Monday, 11 March 2019

Reducing Teacher Workload

Ofsted reported that I look for ways to reduce teacher workload. I didn’t contribute to either of the government’s two working groups on teacher workload nor have I asked staff to fill in the three surveys recently received. I did present to a group of headteachers but we really need teachers to put pressure on heads.

So, a blog on Teacher Workload with just a little bit of invective to moisten the readers’ way.

Like, how much over £200,000 does the Headteacher of a West London school get paid, and how many of the 29 Chief Executives of academy chains questioned by the minister, Lord Argyle take £150,000+ from already depleted budgets?

Our government has collapsed under a torrent of incompetence. All non-Brexit business has been relegated to insignificance as MPs manoeuvre to be leader of hopeless political parties. Real cuts in schools, prisons, care homes, police, youth and social work and probation services are hurting and working families are queuing at food banks. Is this what a return of sovereignty looks like? Can you vote for a party whose major achievement is to perform the unlikely feat of shooting itself in the bottom?

There is a shortage of teachers as the number of children grows. Many teachers cite workload as a reason for their intended departure from teaching. School budgets have been cut and teachers’ take home pay is less now than it was 5 years ago. Teachers are paying more towards their pensions, the benefits of which have been slashed.

In a recent blog I reported that the government includes in its statements on schools funding the amount parents pay to private schools and the money borrowed as student loans. Spending is down and costs are up.

Cutting workload may increase some costs, admin for example and certainly online resourcing. So my first “Reducing Workload” suggestion asks:

What are Chief Executives for?

The game for ageing, tiring or superior-being headteachers is to form a multi academy trust with one secondary and a couple of primary schools. Each school has a headteacher and you also have the Executive Headteacher – four heads where there used to be three, and at considerable cost.. Some of these schools are now doing less well than before executive heads. Abolish Executive Headteacher Posts and spend the money on reducing teacher workload.

Hertfordshire headteachers had their residential conference at a very nice hotel last week and a local school took its 9 strong management team there as well. I bathe in beatific righteousness as my school took 98 staff on a residential to the same hotel. Maybe we should spend less money on headteachers’ bonding and dedicate the money to the professional development of our teachers.

Every act by school managers should support the teaching of children.

I know of a local school that now has 3 deputy heads, 3 assistant heads and 2 associate heads joining the headteacher and Business Manager on their senior management/leadership team. That costs masses – around £800,000 including add on costs and the school isn’t doing very well.

Every time a school appoints a new manager they have to have people to manage, and work schedules, targets, working parties, accountability structures and whatever else justifies the job. Reduce the Size of the Senior Team, reduce the teachers’ workload and reduce spending on SMT. Spend the money on teaching resources, buns or air conditioning.

Of course, the main benefit of cutting management roles is you can also have Fewer Meetings.

I was once part of a Staff Development Working Party looking at providing good training for teachers. All the meetings produced agendas, apologies for absence and minutes explaining why nothing had been achieved. Oh, and setting the date of the next meeting which involved tedious diary discussions about their cats’ appointments and other working parties. Here’s some stuff on meetings:
The best way to kill an idea is to take it to a meeting.

Most meetings are as valuable as Snapchat post: people talk, ideas disappear into the ether with no outcomes or chance of follow up.

There are 25,000.000 million meetings every day in America (I have the source).

If you must call a meeting know what you want the result to be in advance (and make those attending put their phones away)
Read “The One Minute Manager” (Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson) which tracks an idea from first airing to eternity. An idea is mooted. The manager listens and gives the initial OK, “Set it up and come and see me in a week.” Then,“Run with it and come and see me at regular intervals to announce progress and suggest the next step.” The one minute manager as a concept gives ownership, responsibility and accountability and motivates.

I know another local school where there is an absolute “No Meetings Tuesday.” Wow! Our teachers have one meeting a week, two if they’re on SMT. At the end of the school day teachers should use our fitness suite, talk to each other, plan lessons or go home to pursue wine tasting, talking with their families and other hobbies.

I know an incredibly talented Head of Science who has to report to 3 different managers.

School leaders should Reject Directed Time and the number 1265. Be grateful if you don’t know what this means; ask why you need it if you do. A system that counts the hours teachers work in school makes no sense when most teachers spend hours working at home. It was a Tory Party creation to demean teachers and modern managers should get together in their big teams and have some meetings to discuss a possible future date for a focus group to make recommendations about its abolition. Or Take a minute...

Kenneth Baker decided that teachers should give up 5 days of their holidays to do Inset (Training) Days. With a little imagination it is possible to Do Twilight Inset where teachers spend two-hour after- school sessions replacing one whole day. Then teachers can stay at home on the same day the kids are already off school.

A short while ago I volunteered to cover 3 lessons for an absent teacher as long as I could do what I liked and did no marking. I spent hours trying to find the perfect clip to accompany my exuberant delivery of poetry ranging from WW1 to “Why do men piss on the floor?” I think the poem is called “Bogerell.” I had songs and Youtube to accompany Vietnam war politics and I was well pleased with myself. Hours and hours planning for perfection only to be shot to pieces by lesson 3 when the students asked if they could get on with their written assignment.

Don’t waste your precious time looking for the Perfect Lesson, the cascading colourful graphics of the Perfect Powerpoint, and Share / Steal / Borrow Resources from colleagues, forums and the internet. Someone really has already done it better.

