The Times Educational Supplement or TES, a UK trade newspaper, has a new campaign. Its head of content, Ed Dorrell, has mounted his trusty horse and gallantly gone into battle against the baddies of Outwood Grange Academies Trust. The original allegations that prompted this investigation, published in a blog post that did not name the trust, include the claim that children were being identified by school leaders prior to assemblies and then being made to cry in those assemblies by being shouted at. If true, this is a truly horrible thing to do to young people.
Dorrell and his team have not been able to substantiate this allegation, but they have found a number of sources that suggest that teachers use ‘intense shouting’. They have even found a source who complained about an edict against teachers in the trust jumping the queue in the dinner hall. Imagine. In response, the trust posed two questions: “…why are disgruntled individuals so keen to claim our pupils are unhappy when in inspection after inspection, Ofsted is lavishing praise on our schools for their happy atmosphere and outstanding academic progress? And why would record numbers of parents be sending their children to our schools if there was this negative culture our critics pretend exists?”
If there are people involved with Outwood Grange who are deliberately humiliating children then that is awful and it should be dealt with through the appropriate channels. Ofsted, the English schools inspectorate, should perhaps launch an investigation. Nobody wants to see abuse go unreported and unpunished.
However, there is a familiar feel to this story. It is similar to other school shaming stories that have dropped over the last few years in that an initial allegation fails to stand-up and is then replaced by a number of more vague allegations. Sometimes, this has been reduced all the way down to a claim that a school is somehow ‘selective’ because some parents do not want to send their children there. We have seen the trial-by-Twitter of schools such as Michaela Community School in London and Great Yarmouth Charter Academy in Norfolk. As a result, the latter was subject to a snap Ofsted inspection which it passed with flying colours.
So forgive me if I am a little reluctant to reach for my pitchfork and call for the burning of the Outwood Grange witches just yet.
When the TES’s brave investigative journalism was not met with universal acclaim on social media, Dorrell decided to pen an editorial moaning about “trad outriders”. Dorrell compared Outwood Grange to the notorious William Tyndale Junior School experiment of the 1970s and suggested that Outwood Grange would damage the “trad cause”, a cause that he is clearly not a fan of.
It is true that educational traditionalists usually advocate for schools to adopt strong behaviour policies, although I cannot recall a self-identified traditionalist ever recommending ‘intense shouting’. I shouted for the last time in about 2001. I stopped because I didn’t think it was right and because I concluded it was ineffective as a behaviour management strategy. I still remember being a young teacher and my head of department saying to me that if any students misbehaved, I should send them to him. When I did this, he shouted at them and sent them back to my class, their behaviour completely unaffected.
And traditionalism tends to be about a whole lot more than behaviour, such as a knowledge rich curriculum and a commitment to explicit teaching. I have no idea where Outwood Grange sits on these issues. The only real link I can currently perceive between the trust and traditionalism is that a number of traditionalists, mindful of previous school shaming incidents, have come out to criticise the hyperbolic nature of the reporting by the TES. That’s about it.
So there we are. We will all have to wait and see what happens and whether any of the allegations are eventually substantiated.
In the meantime, there is another education scandal that Dorrell could ride out against, although I suspect he will not.
The TES Resources website used to provide a service where teachers could freely share resources with each other. I never used it, but I have heard good things about it from teachers who did. Unfortunately, in some schools, teachers are left to flounder and have to plan everything from scratch themselves. Having access to resources produced by experienced colleagues is something of a lifeline.
In 2013, the company that owns TES was taken over by TPG Capital, one of the largest private equity investment companies in the world. Shortly afterwards, the TES Resources website introduced the ability for teachers to charge a fee for their resources, with the TES taking a substantial cut.
This is an ethical minefield. If a teacher produces a resource when at work then does the teacher really own the copyright to that resource? This hardly matters when it is being given away for free, but once we introduce a fee then the matter of ownership becomes an issue.
Perhaps worse is the fact that time and again, the TES Resources website has been shown to be selling resources that the vendor did not actually create and that were made by someone else who originally gave it away for free. When challenged, TES Resources have asked teachers to do the work of identifying such theft, abdicating their own responsibility to be proactive.
According to Twitter, it appears that Oliver Mills managed to set-up an account under the name of “JimmyTheThief” and sell a stolen resource:
It is clear that the TES and its private equity owners are not really the friends of teachers. Instead, they see us as a resource to be exploited. No wonder we have seen teachers abandon traditional trade newspapers in favour of the do-it-yourself world of blogging. Where did you first hear about the myth of learning styles or cognitive load theory or the benefits of retrieval practice? I suspect it was not in the TES.
Therefore, I think Miss Smith’s campaign is valid and I would ask you to support it:
Don’t upload your stuff to TES Resources. Instead, let’s abandon the TES and let’s make our reasons known to the organisation.
You can’t tell teachers what to think any more and you should stop exploiting us.