David (Master Statistician) Dennis
'Children have gone from being the objective of education to becoming the means to supplying data. I regard this as a betrayal.' Tim Field
David Dennis was, until quite recently, 'executive Headteacher' of Tapton School, Sheffield. Tapton School was named ‘Sunday Times Comprehensive of the Year’ in 2014 (not 2015 as Claire Tasker claims.) At the time, he and Claire Tasker were co-headteachers. Now, he's part of the Executive Team of Tapton School Academy Trust: the CEO and Director of Secondaries.
I don't claim that David Dennis isn't interested in the education of children, it's simply that I often heard him talk with enthusiasm and even the approximation of passion (of a very uncontagious kind) about examination statistics, the figures glowing on the large screen in the darkened auditorium, or more prosaically, at a science meeting in a lab after school as the cleaners did their work in the corridors. I never heard him talk with anything like the same enthusiasm about any other aspect of education. It can't be denied that in matters of data analysis he has some strengths. And it can't be denied that examination statistics are important - I don't refer to statistics on my Capability page but I do refer to exam results, and the fact that my own exam results were disregarded.
As the 'Director of the Specialist Science College,' (later Head of the Science Department, then co-Headteacher, with Claire Tasker) and now 'Executive Headteacher' of Tapton School) I think that far, far more could have been expected of him. He was, and is, paid for leadership amongst other things. Of all the people I've ever known in secondary education who would have been expected to show some leadership qualities, I found him one of the least impressive, his leadership qualities rudimentary.
I've heard him devote so much time to explaining ways in which the results for the practical skills of GCSE Science could be maximized, with favourable results when the time came for data analysis. These ways included: allowing pupils to resubmit work - doing everything possible to encourage pupils to resubmit work - even after they'd been given every opportunity to do their best work, even after the work had been marked by the teacher, even when the marks were due to be sent to the examination board within a few days. On one occasion, the resubmitted work was not given to me to mark. I sent him a document pointing out that 'I signed a declaration to the effect that the work had been marked in accordance with the regulations' and that 'it's essential that my own marking is clearly distinguished from the marking of the people who are doing the re-marking. If the moderator asks to see any of the coursework of pupils in this set, then it should be absolutely clear who is responsible for the marking - myself or another person. I take responsibility for my own marking and annotations on scripts, but obviously not for any other person's work.'
A good leader should have less incomprehension, more ability to get the best out of people, more understanding of what it takes to motivate people but I gladly acknowledge one strength. David Dennis isn't 'a physicist,' just as I'm not 'a biologist,' but I respect him for the degree of expertise he does have in physics, a very difficult and demanding degree without any doubt.
In 2014, Tapton School (co-Headteachers Claire Tasker and David Dennis) was named ‘Sunday Times Comprehensive of the Year’. Claire Tasker was surely in error when she claimed (on the page file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/High-Storrian-Edition-2-March-2017-reduced.pdf ) that 'We were ... named ‘Sunday Times Comprehensive of the Year’ in 2015.' She also claims to be a historian. She was educated/ trained/given a lifelong 'passion' for one thing or another at Cambridge University but the academic subject she studied was 'History.' Dates aren't everything in history, of course, but they still have their uses, and as a matter of strict fact, according to the information I have (such as the report published in the Sunday Times on November 23, 2014 and the report published on the Tapton School Website, http://www.taptonschool.co.uk/news/?pid=3&nid=2&storyid=32 ) the award dates from 2014.
Her twitter page (restricted access) provides this information:
'Co Headteacher at Tapton School in Sheffield. Repsonsibility [sic] for T&L, CPD, QA, PM etc.'
She's much more forthcoming on a page of the 'Sheffield Learning Community' site:
'As Head of School I lead T&L, CPD, Performance Management, Quality Assurance, strategic line management and leadership of Subject Leaders and other middle leaders and leadership development initiatives. I am an MLDP facilitator and am involved with the development of the National College/TSA development of the new leadership qualifications. At Tapton we also have our own bespoke leadership development programme that run at all levels of leadership.