Lesson Plans are a guide for teachers, not a bureaucratic power tool for headteachers eating up their time on busy work.

As an English teacher I brought home my own height in exercise books every weekend and I wrote unread comments on hundreds of pieces of work. I used to enjoy the kid who was absent and produced no work and I loved writing “Finish please” in obvious places. Today, I tell teachers to get written work done in class and to mark as they walk around. There are loads of ways of reducing marking whilst helping the students do better.

This is brilliant:

In 1967, Butch Hurrell took delight in correcting my essay on Sweden. 54 times he circled my incorrect spelling – Sweeden. If only he had done In Class Marking he might have read the rest of the essay.

A few final thoughts:

We have abolished all words on our termly School Reports and, apart from being better written, they are easily understood.

Publicly castigate any teacher who sends Evening Emails, unless they are funny.

I know that some of these things are done in all schools, much in many and some in all. Teaching should however, be too exciting, stimulating, rewarding and fun to be left to the knackered teacher and the weary teacher cannot inspire for long. Children need them alive.
Dennis O'Sullivan

Tuesday, 18 December 2018


I opened my door to a man brandishing a shotgun.

As a co-op milkman I lived on my round so was this a man with an issue with his milk delivery? I was too frightened to ask. The gunman stared at me and some sort of change of mind came across his face and he lowered the shotgun. He was visiting me to discuss my having sexual relations with his wife but he was beginning to think this was a case of mistaken identity.

We were creative with names on the milk: there was Dave the Hat , Dave the Bread and Spanish Dave for example. One always wore a hat, one used to deliver bread and Spanish Dave always wore his anorak even on holiday in Spain. I was Big Den and there was a guy called Dan, who was also big, had a beard and was having relations with one of his customers.

Soon afterwards Dan was in trouble for fiddling the books and, as his shop steward, I made no fuss at all when he was sacked.

In my first year of teaching Councillor Massey was set to have me, “taken home in a box” when his son came home with a “nearly torn jacket.” I had pulled Greg off a girl he was assaulting and my union rep kept me in work.

One week into my time at Chauncy, a policeman met me outside my house at 6.30 a.m. A girl was receiving dodgy phone calls and the guy sounded like me. My headteacher stood up for me at the Child Protection meeting with the professionals who sent the policeman after me. I had evidence of being in Letchworth, when a call had been made from Windsor; of teaching a class when another call had been made and I had a receipt from a shop in Ware when a call was made from Essex. So I was let off and the girl’s uncle was warned not to make calls to his niece. No-one apologised.

My headteacher, Gill Field, saved me from suspension but if you’re suspended in teaching, especially as a new boy, that’s your reputation, job, career and possibly home gone.

The next time the police called, I’d been accused of assauling a boy and threatening some latecomers that , “I will rip up this 20 foot Christmas tree and beat you with it…” I did make the statement about the tree as I was being funny. CCTV proved me innocent of assault and the sad father with the angry wife searched for something else to which they could divert their failure.

The child protection professionals had sent policemen to talk to me and then, as I’d sent them away, they sent Roy Hardcastle a great HR man, who I respected, to see me. Proven innocent, I never received that apology either. By now, having worked here for a decade, and with a chair of governors who knew me well, I was almost fireproof ; no-one would falsely suspend me. But what if I’d been a new young teacher?

When a concern is raised about a matter that may be a child protection issue we contact the local authority Child Protection people, specifically the LADO (Local Authority Designated Officer). They hold their meetings and decide how best to protect children.

This is Bobby Smith’s story. That’s not his real name, for reasons that will be or become obvious. I have seen the paperwork and can vouch for its 100% accuracy. All the other people are flattered with their real positions.

I will tell it briefly in direct quotation:

“There’s a man in Brighton that the CP people want to talk to. Oh says the Lead CP person, I have done a full media search and can see that he has moved to..” (Shall we say Ware)” Mr Policeman, off you go to see Bobby Smith in Ware. The PC is a bit busy and wont be up for a couple of weeks so he tells the CP people in Hertfordshire that Bobby’s a bad un. The CP people, who have known their Bobby for 20 years tell the HR people, who have also known their Bobby for 20 years, to contact the Chair of Governors so that Bobby can be suspended from his school.”It is almost incidental that this act itself has been illegal for two years.

“So HR ring the COG, who has known Bobby for 20 years and do tell him to send Bobby home for a couple of weeks. Chair of Governors asks, “Have you checked whether Bobby ever worked in Brighton ?(No was the answer) Have you checked his pension record? (No) Have you done any sort of media search? (No) Because I have and it can’t be our Bobby. However I spent five minutes on Google and found the Brighton Bobby, his current job, his address and his photograph.” “Oh well says Hertforshire HR , “Just make sure your Bobby isn’t around children for a few weeks.” –This after the Hertfordshire Bobby Smith has been absolutely proven to be not the Brighton Bobby Smith. He was still to be punished.

Just because they can.

Hertfordshire and Brighton ignored the law: Suspension should only take place where children at the school are at risk of harm.

Just because they can.

So Hertfordshire Bobby asks Brighton CP to explain themselves. “I did a full media search and found one Bobby Smith in the entire world and anyway it was the policeman’s fault.”

The Brighton dodgy man comes up second in a google search, right behind Hertfordshire Bobby. CP bosses made Bobby’s case a Level 3 Complaint.

