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Exclusive: Calls for Ofsted and Parliament to look at 'flattening the grass'

Labour MP says she is 'deeply concerned' by allegations and union leader asks minister about behaviour controversy

'Flattening the grass': Labour MP Emma Hardy has called for an investigation

Labour MP says she is 'deeply concerned' by allegations and union leader asks minister about behaviour controversy

An MP who sits on the House of Commons Education Select Committee and the leader of the country's biggest education union are both urging Ofsted to investigate "flattening the grass" allegations. 

Emma Hardy, the Labour MP for Hull West and Hessle, said she also wanted her committee to look into the affair, while Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the NEU, said she had raised the issue with a government minister. 

How the story broke: Outwood Grange uses crisis managers to explain ‘flattening the grass’ 

Investigation: Insiders allege Outwood Grange ‘ritually humiliated’ pupils

Read: Teaching at 'flattening the grass' school 'felt like being a prison warden’

Ms Hardy, who worked as a primary teacher for a decade, told Tes she was "deeply concerned" by reports that staff from Outwood Grange Academies Trust and Delta Academies Trust aggressively shouted at pupils as part of a “ritual humiliation” and “public shaming” to instil discipline.

Ms Hardy revealed that she had heard the phrase "flattening the grass" in relation to Delta when she worked as an organiser for the NUT teaching union.

'Flattening the grass' allegations

She said that when Paul Tarn – who used to be an Outwood Grange executive – took over as chief executive of Delta, she sat through a number of staff presentations at a Delta school.

"He introduced his new behaviour policy, and the phrase 'flattening the grass' was used," she said.

However, she said that the phrase was not explained beyond the principle "that if you stamp down on the small things, the big things don’t happen”.

Ms Hardy said she did not dispute Mr Tarn's passion or his "unquestionable" desire to turn underperforming schools into good schools, but she added: "What I am starting to wonder is whether that creates a motivation for undesired behaviours?"

She said she was "very, very worried" by the accounts of "flattening the grass" reported by Tes, and urged Ofsted to investigate the issue. 

"The fact that there’s a number of different people saying it, I don’t think it would take an awful lot of investigation to speak to some teachers at the school, or for Ofsted to go in there and ask more questions, and I would really urge Ofsted to ask further questions and look into this."

During a Westminster Hall debate in Parliament last week, Ms Hardy spoke out about "flattening the grass".

When asked by Tes whether the education select committee could look into the issue, Ms Hardy said "absolutely". She said she would be "raising it" with her fellow members, and linked the issue to high exclusion rates at some multi-academy trusts, which "as a committee we’re all really concerned about".

Asked what she thought about specific allegations reported by Tes, Ms Hardy said: "You can’t say you’d never shout as a teacher, because there might be occasions when you have to raise your voice... there are times when you might have to seriously tell a child off and give them a good dressing down for something they’ve done".

However, she said this happening as an "isolated incident" was different from the accounts of "flattening the grass", and that telling a child off never had to involve "shouting in their faces". "That’s very intimidating, if you imagine an adult doing that to a small child," she said. 

She went on: "I’ve not taught in secondary, so I wouldn’t try and lecture a secondary school teacher on how they deal with behaviour, but I think the difference is, we’re not talking about an individual teacher’s reaction, we’re talking about a system designed to promote this.

"It’s not [that] as an individual teacher you make that professional choice that that is how you want to manage behaviour… the worrying bit is a behaviour policy that apparently promotes treating children in this way."

Dr Bousted backed the call for Ofsted to look into "flattening the grass". She told Tes: "Obviously the reports are concerning, but we need to know the truth of the matter."

She said the "scale of the exclusions" at Outwood, combined with the "flattening the grass" reports, "at the very least add up to this is something that needs to be looked at".

“If Outwood Grange, as they say, have nothing to hide – and, indeed, they may have nothing to hide – then they will have no problem with having a proper inquiry into what has happened, or not happened."

Dr Bousted said that in a recent meeting with the academies minister, Lord Agnew, she had asked him whether Ofsted "were going in".

"I didn’t get any indication from him that he did think that there was a problem, nor that it should be investigated. His view was that bad behaviour has to be stamped out and these were schools in very difficult circumstances and these were disgruntled people that were making these allegations."

Ofsted was contacted by Tes, but said it would not be commenting.

Delta has previously told Tes that the “the trust does not have a ‘flattening the grass’ policy”. 

In a response to a previous story on "flattening the grass", Outwood Grange said: “In response to your questions, we ask: why are disgruntled individuals so keen to claim our pupils are unhappy when in inspection after inspection, Ofsted is lavishing praise on our schools for their happy atmosphere and outstanding academic progress?

“And why would record numbers of parents be sending their children to our schools if there was this negative culture our critics pretend exists?”

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