Under Siege?

Caverlaverock Castle with Trebuchet

Originally uploaded by jarek69 & evelyn

I’ve not been blogging much lately, and while I’m not overly keen on meta-posts I’ve been thinking a lot the last couple of days about why that is.

Partly, it’s because I’ve been flipping busy. But writing a post doesn’t take long, so that’s no excuse.

More significantly it’s because a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about, and even started to write on occasion, have been less than positive. And I don’t want to be whinging and moaning – partly because it reinforces the negativity, partly because it makes me look bad and partly because I’ll end up saying something that will get me in bother.

So why the negativity? I’m not 100% certain, but here’s an interesting fact.

In the four days alone I’ve seen news reports telling me that:

Teachers who say things like “I’m not a teacher on here. I’m just like anyone else, I drink, swear… but don’t tell anyone.” can find themselves reprimanded by the GTC and hauled through the press. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-16929442)

Schools who are judged as outstanding will be free from routine inspections by OFSTED, except those whose exam results drop (so no pressure there then).

Even those schools judged as outstanding will be subject to departmental inspections, particularly focussing on those subjects trying to get themselves into the EBacc (staff meeting).

Those schools judged as outstanding in every area, but merely very good in terms of teaching (based on a 2-day snapshot) will no be allowed to be outstanding.

Schools that are currently satisfactory actually require improvement. OK, I can just about accept that, but it means that all schools will either be unsatisfactory, requires improvement, good or outstanding. That sounds to me like an F, a D, a C and an A*. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-16579644)

It seems to me that there are lots of students in my Y11 classes who are doing better than scraping a C, but are not up to A* standard. It feels like someone is saying “unless you are truly amazing [which, after all, is what outstanding means, at least as I understand it] then you’re just not good enough”.

You see, and now this has turned into a negative rant. Which isn’t what I want. And inspection is a necessary evil. There are some schools and some teachers who don’t work hard enough, or don’t work right. There aren’t many of them, but we do need to ensure that standards are high. Fine, I accept that. I just feel as though the entire profession is under siege at the minute.

We’re lazy (we should have fewer holidays and longer working days), we’re overpaid (hence the pay freeze), we’re greedy over pensions (which is why I’ll be losing £100 a month on top of that pay freeze), we’re rubbish (hence all the OFSTED stuff) and we’re not allowed to have any kind of public or personal life (see any news story relating to teachers and social networking – including my HT telling me that any teacher with a Facebook account is being silly).

So maybe that’s got something to do with the lack of posts lately, despite lots of good stuff going on. I think I need to start focussing on that, really.

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We trust you with the children but not the Internet

Edit #2: Having spoken to SMT I feel a bit happier. There are sensible points in there about making people aware that something posted even in private can easily be made publicly and taken out of context and other very reasonable content. Knowing the SMT at the school as I do, I doubt very much that it is a stick to beat us with or a tool to use in a witch-hunt – much more a set of rules that mean we can’t claim ignorance as a defence if we do something stupid. I don’t agree with all of the points and I have been invited to feed in any thoughts or opinions about how to make things more transparent. Much as with e-safety, I would personally be much happier if I was simply left to get on with it – but I appreciate that policies and guidelines are required and that if nothing else, it forces me to consider whether what I am doing is sensible, foolish or a balanced risk.

This was going to be a rant about the new Social Networking policy I received yesterday1. In fact I spent a good 10 minutes venting my spleen into this very editing window. As I started to balance out my argument though, I realised that actually I was over-stating things, although that doesn’t mean I’m happy.

Our new policy says that we are not to use Social Networking during the school day or using school equipment. I’m not happy with that. I have a Twitter network of over 1000 people who are interested in education*, I am part of a Facebook group that discusses ICT teaching topics, I’m an active member on both the CAS Google Group and the TES forum and, of course, I blog**.

Now I don’t have a copy of the policy in front of me (I’m not sure why, but there weren’t enough to go around at last night’s staff meeting), but I’m pretty sure it said ‘for personal use’ in there. And all of the above can be (IMO) justified as professional use. Yes, some of my tweets can be a bit chatty and… well… social – but the overall effect is that I get a lot of professional value from it. What it does mean is that I shouldn’t be playing Farmville during a cover lesson and then chatting to the three people who still use Bebo. And I can’t really argue with that.

I do feel unhappy about this document – not least that we are told it is about ‘safeguarding staff’ and it is for our own protection. Give us advice, give us guidelines, fine. Give us rules and it feels like you don’t trust us to make value judgements (a bit like our new ID lanyards – but that’s a rant for another day). Most of the people enforcing these rules do not understand the technology or its use. That sounds like an easy get-out clause for a disgruntled employee, but it would be like putting someone with no formal educational training or experience in charge of schools. Oh, no, wait. Bad example. Anyway…

The rules are there and I have to decide what to do. Do I draft my argument /concerns and send it to the Head? Do I carry on as things are and see what happens? Do I remove my online presences? And how do I go about *teaching* about social networks if I’m not actually allowed to use them.

And another tricky one – we are not to interact with / befriend students. Now I know that at least one 6th former reads this blog (which is pretty sad really – and yes I do mean you, haven’t you got something better to do? Find a past paper for Unit 3 or something), so does that mean that this post is knowingly interacting with a student? Very subtle and tricky situations in here.

Ah well, I had a good grace period, and I can’t see me closing my Twitter account any time soon. In the meantime, I’d best go and remove those drunken photographs from Flickr…***

* Plus Stephen Fry, naturally

** OK, not very often of late, but still…

*** This is a joke, just to be clear

1 Edit: The policy is adapted from the LA protocol but is a school policy.

Image Attribution: We trust you with the children but not the Internet Originally uploaded by Scott McLeod