And then forgot about it.

Bobby asked the policeman to explain and he apologised, blaming the CP woman. The Brighton Chief Constable didn’t even reply but made it a Customer Service issue.

And then forgot about it.

Hertfordshire Assistant Director of Services said, “We have nothing to apologise for. It is not protocol to check the veracity of information; we act upon it.” The senior HR man intervened and promised that they would ensure that procedures would be put in place by December to stop this sort of thing happening.

And then forgot about it.

“ As through this world I’ve wandered

I’ve seen lots of funny men

Some will rob you with a six-gun

And some with a fountain pen.”

Bobby’s story: teachers suspended and their careers ended, their reputations destroyed and their lives damaged.

Guess how much the CP people, the police, the HR and directors of services care?

There must be some simple mechanism whereby a council receiving a referral from another part of the country can carry out a simple test to see if they are condemning the wrong man. Hertfordshire HR and CP have undertaken to show us this new procedure by Christmas. It is Christmas and they haven’t .

I think they forgot about it.

I’d suggest the following have a look at what they could do to improve matters for people who work with children for it is not just the children who are vulnerable:

Chris Williams (Herts HR), DC Thomas (Brighton Police) Sharon Martin (Safeguarding Brighton Children’s Services) Darrel Clewes (LADO Brighton) Frazer Smith (LADO Herts) David Windridge (Herts Head of HR) Giles York (Chief Constable Brighton) and “We have nothing to apologise for,” Simon Newland (Herts CC).

Dennis O'Sullivan

Sunday, 7 October 2018


A week ago I joined almost 2,000 headteachers marching, ever so quietly, to Downing Street to protest about the funding crisis in schools. That morning the Conservative Government Minister, Nick Gibb, repeated, “We are spending record amounts on school funding. We are the 3rd highest spender on education in the OECD. We spend more per pupil than France, than Germany or Japan” (BBC Radio 28-09-2018)

Headteachers keep whingeing about cuts in funding and must be lying. We are trusted by 87% of poll respondents with government ministers only believed by 19% (Ipsos Mori 29-11-2019) Is nothing trustworthy?

This week we found out that the “more money” incredibly, unbelievably, outrageously includes the money lent as student loans and the fees parents pay to private schools. Nick Gibb is counting £17 billion pounds lent to university students at 6.3% interest as government funding of education. (Sean Coughlan’s article of 03-11-2018 -

It gets messier.

If you have opted out of the state schooling system and you are paying for a private school place for your child are you surprised that this money, the fees you pay to private schools, is counted as state spending? (

"It now costs more than £30,000 to send a child to board for a year. And it's £15,500 to send them to a private day school. (Independent 10-05-2016 where their statistics also show an increase in private school fees of 550% in the last 25 years) The government is counting all this money as their investment in state education.

The UK Statistics Watchdog has launched an investigation into the government’s spending figures. ( Maybe because they are incredible.

My local MP is currently writing to his constituents trotting out the party line on government spending on education, word for disingenuous word, including a seemingly random reference to government spending increasing by 50% since 2000. But the money spent by students on student loans has trebled since the year he quotes, (because your party trebled the fees) and the fees paid to private schools has risen massively (because they can) since 2000. So MPs can blindly believe their minister and repeat his dishonest manipulation of truth to your constituents. It’s nearly 5 years since 31 Hertfordshire headteahers lobbied our MPs. In response to our concerns one offered subsidised wine on the House of Commons veranda. At no time since, it seems, have they asked ministers or civil servants if we were lying.

A local conservative school chair of governors told me recently that she only reads my blog when someone shows it to her because they outraged. I have yet to be sued for anything I write. I think I do my research thoroughly and choose my words to be provocative and precise. I have been trying to find out if I can use the word “lies”

Either, our government minister, MPs and civil servants are deliberately misleading parents worried about the funding of their children's schools. Or, they can't be bothered to seek out the truth.

We already know that their level of competence fails to manage Brexit. And we know that while they fiddle around with the EU our police, prison service, care for the elderly, social services, education and housing priorities are left to fester.

So what do demonstrating headteachers claim as the funding crisis in our schools?
  • According to the IFS (Institute for Financial Studies) school spending on students has been cut by 8% since 2010.
  •  6th Form funding has been cut by 25% (IFS) and the support schools used to get from local authorities is down by a massive 55%.
  • There are more kids than ever in our schools and the government has cut grants and heaped cost increases on all schools.
  • 26.1% of secondary schools are now running at a loss. (Education Policy Unit who add that this is a trebling of the numbers of schools in dire financial crisis since 2010.)
  • Schools are not allowed to run at a loss so they have to cut spending: starting with “extras” like library books, music lessons, special needs provision, school trips, staff training and teaching assistants, repairs and maintenance Then we cut teaching jobs.
  • Class sizes have grown and subjects like Music, Drama, Art, Technology, Computing, Economics, Politics and Modern Foreign Languages have disappeared from many 6th Forms.
  • The government does not tell you that it has deliberately and systematically increased our costs over the last 8 years, transferring government liabilities to the employers: schools.
  • Every time you read of a 1% rise in staff pay the school must find the money from existing budgets.
  • You are not told that the employers’ contribution to the pension fund – not to the teachers’ pension payouts - is paid put of my school’s budget. This is an extra 5% on costs in the last five years.
  • Our wage costs have been driven up by almost 10% in five years. Wages make up almost 90% of our spending. Most UK secondary schools say they will be in deficit within two years, if not sooner, and this will be catastrophic for our children’s education.
It was good to see Hertfordshire primary headteachers joining with colleagues from all over England demonstrating last week. I am proud that we spoke out for our children. 