' ... One of my particular passions since joining Tapton in September 2010 has been developing the culture and infrastructure to ensure T&L is outstanding and this is an area of work I would love to share in my SLE role.'
She's too modest by far. I'm sure it's not just Claire Tasker's T&L which is outstanding but her CPD, QA, PM, MDLP, TSA and SLE. However, to describe her as an 'educator' on the basis of this outlandish drivel would be going too far.
One elementary point about learning: she should learn to proof-read. What she chooses to disclose on twitter is so meagre that identifying the mistake in spelling 'responsibility' should have been easy - unless she thinks the correct spelling is 'repsonsibility.'
I contacted Claire Tasker and drew her attention to this section. She didn't reply, but the spelling mistake has been removed.
She writes 'At Tapton we also have our own bespoke leadership development programme that run at all levels of leadership.' The subject of the sentence, 'programme,' is singular and demands a verb in the singular, so, 'runs' and not 'run.'
The 'Sheffield Learning Community,' or the SLC, as Claire Tasker may prefer to call it, may be focused on higher matters - bureaucratic-educational matters - and English grammar and spellings may be regarded as matters which are beneath it.
Admittedly, there will be mistakes on this site, despite the effort I put into revising and proof-reading, but I think I have far more excuse, since the site contains more than half a million words.
Claire Tasker played no part in the Capability Proceedings I've documented on my page Capability - she joined the school later. David Dennis did, and he's featured there, as well as here, on this page. Claire Tasker is now Headteacher of High Storrs School, Sheffield. The Sunday Times may not have considered the possibility that a school which is very good or outstanding may be led by mediocrities, or people who are mediocre in some ways. Judith O' Reilly's piece in the Sunday Times includes this:
'In a school the size of Tapton and with its soaring ambitions, two heads aren’t a luxury, they are an out-and-out requirement.' Despite her ridiculous endorsement, the lacklustre twins have now been separated and Tapton has just the one lacklustre figure, David Dennis.
My target is the kind of secondary education which is colourless but grim, uninspired but grotesque. It's a guide to some of the fads and fashions and delusions of this ridiculous world, including the 'targets' that bureaucrats tend to like so much. The five Headteachers who are also my targets here aren't, though, clones, or very much alike. barely distinguishable. There's much more information about two of them, David Bowes and David Dennis of Tapton School, Sheffield on the much larger page Capability: abuses of power in education and policing.
Wherever I can find them, I acknowledge strengths.
He reminds me, for some reason, of greasy, grey scum floating on greasy, grey water, of sticky plates laboriously wiped with a greasy, grey dishcloth: what dish-washers like George Orwell recoiled from in the bleak early morning hours when he worked in one of the restaurants portrayed in 'Down and Out in Paris and London.' Colin Bound was, then, for me, an unprepossessing person. He was appointed Headteacher of the school where I taught in London, generally acknowledged as the most difficult school in that particular London Borough, and sometimes called (but not by me) a 'sink school.'
I used to think of him - although later, not at the time - as 'Colin (Dish-cloth) Bound.' A dishcloth is useful, but he was useless. In his defence, he wasn't a megalomaniac and there was no malice in him. He was just someone with no flair or imagination and only limited insight.
He was an ideologist, I think, but ideologists are of the most varied kinds. There are barbaric ideologists and kindly ideologists, ideologists who are barren of ideas and ones who have original insights despite their ideology. There are ideologists of genius, such as Dostoevsky, with his ideology of Holy Russia. In fact, Bound was an ideologist who did impress me (although infinitely less than Dostoevsky) and only on one occasion. At a meeting, he said something that was very heartening. He reminded the teachers that some of the pupils at the school did well if they simply got out of the house and got to school. He didn't elaborate, at the time or later, but his comment reminds us of stark contrasts: homes where in the morning the central heating is switched on, if not on already, breakfast is eaten and the children of school age are driven to school. Homes where the parents may sometimes be emotionally cold but where things get done and duties are recognized. And of some homes where a drug-addict single parent has been out all night and the children of school age have to fend for themselves. They either get to school or they truant. The parent couldn't care less either way.
