In this school the beat of deceit was constant. The emphasis was not on teachers looking out for students, but rather on them protecting the school’s bank account – permission slip not included. Secret Teacher, The Guardian, 2nd August 2014
Reading the ‘Secret Teacher’ series in the Guardian always makes me feel sad and slightly frustrated. Sad because so many of the stories recount poor examples of leadership so that education in this country seems to be driven by incompetent leaders at all levels. I also feel frustration with the lack of context in the pieces due to the anonymity of the writer and the presentation of a universal problem when the writer is talking about their specific context.
I felt both and the ‘beat of deceit’ as I read this recent Secret Teacher piece on independent sector schooling because it perpetuated a great number of half-truths. The first was used in the advertising of the story as ‘Profit v parents’. The piece itself recounts the experience of the writer in one independent school where they were told to ignore a student’s learning needs so that the school could keep the fees generated by the student. I don’t doubt this situation happened but the sentence ‘I also realised that an independent school, which couldn’t afford special education teachers but did have newly varnished floors, was not the right place for her’ suggested that this was a universal condition rather than a particular story. From my own experience, especially as the line manager for Learning Support in two independent schools, this is not the case especially because ‘Gifted and Talented’ also comes under the umbrella of Learning Support. Significant time and resource is used to help the students and this is one of the reasons why parents do send their children to schools in the independent sector.
The second ‘beat of deceit’ was the transformation of particular ‘difficult parents’ into an unreasonable whole. We ask more questions when we feel that people are not being authentic and truthful with us and if the condition of mistrust was prevalent in the school, then I don’t blame them being awkward. It is also worth remembering that even if we disagree with parents, the reason why some appear difficult is because they want the best for their child. The job of a good school and good leadership is to remind parents that we also want the best for their child and with our collective experience of raising and educating hundreds if not thousands of children, we have a lot to bring to the discussion. It is only by working together can we effectively support the child and as I always add in such discussions (in both sectors) that one of the reasons why they selected the school over other places is because they thought it was a good place for their child. Being honest about the child’s learning needs helps the school and the parents make the right choice for the child.
The piece also raised again the issue of anonymous blogging and the tension at the heart of it. Writing anonymously does afford the writer to speak out against a powerful opponent without fear of reprisal (legal or loss of job) yet it also allows trolling, the perpetuation of half-truths and a lack human recognition. In a world already coloured by stereotypes, the piece’s pretence to universality is disappointing. By pushing the universal strand and reducing complexity, the ‘beat of deceit’ continues and allows others to march along without question.