Category Archives: What should I think?

Becoming an Educational Psychologist: Part Two ~ making excuses?

I always believed my inability to take an unwavering position on something was a weakness of my character, something to be a little ashamed of. My compulsion to always see a situation from multiple viewpoints made me insubstantial and ineffective. My need to find ‘excuses’ for a child’s behaviour meant I was deficient in some way as a teacher. That I was too soft. A lefty-liberal responsible for the ‘decline’ in standards both moral and educational in today’s youth. I admired people who, despite persuasive opposition, stuck to their position.

A fence sitter lacking in the conviction of my own thoughts. A FenceSitterchameleon switching sides in an argument. Why couldn’t I just decide on one thing and STOP making excuses!

Take the issue of inclusion; on the one side you have those who believe children with learning disabilities should attend special schools and units, on the other, those who believe all children should be educated together (the environment shaped to the particular needs of the child). While I am unashamedly of the belief that where at all possible children should be educated in the same setting, I can also understand why, in some cases, e.g. challenging behaviour or profound multiple learning needs, a child would be better served in a specialist setting.

Roll forward seven months and term two of my first year as a doctoral student in Child and Educational Psychology. At last, my way of thinking (or naïve idealism as one line manager patronisingly affectionately called it when I was a teacher) has been given not only credibility but a framework in which to develop further. Now I am actively encouraged (expected) to consider as many ‘excuses’ as possible, except ‘excuses’ are not called excuses but problem dimensions – which are developed through testing hypotheses uses various tools (e.g. classroom observation).

A child or young person’s behaviour (however bad) is likely to be a response (albeit maladaptive) to internal and external factors over which they feel they have little control.

Am I weak in character, insubstantial and ineffective, or am I the exact opposite?

When a child presents with behavioural issues and the school and parents are at the end of their tether, locked into an explanation that absolves responsibility and holds the child in a permanent state of dysfunction, my ability to use psychological theory to explore potential reasons for this behaviour, offers a way forward, a route map to a better future. While it may be ‘true’ the child has a diagnosis of autism, dyslexia, or ADHD etc. This ‘diagnosis’ is not the reason for their aggressive/self-harming/distressed/defiant behaviour, rather it is an explanation as to why they may find learning/peer friendships/social situations more difficult to negotiate than other children. The diagnosis which many teachers and parents cling to as if it were the answer is in fact a dead end (unchangeable and consequently disempowering). The role of the EP is not to label to the child, but to focus on the aspects of the situation that can be changed and to empower those around the child to make that change happen. For example a child with autism may have difficulty making friends, but it doesn’t mean they don’t want friends (all human beings desire/seek connections with others). However a child with autism may need explicit and concrete help to make friends and the people/systems around them may need help to provide and deliver the best interventions to close this gap.

Taking the child’s perspective. Seeing the world through their eyes is a skill that educational psychologists must possess in order to be effective practitioners and actually make a difference to the lives of children, young people and their families.

There is nothing quite like finding a career where how you think and what you value fits like a round peg in a round hole. It is like I have come home, and, as it turns out, there was nothing wrong with my thinking in the first place, only my career choice.

Are you in a career/ lifestyle that chimes with who you really are? Or do you have supress who you really are to fit in? Please share your experiences. I would love to hear from you.

Now then, now then, now then; can we be both sinner and saint?

What to make of the scandal surrounding the late Jimmy Savile? Certainly, it appears that he was a predatory paedophile. It also appears that others knew of this and for varied reasons (benefitting financially, or because they were also abusers), Jimmy was given the impression he was untouchable and not alone in his preferences (Gary Glitter was arrested on Sunday).

[he] raised an estimated £40 million for charities

In what light do we now cast his accomplishments?  The money he raised, the causes he supported  – were they all just an excuse to get close to children?

He sponsored medical students at the University of Leeds to perform undergraduate research in the Leeds University Research Enterprise scholarship scheme, donating over £60,000 every year.[52] In 2010, the scheme was extended with a commitment of £500,000 over the following five years.[53] Following Savile’s death in October 2011, it was confirmed a bequest had been made to allow continued support for the LURE programme.

Or, uncomfortably, do we have to acknowledge that despite this despicable unforgivable side (which could have been stopped and should have been stopped), there was also a caring side, one that felt compassion for the underdog, wanted to help his fellow humans?

Jung postulated the self was made up of two distinct sides, residing in an uneasy compromise we call personality.

Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.

