comes to shoving tens of students out, perhaps a case for the ruthlessness of bureaucratic management is not so clear.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Losing The Keys to Learning

A recent decision to begin locking a number of classrooms/study spaces in the Sixth Form area has caused delays to Year 13 lessons, after they were left locked during scheduled lessons.

A number of classrooms that until recently were left unlocked during free periods for Sixth Form study are now being locked on a regular basis, in what appears to be a move to combat "irresponsible usage". However, the persistent unavailability of keys to the rooms is causing delays to lessons, in some cases taking up to 20 minutes of a lesson, requiring subject teachers to find other classrooms.

Three Year 13 classes and their teachers wait for the keys.
This particular situation is not entirely exceptional. Watching a teacher inquire about the keys to a classroom is a routine part of lesson for many, and while it largely takes very little time, it can drag on. Dealing with access to a classroom, or an alternate classroom, should occupy as little of a teacher's time as possible. Yet again however, because of systematic issues and management blunders, teachers are left with no choice but to consume time that could otherwise be put to teaching, and in this case has actually been explicitly designated for it.

Regardless of how much "irresponsible usage" of the SF rooms was taking place, trying to prevent it in the aim of somehow improving the Sixth Form is incredibly counterproductive if it actively hinders the provision of teaching. The haphazard decision making and poor communication typical of Management is plain to see here. So much for "every minute is a learning minute".

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Spread Like (Shrinking) Jelly

Our Lord and Saviour, the Head, seems to be going the way of George Osborne when it comes to jobs (and let's hope he doesn't end up editing the Trash). According to his LinkedIn page, as well as the many assemblies he has chaired over the years boasting his many conquests, being Headteacher of Hampstead is just one of a miasma of jobs.

As we have already reported, Jacques has the wonderful pleasure of disappointing other schools as an Ofsted inspector. He is also the chair of the London Heads Steering Group of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) and has been involved in the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) as a Council Member, Executive Committee Member, Chair of the Pay & Conditions Committee and, most recently, Chair of the Curriculum Committee.

The fun doesn't stop there - Jacques also finds time to apparently be a fellow at the Royal Society of Arts, which seems odd since he has shown all the artfulness in the past few years of an AT-AT walker. In fact, as a physics teacher by trade (although the last time he taught science seems to be 1999), he couldn't be further from the arts; the systematic quashing of any creativity or individuality at Hampstead, as well as the numerous extra-curricular activities that promoted creative learning, stand testament to this.

Then again, the Head's LinkedIn profile may be, naturally, a little inflated beyond reality. Not only does he list things he is good at as "School Improvement", "Curriculum Development" and, confusingly, "classroom", he apparently also has "professional working proficiency" French, which seems hard to believe since anyone who has taken French at Hampstead has never heard him say more than 'Bonjour' as he sticks his head round the door.

That said, if what his profile and past experience says is true, it is a wonder how Jacques could do so many things, be spread across so many time-consuming things, and still be able to competently manage a school...

P.S. His LinkedIn profile also lists "Causes Jacques cares about: Civil Rights and Social Action, Education, Politics, Science and Technology, Social Services". Civil Rights and Social Action, oh the irony.

Friday, 22 September 2017

The Terms and Conditions of Uniform #1

Inevitably, each new school year brings controversy around the question of uniform, and how strictly policy around it should be enforced. What often goes unquestioned, however, is the actual state of affairs that underlies the entire debate, and the wider process that uniform policy is actually involved in. 

This year, Hampstead has been without notable upset with regards to uniform, but it is still very much a school with uniform. What does it actually mean though, that it has a uniform? The Trash is no stranger to the problems that uniform can give rise to, but the annual debate, and indeed spectacle around uniform makes it clear that there is still much that needs to be said.

Take this case, from Kepier School, in Houghton: 'Pupils at a Sunderland school were forced to “line up in the rain” while teachers colour-matched their trousers to make sure they had been bought from the right shop.' Absurd doesn't quite cut it. As absurd as it might sound however, it is reality, and it is not somehow completely out of the ordinary. Such events are the product of the essentially "normal" principles and ideas we accept every day, only taken further perhaps, than they normally are.

One parent wrote:

            “Children who got sent home were the children who did not follow the rules. These children                 and their parents is what is wrong with this world today. They don’t want to follow rules nor               act as they should because they put themselves above the rules."

Others might say that it is actually those who unquestioningly follow "the rules" to the extent that what they actually are no longer matters, and they now only occupy a symbolic place in their thought and language, beyond rationality, that represent a problem in the world. Usually following rules as inane and pedantic as those requiring that clothing be bought from a specific shop has to be rationalized in some instrumental way, in terms of not 'creating trouble' or 'hardship'. The only way someone could bring themselves to spout drivel as vacuous as above is if they had forgone even the process of rationalization that upholds "the rules", particularly those that plainly make no sense and are often actually detrimental to the process of learning.

Here, as a response, we are faced with the classic line of argument that goes something like: 'Management may make some decisions that look absurd or nonsensical to us, but they can see things we can't, and even if some their decisions have some unsavory consequences, it's for the greater good of the school'. With uniform for example, some might suggest that even if uniform is irrelevant (or even detrimental) to the process of learning, its presence can positively influence the image of a school and/or the result of an inspection. Some might go on to argue that a better image and/or better inspection results can lead to increased funding. Regardless of any financial benefit or lack thereof, what this argument does not take into account is that at almost every level, within and beyond and individual school, many of the decisions taken by those in management positions appear absurd and nonsensical, and to justify it, similar arguments must be made over and over again. It is the same form of obscure bureaucratic arrangement as the kind we see in school management that, in local government and national government, gives rise to the conditions where schools have apparently 'no choice' but to make absurd and compromising decisions. Schools formulate this kind of policy to game the system, but the system exists almost entirely as a collection of different people and organisations trying to game it. The principles that give rise to this kind of system have to be rejected in every place and form that they appear, because once they do appear, they very quickly subvert the process of thought, leaving it nothing more than a tool for gaming a strange and arbitrary system of inspections, targets, and performance indicators.