Review by Robert Gasson

CEO, Wave Education Trust

10 Feb 2024, 5:00


The Conversation – with Robert Gasson

Nurses on call

It’s been another interesting week in the world of education, with no shortage of controversial conversations. But aren’t they all at the moment? Still, you only need to cast your mind back a few weeks and you will undoubtedly remember that, shortly before Christmas, the DfE issued its long-promised guidance on gender-questioning children, a document that attracted a large amount of controversy itself.

Amid all the noise, I was pleased this week to discover a new NHS podcast called ‘School Nursing Uncovered’. Ostensibly “For school nurses, by school nurses”, I found their second episode, Gender identity – what are the facts? an excellent place to listen to a considered, professional and informative discussion that I think could help many of us working in schools.

There is no doubt that we are increasingly coming across pupils who are exploring their gender identity and trying to find the best ways to support them. A listen to this conversation between school health professionals certainly helped me reflect positively on my own knowledge and practice.

Their next episodes will focus on mental health, vaping, safeguarding and healthy lifestyles. It could be a treasure trove for better-informed inclusion.

What is inclusion?

On the topic of which, this new blog from Ben Newmark is an enlightening and accessible exploration from first principles. Before even setting out any tenets for inclusive classroom practice, starts by examining what we even mean by this term. We evidently share a language, but do our ideas about what it means in reality actually equate to the same thing?

Through examples from a couple of different contexts for inclusion, the blog leads to us to a better place to undertake professional conversation on this topic. This can only be a good thing, given the current propensity for different camps to throw bricks at each other over the issue.

And in conjunction with the nurses’ podcast, it leaves me wondering whether the phony educational culture wars aren’t finally drawing towards a ceasefire.

Blameless behaviour

Where better to test that theory than by reading a new blog on behaviour – perhaps the most controversial topic right now? And I’m happy to report that this in-depth take from Nia Sinjorina is equally balanced. You won’t find a mention of ‘no excuses’ here, nor of schools with ‘no-go’ areas. What you will find is an honest look at the reality of today’s classrooms with some great foundations for building a new social contract upon. Mind you, it is a long read, but perhaps that’s what’s been missing from our zeitgeist.

Like Newmark, Sinjorina goes back to first principles with an exploration of the purpose of school. It’s a conversation I have with colleagues and peers regularly because it’s pertinent each time we work with pupils who have been through nine years of school and are still functionally illiterate or have significant needs that haven’t even been assessed, let alone met.

There’s a lot to this blog, but most important for me was Sinjorina’s discussion about the ‘ownership of a child’. In other words, who is responsible for a child’s behaviour. But rather than blame the child, the teacher, the parent (or indeed the village), she offers a well thought-through and balanced paper exploring the current crisis. She pulls no punches about a system that could be described as “pedagogical abuse”, but in the end it is a cogent and passionate argument for a partnership between school, parent and student that “should be the cornerstone of any educational process”.

If it offers no immediate solutions, it’s at least a very good pointer to the source of our problems.

Oldie but goldie

Finally, without comment and amid more furore about behaviour on what increasingly feels like the irrelevant battlefield of X, Adele Bates shared an old blog on consistency.

It’s actually a five-minute video recorded mere days before the second national lockdown came into force in which Bates describes her 99.9 per cent rule. It’s a short, informative and deeply human palate cleanser after a long week. I’ll let you discover it for yourself.

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