"It is 9.40am at Seven Kings high school in Ilford, and a teacher is struggling to get a class of 16-year-olds to pay attention. 'Jamil,' she says, 'I asked you to stop talking.'Sound like any comprehensive school you've attended either as a pupil or a teacher? Didn't think so. Helpfully, Ms. Abrams reveals the secret of the school's success. Amongst the techniques employed in the school's 'range of strategies' are, wait for it, seating plans!
Jamil doesn't respond. He's slouching in his chair, not meeting her eyes. 'Move it,' she says, pointing to a seat on the far side of the room away from his friends. Jamil looks up, defiant. 'I wasn't talking, man!' 'Move, Jamil!' she says, keeping her voice low. Slowly he stands up. Pushes back his chair, which falls over with a clatter. He doesn't stoop to pick it up and ambles to the seat she's indicated. A few minutes later he's writing, head down.
In almost a year of following the life of an urban comprehensive school, this is the worst piece of behaviour I witnessed - the only incident in which a pupil showed open, angry resistance to a teacher's command."
"All classes are seated according to a plan devised by their teacher, so that the most unruly pupils do not sit together."It's hit me with the force of a revelation! Separate unruly pupils? Never occurred to me before; so that's where we've all been going wrong.
If we apply this and other ingenious techniques, such as getting classes to queue outside the classroom (yes, new to me too dear reader), an atmosphere of industrious serenity is within our grasp. And Ms. Abrams exhorts us to not get nostalgic for the bad old days:
"The school I attended in the 1970s...still had corporal punishment, which was meted out for quite minor offences from unruly behaviour to smoking. There was a workaday level of violence in my school that would not be acceptable today. Disputes were often settled with pre-arranged fisticuffs. The teachers were only marginally more humane. I can recall on one occasion a shy boy being reduced to tears by a sadist of a history master who made him stand for a long period on a chair in the middle of his class as retribution for a perceived bit of minor rudeness. I myself was less traumatised by the hour I spent locked in a windowless stockroom after being cheeky to a teacher. Does anyone want a return to this brutality?"No dear, I'm not pining for some Shawshank Redemption style ethos, I'd just like some equality - because that would represent an improvement in my status. If some miscreant says, "You may intimidate the rest with your awesome Seating Plan but I fear no man! So fuck off!", I want either a) the liberty to say, "No, you fuck off" or more preferably b) the school I'm working in to attach some kind of sanction to this. Nothing too draconian you understand - maybe a wee note home inviting the parents up to explain the glorious world of learning opportunities that awaits their offspring if only he or she would conform to the Seating Plan. Or would that be too Dickensian? It's just that I think the present situation, where I get into more trouble if I swear than the pupils, sucks quite a lot.
Meanwhile, back in the real world I heard of another assault against teacher this week. In the spirit of Ms. Abrams' article, we could say this represents progress: the teacher in question was male so this, along with the previous cases I mentioned here and here, shows that with regards to violence against teachers, gender equality is improving.
Anyway, probably brought it on himself. Perhaps his expectations were too low? This is a Bad Thing and as everyone knows was behind the outbreak of WWI. Or maybe his lesson wasn't entertaining enough? Surely he wouldn't have been so reckless as to enter the classroom without being equipped with the power of Seating Plan?
If you read to the end of the article, there's more excellent news:
Violence: In a recent survey of 2,500 teachers commissioned by the NUT, almost a third of respondents said they suffered some form of physical assault at least once a year. The British Crime Survey, however, said the rate of violence against teachers has dropped by more than 40 per cent in the past eight years.
Literacy: Literacy is at its highest for 15 years, according to a study by Cambridge Assessment, which found teenagers have superior writing abilities, a wider vocabulary and more accurate spelling, punctuation and sentence structures than their predecessors.
Grain production: In another victory of socialism over the forces of nature, the wheat harvest is up 75% on the previous record-breaking year.
Ok, I made the last one up.