Now What?

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“You were almost spot on – he won with 61.8% of the vote.” were my first words to my husband this morning – he’d predicted 60%. (Note: it’s always a good idea to marry somebody who doesn’t mind you talking about your interests at 6:30am.) By 7:30am we were both at our laptops, coffees in hand, trying put something coherent down on paper.

There was never any doubt that Jeremy Corbyn would win this election; if anything he has more support than ever within the party. For some today was the day the left “got their party back” after it was “hijacked” by the centre in the early 90s. For others, this is the day the party dies. I consider myself cynically centrist: my views are roughly in line with Corbyn’s but I understand that most of the electorate don’t share them. More than anything I want a Labour government. And no, I’m not willing to wait 20 years for it because lives depend on it.

The problem I have is that all the evidence suggests there is very little in the way of public support for a Corbyn-led Labour Party. Only yesterday there was a poll of Labour voters who won’t vote Labour next time – 71% of them give Corbyn as the reason.

Corbyn supporters have put forward a number of reasons for the disastrous polls: the sample was too small to be significant, the poll was of Sun readers who are right wing or that the poll is just made up. If we are going to get anywhere, is accept the idea that these polls actually represent people’s views. Not 100% accurately because we have to allow for some margin of error  – but we cannot just ignore them. What I want is a membership that, instead of dismissing the information entirely, responds with: “Why don’t we have the support of these people and what can we do to gain it?” We need to be fascinated by the people who disagree with us. We need to find out why they disagree, what their fears are and what they want from their government – we cannot just call them names. We cannot dismiss “The Sun” readers because no election has ever been won without their votes. I wrote this as a comment on social media yesterday and immediately someone replied with, “Why do we need their votes when we can appeal to all the millions of non-voters?” Here’s the thing about non-voters: they tend not to vote.

In the last election 15.7 million registered voters didn’t cast their ballot. I suppose it is possible that they were all refusing to vote until there was a more left-wing candidate on offer but I imagine that they have a broader range of views than that. If the electorate had been desperate for a left-wing alternative then the Green Party would have a strong majority. Yes, there are some people who have been inspired to vote again by Corbyn and that’s great, but to win an election under first-past-the-post we will have to take seats off the Conservatives – that is just a fact. Yes, the system is hugely flawed and we should be campaigning for electoral reform but for now we have to work with the system we’ve got.

The first thing Corbyn needs to do is hire a smart and savvy media team. If elections were won on Twitter, according to my timeline, Ed Miliband should be in Downing Street and the Ed Stone would have pride of place in his  garden. #WeAreHisMedia only reaches those who a) already follow you on social media or b) are interested enough to click on the #WeAreHisMedia hashtag. Most people aren’t interested enough in politics to seek it out. So however much he resents it, Corbyn is going to have to up his game. No more grumpy, snarling comments, no more refusing to participate because of media bias. Yes, the media are biased against him and they will continue to be for as long as he is leader of the opposition. I have no doubt that they are just getting warmed up and as we approach the next General Election they will unleash hell. Everyone Corbyn has ever shared a platform with will be dredged up, the “my friends,  Hamas” quote will printed over and over again until it’s burnt into the electorate’s retinas. Rupert Murdoch managed to decimate Ed Miliband with a picture of him clumsily eating a sandwich – we cannot underestimate the power of the media. Research suggests that the general public believe the media is biased against Corbyn but they still don’t want to vote for him. Just calling the media biased or shouting down every criticism as an MSM smear will not convince the public we should be running the country. Finally, Corbyn mustn’t restrict the outlets he works with because, in doing so, he narrows down his audience. Tim is sat next to me writing about media bias so if you want more on this you can find it here.

Whilst he’s hiring, Corbyn might want to get himself a data bod. You know, someone with a brain for stats and figures. He cannot go on national television and not know the number of seats we need to win an election. He needs to know the stats, the names of the key seats, the number of votes we need to win the swing seats etc… If he really isn’t interested in that information, and surely as leader of the opposition he is, then he needs to hire somebody who will be interested for him. Somebody who will make sure he goes into interviews with all the information he needs.

He will need to compromise and learn to pick his battles. Sadly, now is not the time to be fighting to scrap Trident. Whilst I believe it should be scrapped, and the money spent elsewhere, I know that my views are at odds with the majority of the British public (51% support keeping Trident.) We will not win an election by telling the public what they SHOULD want. We also won’t win by assuming the public will realise how awful the Conservatives are. Regardless of the damage they have done to the country and the lives they have ruined, at the moment they are seen as a safe pair of hands and Labour are seen as unstable and reckless.