Bound's compassion was very well hidden and I only glimpsed it on this one occasion. It was far less impressive than the compassion of another Headteacher I knew, John Bardsley..
I offended Bound at his first meeting with staff. He told the teachers that there were no intellectual differences between people. Everyone, apart from a minority of people with intellectual impairment amounting to a medical condition, was capable of university entrance. There were no differences in intellect, only differences of motivation. What we had to do was to motivate pupils, so that they could all get into university. 'Headmaster!' I said, 'I've been studying Linear Algebra for some time, and although I'm very highly motivated, I still can't understand it!' (This was pardonable hyperbole.) And, in so many words, doesn't this undermine your views? I don't think he ever forgot this intrusion. At many - most - later meetings I questioned at greater length, never rudely but uncompromisingly. Orchestral players have many ways of undermining a conductor for whom they have absolutely no respect, who was clearly a disastrous appointment. I saw no reason why I shouldn't do the same.
The hypocrisy of Colin Bound was, well, boundless. He was a member of some Marxist Teachers' Group, but boasted to us of how much his house in Wimbledon had increased in value since he'd bought it. He abolished all sanctions soon after he'd arrived at the school but I heard him give a worrying account of what measures he'd take against pupils if he caught them misbehaving. Like many other ideologists, he was severely tested by reality.
Some relevant evidence. Dissatisfaction led to the setting-up of a staff sub-committee ('staff sub-committee' - doesn't that just quicken your pulse? Still, these things have their uses). This committee asked for comments and produced a report. I wasn't a member and didn't contribute to it. I don't know why not. Selections from their report:
a) [Mr Bound] has, on
occasion, failed to back a member of staff after an incident...he should back
the staff in front of the children, even if he reprimands that member in private.
[This, of course, is too sweeping a statement.]
b) Complaints about staff coming from children - he listens to their side, appears to make up his mind even before hearing the staff version of the incident and there appears to be no appeal.
c) Several staff feel that he is too 'pally' with the pupils - a more remote attitude would improve his standing with them.
d ) [Pupils have a] misunderstanding of his all-too-frequent statement of no punishment - they think that this gives them carte blanche to do what they like - and very often they do just that.
e ) Although nothing to do with the issue of discipline, it is a disturbing fact that several staff have commented upon the fact that during an interview, the H.M. has acted unprofessionally in making 'snide' remarks about other members of staff.'
Of all the schools I've taught in, this was the only one where teachers were thumped or kicked regularly by pupils. After these incidents, Bound suspended the pupil, each time a reminder that his policy of 'no punishment' was just stupidity.
He came into one of my lessons one day, sat there scribbling, and after a few days called me into his office. He'd produced a critical report, three pages long, almost. We had time to discuss the first page, and I gave a rebuttal of all his criticisms. He sent the whole report, the part I'd been able to discuss and the part I wasn't given the chance to discuss, to the education department of the borough.
From the document I wrote at the time. (Then, as later, I had a fondness for writing documents): 'Before the drastic step was taken of summoning an individual to the Education Offices to give an account of himself, one might have expected an alarming list of incidents which could be cited, evidence of undeniable culpability, an attempt to rectify the situation first within the school, certainly discussions on the topic between teacher and Headteacher; and only if these measures were ineffective, the matter referred to the Education Office. These preliminaries were absent in my case.'
So, I was called to a meeting with the Deputy Director of Education. Nothing came of this meeting - no reprimand, no sanctions.
Some selections from the remarkable, bizarre little document written by Bound (in bold print) and the arguments I gave at the time, or would have given if I'd been given the chance to. Take my word for it. The parts I've left out, for reasons of space, are no more reasonable than the parts I've quoted.
I have serious criticisms of the lesson, which I list here.
Taking first place in the list of criticisms, this gem -
Much of the work was from a worksheet, but this was too big, i.e. contained so much written matter it would frighten off the less fluent readers before they started; it was written in cursive script and hence was illegible to many pupils.
The format used (A4) is overwhelmingly common in schools. Using the argument of C W P Bound, teachers should never give pupils a book or even a short pamphlet. Even this would contain 'so much written matter it would frighten off the less fluent readers before they started.'
