"It is 9am, the start of the school day, and already an English teacher has been on the receiving end of a torrent of abuse from a 15-year-old boy. Outside on the playing field, the PE teacher has stopped a lesson to deal with teenage pupils who are swearing and not doing as they are told.
Later that afternoon, three more members of staff will report being verbally abused by their charges, and the day will end with a pupil vandalising the library."
Not, happily, an average day at SGS, but it is an average day at another secondary school, Northfields Technology College in Bedfordshire. The Sunday Telegraph obtained behaviour and lesson logs for a number of schools, many of which were not considered to be failing by Ofsted. Most of them did, however, have a higher proportion than average of students on free school meals, one of the indicators of social deprivation. Many of the pupils cited in the logs for poor behaviour came from broken homes, and had behavioural or emotional difficulties. But they were still in mainstream education, and the schools were finding it increasingly difficult to expel them. The paper reported the case of a 12 year old boy who nearly strangled his IT teacher (colleagues looking on were apparently afraid to intervene in case they were accused of assault); the teacher eventually received £250,000 in a court settlement. The boy had already punched two fellow students on the day, and notched up 27 serious incidents in the previous few weeks, before he got round to strangling a teacher by the way. Fortunately, he hadn't been expelled so could continue his exciting learning journey.
It isn't, however, the extreme cases that best illustrate the problem in so many of our secondary schools. The example of Cheshire Oaks School is much more typical of the near impossible task confronting those of my colleagues who sought their vocational fulfilment in the standard secondary sector:
"At Cheshire Oaks School in Ellesmere Port, the behaviour log for one week shows 73 cases of pupils talking, shouting and disturbing lessons, 61 refusing to obey the teacher, including more than 20 incidents of children simply walking out of the lesson, 65 incidents of poor behaviour, 32 refusing to work when asked, 39 cases of rudeness, 20 cases of verbal aggression towards staff, 10 incidents of children wandering around the classroom or using mobile phones, 14 incidents of lateness, 15 cases of pupils throwing things in lessons and four physical assaults."
The grammar schools are in an elite group that do not need to worry about such attritionally bad behaviour, but the fact that they are an elite is down to the ratcheting effect of the politics of envy over the past few decades. If anyone needed persuading that the idea of educating all children, regardless of their ability or motivation, in the same institution was morally and educationally bankrupt, they should read and re-read the lesson logs of schools where the daily battle to control pupil behaviour takes priority over the need to educate the motivated few. Until government - and the education profession at large - gets to grips with the idea that you cannot treat all students the same, except to the detriment of those who want to learn, then there will be no progress. Until governments and authorities are prepared to admit that poor behaviour cannot be contained in schools that are given no recourse to any firm action by staff, too much of the secondary education world will remain broken and under-achieving.
On the Today programme this morning, there was a brief discussion on social mobility (Alan Milburn is heading up a commission on it on the principle, presumably, that a commission is cheaper than action), with Barnardo's chief executive Martin Nary virtually admitting that the education system, in its present form, was failing. And it's failing those who need it most - the working class poor who are most subject to government whim and have little redress.
Sutton Grammar offers a privileged education on the state - the scandal is that it has become available to so few in Britain today.
[And credit for the original tip for the article - from the eye-opening blog by teacher Frank Chalk.]