When I was at school back in the 1970’s, we had to stand up if a teacher entered the room. Not just if the head teacher entered, but any teacher at all. We also had to do endless copying from the board, use fountain pens, write 100 lines as a punishment, and accept that we might be hit with a wooden stick if we were particularly disobedient. I have a distinct memory of my class bobbing up and down behind our wooden desks (the type with the lift-up lids – remember those?). On days when several teachers entered the room, the process would become like a Mexican wave. Our bottoms would momentarily hit the hard wooden chairs as one teacher exited, then we were back up again as another teacher entered. Quite what the impact was on the flow of our lessons, I can’t really remember, but I think we probably all enjoyed having a rest from copying off the board.
In an article in today’s Sunday Times, Michael Wilshaw is reported as asking for a “renaissance of respect”; for a return to the times when students stood up when the head teacher entered the room. This, apparently, is all part of the “grammar school ethos” he wants to see in comprehensive schools. Mr Wilshaw also tells us that “a quarter of secondary head teachers are substandard”. All this at a time when there is an ongoing recruitment crisis in schools. This kind of running commentary via the media is becoming all too familiar, to the point where it now feels odd if I open up the papers on a weekend and don’t see someone telling me how awful our schools and teachers are. Weirdly this all happens at a time when, as a parent, I couldn’t be happier with my day-to-day experience of state education. (Apart from the ‘too many government tests’ bit.)
Mr Wilshaw seems not to have noticed that respect isn’t something we give automatically anymore, like we did in the ‘good old days’ when we thought nothing of hitting small children with sticks. In our modern society, respect has to be earned, and people feel perfectly comfortable about withholding it if they don’t like what they see. Now I’m pretty sure Mr Wilshaw would prefer it if I referred to him as ‘Sir Michael’. But hey, you can’t get everything you want. And there is no way he will get a ‘renaissance of respect’ from me, while he continues to spout a ‘tidal wave of tripe’ in the Sunday press.