Every teacher has their overused phrases, whether they realise it or not. More often than not, it’s the pupils who highlight them to us, either when they point them out to us, or when you hear them parroting back your own aphorisms.
I know that I often refer to classes – or any groups of pupils – as “folks”, and I know, too, that my strongest tellings off are punctuated with “how dare you?”.
“Ms Smith is trying to help 30 children in your class to solve long division, and you chose to disturb every one of those children’s learning with your rude interruptions? How dare you?”
“How dare you think that you can damage property that is shared by 300 children in our school?”
Right now, it’s not pupils – folks or otherwise – who face my wrath, though. It’s government.
Gavin Williamson's criticism of teachers
Education secretary Gavin Williamson chose to criticise teachers last week for not doing enough in the early stages of lockdown to help children learning at home. How dare he?
How dare he make that claim when schools repeatedly called for support for families struggling to feed their children, and his department had to be bullied into providing free school meals vouchers?
How dare he criticise schools for not providing work when so many did, despite the clear messages from government that parents would be supported by a national approach instead? How dare he overlook the fact that, for many families, no amount of online work would have been accessible, and that the government’s much-trumpeted laptop giveaway very quickly became a farce of its own?
Mr Williamson compounded his criticism by suggesting that expectations would be ramped up yet further and that Ofsted would be looking to judge schools on that. How dare he act as though Ofsted is his attack dog, while singularly failing to support schools in managing their tasks? Almost every school in the land opened in September, despite the failure of the Department for Education to provide any funding for the additional cleaning and staffing required to open safely.
Making up for the government's shortcomings
Every school in the country is working with the logistics of keeping hundreds of children safely apart and supervised, requiring additional lunchtime staff, extra cleaning hours and, in many cases, additional resources to be shared safely across schools.
How dare he imply that schools are not doing enough, when every single teacher is doing their best to make up for the government’s shortcomings?
Talk of remote learning is all well and good if every child is isolating and teachers can move their classroom practice online, but that’s not the situation we face.
With the chaos of the testing system, schools are not closing, but are instead having to try to be fully operational during the day, while also supporting the needs of now thousands of additional children who cannot come into school, not because of illness, or even Covid-related symptoms, but because a family member simply cannot access the tests we were promised back in June.
With every teacher teaching a full timetable, taking on extra duties, extending their working hours to accommodate staggered starts, and risking taking the virus home to their own families every day, how dare he imply that it is schools that are letting pupils and their families down?
If teachers are managing to keep on top of the full-time job – one that we already know suffers from a significant workload issue – and also provide some meaningful remote learning for those trapped at home by government ineptitude, despite the lack of funding or resources, then the secretary of state ought to be commending and supporting those actions.
For him to imply that schools are not playing their part – how dare he?
Michael Tidd is headteacher at East Preston Junior School, in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979