Naming, shaming, Grammar schools and parent-blaming

A few things have been buzzing about on Twitter over the last couple of weeks. Two in particular have caught my eye, the discussion over a specific school and by association ‘school shaming’, and the other is the debate about Grammar schools and social mobility. The school in the news also reports that its ethos also relates to social mobility.

Is it right to name & shame a school, is it right in some cases, or is it never right? Is it more appropriate to name & shame a school that on the one hand is claiming that it aims to provide top-class educational opportunities, and on the other hand punishes a child for the deeds of the parent? UNCRC Article 28 states ‘any form of school discipline should take into account the child’s human dignity […] school administrators review their discipline policies and eliminate any discipline practices involving physical and mental violence, abuse or neglect’. Article 29 includes ‘children have a particular responsibility to respect the rights of their parents, and education should aim to develop respect for the values and cultures of their parents’. The UNCRC also goes on to state that no-one is allowed to punish children in a cruel or harmful way (Article 37). Removing a child and isolating them from peers runs the risk of running contrary to the UNCRC principles. I don’t think this is ‘my opinion’, I believe it is quite black-and-white. The child involved was subject to a ‘public’ shaming within the school, since he would be missed over dinner. His mother publicly shamed the school for doing so and the child has to bear any mental issues stemming from the school’s actions. Tit-for-tat? It makes me wonder who started this as I very much doubt, given what has been exchanged on Twitter, that this is a ‘first offence’. Apparently, the parent was ‘one of those types’ so that’s ok then, is it? Clearly, ‘insiders’ never gave much thought to Data Protection issues either.

I’m not condoning the actions of either side, but where would we be about the Justice for LB campaign, naming & shaming Southern Health? Should I have named and shamed the local primary, whose deeds included accessing my son’s blood testing kit while he was in assembly? To this day I have no idea if whoever did it, changed the needle, or whether my son later tested his blood with a dirty one. Thing is, because my son had the label ‘SEND’, like LB, he was considered ‘lesser’, hence a huge catalogue of discriminatory actions which led to him to become a school refuser. The issue with his blood kit was never investigated, the seriousness was ignored. He was ignored.

‘Lesser’ is an argument also used against Grammar schools. In this case, I’m hearing people claim that Grammars do not improve issues of equality and that failing the 11+ results in children being branded as failures for the rest of their school careers. In fact, not passing the 11+ seems to smart so much, it invokes bad memories in adults well past their school careers, as they became ‘lesser’. I was a Grammar girl, but I never sat the 11+. I didn’t even know what an 11+ was. I was placed in the Grammar school purely because I moved home from ‘city’ to ‘county’ & I was assigned a place there due to being pretty much top of the class for every subject in middle school, despite being summer-born. Without advocating for or against Grammars, what, exactly, are the problems with different school types? It does seem to be based on this idea of ‘lesser’.

There is a valid argument that ‘rich’ parents have their children tutored to pass the 11+ and that even if the 11+ was removed and KS2 stats used instead, parents would simply tutor their child for those tests. But wait a moment, don’t many schools already do this to improve their social standings?  We have a section of society that wants Grammars, and a section that doesn’t. If my family had not moved, not only would I have gone to the local comp, it would have been a long-failing one. In fact, 40 years on, it still carries that label. But why is not passing the 11+ seen as a ‘failure’? Kids are not failures in the same way as acquiring certain jobs does not equate to being a failure. Having a Grammar education does not necessarily mean that you go to university – I didn’t until I was 40. Grammar school did not improve my social mobility purely and simply because I had no interest in social mobility. What is it? What does it do? Why should I be ashamed of being in a Grammar school? It was never instilled into me to look down on people and I think that’s the whole point. I have never seen people as ‘lesser’, I only see people I like, those I don’t like or those I simply don’t know or am indifferent to. I am no ‘more’ after completing 3 degrees than I was before I completed one.

I once informed a customer that I had signed up to the OU, he eyed my shop up & down & declared that it ‘would probably do me good’. The implied content was ‘you’re in a shit job, look at me, I’m a teacher and so much more professional’, i.e. I was ‘lesser’. What this chap didn’t know was that I earned more than he did, for about the same amount of hours. I did not just work in a chippy, I owned the chippy. What was up with his attitude? What’s up with anyone’s attitude that leads them to think that anyone is ‘lesser’ even if they are paid more? To me, a job is a job. For example, I love a good coffee and I think it’s absolutely great that I can go to cafés and get one. I don’t look down on staff, they are no more less or more important than I am. They serve me with a great coffee and I’m really grateful to them for doing that, in the same way that I’m grateful to those that empty my bins, or do the conveyancing on my house or stack the shelves in the supermarket. Those unable to work due to disability or caring duties are also not ‘lesser’, they are humans, with views, wishes and feelings, just the same as me.

I was chatting to Nancy G today on Twitter, she would like her son to have a job when he leaves school. Something fulfilling, but not necessarily highbrow, waiting tables may be acceptable. For him, it may check that ‘social mobility’ box, but it would it if one of her other children took the same job? They do not have SEND. She added to the conversation, is social mobility relational to the job, not the pay? Yes, I think so. By the time students reach FE, discussions of social mobility appear to lessen. Whether you attended a state comprehensive, an independent school, a special school, a Grammar or any other type of school become second to the course you take. A Level students, for example, may have attended any of these. There is no reason why a Grammar school child would not be sitting next to a special school one. Just ask my son. Where is the social mobility argument in FE?

The problem, it seems to me, is like the Two Ronnie’s sketch about class. It summed up the psychology excellently. We put down those who appear a little better than us, in order to raise our own standing. It is these perceptions and attitudes that need addressing, in order to remove the ideas of ‘lesser’. Not one single person who attended the Secondary Modern that shared my school’s site were lesser, nor were those who attended the comprehensive that was the amalgamation of the Grammar and Secondary in the year below mine. Any thoughts that they were, were purely social constructs in other people’s imaginations, as is the idea that punishing a boy for the actions of his mother. We have pratted about with the education system for years and we’re still no further forwards. The comprehensive experiment hasn’t worked. The Academy and Free School experiment is likely to result in the same. The Sure Start initiative produced little gains for the money invested & the data would suggest that the money the government pumped in to ‘sort out problem families’ has also not produced results either.

The problem remains in people’s attitudes. As I used to say, if the Queen came in for chips, she would have to wait in line with everyone else because she is no more, or less, important than any other customer.

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