Dennis O'Sullivan

Thursday, 30 August 2018

CLASS A PARENTING (Parenting & Childhood in Crisis Part Two)

I met a parent shopping with her 13 year old daughter. Her 11 year old boy was at home, safely left alone with some snacks and advice not to open the front door. She cheerfully announced that he was on his computer 10 hours a day playing Fortnite. She thought I was mad when I expressed schoolteacherly concern andsuggested limiting this.

“7 out of 10 children said they had missed out on sleep because of their online habits and 60% said they had neglected school work as a result.” (National Online Safety 2018)

The chemical reaction in an adolescent’s brain from addictive computer games – and our kids are addicted – is the same as that produced by cocaine.

Kids brains and bodies are developing all the time Fortnite, and others, Game producers consult psychologists about how best they can make their games addictive. The games promote the release of dopamine which is how cocaine works. Youngsters are particulary susceptible to its effects, deliberately designed to satisfy teenagers’ craving for instant gratification as they have not yet developed the capacity to resist this. (For much more on the science look up video-game-drug-addiction at Psychology Today)

As parents, are we worried about this?

Fortnite is much cheaper than cocaine, ecstasy, MDMA, spice, speed…
This is a blog about Fortnite and you know I’m going to suggest that our boys’ obsession with this game is bad for their physical and mental health, family life, schoolwork and, even, their future romance prospects.

And it’s a great game and kids should play it. Just not so much.

In my various surveys of hundreds of kids, over 90% of boys aged 11-15 admitted to loving the game. Less than 40% of girls were plugged in every possible day but most say they are shackled to their phones and social media. Although this blog is specifically about FORTNITE the benefits and dangers of children being always connected apply to all.

Do you know if your kids have online access when they’re meant to be sleeping?

NSPCC and NCA (National Crime Agency) warn that one in four children have been contacted by strangers by voice and or text when playing Fortnite. It’s a social game and offers new opportunities to paedophiles. Google the NCA warning and read national newspaper stories about the 12 year old offered £50 to perform a sex act online. This sort of danger is widespread.

Fortnite is free but kids can buy 100 tiers of weapons outfits and gear that can be purchased on line. Parents have discovered, their credit card is associated with the site and receive big bills. Kids on the Spanish beaches were wearing Fortnite hats and T shirts. My niece’s primary school has banned Fortnite dances.

Accounts have been hacked and money stolen. (Telegtaph April 5 2018) A friend of mine rewards his 14 year old son with money to buy Fortnite gear if he reads for half an hour each evening. They even sit and read together, which lets boys understand it is OK to read as dad does it.

How about, removing phones and tablets from the room when they are reading (with or without you,) from the place and time when they are eating (with or without you,) and when they are doing schoolwork. Put yours away, too, and perhaps talk to each other.

Oh goodness, take them out without phones.

Launched in 2017, Fortnite had 125 million players by June 2018.

Forbes reported that Fortnite brought in $126 million in February, $223 million in March and $296 million in April. The company has so much cash that it's forming a $100 million prize fund for upcoming Fortnite competitions. (July 2018)

Fortnite is a magnificent, rewarding, and exhilarating phenomenon. It is a co-operative survival shooting game that lets players build structures out of materials they scavenge from the game world. Most play the Battle Royale version, which pits 100 players against each other, some of whom are in small teams, to see who is the last man standing.

Players are there to kill others and the violence is presented in a cartoonish way – there’s no blood and gore. (If you want lots of blood try “Call of Duty” a game with an 18 certificate which parents have told me they have bought for their 12 year olds. Around 60% of my 13 year olds had played COD and more than one was off school on a new version launch day.)

The notion of kids “killing” is controversial in itself.

Have you noticed, this summer that there’s no kids on the street, that the various “Spotted In...” Facebook sites are hardly mentioning wayward youth, that the parks are empty? As a headteacher, I’ve not had a single call from the police. If you get the opportunity, read Ray Bradbury’s 1951 short story, “The Pedestrian” where there is no crime in our cities because everyone is at home in front of giant multi-media screens. Walking at night is “not unequal to walking through a graveyard."

I guess it’s good that we know where our kids are.

Ever the English teacher, I asked a class of 20, 13 year old boys to describe their perfect weekend. I didn’t count but most said “Fortnite.” When pressed, because I was an innocent until very recently, they said something like, “Yes, the whole weekend.”

I try not to suggest that I am some sort of superior parent or human being. I can remember the joy when my four year old daughter first got up on a Sunday morning and put the video on without me waking. In terms of computer addiction, let me tell you about Crystal Crazy. 102 levels of anti-missile protection and weapons that ended up taking up about three hours a night, every night. It was the time when games came on discs and my eyes dripped gore, my sleep featured crashing spacecraft. I took a photo, on a real camera, when I completed Level 102. Fatima came from Paris to visit and I left her alone whilst fulfilling my game addiction. I have not seen her since. Knowing from my tobacco addiction that throwing the disc in the bin would only mean I went through the rubbish to retrieve it next day, I eventually smashed the disc. I was 40 years old.