On the 23rd of June the country revealed itself to be almost entirely divided in two. Corbyn needs to lay out Labour’s vision for our role in Europe, he needs to address the issue of immigration – and by address I don’t mean dismiss and, more than anything, he needs to convince the public his party can be trusted with the economy. It is a mammoth task and at the moment I have seen no evidence that we’ll succeed but I will keep up the fight.

“The Girl On The Piccadilly Line” started after the last election. Originally my plan was to document the challenges of leading a community school under a Conservative government. When the challenges proved too much and I resigned from the profession I was worried I’d have less to write about. As it happens 2015-2016 has been the most turbulent political period in my lifetime. We’ve had a referendum, resignations from the leaders of all 5 main political parties, a mayoral election, David Cameron fucking a pig, Nigel Farage resigning then un-resigning – then resigning again, Gove and Boris cosying up for to lead the Leave campaign then stabbing one another in the back the second it was finished and two Labour leadership elections in 12 months – there’s been no shortage of matierial.

I hope, more than anything, that over the next few years I will be able to document Labour’s rise to power. I will fight and campaign with Corbyn because I am proud to be a member of the Labour Party. We’re the party of the NHS, the Civil Partnership Act, the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act. We have a history of fighting for a more equal society. Quality of life under the Tories is declining at an exponential rate and we desperately need a Labour government. Can we win? I don’t know – but I’m not going to stop trying.

So, You Want To Start A Blog?

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It’s September. Fresh, energised and full of optimism, September sees teachers take up new instruments, join exercise classes and start diets – it is the real New Year. So it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise when, in the space of 6 days, I received four emails asking for advice about starting a blog.This is incredibly flattering as The Girl On The Piccadilly Line has only existed (at its current domain) for a year so I am no expert (and there are people out there who are experts in this sort of thing.) But, for what it’s worth, here is my advice for anyone, teacher or otherwise, thinking of venturing into the world of blogging.

1. Write about what you know/what you love

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A lot of bloggers will tell you to choose a niche and stick with it; become an expert in that field and you’ll have a ready made readership. That isn’t bad advice but I think the most important thing is that you write about what you know. For me that was education and politics but it doesn’t really matter what it is: coffee, insurance, tube stations with step free access or the best places to go for brunch. If you’re passionate about your subject that will come through in your writing. Trying to regularly produce interesting content on a subject you don’t care about is hard work and can be mind-numbingly dull – don’t do it to yourself. And if you write that blog about the best places for brunch send me the link.

2. Read

Any teacher will tell  you that the best writers are the ones who read widely. So read. Read articles, blogs, novels, non-fiction. Find a writer you love and study the way they weave their words together – learn from them. Struggling to put together a catchy opening paragraph or heading? Get reading. Interested in writing list-style posts? Get reading. Want to use your blog to share your short stories? Get reading. At the moment I’m reading a lot of blogs to try and learn the art of writing a decent closing paragraph. My posts tend to end abruptly or just fizzle out. You don’t know how much I wish every post could just end with, “That’s All Folks!”

3. “At the end of the day, the only thing that’s perfect is a blank sheet of paper – untouched with nothing on it. And if you’re questing for perfection then you’ll leave that paper blank.” – Neil Gaiman

I don’t really like the way I write. I often wish my writing sounded more academic; I’ve yet to master the art of being concise as opposed to just wittering on  (At this point it’s worth mentioning I am available for commissions…) When I first started blogging I used to agonise over posts. I would ask beg my husband to read everything I wrote before I published it, “Is it alright?” I’d ask nervously – I just didn’t believe anything I’d written could be any good. (Little tip – find someone in those early days to be your own personal editor/proofreader/cheerleader. You don’t have to marry them though.)

Over the last year I’ve learnt a valuable lesson: writing is to be read. If people want to read your writing then your writing is serving its purpose. I’ve accepted the way I write is readable and in the last few months people have actually started paying me money to write things for them (which I still can’t get my head around)) So I’ve come to the conclusion I can’t be that bad. Please don’t be like me – have confidence and just keep writing.Sure, you’re first few posts may only be read by your parents but that’s OK!

4. Use social media – not just to share your work.

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I love social media – it’s the fastest way to get your blog out there but it has other uses too. Use it to find other bloggers, join in with blog chats and interact directly with your readers. You get out what you put into the blogging community so get involved. Spend at least an hour a week reading other blogs, commenting on and sharing the things you really like. Invite guest bloggers to write for you – they’ll bring with them new readers.

