When I first arrived at Hell High as a teacher that had done 3 years of supply I was very respectful of the hierarchy. I attempted to do everything SLT asked of me. I did so even when the instructions and policies were contradictory. Even when what I was asked to do seemed pointless or insane.
What I also did was ask questions like:
- What is this supposed to accomplish?
- What if the pupils don’t co-operate?
- How high a priority is this?
- How and when will this be evaluated?
- Does this mean we are no longer doing (insert the old policy)?
I quickly discovered that these questions were HUGELY unpopular. I was told my a more established member of staff that I should stop making SLT look stupid as that’s the one thing they never forgive.
Prophetic words as it turned out.
My willingness to unquestioningly follow SLT direction was eroded over time by the sheer number of policies thrown at us that were either impossible, impractical, contradictory, insane or pointless with no regard to the impact on workload. These policies were never discussed properly or evaluated. Many of them were never mentioned again until someone wanted to have a go at you for something. SLT discouraged people from following the behavior policy and gave anyone who followed it to the letter a very hard time.
Over my years in the school I became more cynical as the SLT expanded to 4 times the size is was when I started in the school. It seemed that every new member of SLT was put there on the basis loyalty rather than ability. I am absolutely convinced some of them were put in an office with something trivial to do because they had less ability to do harm there than as Head of Year or Head of Department. All 24 of the management team did the NPQH which meant many new whole school policies being thrown at us all the time.
So my question to Mr Wilshaw is what should you do when you’re given contradictory, impossible, pointless or insane directions from SLT?
How do you respect people who are clearly incompetent. How do you respect those that treat their staff with little or no respect?
Let me describe one of the many insanities I have worked through
If for example a Senior Management Team tell you that there is a strict no touching pupils policy and that anyone receiving a complaint from a pupil or parents for touching a pupil would be disciplined AND that the policy on dealing with fights was to separate the fighting pupils and wait for SLT to arrive. That when you separate the fighting students you are likely to be hit as the fight continues around you, that you should photograph any bruises you get as a result. We were also informed that the school policy is that no member of staff was allowed to contact the police directly. All decisions about contacting the police and pressing charges must go through SLT what would you do?
I asked whether the no touching policy applied when breaking up fights. The manager just repeated the no touching policy and the policy on breaking up fights. I pointed out that my question had not been answered and was told it was all the answer I was going to get.
I then asked how it was possible to even get to the fight through the crowd of pupils surrounding the fight chanting “fight, fight, fight” without touching a pupil, much less separate the fighting pupils without touching them. I was told that other members of staff should be given the opportunity to ask questions and that my question would not be answered.
Fortunately someone else pointed out that the school’s policy on contacting the police was nonsensical and unenforceable so I didn’t have to. I did say that if a pupil hit me I would go directly to the police and press charges if I felt that was the appropriate response and I certainly would not feel the need to ask SLT permission.
The first time there was a fight when I was on duty I rushed over to the outside of the circle of pupils chanting fight and tried to get through without touching any pupils. I tried appeals to their better nature, I tried threats, I tried bribing them with various things form the schools rewards policy. I tried everything I could think of short of touching a pupil. You see I already had a letter of warning in my file for not following instructions from our glorious leader so I could not risk a further disciplinary. About 15 minutes later a member of SLT arrived, ignored the no touching policy completely and broke up the fight. Fortunately the kids were so terrible at fighting that nobody got seriously hurt.
I then got shouted at for following the school’s no touching policy rather than the contradictory policy on breaking up the fight. Before the introduction of the no touching policy I was one of a minority of members of staff that actually was willing to break up fights. Afterwards I didn’t break up a single fight until the no touching policy was abandoned.
I’m not hearing Mr Wilshaw say anything about what staff should do in similar situations. What should staff do when policies are contradictory or insane? What should staff do when policies are self-defeating or impossible? How can staff respect a leadership team that doesn’t follow their own policies? That won’t discuss, review or evaluate those policies? That blame staff for the failure of obviously stupid policies?
I was once disciplined for following the schools behavior policy to the letter. How can I respect a leadership team that does that? Why should I?
I do my job. I do it well. I demand that be respected. If SLT want my respect all they have to do is do their jobs well. Surely that isn’t that much to ask. It’s no more than they ask of me…