Freud talked about a similar dark side to our personality he called the id – the child within us, selfish and cruel, uncaring of its effect on others.

The id operates based on the pleasure principle, which demands immediate gratification of needs.

For some, childhood does not provide the nurturing environment from which our ‘ego’ the part of our personality that straddles both dark and light sides of our soul, grows strong enough to keep these two forces in check. Because our saintly side, if allowed to run rampant, can be as equally destructive – think of Norman Bates in Psycho. He may be a fictional character but he personifies an individual with weak ego strength. His overly dominant super-ego, an internalisation of his cold and dominating mother’s voice, led him to murder the ‘fallen’ girl his id desired.

A lifelong bachelor, Savile lived with his mother (whom he referred to as “The Duchess”) and kept her bedroom and wardrobe exactly as it was when she died. Every year he had her clothes dry cleaned.

For Jimmy Savile, being ‘nearly’ caught out (others knew what he was doing at the BBC) but not punished, freed his shadow or his id. The taciturn turning a blind eye to what he (and others at the BBC) were doing created the ideal conditions for a sexual fantasy to become a sick reality over and over again, but that does not mean he didn’t also want to do good.

An uncomfortable truth or a warning? No one is all good and no one is all bad. If paedophiles really all looked like Jimmy Savile, they would be easy to spot. Unfortunately they don’t. The recent case of April’s abduction, a tragic case in point. The man who is charged with her murder is related to April’s family. He wasn’t a creepy looking guy, with a comb-over and trousers too high on his waist. He was a father, a boyfriend, a colleague, a friend, an uncle, and a step uncle.

What Jimmy Savile’s  terrible crimes remind us is bad people don’t do bad thing 24/7. People aren’t born bad (though they may have genetic predispositions), rather they are warped by deprived childhoods, by institutionalised abuse, by members of their own family, who themselves were damaged by their pasts. These people do not have an integrated personality, rather they deny their shadows and in doing take no responsibility for its actions, when it rears its demonic head. They console themselves with the good things they do as if this balances out the bad. They throw themselves into helping others, join the clergy, raise money for charity.

But it is our shadows that allow these people to carry out their depravity unchecked. Jimmy Savile abused his own niece. Do we really believe no one in his family ever suspected? Or did a shadow, called greed and complacency, step into the light.

It is easy to do nothing. What you do might not be popular, might expose you in a bad light, might ruin your reputation,might halt a cash flow you rely on, or, as is the case with a lot institutional abuse, might not make any difference.

Ah, the shadow of indifference. Are we all not guilty of that?

The BBC’s shadow is now under the spotlight, will they take their part of the blame (and change), or paint Savile to be the ultimate villain, evil to the core. The devil incarnate, who they were unable to stop.

If we don’t acknowledge the shadow in each of us (and embrace it), then nothing will really have changed.

Jimmy Savile was certainly a sinner, but in his lifetime, many would have argued he was also a saint. Can we be both?

What do you think? All views welcomed.

[cough] [foot shuffle] My name is Juliet O’Callaghan and… [deep breath] I am a teacher

Why is it I feel somewhat shameful about admitting what I do for a living? 

A fly on  a wall somewhere in Westminster…

Civil servant: So Minister, how exactly are you going to leave your mark on Education in Britain?

Michael Gove: I am going to encourage all schools to become Academies, open as many Free schools as I can, utilising empty office space, bring back O-levels and Latin, and save the country millions of pounds in teachers wages, by opening up the profession to non-graduates. The army need to make a lot of redundancies, so we will turn the soldiers into teachers. Oh, and I am going slash the pension fund to help pay for the deficit.

Civil Servant: Very good Minister, but I feel I must point out that under the previous administration, schools were only turned into Academies if they were failing.

M.G.: Right. Then we must do the exact opposite. A school can only become an Academy if it is graded as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.

CS: And what about the other 80% that aren’t oustanding? Surely you want all schools to be taken over by parents and idealistic teachers, and of course [cough] profit making [cough] private enterprises.

M.G.:  Mmmm. I know. We will tell the rest of the schools they can apply to be Academies too, but only after the ‘outstanding’ ones have already applied.

CS: And what about the schools that don’t want to apply?

M.G.: Will accuse them of being obstructive and prejudiced; of being happy with failure.

CS: Right. So all schools will be Academies. And what is the reason we give the outstanding schools for why they should become Academies? Clearly they are doing very well already.

M.G.: We don’t need to give them a reason, we just need to give them money.

