Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Lies, damned lies and statistics

Forgive me. I need a moan about school. And about Pompous Pilate (our sanctimonious and arrogant Headteacher).

Every week I get a report from the school office. It outlines all the children who have been absent during the previous week. It has about 15 codes to categorise the absence (illness, holiday, dental/ doctors appointment, unknown etc etc). I've filled this is for 2 years now, without ever really knowing what the fuck I was doing. This week two of my class have gone on holiday and one child is absent with post-traumatic stress (she saw her tortoise being savaged to death by a pit bull). Today I decided I should pop into the office and clarify exactly which absence codes I should be using.

Our school secretary is a fearsome and terrifying creature. She patrols the office like a Gorgon in Primark. I politely her asked about my holiday children

'Mark them down as ill.'

she snarled, without even looking up from her beloved Gant chart. I reminded her that the children aren't ill, that they are currently living the high life at caravan park in Filey, stuffing themselves with candyfloss and cockles and winkles (or is than wockles and cinkles). I bravely told her that I wasn't happy marking them as ill, that it seemed unethical. The Matalan Medusa glared at me, growled, creakingly rose from her seat and viciously snatched the report from my hands.

'I'll just do it myself then'

she hissed poisonously. At that point I decided it probably wasn't the best moment to ask about tortoise bereavement counselling and scurried back to my classroom.

Talking to some other Stepfords it became apparent that we all felt the absence report process was confused. I decided to suggest a discussion in our next weekly staff meeting. Pompous P. has said we can raise any issues we like, and everything will be dealt with open transparency. I bravely girded my loins and went back to the office to ask Medusa to add it as an item on the next agenda. I also thought it was a worthwhile suggestion as absence is a huge issue in our school, and if we don't have an accurate report then how on earth can we tackle the problem? For once I felt I was being rather pro-active and efficient. (In the past I have been accused of being rather too focused on my own class, as opposed to being a corporate 'team player.')

10 minutes later my classroom door flew open. It was the Medusa.

'Pompous Pilate says we will NOT discuss this at the meeting. ALL absences WILL be reported as sickness. That is all there is to it.'

I began to realise I had hit a nerve. Attendance figures form part of league tables. Unauthorised absences, such as holidays in school time, skew our already atrocious figures. It occured to me that Pompous Pilate wouldn't want a minuted forum to record that we were 'cooking the books' so to speak. But what pissed me off was a mere 4 months into his new job, the veneer of integrity and openness is tarnishing. We tell our children not to lie, yet we lie ourselves every day.

I sent Medusa off with the message that I would not be complicit in lying, that I refuse to fill in an inaccurate report. Hardly a Rosa Parks issue I know, but it made me feel better. Pompous Pilate has been glaring at me in corridors ever since. To be honest, I am quite enjoying it! I may just raise the issue in AOB at the next meeting anyway, just to be vexatious and raise the red-faced Yorkshireman's blood pressure even more.

Stepford moan over. Although, I must quickly add a footnote about the Tortoise and the Pit Bull (an Aesop's Fable for our times, I think). The little girl in question tearfully told me

'It was awful Miss Underscore. You know, I'd had that tortoise since he was an egg!'

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