Scruffy teachers rule OK?

ACLAND Burghley Secondary School in Tufnell Park is going through the mill at the moment under the intense glare of Ofsted and an extra programme of monitoring. There appears to be a level of division over whether the poor inspection reports have been harsh or not. It’s hard to judge from the outside, but the school has historically served its community well and retained some form of local popularity.

Certainly, it’s a tough new world with Ofsted, which has adopted a more whipping lexicon, A school that was once regarded as ‘satisfactory’ is now billed as ‘requires improvement’, the latter label being more frightening language for parents.

As the temperature rises, every aspect of school life is under the microscope. In the latest visit to Acland Burghley, even what the teachers wear was a reason for irritation. Ofsted’s Mark Philips ruled in a letter to the head: “Some staff take your lead and dress in a business-like fashion. However, in other cases, teachers’ attire is too casual and does not promote high professional standards and expectations.”

There are some who might feel that while it is a sensible idea for children to be asked, as is the growing trend, to learn Mandarin and business skills so they are ready to burst through the economic world when they older, they don’t need to feel at the age of eleven that their classroom is more like an office with teachers decked in city slicker “business like fashion”. Who knows? But as complete lay people in how education ticks, the person who made most of us remember the worth of a good teacher over the last year was Matthew Burton, one of the teachers filmed in the fly-on-the-wall documentary Educating Yorkshire. His excellent deed, met with happy tears across a huge, tweeting audience, was his coaching of Musharaf, a pupil suffering with a very bad stammer.

The programme was, naturally, edited and paced by its makers to crescendo with the triumph of bringing Mushy to the front of the school assembly stage at the end of term, but even those who were cynical about the whole premise of the series, and of putting cameras in schools, could not help but be impressed with how his problems were worked through with patience and care by Mr B.  

Burton_EE0And yet bristly-faced Burton came across as a teeny bit scruffy himself. It might have been ‘business-like fashion’ but not worn the way you would if you were trying to close a crunch deal with a supplier. He wore a tie, but often in the loose way that spares you from fastening your top shirt button. We can all pretend it’s just fallen loose because you’ve pulled a committed all-nighter with the books, but it always makes you look more like Jakes Blues coming out of a soul food restaurant than anything else. Then there was Burton’s hair – see above, no further comment needed – and his whiskers usually at the half-hearted beard stage, possibly in the Shoreditch style, I don’t know. Much of the time he looked like he had flown in on early plane from a stag weekend in Prague to get to school in time.

But The Musharaf Whisperer, as he called himself, was a genuine inspiration, and in a hoary, cliched old way – maybe that’s what’s more important. Just a thought, but maybe Acland Burghley have more than challenging things to deal with right now, than whether teachers are properly buttoned up and shoulder padded.

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