18 October 2021

The Monday Briefing: Scream

The Monday Briefing: Scream

Last week, I was watching an episode of The Overlap Extra, a football based talk show hosted by Gary Neville. In this particular episode he posed fellow pundit Jamie Carragher 23 quick-fire questions, largely concerned with his football career and the extent of his charity work. 

One particular question stood out to me and got me thinking:

Neville: “What annoys you most?”

Carragher: “People blaming other people for their own mistakes.”

Neville: “You were a bit angry then. Anyone on your mind?”

Carragher: “No. Look, if you’ve done something, just own it.”

Immediately, I started to think about how I would answer such a question. Amongst the many enjoyable parts of my job - and I feel that my blog is far more positive than it is negative - there are areas which bring me irritation, sometimes intensely. 

I settled on the fact that, like Carragher, it is those who can’t take responsibility for their actions, and have serious trouble with honesty and integrity in connection to that, which drive me to exasperation.

In just over a year in post, I’ve had to deal with several episodes of such behaviour from students. Each time, it causes a great deal of extra work on my part to solve issues which arise from such conduct. Often it is duplicitous or manipulative. Always, it is of the utmost importance to challenge it.

In this last week, for some reason, there has been a spate of these incidents: I’ve had a student who has refused to apologise to a member of staff for their unacceptably poor behaviour in lessons because they simply don’t feel they need to; I had another who challenged a teacher’s assertion that he could not adhere to the expectations of conduct in a science laboratory; he was also vehement that he was the victim in an argument where he had been provoking another student to the point that he snapped.

All the way through I was met with denials and an unwillingness to engage with the truth of the situation - that the student engaged in such elaborate denial was culpable. I always get to the root of the matter, and, if I’m being brutally honest, I enjoy the investigation which has to happen for me to do so, but dealing with such barriers in doing so wastes an incredible amount of time. Time which could be far better spent moving discussing academic progress, or areas for development. It is also an incredibly draining experience, where one’s faith in the direction of the moral compass of young people is put to the test.

This all reminded me of my travails with one particular individual last academic year. Often throwing around incredibly damaging accusations at others - which were, incidentally, completely disproven - whilst enthusiastically denying any responsibility for the incidents themselves, one meeting in particular brought me to an incredible state of vexation. Faced with incredibly strong evidence and supported throughout by a parent, in the face of several staff, all of whom clearly understood exactly what had happened, the student stubbornly dug himself in deeper and deeper, almost to the point where the only words he could muster were rebuttals.

It was as though admitting they had done even the tiniest thing wrong was utterly anathema.

As far as I’m concerned, schools have an incredibly important role in challenging such behaviour - and personally, I view it arguably the most important function of my job. 

We have several students who leave us each year, bound for the best universities and courses, with tremendous grades to their name, but if they do not understand the importance of honesty and integrity, then we have failed them.

We must consider the consequences of not challenging it in the strongest terms: what happens to those students in five, ten or fifteen years time?

They become students at university who try to gain unfair advantages in order to succeed, or lie on their CVs to gain consideration for roles beyond them. They become the employees who lie to their colleagues or bosses about the important jobs not done, doing their best to escape responsibility for such work. They become the parents who support their children unfailingly, even if it means the undermining of the truth so they can escape any kind of punishment.

School is the right place and time to take a stance in the hope of modifying such attitudes.

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