Adventures in Teaching

Jonathan Davies, Going Postal

2001, I had finished university, after paying all my fees up front, and taking out large student loans, I emerged with a Degree in History. How to put it to good use? After working in a call centre for a bit, I decided to embark on teacher training. I got my PGCE in 2003. There was a lack of jobs in Wales, but not in England where the birth rate was higher. I was naive at the time, but looking back now this was the first clue to demographic changes that have only accelerated since. So, I set off to the East Midlands for my first real job.

I taught there for the next 10 years. I taught mainly History, but also Geography and Religious Education. What I saw and experienced clued me in to what was happening in education, and to the country as a whole. I will point out that I was rated as a “good” teacher. Never “outstanding”, but good. I never had any disciplinary procedures against me, mainly as I kept my mouth shut at the right time. This became a very necessary skill as time went on.

I knew things were going wrong when I was teaching WW1, and was pulled up by the head of dept. for “teaching it wrong.” I was teaching how some people joined up due to patriotic feelings, etc., and told I was “sailing dangerously close to Nationalism.” Whatever that means. I also disagreed that the war was pointless, as it led to the downfall of authoritarian monarchies and empires, and eventually more democracies across Europe. The U.K. was also responding to basic German aggression, as prompted by its ally Serbia which was also aggressive and looking to expand. I also had the temerity to point out that more people died in WW2, particularly civilians, and it had far more war crimes. WW2 as we all know was a “good, just war” and a crusade against Fascism, and could not be criticised. This despite the fact it led to the cold war, the rise of Communism and millions of deaths as a result. I believe Peter Hitchens is writing a book taking a similar line.

Slavery was also a topic on the curriculum. I found this to be a very useful and thought-provoking topic. However, it focused exclusively on white people taking black people as slaves to the USA. There was a small section on slavery in Africa before 1440, but this was quickly glossed over. There was no real discussion of slavery as a punishment, or slaves taken in war. There was one sentence in the text book mentioning Arabs taking slaves from North Africa and East Africa. This is not to try and try and make excuses for what whites did, which was horrendous. But I felt this left out half the picture. Totally left out was the African peoples who traded slaves with the whites, in return for things like guns. They used the guns to expand their kingdoms, and sold their enemies to the white slavers. The kingdom of Benin being a prime example. It explains why so many Africans were captured compared to the relatively small number of slavers. It was slowly dawning on me that certain politically uncomfortable facts were being omitted deliberately.

This went against the grain of everything I knew about the subject. History, as one of lecturers famously said, “is a bullshit detector.” However unpalatable the truth, this is what we were searching for. This was the whole reason for analyzing sources of evidence. How then could we in good conscience deliberately leave out large parts, just because they may offend? History gave me many critical thinking skills which have served me well. Yet now it appeared they were being put aside to promote the ‘right’ type of history. I have no doubt this is continuing. When Obama was elected, wall displays of him were put up in the corridors. I very much doubt there are any for Donald Trump.

All the while the school filled up with “asylum seekers” and immigrants. The Blair years were in full swing. I will speak generally now, and not tar all with the same brush. Most of the eastern European kids were o.k. Most could speak reasonable English. They showed at least some desire to “integrate”, and would mix fairly freely with other kids. Those from the sub-continent and Africa brought real issues. Most spoke no English. They quickly formed almost tribal gangs, roaming the building together, only speaking in their native languages. Most showed no desire to “integrate” (whatever that means today). Many became behaviour issues, and also picked up the worst habits of the U.K. As they spoke little or no English, they were put in the lowest ability sets. The idea was that they could learn more simple language skills, at a slower rate. This backfired massively. Have you ever seen a bottom set? You have the least literate and worst behaved kids in the school. I still remember asking where one absent pupil was, and the other pupils informed me he had been arrested after being chased by the police helicopter while riding a motorcycle. He was 13. These then were the examples that the new arrivals were supposed to learn good language skills from, and the role models for their behaviour. Consequently, they copied them, and most of what they picked up was how to swear and getting in to trouble.

We also had a number of “children” who looked a lot older, many of the boys with beards. It was the best way to get a free education. If found to be younger, they would have had to pay for it. But hey, undocumented, so why not just make up your age. Therefore, it was no surprise to me when the “child refugees” featured by the Daily mail turned out to be men. Fractures in society started to show. There was of course a prayer room. Islam could not be criticised. Meanwhile pupils who were from other religions, such as being a Jehovah’s Witness, were looked down on as backward. Some pupils refused to enter the classroom when the topic was Islam. When confronted, they said “my mum says I don’t have to learn about terrorists.” The parents were then dragged in for an explanation. Some pupils openly said, “immigrants take our jobs.” This led to referral for a racist incident. Now, clearly you can’t have pupils openly at war and fighting, but it was indicative of what was happening in society at large. Out of the mouth of babes, as the saying goes. There was no surprise to me when the East Midlands voted to leave. Our society is certainly divided.

There were also teachers who wanted to strike almost every week. Many union affiliates played merry hell. One infamous incident involved a union rep not being allowed a day off for union activities. A union protest was promptly organised outside the school, union types coming from all over to appear outside. Not being in a union was frowned on. If there was a strike on, you were expected to stay home. The reaction to the Tories getting in 2010 was like someone had died. I never revealed that I voted for them to teaching colleagues, even after I left. I often hear things like “teachers have not had a pay rise in x number of years.” For the first 6 years you get an automatic rise on the pay scale from M1-M6. After this you are eligible for the upper pay spine, UPS 1-3. For this you were meant to provide evidence, but unless you were completely useless you were pretty much waved through. Pay scale rises were limited to 1%, as has been said. When I started in my pay was around £18,000. Qualified teachers now start on £22,467. Yet allegedly there has been no pay rise. I have now left for adventures in accounting and finance. When I left in 2013 I was earning around £34,000.

I hope that this has given you some insight in to our education system, second in glory only to “Our NHS” (Peace be upon it). So, what is the answer? How do we depoliticise our schools, or at least bring balance? Is home schooling the way forward? How can pupils be made to integrate? Can they do so? Hopefully this will generate some discussion.

© Jonathon Davies