CS: But there isn’t any money.

M.G.: There isn’t any additional money. We’ll Slash schools budgets by bringing the amount per pupil over the age of 16 in line with Further Education colleges – that’ll serve the National Union of Head Teachers right for demanding parity in funding. Demand all schools repay deficits in their budgets immediately, and then offer them the money back if they become and Academy.

CS: We are going to bribe them. I see. Very good idea. But how do we sell this idea to the public? More and more children are achieving the benchmark 5 A to C’s  each year in grant-maintained schools.

M.G.:  That’s easy. I’ll invent a new performance measure. How about saying the 5 subjects must contain English and Maths.

CS: We already measure that statistic.

M.G.: Do we? Right then. A bit of blue sky thinking is required. What subject/s do children not tend to get a GCSE in?

CS: The Labour government made Languages optional because there was a shortage of language teachers, so lots of 14 year olds drop languages at the end of Year 9.

M.G.: Perfect. The new measure will group the core subjects together: English and Maths and science, ummm? What other subjects do schools offer?

CS: History, geography…

M.G.:Yes one of those, and of course a Language like Mandarin.

CS: I take it, Minister, we will apply this new measure once we have informed schools, so they can advise their students about GCSE choices.

M.G.: Don’t be ridiculous, man. The whole point of this new qualification is to show how badly schools are doing… what should we call it?

CS: There’s the IB – the International Baccalaureate, it groups subjects together in a similar way…

M.G.: Marvellous, we shall call it the English Baccalaureate. E.Bacc for short.

CS (whispered): E. Bacc? Sounds a bit like a nasty type of food poisoning.

M.G.: What was that?

CS: An excellent idea, Minister. So we will measure schools on a performance indicator they didn’t know about and then, in two years time, when schools have forced their students to take a Language, it will look like you have single-handedly improved standards.

M.G.: Exactly.

CS: I’m still worried you might get some resistance to rebranding schools as Academies, when Ofsted only rated 10% of all schools in England and Wales as unsatisfactory.

M.G.: Get me the head of Ofsted on the phone.  Who is the head of Ofsted?

CS: Michael Wilshaw, Minister.

M.G.: “Wilshaw. I need you to make more schools unsatisfactory. I don’t care how you do it man, just do it. Uh huh- yes – wonderful idea. Yes do it.”

CS: What did Wilshaw say?

M.G.: He said, Grade 3 satisfactory will be re-branded as unsatisfactory. As of tomorrow, 40% of schools will be failing.

CS: But grade 4 is already unsatisfactory.

M.G.: Then grade 3 will be, ummm…any ideas?

CS: A little below average?

M.G.: No, grade 3 will be; ‘not good enough‘.

CS: Isn’t that the same as unsatisfactory.

M.G.: Exactly. Is that it? I’m due at the PM’s for drinks.

CS: No minister. Not quite.

M.G.: What else? We’ve made half the schools unsatisfactory, with terrible EBacc results, surely the public will accept Academies and free schools now?

CS: The problem is, year on year, results are improving on individual subjects like English and Maths – which sort of ruins your line that the Education system is in need of a complete overhaul. 

M.G.: Well then we must discredit both the exams system and the teachers that administer it – the public barely tolerate teachers for having all those holidays as it is, so it won’t take much to turn their envy to hatred.

CS: But teachers only get paid pro-rata to reflect the extra holiday.

M.G.: Keep that to yourself, man. Let’s blame the grade inflation on coursework modules. Teachers cheat and do the coursework for them.

CS: We have no evidence of that.

M.G.: Evidence? Since when has government policy been determined by evidence? We’ll spread the rumour that teachers cheat and then propose to get rid of coursework all together, which will strain the exam system to breaking point – killing two birds with one stone – besmirch the reputation of teachers and prove the exam system is broken.

CS: What about subjects that need coursework?

M.G.: We will make students do it at school under exam conditions.

CS: There isn’t time in the school day to fit that in.

M.G.: Which means standards will drop and the public will blame the teachers because they are lazy, whining cheats. We will also release a statement saying; it is criminal that the majority of schools are not above average.

CS: That is statistically impossible, Minister. The majority is the average.

M.G.: The general public aren’t clever enough to realise that.

CS: What happens if you get picked up for it, by an education correspondent from the TES, for example?

M.G.: Bloody TES. I’ll blame my comprehensive education.

CS: Excellent Minister. Are you planning on bringing back grammar schools?

