In an earlier blog, I gave a detailed analysis of the ideas expressed in When The Adults Change, Everything Changes. (It can be found on my main blog page). As it was my first time criticising an individual’s ideas publicly, I chose my words carefully and as one reader commented I- ‘included lots of caveats’. Many commented on the fairness of the analysis and it was well received.
It did however, cause a lot of people to share their school’s experiences (almost entirely bad) with Pivotal Education/the ideas promoted by Paul Dix. As my primary purpose as an author/blogger is to support new teachers, not commenting on the aforementioned would be amiss. I’ll be absolutely direct in my purpose for this blog: It is a call for caution.
While I picked up on the sentiment the first time reading the book, I chose not to comment on it. I have since changed my mind, so I will now, in no uncertain terms, say it clearly:
Paul Dix hates teachers.
It is obvious that he has an axe to grind and the sharp edge of it can be felt in every chapter of his book; in every nuance of his voice. Take a look at the video below (which he tweeted yesterday and consequently prompted me to write this blog).
The entire book is loaded with passive-aggressive- and even outright aggressive- disrespect for teachers, with the presumption that teachers are either incompetent or brutish being Dix’s weapon of choice. Don’t take my word for it:
I’ve been a teacher for 14 years across 4 schools. I’m in touch with hundreds of teachers on social media. I was a union rep for 5 years and attended dozens of conferences. The bit about teachers ‘tally charts’ is, hands down, a load of bollocks and actually, quite offensive to teachers. The most a teacher would do is say that or something similar in jest, but that’s about it.
Oh, it gets better. Here he criticises teachers with strict routines by using words like ‘berate,’ ‘aggression,’ ‘angry,’ and ‘shamed’ all in a few lines.
There is no end to the amount of guilt-inducing jargon used by Dix. Here he casually uses the word ‘tyranny’ to describe teachers who establish themselves in the first lesson- after giving a hypothetical statement of what a teacher may say when asked about routines, of course.
Dear NQTs, do not listen to this nonsense. I have dealt with many a new teacher who say they should’ve been stricter at the start of the year, but never, ever the opposite. Establishing your boundaries in the first lesson is essential. Calling it ‘tyranny’ is laughable.
If you needed further proof of Dix’s lame attempt to guilt-trip those who disagree with him, take a look at this:
Above is the online petition to ‘ban the booths’, a campaign run by Paul Dix. As the purpose of this blog is not to analyse the issues surrounding isolation booths, let me be clear that I’m using it only to draw attention to the terminology used: ‘Deep confinement booth.’ Deep. Confinement. By the way, what he’s referring to is literally a library-style cubicle. ‘Deep confinement’ – if there is such a thing- is what Jo from ‘You’ does to people he doesn’t like. A library-style cubicle cannot be referred to as ‘deep’ let alone ‘confining.’ Again, emotional jargon. The whole book can be summed up as ‘You’re cruel. I’m kind. Therefore, I’m right and you’re wrong.’
Deep confinement booth. Should probably be banned.
In addition to having what appears to be a personal vendetta against teachers, Dix is also vehemently against the use of sanctions to manage behaviour. (I’ve discussed this in detail in the previous blog).
If it was just a book, we could ignore it and it wouldn’t be a problem. However, Paul Dix’s company (although he’s no longer a part of it) gets the bulk of its ideas from When The Adults Change, Everything Changes and their consultants go up and down the country training schools to adopt a Pivotal approach.
From speaking to teachers who have had the training- and this may sound paradoxical- I learnt that Pivotal training in itself is not actually bad. It is a mix of videos from Paul Dix (the less condescending ones) and a highly engaging and entertaining speaker will use members of the audience (teachers) to act out difficult behaviour scenarios. However, while it is a good refresher for experienced teachers and helpful for NQTs, nothing in it is particularly ground-breaking and you could probably pick up the same strategies by observing an established teacher: It’s good but it’s not £1000 a day (or thereabouts) good.
The problem then, are the subtle messages. I mean, they can’t outright tell you that sanctions are ‘cruel’ and that we mustn’t ‘castigate’ pupils, so instead they trivialise the role of sanctions in a behaviour policy simply by not mentioning them, or only mentioning them negatively. It is obvious that their aim is to get rid of sanctions completely and switch to a solely restorative approach where pupils get the ‘consequence’ of a ‘restorative conversation’ for any misbehaviour.
After the training, savvier Headteachers keep their sanctions and couple these with a restorative approach, while others lessen- or even get rid of- sanctions completely and end up watching pupil behaviour deteriorate. Sadly, they either remain in denial about the decline – as they’ve already committed time and money – or blame the teachers for it – because they’re not conducting the conversations properly, of course.
When in doubt, blame the teacher
On a not-so-side, side note, one of the proofs that Dix’s methods are gimmicky is that those who insist on their effectiveness clutch desperately to the smallest ‘mistake’ a teacher may make when conducting a restorative conversation or scripted response. In other words, ‘it doesn’t work because you’re not doing it properly.’ It reminds of those adverts that used to come on TV when I was little: ‘How to make a million dollars in real estate in 6 months.’ I’m told that people who fall for these scams report that they did everything they were told to do, but the company refers to some obscurity in the small-print which means it’s technically their own fault that they lost $50,000 dollars and didn’t make a million. A legal scam, if you will.
After posting both my first blog and tweeting/commenting on Dix’s anti-teacher video, I received dozens of messages on Twitter and Facebook all telling me the same thing: That since they had Pivotal training, behaviour had worsened for the simple reason that in the mind of any reasonable person, particularly a child, a conversation is NOT a consequence. Pupils see their peers getting away with disruption – because all they get is a friendly chat before re-entering the lesson- and it’s not long before they follow suit.
One teacher told me about how her former Headteacher made handshakes at the door a non-negotiable. Another told me about how their SLT told teachers- in Dix’s words to ‘pick up their own tab’ i.e. deal with behaviour themselves and not pester them for support. (Pivotal Education really is a dream come true for bad school leaders!) Another told me about being attacked by a pupil who was back in the same class on the same day. After all, according to Dix, you should only remove a pupil for a maximum of an hour to ‘calm down’ and they shouldn’t be ‘imprisoned.’
As I don’t have time to get permission to screenshot messages from every teacher who contacted me, (and it would take up far too much space) I’ve chosen the one that best encapsulates the opinions of most:
It seems that the core aim of Dix and Pivotal Education is to get rid of sanctions completely. Even if it isn’t, there is a good chance that if your SLT accept Pivotal training then they very likely buy into Dix’s gimmickry and will therefore try and reduce sanctions by demonising teachers who set them. If they don’t, then all they’re doing is wasting money on consultants who are mostly regurgitating stuff from the Emotional Intelligence courses of 2006-2008. Do we really need to waste money on people telling us how to diffuse poor behaviour or build relationships? I thinks not.
It’s bad enough we have to deal with the ‘but you get all the holidays’ tripe from members of the public. It’s bad enough that schools have heavily punitive monitoring systems. It’s bad enough that teachers are always disrespected in the media.
Paul Dix is in the system. It’s on us to do something about it.
Boycott Pivotal Education.
Hope everyone’s enjoying the half-term.
Omar Akbar- Teacher; Author: The Unofficial Teacher’s Manual: What they don’t teach you in training and Bad School Leadership (and what to do about it)