An 18 year old Economics student at my school, two weeks and six lessons short of his final, perhaps career-forming, A Level exam, announced that he had been up until 5 a.m and achieved a 23 person “single kill,” which is apparently very good. The game keeps you trying to get better and players can see their score improving.

I have put on “prep” every term-time evening for GCSE boys who were going home with good intentions but plugged straight in to Fortnite and did no homework. Younger boys come into school with scraps of paper hastily scrawled moments before the lesson.

This is now me trying perhaps too hard: Boys’ opportunities to have girlfriends/boyfriends are obviously diminished. As a father of girls I have would have welcomed Fortnite because ordering them not go out with boys until aged 35, and then with me as chaperone, did not work. We have a new school year starting with our boys going cold turkey and some of them not coping. As boys spend more time alone in their bedrooms, less time studying, do less well academically, the girls may turn away from romantic liaisons, relationships, marriage, futures…

There’s no doubt that young women are now doing better than men and are getting more of the top jobs. Only the fact that old men are still in power and can discriminate against women is holding them back .

Of course, it’s not the end for all boys.

However, I have 32, 15 year old boys entering their final GCSE year whose end of year reports clearly show that their all-consuming interest is Fortnite. I am now going to ask parents to leave us their 15 year olds until 5pm.

Back to the mental health concern:

A nine-year-old girl is in rehab after becoming so addicted to a video game she wet herself to avoid moving and hit her father when he tried to stop her playing. (BBC New Voice 17th June 2018)

The World Health Organisation has classified playing video games on the internet as an official mental health disorder. This means one can get treatment on the NHS.

'Gaming disorder' is defined as 'a pattern of gaming behavior characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.' (WHO 2018)

Some views to leave you with:

I was talking with a really pleased mother who told me,“I’ve got my 10 year old son back. He was getting obsessed and tetchy, playing Fortnite all the time. It was hard for a week or so but I stuck to my guns and he now plays for two hours every other night…”

Did I mention the anger problems kids have when “losing” at computer games?

A Deputy headteacher gave me this, about his sporty 13 year old, “I came home to find that he’s got angry at losing at Fortnite and threw the controller through the TV screen.”

Another teacher takes the console to work every day and is in endless rows with his addicted 14 year old.

If as parents we can’t negotiate harm reduction with our kids over a computer game, how are we going to cope when they come across ‘drugs’ and other challenges?

What price a bit of peace and quiet?

Dennis O'Sullivan

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Freedom of Speech? Ah – that would be an ecumenical matter…

I did not condemn the IRA in 1971 when I wrote calling for the withdrawal of troops from Ireland. I was reminded of this the evening of Bloody Sunday, 30-01-1972,  when a group of male, drunken rugby club thugs played a game of judging how near my head they could throw beer bottles, whilst singing, “13 dead taigs it should’ve been more.”

In 1978 I wrote a series of articles under the name Christian Torres calling for a reversal of women’s rights, a ban on contraception and other reactionary things. I got tremendous support until someone realised they were spoof articles and then there were more bottles. I’m not sure how hard Debbie Day Crickmore was going to hit me with her bottle as it was coming from behind. Someone stopped her and then a group of profound Christians held a meeting to decide if they would pray for me. They decided I was too far in league with the devil for prayer or salvation.

In 1982, the publication of my first English Language book for Collins was met with intellectual condemnation of my revisionism by Haringey’s English Advisor. Mind you he was trying, unsuccessfully, poor soul, to seduce my wife.

My use of words has been provocative at times. I have been pleased that my last blog on Parenting and Childhood in Crisis has been so well received by an audience seven times greater than usual and I will return to this theme later in the year. I have been told that parents respected my stance that I am no better than anyone else.


My exhilarated, blistering, biblically uncompromising prose has me in trouble with a few self-appointed spokesmen for Catholicism. Only the very safe, the very cloistered, isolated and dogmatic can be so sure of wrong and right. Waving both English and Irish passports, I am amazed, and politically impressed, that the church in Ireland has lost so much credibility through covering up the sins of its priests that we now have laws allowing divorce, gay marriage, contraception and abortion and a gay Taoiseach whose dad was born in Mumbai. This is fantastically 21st century. However, the governors of St Mary’s Catholic School, Bishops Stortford, and their lawyers, worry that I am dangerous, and, in their deepest, darkest thoughts they seem to fear I wish to perform satanic rights with their young people.

Now I’m not a devout catholic but I have a view on heaven. When St. Peter does his interminable shift of listening to some priests, some nuns, some bishops, archbishops and popes explaining why they performed or covered up sexual, physical and mental abuse of young children I wonder how worried he will be that the next guy seeking entry thinks single faith schools are divisive.
Following a three page speech against my right to free speech by the governors of St Mary’s it was worrying to see that their Headteacher, recently so under siege from just about every national newspaper – and not for the school’s exam results – joined in the final declaration : “We repeat that we respect (his) right to hold and express his views in accordance with the law, but…”

Oh dear, there was a “but”.

Apparently my freedom of speech does not include opposing the idea of faith schools, which I see as segregating children at a time when we need to draw  together as humanity and show that killing people because of their faith is not admired by any of their very similar gods.
Blind faith in one’s righteousness would be a terrible thing and damning freedom of speech can only end in tyranny, silence and fear, if we are silent. At times in the last decade I have been invited to speak on Holocaust Education in the House of Commons, to an audience including the education minister in the Department for Education offices and in the Russian Embassy on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. My message was that we have to stand up for freedom of speech and freedom of worship and that when we don’t, after the murder of Jews, Catholics, Communists, Slavs, Homosexuals and the Disabled they will be coming for the rest of us.