The 'hence' in C W P B's text is completely unjustified. The fact that a worksheet is written rather than typed doesn't of itself make for illegibility. There was never any evidence that pupils found it difficult to read my handwriting.
And in second place in the list of errors -
There was no reserve supply of pens and pencils available.
Not true. There was a supply of pens and pencil's in a drawer in the teacher's desk - hidden from Bound's view. I loaned pens and pencils from this drawer to pupils at the beginning of the lesson.
And in third place -
One exercise book was missing, possibly owing to an inefficient system for passing a set of books from one teacher to another.
'Possibly' owing to an inefficient system. I would have welcomed evidence. With a fairly high degree of certainty, it was the pupil concerned who had lost the book.
The simple work being done on magnets was, in my opinion, more appropriate to ten or eleven year olds. I should like to know whether it is included in the Science syllabuses of the middle schools, and, if it is, why it is necessary to repeat it.
Bound told me later that he had studied this material in his first year at Grammar School. This, on the other hand, was a class of 15 or 16 year olds in the lowest set in a very difficult school. Bound was a graduate in English. It was clear to me that he had next to no knowledge of the science curriculum either at Secondary or Middle School level. I was completely familiar with the science taught at Middle School. At the beginning of the year, I used to ask new pupils to write down the science topics they'd covered there.
One person asked, 'Where did they get the first magnet from?' This obviously intelligent question was answered by Mr Hurt, whereas it would have been better, either to enquire whether any individuals knew the answer, or to have made the questioner seek out the answer for himself and deliver it to the rest of the class.'
I mentioned the region in Greece called 'Magnesia, where there are rocks which are naturally magnetic. It can't possibly be counted as a severe criticism that I answered a pupil's question. Sometimes a teacher will ask a pupil to go to the school library and look up information in an encyclopedia or some other book, but surely a teacher can answer a question directly. If a teacher generally asks whether any other pupils know the answer or has the questioner seek out the answer, the pupils may well come to the conclusion that the teacher doesn't know what the answer is.
In one general observation on the necessity of bringing books, pens, etcetera to the lesson, Mr Hurt used the words 'justification' and 'assumption.' I feel that such polysyllabic words are likely to antagonize the more linguistically deprived children and should be avoided.'
These are the same 'linguistically deprived' children who would find the work on magnets too easy. The tension induced by the unexpected visit of the Headteacher accounts for the fact that, despite all my awareness of the need to keep language simple, I let slip, unforgivably, those two polysyllabic words, 'justification' and 'assumption.'
On another page I examine Framework Science, published by the Oxford University Press. There, I quote two homework questions for the full ability range, including 'linguistically deprived children:'
'Define the term 'evaluation'
(for 7th years, age 12 or so.)
'Define the term 'laterally inverted' (for 8th years.)
Although Bound wasn't a megalomaniac, he didn't hesitate to use what power he had for purposes which weren't completely beneficial. He was limited by the comparatively limited powers of Headteachers at that time. He had power to promote, of course, but no other power over the incomes of his staff. Since then, the power of Headteachers has increased very much and now, far more than in the past, the Headteacher can act as dictator - within the Headteacher's little empire.
Whether or not the individual Headteacher is a megalomaniac, the Government has seen itself in megalomaniac terms, the arbiter not just of such prosaic matters as salaries and conditions of service but of ways of thinking, favoring the bureaucratic mind and penalizing principled dissent. This is no exaggeration. Consider an 'initiative' such as 'threshold,' in brief, the principle that staff should be applying for money for carrying out duties which they should all be carrying out anyway - whether threshold payments are given or not depending upon the decision of the Headteacher. My need for threshold money - thousands of pounds - was probably greater than most, as I was a part-time teacher with sizeable debts, but I refused to. An old school-friend with a healthy contempt for deranged initiatives was another dissident and never applied for threshold, I'm glad to say. I know that there were others, but only a tiny minority.
