I’m not much good at resolutions, though it’s not for the want of trying. Almost every New Year’s Eve past, I’ve dribbled my forthcoming commitments to something or other, only to have interred all good intentions under a mountain of cake crumbs by, ooh, 2nd January. This year, I decided to eschew this annual folly. Which, admittedly, constitutes a resolution.
Silly timing, really, given that 2017 is already looking like the year in which resolve will be an absolute necessity. That picture of Keef, with his box-fresh teef and a placard reading “I survived 2016”, pretty much encapsulates twelve months during which pioneers departed in too-great numbers, while disbelief’s stunned politeness allowed the ranks of the rank to swell. Little could have been done to allay the former, cancer being what it is. However, when it comes to the latter, there are lessons in those valleys to the rear.
Initially, perhaps, we could have been forgiven for believing that political events on either side of the Atlantic exemplified our whip-smart appreciation of Swiftian satire, or the kind of collective mania whose incandescence guarantees its own destruction. The problem was persisting in those convictions, even as it became clearer that no post-truth petard would be sufficiently explosive to hoist its engineer. That, and not dealing the hard blow that alternative factuality demands. Going high does, admittedly, distance one from the opposition’s low; but it also makes it that bit harder to connect a fist to a mandible.
There are times when politeness is the only feasible response; indeed, when matched with an unswervingly no-nonsense turn of mind, it’s a formidable weapon. However, in its silent incarnation, it can simply oil the wheels of ‘business as usual’ – a fact of which educators are well aware and should continue to be keenly vigilant. Like fear, it allows everything to be normalised – DfE peccadillo, Ofsted edict and ‘good-will gesture’ of our own making – with breathtaking speed, integrating all into a basic job description that, growing exponentially, steals yet more time from the duties that really matter. At its worst, saying nothing leaves us with no-one able to speak truth to power.
I admit that I’m part of the problem. When faced with a headteacher who treated gross misconduct as one of his five-a-day, I tried, and failed, to find an authority willing to take the matter seriously. And so – too soon – I gave up. The absence of any suitable body was, itself, symptomatic of the voicelessness that blights education. Staff, who would gush concerns in private, were too Stockholmed, battle-weary or scared to articulate them anywhere else. I had little faith in a governing body whose tongue-tied refusal to address known misdeeds had only encouraged further offences. Union officers at various levels either counseled keeping schtum, or referred me to a local authority that, having struck a back-scratching deal with said manager some years earlier, simply ignored staff and parents who reported his challenging behaviours.
According to Public Concern at Work, the last option for halting those who’ve gone rogue is the National College for Teaching and Leadership. NCTL’s responsibilities include investigations into alleged misconduct and, if proven, the issuing of prohibition orders. Only when the aforementioned channels have been exhausted might NCTL take a look, and only then if referral is from the teacher’s employer. Even had I been able to pursue the matter down this route, my bum may well have been covered in bite-marks by now: for it has recently come to light that NCTL routinely reveals whistleblowers’ names to the accused.
Much as I may feel that a sore ass is preferable to the sorry one I possess, I am appalled – if unsurprised – that NCTL’s disregard for confidentiality elicits neither concern nor condemnation from the DfE. A touching trust in the efficacy of self-regulation? Or another means of muffling from a government that keeps no records on schools’ use of gagging orders, actively shields MATs from scrutiny, and is, apparently, unconcerned to the point of inertia about widespread cheating – however much it casts itself as the defender of academic “rigour”? That’ll be ‘rigour mortis’ then, no?
So, thanks to the complicity of silence, the same individual has evaded disciplinary procedures and reinvented himself as an educational guru. One whose tweets on foreign affairs regularly condemn freewheeling embezzlement, suppressions of dissent by heavy-handed means, and administrations that run on cheating and nepotism. Combine his history with that of an erstwhile deputy head who, for similar reasons, has seamlessly transitioned from tyrannizing capable staff out of the door to running a sideline business running workshops on staff wellbeing and how to tackle bullying, and you’ll have enough irony to press the creases from a whole chiffarobe of dirty linen.
In stark contrast is the fate of Jane Porter, former executive head in Kent, and now…not. Two points about this case strike with particular force, the first of which is the power of mass action: Porter’s removal was the result of a collective grievance proceeding. A meticulous record of incidents, documenting the scale of Porter’s misconduct, evinces the staff’s belief that all experiences of offence and intimidation matter, and that they must be spoken of with a single – loud – voice. The second point worth remarking is the seriousness with which NCTL regarded this litany of unprofessionalism which, while it makes for depressing reading, is commonplace enough in content. The shocked vehemence of its response implies that similar misdeeds often go unreported and unheard.
Some kinds of hush are glorious: for instance, the quiet of amicable co-existence that descends on the Allardyce household, when my other half is engrossed in a book and I’m knitting socks for millipedes. However, the dumb-show of appeasement, and the muteness instilled by (fear of) defamation or toys flying out of prams are the types without which we can, and must, make do. Because silence emboldens, even when eyes still see. Locally, nationally and beyond.
Now, let me eat cake.