I reckon their Headteacher hankered for a return to 1492, and the expulsion of all Jews and Muslims from Catholic Spain unless they converted to Catholicism. Nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition, but they came to seek out, torture and often execute those “conversos” who were still secretly holding on to their old faith. I guess their religion would call them martyrs, just like many in the Book of Saints we had at home.

I think I will have to leave my job within the next 10 years, so I’ve been thinking ‘succession.’ The advert for my job will have to reflect the nature of the school. Catholic schools try, even though, it severely diminishes the field of possible candidates, to demand that the Headteacher be a practising catholic with a letter from the parish priest. Shortlisting is a breeze in faith schools. Would I be right in thinking that Jewish faith schools and Muslim faith schools use the same sort of deselection criteria? I knew a Seventh Day Adventist supply teacher who moved straight into headship as the governors felt that his religion was more important than his teaching experience or qualifications.

Would it be at all controversial or against some Equality Act if a state, co-educational, comprehensive, non-denominational school put out a job advert that says, “No Catholics, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims or Jews may apply?”

After being accused by the governor, lawyer and Headteacher of being anti-Catholic, I rang my sister, my nephews in Ireland, my old friend Father Danny who is an enforcer for the church. I consulted the old men with whom I shared a primary school education and duties as an altar server. Most of them thought there had been a misreading of religious works, the latter group said it was my turn at the bar. I never kept in touch with any of the kids, now adults, to whom I taught Catechism classes on Saturdays at St Mary Magdalen’s.

My view is simple:

What divides us or segregates, by religion or class, fosters discrimination and makes society weaker.  A few weeks ago faith schools were allowed by government decree to have 100% of their faith children in their schools. Is this because society is coping so well with matters of faith? Does it reduce the number of attacks on Jews? Does it encourage moral development in our schools?

I know it was 1969 when we had the catholic lesson on sex education. It was all about STDs and Mickey Green asked if wearing a condom reduced the risk. He was taken aside and no-one ever answered his question. Were catholic schools surprised that there were unplanned pregnancies that filled their Magdalena Laundries and provided many American families with children they could adopt in return for a wee bit of cash?

There are no static context free British values and I understand that values evolve with the maturity of a society. Who would have thought Ireland would be the first country to vote for Gay Marriage in a referendum. There is no place for Sharia Law in Britain and we need to respect British Muslims into society, not ostracise, isolate, label and condemn them.

In 2017, about one third of the 20,000 state funded schools in England were faith schools, 6,814 in total, of which 68% were Church of England schools and 30% were Roman Catholic. There were 48 Jewish, 27 Muslim, 11 Sikh and 5 Hindu faith schools – these last 4 on the increase whilst the others slightly declined in number.

Are we really surprised that Muslims do some Islam related teaching in state sponsored Muslim schools, that their ethos may be a bit different to the going-to-mass-in-school-time Catholic faith schools? Do boys in Jewish faith schools wear the kippah, Sikhs turbans and Muslim girls the niqab? Surely the refusal to insist on secular state schools means we tolerate faith schools praising and proclaiming their own religion just a bit. Do we doubt that the Methodists, Greek Orthodox and United Reformed Church who all have state funding for their schools, sometimes go on a bit about what they consider the best bits of their faiths? Allow and encourage faith schools and we must accept that elements of separatism will pervade. The Friends (Quaker) school might mention pacifism when talking of war, much to the distaste of those who glorify British wars. And as for the Hindu Free school with a ban on sausages…

If we segregate children by religion are we surprised they become segregated socially? If we want a multicultural society our kids have got to grow up together.
Let all schools educate about the similarities between religions, the fact that there are different views of religion. A little thought to town planning, to mixed housing provision to help create communities of people of all races, religions and colours who consider themselves British and who can celebrate their faith, or none, in a fair society based on good old British values: equality of opportunity, meritocracy, inclusion, fair play and doing the right thing.

Dennis O'Sullivan

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Parenting And Childhood In Crisis

In our local group of secondary schools over 500 students qualify for special consideration, individual arrangements, someone to read for them, or a scribe in exams. They get rest breaks, extra time, separate rooms room in this summer’s public examinations. It seems kids have more problems and are needier in 2018 than last year and much more so than a decade ago.

In 2018, nationally, more children have special needs, more are home educated and more are expelled from their schools.

We have children who don’t eat, others who can’t sleep, a number self -harm, and others report that they have dark thoughts and are anxious, depressed and suicidal. This is terrible and I don’t think it’s just a case of today’s schools asking them how they feel.

I read this today: “He is unable to understand or manage his extreme emotions, sees himself only in negatives and is becoming increasingly isolated and distressed.”

We have parents who don’t know how to support, help or bring up their children in a society where childhood is sentimentalised, parents feel guilty and the fantasy world of social media creates a warped view of family life.

As parents, many but by no means all, demand much from ourselves perhaps too much and we don’t always get it right.

