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Hull OFSTED hits the Mark – but misses the Point!

After months of speculation in the media and undoubtedly trepidation at the Guildhall (seat of Kingston Upon Hull City Council) and in Essex House (the headquarters of Hull’s Local Education Authority), the results of the inspection last September by the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) have been made public.

2002 was a bad year for Hull Education. The city returned to the bottom of Britain’s GCSE league tables after managing one place above bottom the previous year and slumped 11 places down the primary league tables.

Director of Learning Peter Fletcher, in post only a year or so, held Hull’s headteachers accountable for the GCSE league table performances last Summer while the Hull Daily Mail screamed out its headline, ‘Do you care?’  at parents who allowed and even facilitated truanting by their children.

The OFSTED report has largely upheld these two positions. Fletcher and Essex House get off pretty lightly while headteachers are criticised for not being focussed enough. However, it is parents and the truancy issue which seems to have most vexed the inspectors. Since the LEA is considered to be pursuing a robust anti-truancy policy – truancy sweeps in conjunction with Humberside Police have made local headlines several times – the inescapable conclusion is that it is parents who are the problem.

Since, in most children’s lives. the parents are the single biggest influence until well into the teenage years, OFSTED have undoubtedly got the right people in their sights. If you can’t get the kids into school, then you can’t teach them. they can’t take exams and the government targets can’t be met. So doing something about the parents who can’t or won’t ensure regular attendance by their children is clearly a major issue.

Unfortunately, while OFSTED have hit the mark, the inspectors appear to have missed the point.

Truancy, like attendance, is a Behaviour. As the Neurological Levels model clearly shows, Behaviours are driven by Values & Beliefs – and Values in turn are underpinned by a sense of Identity.

If the formal school education of the child is not a foremost Value for the parent, then other priorities – taking the day off to buy the child a new pair of trainers, going on an out-of-season holday, keeping the child at home to do chores and errands while the parent is ill, etc, etc – can easily take precedence. And, since people are driven by Values, the parent who condones and even facilitates truancy in such circumstances, sees nothing wrong with what he or she has done.

Of course, having police officers bringing truanting children home or having an Education Welfare Officer knocking on the door to enquire about unacceptable absences can change the priorities of the parent somewhat.

When such a parent, under such pressure, changes behaviour and now insists the child goes to school, is it because the parent now recognises that conforming to expectations and sending the child to school is the right thing to do – in Gravesian terms, BLUE – in which case the parent may now be on the way to recognising the Value of formal school education? Or is it a fear-driven RED response to a greater power (‘The Law’) he or she cannot fight? – in which case, there will be little or no Value in the child receiving a formal education – the Value lies instead in avoiding a real threat (fines, possibly even a custodial sentence)?

If the motivation comes from RED fear of a greater power, rather than BLUE conformity to expectation, then, since RED thinking has little sense of consequences, once the threat has been removed, the parent will be vulnerable to other priorities overtaking sending the child to school.

What the OFSTED inspectors missed – as do many in the management of Education – is that, to bring about real sustainable changes in behaviour, there have to be changes in Values.

And in the classroom…?
Here’s an unpalatable truth for many education strategists: many, many teachers breathe a sigh of relief when a problem child truants – some even rejoice! It means they have more chance of teaching the class than wasting large amounts of the lesson in ineffective behaviour management.

Of course, it’s ‘politically incorrect’ for teachers to think this way – they should be obsessed with (GREEN-derived) ‘inclusion’ the same way as the strategists and the ‘gurus’ are! But, if the strategists and gurus could be flies-on-the-wall in school staffrooms, they would pick up conversation after conversation about how relieved teachers are when a problem child is absent or how they wish such a child when present could be somehow spirited away!

Most classroom teachers recognise when a child has Value in his or her school education – and, since most children reflect their parents’ Values, they can soon discern whether the parents have Value in their child’s school education.

The child who doesn’t have enough Value in his or her formal education to actually bother to come to school is unlikely to become a model student once forced into class. Since he sees little or no relevance in what is being taught, winding up other students or even the teacher becomes an entertaining way of passing what is effectively a jail sentence – and RED, which is where the thinking of most of the seriously-disruptive children is at, bores very easily indeed. (I once asked an abusive Year 11 what such behaviour accomplished. Her reply was: “It’s got me through five years of this hell hole. Now, fuck off!”)

Getting the truants into school is only a part of the solution – as Malet Lambert School found out when they improved attendance in 2001-2002 but actually expereinced slippage down the GCSE league tables.

So truancy and bad behaviour are symptoms of the formal school system having a lack of relevance to the Values of those children and their parents.

And it is a complete misapprehension to suggest that truanting children are not learning. They are learning to improve their skills at Playstation games and improvised sports, they are learning gang leadership and relationship skills, they are learning to shoplift, steal cars and break into houses, to take drugs and drink alchohol, etc, etc – often to live on their wits independently, without proper support from adults. What they are not doing by absenting themselves from school is learning what the system says they should and which they consider irrelevant.