M.G.: It pains me to say ‘no’ because the baby boomers would love it, but I just don’t think I can get that one past the Liberals. However, we will bring back O levels and CSE’s – that should secure the vote of the nostalgic brigade.

CS: But if the GCSE is fit for purpose, which it appears to have been for 30 years, how will we float this idea?

M.G.: We must make it unfit for purpose, immediately. Give me the head of Ofqual. “Glenys, we must have a drop in GCSE passes this year. I don’t care how you do it. Tell the exam boards they must regrade all the exams. Yes, send an email if you must, but do not copy me in.”

CS: We could also play up grade inflation by pointing to the number of students that do resits, and the fact we have exam boards competing for business.

M.G.: Excellent idea. I can see you have the right mentality for politics. We will scrap all resits and give students only one chance to pass the exam. And we will do away with separate exam boards and have just the one.

CS: Teachers have been calling for one exam board for years – that should make them happy.

M.G.: We can’t have that. We must have unhappy, militant teachers, who go on strike and upset parents. It is the only way we are going to get away with eroding their pay and conditions, stealing their pensions and make them work longer hours. And they must keep children in school longer so both parents can go to work and therefore consume more, leading to wealth creation for the top 1%.

CS: How are we going to upset the teachers?

M.G.: Apart from freezing their pay, moving to regional payscales and plundering their pensions? A constant drip feed of attacks on their work ethic in the press. We can say ‘some of them’ are lazy, incompetent and in it for the holidays.

CS: But in every professions, ‘some’ people will be incompetent. It is not particular to teachers. I had an incompetent plumber come round the other day and now I have no hot water.

M.G.: Exactly. But by the time the plebs on BBC’s Have your Say and Twitter have finished, all teachers will be incompetent.

CS: An excellent Educational Policy, Minister.

What do you think? Are teachers the ones that are out of step with the world? Should we just put up and shut up? Do you think teaching is worse today than it was when you were in school? I really would love to know what you think.

Starting blogs is a habit of mine

me and Archie

I know I started one (or three) somewhere with lots of links and things, but can I find it or them? Nope. Though I have found, I only make up just less than one page on a google search. Not a great web presence then, which brings me back to why I have started yet another blog. You see the problem is this: I need a web presence to create a platform for my writing – literary agents apparently google you, when you send a submission (covering letter and first 3 chapters of your novel, for non-writers reading this) – but (and there are two):

In between working full time as a teacher and running the home and everything else known to man and woman, as well as writing short stories and a novel or four, keeping up with writing groups on and off line, reading blogs about writing and publishing, entering competitions and preparing submissions, and reading lots and lots of books, where do I find the time to write a weekly blog posts, with links and pictures and other exciting things?

Well, here I am anyway – avidly reading blogs on blogging for writers, like this one from Ann R. Allen’s blog, which is why I have used my name in the title, ( it should also aid me finding it, though I hope this time not to lose it in the first place); and this ‘get started’ guide from Jane Friedman.

Yet already I am getting cold feet.

Which brings me to my second ‘but’:

Why would anyone want to read what I have to say (says the aspiring author)? I don’t know what I think about most things most of the time. There are fundamental things I am sure about, hurting other people, physically and psychologically is wrong (excluding consensual acts of S&M); the only person who can make you happy is you; no one is all bad, or all good; and, every pudding should be accompanied by clotted cream. But beyond that, I am a bit airy-fairy, prone to seeing the other side of the argument.

Most recently, I have found myself wavering around the whole benefit debate. I am proud my country has a safety net. As has been said by many, including Gandhi and Pope John Paul II; a civilised society is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable members. I have often used the argument that benefit fraud is  a very low incidence (despite what the papers say) and any system that protects the weak will be abused by the minority (and should not be reason not to have one). But, I can’t deny the fact that there are some families in the second and third generation of career unemployment, collecting their ‘wages’  from the state, with no compunction to get a job or an education; their lives lurching from one self-inflicted crisis to another.

The state protects many vulnerable people, but in doing so, infantilizes and institutionalizes some. These kidults (having children of their own) are locked in an egocentric world, where their needs are paramount and those of others, not so much ignored, but not perceived.

So I don’t know what to think? And I don’t know what the answer is? If we don’t have benefits then the most vulnerable will suffer. But if we do, then we sustain, and possibly create, an underclass.

If you have a view on this, then please pile in. I have feeling a number of my posts will end, not with an answer, but a question and a plea for help to unravel what it is I think, I think.

Until next time. Au revoir.