Use hashtags to increase the visibility of your posts. There are dozens you can use – I tend to rely on:

#MondayBlogs

#WWWBlogs

#WeekendBlogHop

#SundayBlogShare

5. Enjoy it

The best thing about blogging is that there are no hard and fast rules about what it’s meant to look like. You can post once a month or every day. You can publish poems, lists, diaries, songs, photos, videos. The whole point is that you’re carving out your own corner of the internet. It can be whatever you want it to be (within legal limits.) If you find you’re not enjoying it take a break – don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

Erm…

That’s all folks!

 

 

 

 

School Gategate

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I tried to ignore it. You’d think being in Hawaii would be a enough of a distraction that I’d be able to take my eye off the news.It was the first week of the new school year, I told myself, how much was really going to happen? If I hadn’t already written a post about my views on Grammar schools this post would probably have been about Theresa May’s announcement that she plans to drag us all back to 70s  reverse the ban on grammars. Instead this post is about the other “scandal” to hit the headlines this week.

Matthew Tate, the new headteacher at Hartsdown Academy, made the news because on the first (and second, and third) day of term he and his staff sent home pupils for wearing incorrect uniform.

Generally I’m pro-school uniform on the condition that it is affordable, comfortable, durable and gender neutral. By that I don’t mean skirts or summer dresses. I mean that girls can wear trousers and boys can wear skirts – because it is 2016. The most common argument is that school uniform is a social leveller: when everyone is wearing the same it’s harder to tell who is rich and who is poor. Children don’t feel as though they have to “dress up” to come to school and families don’t feel the pressure to buy the latest trends (are there trends in children’s fashion? There must be. I spent my entire childhood in leggings and over-sized t-shirts so children’s fashion is a bit of a blind spot for me.)

The last school I worked at was Requires Improvement. The first thing the new Head Teacher did was write, and more importantly, enforce a new uniform policy. No more coming to school in glittery trainers or stripy leggings, no more hoodies or sweatbands. For a lot of children, the school uniform was as a physical representation of the school’s values and, when they put on their uniform, it served as a reminder of how they were expected to behave in school. For children who were allowed to hit or swear at home – putting on different clothes helped them leave that behaviour at the school gates. The number of times I’ve said: “When you wear that logo – you cannot use that language because you’re representing our school and we don’t call other people those things.” Call it voodoo nonsense all you like, it worked.

There are strong arguments against uniforms and I know lots of schools don’t have one and that’s fine. To be honest, I don’t really care whether a school has a uniform or not. I’ll never be one to fight for or against it. What matters to me is when a school has agreed what their policy is – they are allowed to enforce it. Anyone who has ever worked in a school will be able to tell you that there is nothing more pointless than a policy that is not enforced. It’s something Ofsted are very interested in at the moment: is the school doing what they say they’re doing in their policies?

When parents send their children to a school they immediately become part of a “Home/School Agreement.” This is a document outlining the responsibilities of the school and the parents. The school will commit to keeping children safe and provide learning experiences that will ensure they make progress and the parents commit to things like: completing homework, bringing children to school on time and ensuring their children are wearing the correct uniform.

My understanding is that the parents of Hartsdown Academy were written to at the beginning of the summer holidays outlining the new uniform policy, including the fact that children would be turned away at the school gates for wearing the incorrect uniform. It should therefore have come as no surprise to those parents that their children were turned away at the school gates for wearing the incorrect uniform. Apparently 20 of those children returned the same day wearing the correct uniform which begs the question – why didn’t they just wear it in the first place? Like most schools, Hartsdown Academy offer subsidised uniform for parents who can’t afford the full cost and they have a second-hand uniform shop. There is no reason for not being able to get hold of the correct uniform, particularly not on that first day.

Whether or not I agree with the actual policy is irrelevant – what I do agree with is a school’s right to enforce their policies without facing backlash from parents and the media. As a head teacher, if you bow to pressure to change your policies  you build a rod for your own back. It would send out the message that the head teacher doesn’t really know what they’re doing and you can basically ignore any new rules or policies.

As one has come to  expect, the response from the public has been completely hysterical. The head teacher has been called a tyrant and a bully by a parents but, I’ll be honest, I’ve seen head teachers being called that for reducing playtime by 5 minutes – yes really. What some supportive parents don’t realise is how many parents there are that will complain about ANY policy or change. Of course it’s not a majority. Most parents are amazing, they do the best they can for their children and work well with the school. However there is always a loud minority who cannot wait to get their complaint in. I’ve had complaints about: playtime being too long, playtime being too short, homework being changed, homework not being changed, PE kit being sent home too often for washing, PE kits not being sent home often enough, too many trips, not enough trips, coat pegs being swapped for lockers, ties being taken off the uniform list and, you’ve guessed it, ties being added to the uniform list.If a school changed its policy every time there was a complaint they would never get anything done.

