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Discussion in 'Scotland - education news' started by bigjimmy2, Oct 12, 2015.

  1. bigjimmy2

    bigjimmy2 Lead commenter

    I would appreciate your opinions on this one please.
    In my school the number of parental complaints has risen dramatically since the start of term. Speaking to friends, including from other schools, (on Saturday night in the pub) some have noticed this too.

    In one instance on a yuftie a teacher challenged a pupil for throwing a rubber around the room. The only thing the teacher might have done wrong is get a little too close physically to the pupil concerned. The pupil took this as being "confrontational" and the parents complained to the school. The school had a meeting and a follow-up meeting with my friend, who is at a loss as to what the fuss is all about. Also, he is a bit upset. I advised him to let his union rep know, as a courtesy if nothing else.
    Another friend kept a pupil behind so they could explain their poor behaviour to the PT. Whilst this was going on the pupil looked out of the window, uninterested. The teacher said to the pupil that it was polite to look at the person who is speaking to and it's rude not to; the teacher also questioned the pupil that she was sure his parents didn't bring him up that way. The mother complained to the school that the teacher had said she wasn't raising him properly.
    Friend 3 has a pupil named after a well-known song. Towards the end of a lesson the teacher jokingly asked the pupil to sing the song - and the pupil started crying (!). There was a parental complaint about this too.

    Now, I have a number of issues with these “complaints” but I only want to deal with a few. Firstly, why are schools taking these “complaints” seriously? Secondly, am I wrong and these incidents were serious enough to merit a “talking to” from a DHT? Lastly, assuming these incidents are really bad, how far could the school go down the disciplinary route, if at all?

    And, yes, I have nothing better to do at twenty to one in the morning!
  2. morrisseyritual

    morrisseyritual Occasional commenter

    Personally, that boat of "look at me when I'm talking... Sit up straight" etc has sailed in my humble opinion. It is something I used to do but don't do anymore. I appreciate a wean being polite and reward it but spending a period (or a year!) trying to instill it is all so much Grange Hill/ Miss Jean Brodie nonsense on one hand and on the other, as seems to have happened here, can become fairly invidious.
    I wasn't handed the Mr Chips book of etiquette and conduct at Jordanhill and think that we all get ourselves into a teacher-peer-pressure tizzy when we over analyse every shrugged shoulder, facial expression and bodily tick.

    That said, the guy here should more than lightly involve the union - get the rep attendant at every meeting. We have a Salem Witch Trial GTCS at the moment in Edinburgh (a cabal of Christian fundamentalists if reports are to be believed) and they are fine tooth combing and responding to most parental complaints.

    Times they are a changing and - grating as it is to receive this advice as well as give it - my advice to colleagues is guard your backsides in this climate and mind your own Ps and Qs not the weans'.
    bigjimmy2 likes this.
  3. bigjimmy2

    bigjimmy2 Lead commenter

    Morrissey, what do you mean by your Salem Witch GTCS comments?
  4. JPM1967

    JPM1967 New commenter

    I think you've brought up a hugely important issue Jimmy. Parental complaints are definitely increasing and (unfortunately in many instances) being taken more seriously by school management. There could be several reasons for this:

    1. Many parents molly coddle their children these days. In our day if you came home and admitted you'd been in trouble at school our parents would give us an even bigger row. Nowadays some parents can't get on the phone quickly enough to find out why their precious wee Darren came home upset.

    2. Some of these same parents had a poor experience of school themselves, whether based on attainment, behaviour or a combination of both. They have little respect for teachers and have passed that subconsciously, or otherwise, on to their children. They are intrinsically suspicious of teachers, perhaps heightened by the 'brutality' meted out by a minority of sadistic teachers in less enlightened times (see later).

    3. We are at the mercy of social media. Pupils discuss events from the classroom online long after the school day ends. The words we used, the tone we adopted, how close we entered a pupil's personal space. Parents with too much time on their hands have similar school groups on Facebook etc. and it is easy for a gang mentality to develop. Mountains are made out of molehills and pupils & parents alike are on guard, waiting for certain target teachers to "step out of line again".

