‘Schools are drowning in a toxic ethos’

They see us interact with peers. They watch our manners and our social etiquette. They take note of what we care about, what drives us and how we operate. Students see us at our best and our worst. Tes reports.

So what happens when the culture of your school or academy rewards the worst kind of behaviour? How do we rise when we are drowning in a toxic ethos?

In my experience, the introduction of academy status meant an “old boys’” culture, cliques forming, and lines being drawn in the sand – “you either bleed the academy colour or you’re against us”. There is no room for questioning, for collaborative dialogue, for doing the right thing. We no longer reward creativity and innovation. We reward submission, falling into line, playing the game.

What are students seeing and digesting, when they see teachers stepping over each other? How do students interpret promotions being given to teachers who do not always do a good job in the classroom? What do they think when they see SLT mock or undermine staff in front of them? It happens. The young people notice. They question it. “X doesn’t even do anything,” they say. “Why does Z do all the work and people think it’s Y?” “A only does that in front of B.” “C is so rude.” “That’s not fair.”

What are we creating? Are these the characters we want in our communities? Do we want adults who will turn the other way instead of stepping up and speaking out? Are the leaders of the future “nodders”, unwilling to cause a little disruption in the name of morality? Are we turning our back on kindness, on doing the right thing, even if no one is watching?

And yet. Maybe that’s what we should be teaching them. That life isn’t fair and you need to learn to play the game, lest you get left behind. Maybe playing fair doesn’t get you anywhere. Perhaps students need to toughen up and take notes from the people at the top, however they got there.