As regular readers may have gathered, I am no stranger to the chalkface; I have therefore followed with interest the voluntary 'outing' of Katharine Birbalsingh at the Conservative conference.
Like her, I started out subscribing to many of the left-wing ideologies but soon saw the damage they were causing in the classroom. One point she made had particular resonance for me; that black boys were underachieving 'because of what the well-meaning liberal does to them'.
Many years ago, I was working in a school in an ethnically diverse area with significant discipline problems and poor exam results (some of the reasons for that are discussed here). Homework frequently presented a problem - I had one pupil who did his at a corner table of the restaurant where both his parents worked until 9pm - and a certain flexibility was often required.
Sometimes, though, it was necessary to complete one assignment in order to understand the next. In one such case, I told a pupil to come back to the classroom to complete the work at lunchtime, when I would be at my desk marking and could give him any help he needed. He looked doubtful:
Pupil: Is this a detention, like?
Me: No; it's so you can finish that work before this afternoon's lesson, otherwise you won't understand what we're doing.
Pupil: So I don't need to report it then?
Me: Report it?
Pupil: To Mr H.
Me: (baffled) Who's Mr H?
Pupil: He runs my Saturday school.
This was the first I'd heard of it, so I asked him to explain. The boy told me he had started attending a Saturday school intended to raise the academic achievement of afro-carribean boys. So far so good - I told him how pleased I was that he was taking his education seriously - but there was more:
'Mr H says that we have to tell him if a white teacher gives us a detention. If there are no white kids in the detention, that's racist. If you tell me off and don't tell any white kids off, that's racist too; Mr H said so.'
I asked for more details; it turns out the boys had been instructed to report back to Mr H, naming as potential racists any white teachers who told them off - a worrying prospect for staff living in the catchment area. The same went for white teachers giving detention and extra work or even asking black pupils to tidy up their appearance.
It was only after I left the school that the full irony of the situation became clear to me; I found out that the Saturday school in question was started and funded by contributions from a national televised charity appeal. Well-meaning people from all over the country had put their hands in their pockets to enable Mr H to pursue his witch-hunt and undermine the teacher-pupil relationship.
To avoid any possible misunderstandings, it should be understood that this post refers to one particular Saturday school, now closed.
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