    4. Headteachers are terrified of parent power, especially when HMie comes calling with their parental questionnaires and meetings with the Parent Council. "Does the school listen to your views and take your concerns seriously?"

    I was a pupil in the 1970s/80s. I'm not advocating we go back to those days...there were some teachers who overstepped the mark back then. However, we have undoubtedly swung too much the other way whereby teachers are treading on eggshells and too many pupils know their "rights" without any regard for the "responsibilities" which go hand in hand.
    bigjimmy2 likes this.
  5. JPM1967

    JPM1967 New commenter

    Jimmy...for what it's worth my opinion on the three specific cases you mention is...

    1. No major issue. However maybe he should take a step back in future when admonishing a pupil in order to protect himself.

    2. No issue whatsoever. The pupil has twisted your friend's words.

    3. This is the only one where I have some sympathy with the pupil & parent. Something similar happened to me and I immediately apologised and things have been fine ever since. Some kids can take a joke; others are either over sensitive or may be subject to bullying from their peers. The last thing they need is a teacher joining in and providing the taunters with more ammunition.
    bigjimmy2 likes this.
  6. Flere-Imsaho

    Flere-Imsaho Star commenter

    You'd go through a kid making jokes or teasing another pupil based on a name - a teacher joining in could be the last straw. Especially as you can tell your mate/other pupils to **** off but are not allowed to make a similar response to a teacher.
    "Too close physically" concerns me as well. Again, if pupils get in your face as a teacher or comes too close and looms over you, you'd make an issue of it. Why can't you tell a kid off for throwing a rubber without being up close and personal?
    bigjimmy2 likes this.
  7. bigjimmy2

    bigjimmy2 Lead commenter

    Good replies again, thanks.

    JPM - I agree with what you said, I could have written it myself, esp your second point.

    Flere - my friend assures me that he wasn't too close but he agrees that the child could have perceived him to be too close, And therein lies the problem, subjectivity. I think the (S5!) pupil was p!ssed at being instructed to stop and was looking for some way of getting his own back.

    PS I myself have been pulled up for the "your parents wouldn't be happy with your behaviour" shenanigans and I found it odd that colleagues at other schools had also been pulled up for that as well.
    Maybe I'm just paranoid that the heid Wicker Man has instructed all his HT underlings to clamp down on comments about parents . . .
  8. JPM1967

    JPM1967 New commenter

    One of the reasons I find this thread so interesting is one of my former colleagues feels he was targeted by pupils/parents a few years ago and almost left teaching as a result.

    He was (is) an excellent teacher and, when he worked alongside me, had a reputation for being firm but fair. The pupils in our school knew he didn't stand any nonsense so they knuckled down in his class. His raising attainment results spoke for themselves.

    Due to family circumstances he moved to another school in another authority. Over the next 6 to 9 months he faced constant criticism over his behaviour management style from pupils and parents. Hardly a week went by without the HT approaching him asking for his version of the most recent complaint. The HT was fairly supportive although my friend says there was undoubtedly an underlying tone of "no smoke without fire".

    My friend swears he hadn't changed his approach to dealing with pupils one iota. It was a Restorative Practice school and some of the pupils seemed hyper sensitive to any form of discipline or criticism. It later emerged that there was a Facebook campaign against my colleague led by several senior pupils. Furthermore, one particular mother was discovered going around the parents in the playground asking if their children had similar problems with Mr X!

    As a result the complaints grew and grew. My colleague almost quit teaching. Thankfully, he made it to the summer holidays that year and returned recharged after the break. Some of the pupil instigators had moved on and he says he toned things down a little, adapting his appoach subtly for a school which evidently had a gentler approach to behaviour management.