A couple of years ago, I was teaching History in a secondary school in a deprived area of a port which had largely lost its fishing industry. The area was mostly populated by the former fisherfolk. (Hull gets all the brickbats because its demographics give it such a strong concentration of ‘problem schools’, but there are schools throughout the rest of Humberside – for that matter, thoughtout Britain! – equally as problematic as any in Hull.)

As part of the curriculum, I was obliged to teach the Protestant Reformation of the Middle Ages to a class of low ability Year 8s. About half of them had never been out of the town, nearly 90% had never been in a church and only one had ever opened a Bible. What relevance did the Reformation have in the eyes of such children?

If we were going to interest such children in History, I suggested we develop a local history module around the port’s fishing fleet, thus enabling those children to explore their PURPLE heritage in a positive way, through talking to grandparents and other relatives, etc, to find out what part they had played in the port’s glory days of the fishing boats. I was told that the pressures to conform to the National Curriculum would not give us time or scope to do this.

Has Education lost its way?
Numerous Key Stage 2 teachers have told me that Year 6 is not about Education; it is about getting high Standard Assessment Test (SAT) scores. Anything that will not actively contribute towards the children doing well in the SATs is likely to get jettisoned.

The desire to measure progress towards goals and targets comes from ORANGE thinking and is laudible in itself. The problem comes when BLUE thinking institutionalises the targets as standards and the targets then become ends in themselves.

That not all of Hull’s headteachers share the same obsession with targets as the Department of Education & Skills and OFSTED may be a recognition that Education is about a lot more than just meeting the targets – and that is no bad thing!

While the school systems perpetuate BLUE values of conformity, discipline and linear thinking and ORANGE goals of  future achievement, our society has changed dramatically in the last half-century in ways which the systems are not addressing adequately. The advent of large-scale GREEN permissiveness (in everything from dress and language to sexual mores), channelled through ORANGE consumerism, has fed RED self-indulgence and destabilised PURPLE family units. (The early 1990s campaigns of John Major around ‘family values’ and ‘back to basics’ were hopelessly naive but at least he recognised some of the damage done.)

It is a basic principle established by Abraham Maslow and reinforced by the work of Clare W Graves, Don Beck & Chris Cowan, etc, that, when the lower levels of thinking are compromised, people leave the higher levels to sort out their problems at the lower levels. (Indeed the higher levels may collapse completely – ie: the individual ceases to think at the higher levels until the problems at the lower levels are solved.)

Thus, if a child’s PURPLE safety-in-belonging is compromised because the parents split up or the young person is unable to find him/herself as a unique human being – RED self-expression – then the higher disciplines of BLUE and the strategic forward-thinking of ORANGE mean little or nothing.

The school system, in demanding that everyone should conform to its BLUE-ORANGE ethos, is not serving the needs of many parents and children whose thinking is in PURPLE or RED. No wonder they don’t find it relevant!

The school system needs to become part of a broader system that addresses all the needs of all people in all their ways of thinking. This will require a seismic shift in thinking amongst politicians and education and social strategists. However, there are some encouraging signs that some forward thinkers are starting to move in that kind of direction.

Last year’s Parliamentary green paper on 14-19 Education, helmed by then-Education Secretary Estelle Morris, was a brave admission that vocational education – usually (though not always) more suited to people whose thinking is in PURPLE, RED or BLUE – needs to be developed on a par with academic education – usually (though not always) suited to BLUE, ORANGE and beyond.

More locally, in this past week Simone Butterworth, Leader of Hull City Council, stated in a letter to the Hull Daily Mail that the thinking of the Cabinet in deciding on a management restructure, which would appoint new Directors with a cross-Council remit, was a recognition that issues such as Education performance were beyond the Directorate of Learning as a stand-alone department. Social Services, Housing, Regeneration and whole raft of other services would need to link up to provide a broad based approach to developing the young people of the city – with Education performance as a key consideration.

This is radical stuff – and exciting! It would appear that Ms Butterworth is inching her way towards developing the breadth axis necessary for a large-scale MeshWORK. What must follow, though, is the developing of the understanding to provide the depth axis. so that all ways of thinking can be taken into consideration. Without the depth axis and the common understanding it provides, the breadth axis will fail to gel as conflicting personalities and departmental agendas fight for domination.

Making Education relevant to the needs of the people it is meant to serve is the key to educational performance. If that can be accomplished, then truancy – while it is unlikely ever to be entirely eliminated – will become largely a thing of the past.

The more the needs of the people are different from the ‘solutions’ Education offers,the more truancy there will be. Close that gap and truancy will diminish accordingly.

OFSTED may have identified the behaviours inhibiting progress in Hull Education, but it will require much more sophisticated thinking to understand and deal with the causes of such behaviours.

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