This is almost certainly the most controversial of my 49 published blogs. Most are read by other headteachers and teachers and sometimes one or two readers promise never to talk to me ever again. Being anti faith school gets the catholics going and mention of selection in comprehensive schools annoys a few headteachers to the extent they will not read a word I write. I expect some angry parents among the 1,000 or so who will read this monologue. I bet I’m on Radio 3 Counties again and misquoted by the atrociously poor scribes on The Hertfordshire Mercury.


I am head of an outstanding inclusive school and parents overwhelmed Ofsted with their support for what we do. The vast majority of our parents are wonderful supporters of their kids and do everything to help them do well in school and life.  They love their kids and help them develop a morality of honesty, effort, decency, care for others and to understand right and wrong. But I think parenting is in crisis.

I was on a hot,  crowded train from Cornwall to London, a little frustrated because I couldn’t get the score from the Spurs-Arsenal game. A 5 year old kept asking silly questions, making odd noises and generally being a pain. His dad kept saying things like, “Why are you doing that, Popett?” and, “I don’t think you should do that, Popett.” For 200 miles we listened to Popett until, just short of London, his mum joined the discussion with, “Stop it!” and he did.

Despite the ex-headteacher from Presdales having called me poppet once,  I left that train with an intense dislike of the word and always precede it with “Bloody!”

The 5 year old will grow up.

Last week, 12 year old Drew stole his mum’s credit card, flew to Bali, booked into a good hotel, hired a motorbike and sent his friends photos of himself boozing in the swimming pool. Mum has been very upset that people have been blaming her; “He doesn’t like being told no.”
It’s OK to say, “No”

Children push boundaries. Rules and expectations set by parents and teachers have this in common. If a teacher gives their class a 5 minute break some kids come back 10 minutes later; if parents set a 10 pm deadline many children will test this. So, if he comes in at 10.10 make the next deadline 9.50.
There was some midnight trouble at last year’s Ware Music Day and I asked a 13 year old if he’d been involved. “I don’t know. Where was I at midnight on Saturday, mum?” To which his very intelligent, well dressed supportive mum replied, “I don’t know; where were you?”
More advice: Know where your kids are.

A very nice middle class man, with his own business, asked if we could put on weekend, evening activities at the school because his son was out late, getting in trouble and in with the wrong crowd, and, “I can’t ground him.”

In 1966 a neighbour said that I’d fallen in with a bad crowd to which my mum replied, “My Dennis is a bad crowd.”

The reality our children live in is a different place.

Here’s where we might go wrong:

Often, both parents work hard or there’s only one parent at home and she works hard so that the kids are fed, clothed and have the things that other kids have. At 4.00 pm boys go home and most plug into Fortnite in their bedroom until it’s time to go to bed. Girls pursue their Instagram, Snap Chat and other social media in their bedroom. The parents have worked hard and the fridge is well stocked. The kids are quiet and they seem happy. They don’t challenge, and they go to sleep some time, and the police don’t call. We buy them things for their bedroom, costing thousands: an Xbox, and iPhone, a laptop and a TV, with Sky, BT and Netflix subscriptions.

17 year old Billy had 21 kills on Fortnite by 5.00 am last Wednesday and struggled to stay awake in his Economics lesson.  Parents should know: you can’t save Fortnite, you play until you exit.

If school reports suggest things are going wrong, perhaps homework isn’t being done and then parents need to set times for homework, times for the other stuff and times for sleep. This isn’t always easy once patterns of behaviour are established but, we are the parents and they need to do as we say.

We feel guilty when things go wrong. We need set boundaries and then enforce them with rewards and short term sanctions.

I listened as a  teacher phoned two parents to issue detentions for missed GCSE work. The first mother talked for 10 minutes about how he didn’t do the work because the teacher didn’t praise him enough. The second parent said, “He’ll be there.”

I watched as another parent blamed her son’s lack of homework on the teacher having not selected him to play in a match even though he didn’t turn up to a single practice.

I was asked to rescind my praise for the way her son handled a possible confrontation with a teacher because it was all the teacher’s fault. A dad watched CCTV of his son beating another boy and claimed the victim was the aggressor because he raised his hands as he was being hit. I told a mother that the police were asking about her son and had to write a letter of apology when the police said they weren’t. A well trusted parent watched a video of his son punch a boy 30 times and called it “banter.”

Take your pick, but two of these went to prison – one for murder - and two of the other parents now want us to help with “mental health” problems because their kids are unco-operative and miserable.

When teachers telephone to say things are going a little astray at school parents need to ask themselves  why would the school be lying,? Why would the school be picking on my kid? Perhaps my child has done something wrong. It’s not the end of the world but she was late or she didn’t do her homework or she did misbehave. Can’t you just let us get on with it?

Teachers should not patronise but we should ask the parent to trust us whilst  we always remember their child is the most important thing, person and concept to them in the world ever, ever.

I can’t count the number of times a parent has recounted minute by minute what was said in a classroom she hadn’t been in and the new phrase, “My son/daughter would never lie to me” is  a modern interpretation of childhood.  I was perplexed by the parents who swore blind that their kid would never take drugs even though we have provided the boy with the drugs counselling he requested.

I have to admit that I often lied to try and get out of trouble as a child – I must have been a very bad boy.

During the last 40 years I have taught 5 murderers attended 8 terrible teenage funerals, I  taught children with lousy home lives, violent or abusive relatives, living with poverty and fecklessness, I have been stalked slandered and libelled, wrongly accused, threatened, occasionally sworn at and had a truly wonderful time helping young people learn about themselves and the world.