    He hasn't looked back. However, significantly, he notes that overall behaviour is poorer in his new, gentler school than in the previous one where we worked together.
    bigjimmy2 likes this.
  9. bigjimmy2

    bigjimmy2 Lead commenter

    JPM, hopefully that is an extreme and exceptional case. Oh for the days when parents believed the teacher and backed them up.
    Wrt the "way parents brought you up comments", I don't understand why parents feel the need to complain about that.
    Of course, parents would complain if their weans lied and told them their teacher actually said they weren't being brought up properly.
    However, complaining about "What would your parents think about your behaviour?", "I'm sure your parents didn't bring you up like that" comments are actually supportive of the parents (!) and I can't understand why parents would complain about that. And this "reason" for complaining seems to be on the rise both in my school and others.
  10. TheBigA

    TheBigA Occasional commenter

    I'm doing an acting PT guidance job and have been stunned at the number of pupils and parents complaining about this kind of thing. In my school we are given responsibility to deal with these kind of complaints and most of the time teachers (and SLT) never find out about them because pupils very rarely tell their parents the truth when complaining about a teacher and if you're prepared to have the difficult conversation with them then you can usually avoid having to talk to the teacher and/or their PT. But we do record everything on pastoral notes which SLT can access if other issues come up in the future.

    We do have a strong SLT in my school and they will defend staff as best they can, but there are certain times when you do have to advise your colleagues against certain behaviours and unfortunately the examples you give bigjimmy are included in that for the simple fact that it is so easy for pupils to twist and interpret what a teacher says/does in a way that demonises the teacher if they want to and they will usually find pals in their class who are willing to back up their version of events, and if that happens and SLT get involved, then in most schools the teacher will find themselves getting a 'talking to' if not worse.
    bigjimmy2 likes this.
  11. bigjimmy2

    bigjimmy2 Lead commenter

    Interesting post, BigA.
    It's getting to the stage where we will all become automatons, unable to say anything out-of-topic lest it be "misinterpreted".
  12. gnulinux

    gnulinux Occasional commenter

    Perhaps your school needs to run a CPD course for the teachers on how to act professionally and avoid being complained about.

    There are some basic (unwritten???) rules in teaching
    1 It is a profession so act professionally
    2 Respect pupils and they will respect you (mostly)
    3 Keep your distance from pupils - they are not your friend
    4 If you keep a pupil behind at the end of the lesson - be brief, keep the classroom door open, make sure a colleague is witness to the meeting, record it
    5 Don't shout and bawl at pupils - a 2 minute rant serves no purpose and the effects can take years to undo
    6 If your school has a 'discipline' system use it - record everything as soon after any event as possible for your own sanity apart from anything else
    7 Some schools allow individual departments to operate their own e.g. detention system. That is a major mistake that undermines the whole school system
    Feel free to add your own thoughts ...
    bigjimmy2 likes this.
  13. JPM1967

    JPM1967 New commenter

    Gnulinux - I think the point of Jimmy's post is that complaints are on the increase, often for the most trivial of reasons. A teacher can follow all the excellent advice you give and still end up with a pupil or parental complaint against them.

    I agree with your 4th point 100%. In fact, nowadays, not only do I keep my door open but I ask a sensible pupil to kindly stay behind too so that I'm never alone with the misbehaving pupil.
    bigjimmy2 likes this.
  14. bigjimmy2

    bigjimmy2 Lead commenter

    Yes, my points are that the number of complaints in general seem to be on the increase, and, also, so are the number of complaints for the most tenuous of reasons.
    Gnulinux, wrt Point 7 I've been at a couple of schools where the members of the department agree to take in a pupil from a colleague (same department) if they're misbehaving. It worked well, cost nothing and there was zero disruption to the other class.
    Does anyone else have any examples of complaints for tenuous reasons? I'm trying to figure out if parents think some of their more trivial complaints are credible, and also if management think if it's worth the bother to follow these up.
  15. Flere-Imsaho

    Flere-Imsaho Star commenter

    Parents complain constantly. The work is too hard, the work is too easy, Mrs X doesn't like Little Alfie, Mr Z stared at Little Chardonnay funny, there's no homework, the homework isn't appropriate, the homework is cutting into his PS3 time, Little Saffron doesn't respond well to criticism, Little Tarquin needs challenged..
  16. TheBigA

