Friday, October 08, 2010


When I read that a London deputy head had been suspended by her school for the outrageous act of talking honestly about the state education system, I didn't realise the deputy head was Snuffy, whose blog is now missing in action. (She's now been reinstated).

UPDATE - turns out the head who suspended her, Irene Bishop, was head at another school which Tony Blair used as the backdrop for announcing the 2001 elections. I'm not sure that means she's a 'Blairite', as some are saying.

(tbf, I can understand concerns when someone talks or blogs about identifiable children. I like to think that Snuffy's anecdotes are always suitably anonymised - certainly hope so)

Quite a character, isn't she? (and she'll be even more impressive if she can drop the aw-shucks grin when they applaud her. Stay stern, girl!). I like her description of the terrible shame she felt, as an ex-lefty, in voting Conservative for the first time.

The school she's just joined, St Michael and All Angels in Camberwell, not so very far from my old stamping grounds of twenty years back, is described thusly by Ofsted :

It is smaller than the average sized secondary school and serves an area of ethnic and cultural diversity with particularly high proportions of students from Black African and Black Caribbean heritages. There are many more boys than girls. The proportion of students known to be eligible for free school meals is higher than typically found. A much higher proportion of students than average have special educational needs and/or disabilities, most of whom are identified as having behavioural, emotional and social difficulties....

(on the rating of 'inadequate') ..
Nowhere is this more evident than in the inadequate behaviour of students both in class and around the academy. As the quality of teaching has improved, low-level disruption in class has reduced but a significant minority of students still exhibit very challenging behaviour. The governing body and the principal are rightly concerned about the increase in the number of serious incidents since January 2010...

Behaviour is highly variable across the academy. Inspectors witnessed a significant number of instances of poor behaviour, which sometimes prevented effective learning from taking place. Poor behaviour occurs more frequently than it should and students show a lack of respect for staff and each other on too many occasions. As a result, the number of fixed term exclusions remains stubbornly high, particularly for physical assaults by students on other students, which have increased this year. Systems and procedures for rewarding good behaviour are not consistently applied and poor behaviour sometimes goes unchallenged.

Now this kind of thing, as I recall, is just what drives Snuffy up the wall - because it wrecks the education of those who want to learn. IIRC, she blogged that one of her fellow interviewees for the job had been knocked over by the children in a corridor.

At some point, Candidate 2 has his turn of the tour. When he is done, he comes crashing (quite literally) back into the room. He is all red in the face. 'What kind of ******* school is this?? The kids just knocked me down in the corridor! They have no respect for anything! And the school has no ******* systems!'

I think they're lucky to have her - her concern for the kids is obvious and I bet she's one of those rare inspirational teachers one reads about. Ofsted should accept that in some schools, a high level of exclusions may actually be a good thing, if it means those remaining can actually get taught. But it's not being consistent with the sanctions that's the killer.

Only one thing bothers me. Snuffy is 37, an Oxford graduate of IMHO Indo-Caribbean extraction. She's older than she blogs (I imagined a well-read 27 year old). She has no kids* (but has great hair).

Now it will be a goodly thing if, thanks to her, some black (and white) kids from poor families get 5 good GCSEs instead of one or two, if some stay on the rails instead of going off them, some end up with good degrees and fulfilling careers, or if she nurtures a Thomas Sowell.

But if that comes at the opportunity cost of a host of missing little Snuffettes, who could have carried that intelligence, compassion and humour onwards down the years, then I'm not sure society is getting the best of all possible deals. And I was saying something very similar at Dave Osler's just today (UPDATE - by strange chance, just a few days later the highly regarded Gene Expression blog said something very similar, only more learned and scientific - complete with the Idiocracy trailer link).

* total assumption on my part, based on the fact that she has never, ever, blogged about man or offspring. 'My kids' are always the class she's taking.

(via PragueTory)


Anonymous said...

You we'rent kidding about the religious instinct being strong were you - that chap on the other blog couldn't think outside of his world view probably because it would take him to some uncomfortable places...

Foxy Brown said...

She was absolutely wonderful. I also voted Tory for the first time in a General Election (I did vote for Boris). There seems to be a sea change. Lindsay Johns - In Praise of Dead White Men (H/T Working Class Tory).

Are we about to be blessed with, in addition to Thomas Sowell, a John McWhorter, Shelby Steele or Larry Elder? Does this mean that I can come out of the closet?

On your point of Snuffy's marital status, I know lots of talented, clever, well-qualified single and childless women of Caribbean heritage in their mid to late thirties. I am one myself (although single & childless with some qualifications - not particularly talented or clever). Of course it goes without saying that there are infinitely more women in this group who produce numerous offspring with legions of babyfathers.

Foxy Brown said...

That was not a direct link - apologies!

Dead White Men

Anonymous said...

IMHO Indo-Caribbean extraction.

Just out of curiosity, what gives you that impression?

And do you mean 'indo' as in South Asian, typically from Trinidad or Guyana, or 'indo' as in native american, like Colin Jackson?

I ask because although I've only read a bit of her blog, some time back, I formed quite a different impression.

Anonymous said...

I always thought she was quite young i.e. in her twenties.

Mark said...

'Snuffy' is a brave woman to take on the Educational establishment whilst using the Tory Party conference as her platform.

'Thatcherism' is said to define the eighties, and the latter years of the decade saw this 'ism' in full triumphalist mode. That may have been true in respect of economic policy, but in respect of social policy, and in particular Educational policy, 'Thatcherism' had little to be triumphant about. The high water mark of 'Thatcherism' saw, in the educational arena, the hounding and removal of Headmaster Ray Honeyford in 1986, and the niggling harassment of Headmistress Maureen McGoldrick a year or so later. In other words, the culture in which LEAs operated (particularly in Labour controlled councils)was determined by the 68ers, by the new creed of 'multiculturalism', and by half baked cultural Marxism. The response of 'Thatcherism' to this hegemony was pretty woeful- the beginnings of the Stalinist national curriculum, and (as a sop to the right) Section 28, prohibiting the 'promotion of homosexuality' in schools.

If Ms Birbalsingh can energise the Tories into making a more coherent assault on the prevailing wisdom of the Educational establishment post- Plowden Report, her impact will extend well beyond the schools in which she teaches, or the conferences she addresses. And that should be a good thing.

Anonymous said...

IMHO Indo-Caribbean extraction

Duh... slaps head. didn't follow your links.

Laban said...

A/c/t Telegraph Dad is Guyanese Asian, Mum is Jamaican.

Martin said...

Might be in a minority of one here, Laban, but IMHO the education authority were quite right to discipline her.

If she in the throes of a crisis of conscience concerning how the education system is run, she should resign before going public. However, just like the lowliest call centre worker, her voluntary signature of a contract binds her to the laws governing industrial discipline. Her employers are entitled to expect her to observe discipline. For what my opinion's worth, she didn't do so, so they wer absolutely right to take her out of circulation.

The Conservative Party has made a fetish of imposing discipline upon others in pursuit of what it wants, and it must recognise that it's an obligation that isn't suspended when you're throwing red meat to the more feral Gussetts.

Anonymous said...

Would have agreed with Martin about an apparent breach of confidence, except that it appears Ms Snuffy actually sought and received permission from parents prior to her speech.

I do think she may have burned some bridges with Ms. Bishop, however. Can't imagine that their working relationship has improved any after the past week.