When the going gets tough...

17th March 2000 at 00:00
. . . it's time to call in the heavy mob. Jenny Owl sings the praises of a dying breed of teacher

It is 2am. The police car draws up slowly. Two officers emerge, hands on the handles of their long-armed batons. Tentatively, they approach the hooded figure pushing the buggy brimming with the night's booty. One of the officers takes a deep breath.

"Just stop there," he calls nervously. "Step back... Let's see that buggy."

The officer draws back the buggy cover to reveal ... a sleeping baby. Our pastoral deputy head has just been stopped while trying desperately to get his young son off for the night. If he can instil this level of fear in armed police officers, just imagine his effect on Year 7s who stray on to the wrong side of the school rules.

At my first school, a particularly difficult parent demanded to see our formidable deputy head. So fed up was our deputy with the father's truculence on previous occasions, she said firmly: "If you want to talk sense, we'll talk. If not, you can f*** off." The father opted to talk sense.

Deputies, senior teachers and year heads like these have sometimes developed their pastoral skills at the expense of more formal further qualifications such as MScs or even PhDs. When Ofsted comes to visit, their lessons will receive few grade ones - but then so will many of ours. But these colleagues can put far more valuable letters after their names: P.T.F.O.G.I.K.W.N. (Puts The Fear Of God Into Kids When Necessary).

They are not bullies, though - and are the teachers who pupils remember most fondly. They are firm, fair and funny - funny in assembly; funny when defusing situations ("What d'you mean I can't talk to you like that, sunshine? I just have. Now get out. See you in detention. Byeee!"); and funny enough in morning briefing to put a smile on all our faces.

They also have an uncanny knack of being able to detect within nanoseconds which pupil just set off the firealarm. But best of all, they have an invisible sign ontheir door which reads:THE CRAP STOPS HERE. TOTAL AND UTTER SUPPORT WHENEVER NEEDED. In other words,it is they above all whoallow a school tofunction properly.

Meanwhile, in another part of the building, the new head is locked in his office putting the finishing touches to the school development plan. Moving the school forward fast enough demands a whole new management structure. Only officially recognised curriculum experts need apply. Somehow, the pastoral deputy's numerous further qualifications never seem quite right for the new structure and he or she is made to feel increasingly unwelcome.

It is not solely the fault of the new breed of heads. Exclusions have to come down. Easy. Just stop excluding, even if your P.T.F.O.G.I.K.W.N. tells you you must exclude some kids sometimes; and that you can only stop when the school is much further down the line (and much further up the performance tables).

So Mr Blunkett, your recently announced aim of lifting the number of five GCSE A*-C passes to at least 25 per cent of pupils in all schools, and your aim of drastically reducing school exclusions, are very noble. They are also, I fear, incompatible in a climate where there is no longer room for the greatest school facilitators of all - the P.T.F.O.G.I.K.W.N.s.

And while what I am about to say sounds conceited, I say it because you need to know that I am not an embittered stick-in-the-mud, but an expert in my field who is increasingly frustrated and disillusioned with schools' inability to stem the decline in pupil behaviour generally. I have evidence that the value I have added to my own pupils' key stage 3 and GCSE results is among the highest in the UK. My classes are the toughest I have ever taught, and getting tougher as more and more parents readily admit to being unable to cope with their own children.

The cornerstone of my recent teaching success has been my line manager, a P.T.F.O.G.I.K.W.N. parexcellence. He is, quite simply, the tough who gets going when the going gets too tough in my own classroom; but his power is being eroded by the minute. Like me, he wants out. So all you heads looking for a new deputy, ignore at your peril applicants with the letters P.T.F.O.G.I.K.W.N. aftertheir name.

Jenny Owl is a pseudonym


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