I’ve been in schools with many thousands of ordinary kids who have been very decent people with or without brilliant qualifications. Mainly their families were not well off, were struggling or just about not managing. It is not often the poorest that indulge children.

Teachers are trying to do something incredibly important, joyous and rewarding and sometimes we have helped end the trap of poverty, deprivation and hopelessness. I’ve met people I once taught and they are bankers, lawyers, plumbers, doctors, bakers, electicians, happy fathers and mothers, mountain climbers and even a couple who were better snooker players than me.

Generally, teachers teach 200 kids each week and for them to hate a particular student is frankly, unrealistic. Teachers do not lie awake hating children. Teachers are rarely perfect and even rarer are they child haters.

Do we notice that children rarely talk with other children? They text rather than speak. Internet chat is brief, abbreviated, MTV slang. Good luck if you try to translate Instagram comments.

The world of social media puts our children in a different reality where pseudo adult conversations take place and children do not talk with other children as children. 13 year old girls are transfixed by the pouting, materialist excess, sexualisation and superficiality typified by Kardashians. None of us would want our daughters to be pursuing the lifestyles proclaimed in Geordie Shore, Ex on the Beach and Made in Chelsea but 8 year olds are admiring this stuff.

We should monitor what our kids watch – some programmes are on after 9 pm for a reason. How  many 12 year olds play the ultra-violent “Call of Duty?”

Social media is not the source of anomie in society.  Without a platform to show people how nice our dinner looks, how much better I am than you because here’s a picture of me in Barbados we’d have to talk to our friends about things. We have probably all seen post demands such as, “Like this or I am unfriending you.”  My granddaughter had 600 friends on her Instagram account, before she sat down with her mum and filtered. The more friends I have, the more likes I have, the more popular I must be and my self-esteem lives by the internet.

The perils of bullying on social media are well known and schools do lots of work on this. One woman told me that she was a terrible bully at school, “I was horrible to you. But when you went home I had to leave you alone. Today you can bully 24-7.” We have to teach kids to see that the bully is bad, not someone to get in with or copy and that it really is OK to tell someone about bullying. If only because they are saving other kids from the bully.

Younger children use the internet to be more aware, scared and in need of talk than ever. I cam across this quote: ”Of course we’re depressed. You destroyed the economy for us, the earth is literally dying, we are going to work until we die, and on top of that the Nazis are back.”

If we give parenting a try and talk with other parents as well , we will find that many 15 year olds get “depressed” that most of us get “anxious” before exams and that we all worried about our physical appearance, being popular and not having a girlfriend/boyfriend. It is OK to say, “I hate you,” “You're mean,” and “Other parents let their kids …” That’s all part of the rules of parent child negotiations and saying, “Do as you’re told” is OK.

Exams are stressful and there are too many of them. Kids are particularly anxious if they haven’t done as much revision as they should. It’s not a mental health problem to feel anxious about tests. The queue for CAMHs is enormous. I wonder how many kids in need of help are not yet seen because half the 6th form students in Hertford and Ware got in first?

Labels, now there’s a thing.

I remember a woman on the radio responding to her 10 year old’s atrocious abuse of his neighbourhood and all the people in it: foul language, violence, theft, vandalism, burglary. “What people don’t know, she asserted, “Is that my boy has ADHD.” And that makes it OK

We beat ourselves up as parents but for some, how nice it is to have a label that says, “It’s not my fault.”

You can get a private assessment, pay them the money and be told your child has mild autism (like most of us) dyslexic tendencies or Opposition Defiant Disorder (and yes they do mean ODD). You  still have to talk to and work with your child.  The label does not abrogate responsibility.

Worries about sexual identity are not new and it is wonderful that modern media has let people see that we are all “normal,” that identity concerns are valid and that there are various routes to fulfilment. I get a bit fed up when being “trans” means dying my hair, dressing like half-hearted goths, getting drunk and being unable to attend school; the wannabee pretend ones getting in the way of young people who need and want and seek help and change.

Oh, and by the way, kids who stay in bed for 12 hours are bound to be tired and the longer you let them stay in bed the more ill and housebound they will become. And, while I’m on a roll. If you drop your kids at Asda for breakfast we confiscate energy drinks.

Although this may be on the controversial side of my blogs, I am confident I still have a job. 10 years ago my chair of governors and I locked his son in a classroom on a Saturday for about 5 hours so he could, finally, finish his science coursework. We gave him food and drink every so often and he told us, “It’s not fair.” The boy won a national basketball title, earned a university degree, works for a living and loves his dad.

Parents can take away their children’s mobile phones for a bit, turn off the Xbox for a while, set boundaries which they enforce with rewards and sanctions and started talking with their kids like we’re the  adults and they are children. The queue for counselling services would shrink so that the very needy are seen; fewer teacher-parent confrontations are in the way of good teaching and learning and children are playing in the park.

Let kids be kids: play out, get minor hurts without A&E let them be naughty, and then corrected, let them tell fibs that you can see through so that now they think you’re omniscient; take them to the  zoo, McDonalds , chat about their schooling, praise their achievements, help them become resilient, happy people who can suffer the slings and arrows of a materialist society; show them you care about other people (because you do) and that your friends are important to you because of what they’re like rather than what they possess.

I wonder what my emails will look like now?

Dennis O'Sullivan