On Tuesday night I read the many #Chineseschool tweets thinking, “What is this trying to prove?”

  • That a particular teaching method is better than another?
  • That British children are unruly?
  • That British teaching makes British children less able to learn than Chinese children?
  • That certain children can be very disruptive?
  • That cameras in the classroom ARE or ARE NOT evidence of a broken discipline system?
  • That the Chinese system could, should, would work here?
  • That education and therefore ‘learning’ is the passing of exams through the knowing of facts?
  • That entertainment TV is effective research?
  • That this is the evidence the Tories need to make a ministerial announcement next week?

The Chinese teachers in the program were clear that discipline was not something they had experience of having to handle in schools. It was already there when children came to them. What does that tell us from the start?

I imagine this is very different to most British children. In my school we have children starting as young as 6 months and we have MANY 2 and 3 year old children (Over 20). The questions raised here are, can schools discipline in the same way as parents can at such an early age? Is it the job of schools in China to do this or do they expect it from home? What is the impact of early family life on the basics of discipline or more effectively the ‘respect’ young children show adults? Where is the evidence regarding discipline from relative strangers (teachers) over parents? Is there a difference? (Bet someone reading this knows!)

My personal experience is that behaviour in all the schools I have worked as a teacher and a head are a million times better than that of the schools I went to in the 1980’s*.  School’s that operated stricter, chalk and talk, harsher environments. I had to duck board rubbers, the alley way to school meant a gauntlet of homophobic abuse, kicks and punches and there were monthly ‘battles’ between Highbridge (my town) and Bridgwater (Bigger local town) secondary pupils behind the garages in a field two minutes from the school gates (And no this is not a Monty Python Sketch). I once saw a teacher throw two fighting kids over the table I was sitting at… The discipline in the school last night was tame. Again, many questions… It is not really talked about but what will happen to a disruptive child in China? What are the levels of sanction? Or is it like when I first started working in Tower Hamlets where the parental discipline of some parents was quick, brutal and total? Today, some British parents will not accept that there child is wrong. You are more likely to get an email, phone call or letter after an incident than at any other time.What is the adult respect level of teachers? Have they had their profession continually undermined by the media and political infighting?

We also know that certain SEN issues will also come to play with behaviour for many children. How are these dealt with in China?

Finally, I found (though annoying and clearly playing to the camera) that there was a real spark of intelligence in the rude young girl. She made me think of certain middle class parents I have had to deal with. Has China gone through the liberal equivalent of the 1960’s yet? The Plowden Report springs to mind, “At the heart of the educational process lies the child and all that…” Not the State… There is no doubt though that this kind of wild intelligence and rude attitude is tough on the teacher. It always has been. For the greater good she just needed clarity on the impact her behaviour was having and I would have to say that she would not be in classes with that type of behaviour in any school I ran. It was just too disruptive to those around her. What the program does highlight is the massive impact that this type of lower level disruption has. Again, I have worked with tons of brilliant teachers who would have had her engaged, learning and focussed within a few weeks. If they couldn’t then she should not be in the class until she can cope. Her attitude is her issue and she needs to understand that she is not the centre of the world. The two drumming boys were just teenage kids playing to the camera. They had clearly heard there were cameras and watched a couple of episodes of Educating ‘Somewhere’…

My biggest issue about the program is not the fact it is happening. I imagine that it could produce some interesting debate and further research. It is the fact it is in the media and effectively an ‘entertainment’ show rather than a piece of serious study (Basic KS2 Science and fair test principles). I think I know the ending. Everyone learns something and they all have little emotional epiphanies… If not we’ll all get bored by the end of the next one (Which the formula is sketching as ‘IT GETS WORSE PEOPLE!’) and go back to watching repeats of  ‘Humans’. My money is on intelligent disruptive girl buying her teachers flowers and learning loads and saying something culturally profound… or something.

  • I have a ‘strong’ pedigree of working in ‘so-called’ tough schools in case someone calls me out as only working in leafy suburbs – like the school on Tuesdays program. I have worked in central Bristol, estates in Bristol and Tower Hamlets.