    TheBigA Occasional commenter

    Aye, complaints about trivial things are on the rise, and I don't think it's doing pupils any favours because it contributes to a serious lack of resilience amongst some pupils. And it doesn't stop with schools. One parent phoned up a work experience placement this year to complain about things their kid was asked to do (help clean a kitchen), so the company sent him home and told him not to come back on the second day. His mum phoned me up wanting to know what I was going to do about it, she wasn't happy when I said there was nothing I could do or would do about it even if I could because the point of the placement is to give them an understanding of the world of work. She wasn't happy so complained to the rector but was told the same thing.

    Minor complaints come in to school all the time, the outcome clearly depends on the attitude of guidance staff (if they hear the complaint first as is usually the case in my school and I suppose most others) and the SLT if it comes to them or the guidance teacher decides to tell them. For me context is important, and if I judge that a comment or action has been deliberately misinterpreted by a pupil or a parent (the vast majority of the time) then the teacher will never hear about it. In my opinion that's the way it should be, otherwise it would be easy for teachers to become paranoid, constantly second guess themselves and become much less effective in their jobs. However, when a complaint is of a serious nature and SLT have to become involved I always advise my colleagues to see their union rep asap and have them present at any discussion with SLT.
    Flere-Imsaho likes this.
  17. Flyonthewall75

    Flyonthewall75 New commenter

    I recall hearing about a secondary teacher who was accused of verbally abusing a pupil. The boy alleged the teacher had called him 'a f****** doormat' and his mother was adamant that he always told her the truth.

    When asked for an explanation, the teacher had no recollection of using such a phrase and, indeed, it would have been totally out of character. As he thought back over the lesson in question, he suddenly realised that what he had actually said to the boy was: 'John, your faculties are dormant.'

    Now whether that story is genuine, or apocryphal, I think it illustrates just how easy it is for comments to be misinterpreted.

    With new technology, it is now possible for transport workers, and others, to wear point of view cameras, recording in high definition to SD cards. Whilst there may well be objections to such cameras being worn by teachers in classrooms, it would perhaps be worth a carefully controlled, pilot study to see if they might improve classroom behaviour, aid learning and teaching and provide greater protection for both staff and pupils.

    Such cameras would only need to be visibly activated by the teacher when there was concern about a developing incident and there would then be a recording of what actually happened. Yes, there may be some who would, initially, play up for the camera but, in time, that is likely to lose its appeal if they are made to watch the recorded behaviour back in front their parents and senior staff.

    Activating the camera, might also act as a visible sign that a line had been crossed, in terms of acceptable behaviour, and remind the teacher to deal with the incident in a controlled, professional manner.

    Yes, complaints have tended to become more frivolous over the last forty years although, to be fair, there have always been the regular complainers. Respect for authority, in general - good and bad - has diminished to the extent that some now believe that they are their own authority in just about everything.

    Sadly, it doesn't stop them looking for someone 'in authority' to blame whenever things - often of their own making - go wrong.
  18. Flere-Imsaho

    Flere-Imsaho Star commenter

    You would just end up with pupils "activating cameras" of their own and arguing that if the teacher was allowed a video record so were they.

    Classroom CCTV would at least be neutral but it's not a route I would prefer to go down.
  19. TheBigA

    TheBigA Occasional commenter

    You seem to make this suggestion with some degree of seriousness! I can't imagine a situation in which this would be acceptable from the point of view of a pupil or a teacher. What we need is a redress in the balance of power in schools, with a focus on respect for the process of education and the role of a teacher. For that to happen the government, Education Scotland, GTCS and local authorities need to take action to make it clear that 'partnership' does not mean that parents run schools or determine the professional competency of teachers. That way schools can deal with 'complaints' in a reasoned way and without fear of any heavy-handedness from the high heid yins if a parent doesn't like the outcome. A stand should also be taken against pupils and parents who badmouth teachers/schools via social media.
  20. Flyonthewall75

    Flyonthewall75 New commenter


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