I have huge sympathy for head teachers – it’s a bloody hard job and you face criticism every single day. Yes, there are some really crap head teachers out there but they aren’t the majority. Most are hard working, dedicated people who are having to act as a buffer between their staff and the ever increasing pressure being put on them by external forces. You cannot please everyone as head teacher and ultimately the final say is yours. Surrounding yourself with a smart and talented team who can advise and, when necessary, challenge you will help but ultimately you have to do what you believe to be right. And you have to defend your decisions almost every day: to children, parents, staff and, occasionally, the media.

I’ll end with a story from my husband Tim. In his first year of teaching his head teacher told him he’d received two complaints about him. One was that he was setting too much homework and the other that he wasn’t setting enough.

On the basis of those two complaints the head teacher concluded that Tim was setting exactly the right amount of homework.

 

 

Heaven Knows We’re Miserable Now

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One of the most difficult things about saying goodbye to Year 6 at the end of the year is the knowledge that, regardless of which school they are off to next, they are about to enter a really difficult few years. Being a teenager is bloody horrible. You can be the most well-adjusted child, from the most stable and loving home and still have days, weeks, months where you hate yourself. Not just hate your arms, your nose or your thighs but genuinely hate yourself.

So it was depressing, but not surprising, to read that young girls in Britain are increasingly unhappy.  Research carried out by the Children’s Society found that 14% of 10 to 15-year-old girls are unhappy with their life as a whole and a third of them are unhappy with their appearance. Apparently the researchers who interviewed the girls heard them describe themselves as “ugly” and “worthless.” If I’m really honest, I was surprised that it wasn’t a higher percentage. To me the fact that 66% of the young people interviewed DIDN’T feel unhappy about their appearance is very encouraging. The worry is that the number of young girls who are unhappy has risen by 10% in the last 5 years (interestingly boys percentages haven’t budged.) Are teenage girls getting more unhappy? Isn’t being unhappy and hating your body almost par for the course in your teenage years? Isn’t teenage melancholy the reason entire genres of music were created and why people listened to the Smiths. Or is that just one of those horribly insensitive “didn’t worry about that in my day” comments? In a letter to his 16 year-old self Stephen Fry wrote:

“I am perhaps happier now than I have ever been and yet I cannot but recognise that I would trade all that I am to be you, the eternally unhappy, nervous, wild, wondering and despairing 16-year-old Stephen: angry, angst-ridden and awkward but alive. Because you know how to feel, and knowing how to feel is more important than how you feel.”

I am not trying to dismiss mental health issues or play them down in any way I just don’t know anyone that at some point in their teenage years wasn’t filled with insecurities about their appearance. Obviously just because “that’s how it’s always been” is no reason to allow anything to continue and our hope is that quality of life would improve with each generation. I’ve only read two short articles on this piece of research. I’m currently on a train trundling through the Gobi desert and downloading articles on my phone is a bit like like trying to download music with dial-up internet. I’ve only managed to find articles sharing the percentages and suggesting we increase support for teen mental health – so far so good. What I haven’t found is any analysis as to WHY these girls are unhappier, particularly with their appearance, compared to girls in previous years. So I thought I’d do my own.

I think every generation believes that when they were younger “kids were allowed to be kids” for a lot longer – I’m not sure this is true. A 10-year-old living on London in the 1940s for example would have faced traumas that are incomprehensible to a 10 -year-old growing up in London today. Still each generation sees the world their children are growing up in as more cynical than their own childhoods. When my parents were 10 they could play out in the street until it was dark, front doors could be kept unlocked and everybody knew their name. Similarly, when I was 10 if I wanted to phone a friend I used the phone in the lounge, after 6 o’clock (and for no longer than 10 minutes because we’re not made of money.) I didn’t have my own mobile until I was 14 (Nokia 3210 – obvs) and there was no internet access at home until I 15. There was no WhatsApp or Facebook even MySpace was still an idea waiting to be developed

It was the 90s and the height of Britpop, arguably a time that was less image obsessed than the X-Factor world young people grow up in today. The women I saw on TV and in the newspapers were Denise Van Outen, Zoe Ball and Sarah Cox – smart, confident and funny women who were as comfortable at Glastonbury as they were on the sofa of the children’s programmes I loved. They wore baggy clothes, hung out with Oasis and drank lager; I thought they were cool as anything. Like most young girls in 1997 my idols were the Spice Girls. Say what you want about them but they were five normal looking girls without a fake tan or a size 0 between them (at least in the early days.) They had frizzy hair, mad clothes and were all proud to be different. When I compare them to the role models the current generation of children have from Cheryl Cole to any one of the Kardashians, perfectly groomed within an inch of their lives, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that these women are more damaging role models for young girls than the women I admired 20 years ago… right? Not quite.