This initiative came from the lunatic mind of Tony Blair. I agree with the politician and writer Matthew Parris that Tony Blair was, effectively, a lunatic. His initiatives, such as the lunatic educational initiatives designed to improve 'standards,' were products of a deranged mind. Blair, like Colin Bound the Headteacher, was an Oxford graduate. My intention on this page is to do what I can to draw attention to attacks on freedom. They include attacks on the freedom of Oxford University and attacks on freedom by graduates of Oxford University, such as Tony Blair and, at a vastly less significant level, Colin Bound.
David Bowes has never, in my experience, said or written anything whatsoever which is memorable. His language is fluent but empty, but he doesn't himself use the mangled English of educational bureaucrats to any great extent.
Michael Chapman is very different. His command of bureaucratic language is complete. An updated version of George Orwell's essay on the debasement of English, 'Politics and the English Language,' could very well include some of his contributions to moronic language claiming to be high-minded language - although there's a vast number of other examples which could be chosen from this educational class. He was the Headteacher of High Storrs School in Sheffield. , which I attended. He resigned, I believe, without giving much notice, so it was necessary to appoint a temporary Headteacher to replace him. The Head at the time I attended the school was a vastly different figure. I mention him and my experiences at the school in the closing section of this page.
What is the 'word-sphere,' in which Michael Chapman, I claim, is so much at home?
Of course, the word-sphere is the natural home of imaginative writers. This isn't a perjorative use of the phrase. 'Word-sphere' in the perjorative sense refers to evasion. People whose sphere is not that of the imaginative writer, whose natural sphere should be the sphere of action, construct a deluded world in which words are confused with concrete achievement. 'Declaring' a thing to be so is mistakenly thought to be the same as the reality.
More often than not, reality is difficult, intractable, sometimes impossible to deal with. It's far easier to arrange words so that words become a substitute for action, so that words deflect attention from the lack of action. This is the world of ringing declarations, facile claims to importance, such as 'world-class,' hollow confidence-building assertions, projections for future success. It's a world that Michael Chapman and his kind find very congenial.
By the simple criterion of exam successes - far from being the only criterion, but a criterion which people like Michael Chapman value very, very highly - his school is now a middle-ranking one in the city. To become the leading school in the city would almost certainly be almost impossible. Of course, the Headteachers of other schools have exactly the same aspiration, and, if they are trapped in the delusions of the word-sphere, think that it's just as possible for their school to become the leading one in the city as the one led by Michael Chapman. He does have higher aspirations than that, though - a national reputation. (Why not an international reputation? Or, global reputation?)
Another issue he mentions: valuing people. I have absolutely no information about whether people are valued to a very great degree at his school. I presume that they are. Of course, 'valuing people' is important, but writing it down in a self-important way has nothing to do with actually treating people with elementary fairness, let alone valuing them. The fact that a high-minded pronouncement has been committed to print is no guarantee at all that it's honoured. There are institutions whose care for their employees, according to their vision statements and their public pronouncements, is as enlightened as can be - and which treat their employees like dirt.
These are extracts (in bold print) from a letter sent by Michael Chapman to all parents fairly recently. (I think that a great many parents will have been bemused, puzzled or alienated by its language. More likely they will have read the first few words and then decided not to read any further.) The letter offers a devastating illustration of what I call template language and template thoughts. The clichés that used to preoccupy critics - 'avoid like the plague' and so on - were, and are, evidence of laziness. The mangling of English in template language is evidence of laziness too.
Ethos and vision
A national reputation as a centre of educational innovation and excellence.
Achievement and Curriculum
A personalised entitlement curriculum, bespoke to the needs of each child with pathways offering breadth, depth and acceleration.
Learning with planned synergy and progression...
Academically, the highest performing school in Sheffield.
Leadership and Governance
Governance interlocked with leadership...Shared and articulated vision.
Personnel recruitment, retention and development
...constructively critical professional dialogue and cross-team pedagogical collaboration.
So much for Michael Chapman. [He has now resigned as Headteacher of the school. The reasons for his resignation so far as I know are unclear, at least outside the school.]
Advancement in secondary education in this country in the state sector (I've no experience at all of the independent sector), the way to even fatter salaries, are more likely if someone accepts this language and can use it without any sense of shame.