In 1996 a magazine published a photograph of Emma Bunton and her mum walking along a beach in their swimming costumes. The headline read, “Which One Is The Spice Girl?” The implication being that Emma Bunton’s figure was indistinguishable from that of woman over double her age. I remember looking at the picture and admiring Emma’s lovely figure (thankfully I was completely unaware of the magazines attempt to body shame a 21-year-old) I thought to myself, “My legs look a bit like Emma Bunton’s” At 10 years-old I was proud – I looked like a Spice Girl! For the next couple of years I would look at photos of Emma and try and judge if I was still as thin as her. I’d replicate her poses and judge whether my thighs spread out more than hers when I crossed my legs or if I had more rolls of fat on my stomach when I sat down. I didn’t ever tell anyone about my Bunton Body Barometer and by the time I was 14 my obsession with the Spice Girls had been replaced by an obsession with Robbie Williams – and my thighs were definitely much narrower than his so that was fine.

The photographs I have from my early teenage years are generally awful. There were no GHDs so if you were blessed with unruly, frizzy hair then that is what you had. Limited income and a lack of affordable brands meant most of my make-up came from the bargain bin in Superdrug: orange eye shadow and foundation two shades too dark. It didn’t matter that we had shit hair, hand me down clothes or crap make up – it was what we didn’t have that made a difference. There was no, what my husband refers to as, “Personal PR” social media accounts to present our lives as glossier, happier and sexier than they really are. I read in an article that teenagers are guilty of “checking in” on Facebook to places they haven’t actually been in an attempt to make their lives seem more interesting. The 90s equivalent was just bullshitting about what you did at the weekend and, more often than not, you got called out on it.

We couldn’t edit photos to make them more attractive and we knew nothing about the hand on the hip/leg forward pose I now rely on to hide all manner of sins in photographs. We didn’t have to deal with Instagram: hundreds of thousands of images, carefully prepped and posed for, cropped and filtered to make everyone look thin, beautiful and blemish free. We didn’t have social media promoting “The A4 Waist Challenge” or “The Thigh Gap Challenge” – in fact the phrase “thigh gap” wasn’t in the shared lexicon of the time.

Adam Edwards in Year 9 may have fantasised about seeing pictures of us in our underwear (because that’s what teenage boys do) but he would have never have had the nerve to have the conversation to ask for one. Even if he had we would never have agreed mainly because it would have meant buying a disposable camera, waiting for our parents to be out, getting the bus to Boots, hoping the person that developed the film didn’t know our parents. Then finally, upon receiving the photos, we’d have had to have prayed there was at least one that was taken without our finger over the lens. Today all Adam Edwards has to do is send a text, Snapchat or WhatsApp to the phone that also has the camera on. He may even be chivalrous enough to send a picture of his genitals to get us in the mood. The pressure is huge.

I am not for a second suggesting that the current generation of teenagers are in anyway more naïve or foolish – in fact the opposite is probably the case. Teenagers have enough on their plates without women in their late twenties sticking the knife in from behind the the safety of a computer screen. There are plenty of teenagers who have a perfectly healthy relationship with social media. Those that are struggling need nothing other than our support and reassurance. After all, they are dealing with pressures and challenges that those before them never had to. Worse than that – a lot of those challenges are ones we did not know we had to prepare them for.

So what do we do? Social media continues to grow at an exponential rate; we can’t hold it back. Some might suggest that young people should spend less time on their phones but it would be astonishingly hypocritical for me to argue for that. We need to accept that social media and the challenges that come with it are here to stay and we need to educate. We need to teach that who they are is more important than how they look. That being smart, loyal and kind is as important as looking good in skinny jeans. It’s taken me 29 years to learn this lesson and I still have days where I fail completely, where I delete photographs taken from an angle that doesn’t flatter my thighs.

More than anything we need to be loud. The positive messages that these young people hear from us have to be so loud that we drown out the doubts put in their mind every time they log on.