There was once an NQT who found himself with a tricky Year 7 English class. The timetable had dealt him the crummiest of hands: he had them Friday period 3 and period 5, lessons that bookended a period 4 maths lesson that the students hated.
They were fine during the first session, but after lunch, and after maths, they metamorphosed into Lord of the Flies-style savages. Drastic action was needed.
He came up with a masterstroke: period 3 was to be a normal lesson, complete with extended writing, high levels of challenge, the full works. But period 5, assuming that they complied during period 3 (God knows what he would have done if they hadn’t), was different. Period 5 was to be a fun lesson, euphemistically termed “film studies”. The deal: you work hard in Period 3, you get to watch a tenuously linked DVD in the final hour of the week.
The kids loved it. They loved him. He was the coolest teacher ever. He was happy.
But he came to regret this approach. He changed. A sense of crushing guilt had permeated those wasted hours of Year 7. This burden of conscience had been relieved slightly by the pupils doing well regardless – they’d made solid progress – but he couldn’t help thinking about the progress they might have made if he’d cracked the whip and ploughed on, despite the timetable conspiring against him.
He’d courted and fallen for popularity. And he had failed the students as a result. Ultimately, that popularity was shortlived anyway. Even 12-year-old kids get bored of watching endless movies…
That young teacher was, of course, me.
Seeking popularity doesn't work
“You know, kids don’t learn from people they don’t like,” says Rita Pierson in her famous TED Talk (bit.ly/PiersonTED). As the talk is all about education, when Pierson says “people”, she really means “teachers”.
After first reading the statement, I felt that Pierson was guilty of a colossal mistake: encouraging teachers to seek popularity.
But before rushing to judgement (as tempting as it is when confronted by an “inspirational” teaching epigram), I watched the video of Pierson’s talk. Guess what? I liked her. She was warm, funny, self-deprecating, well-meaning and honest.
And some of her philosophy was difficult to disagree with: she focussed on boosting the non-existent self-esteem of disadvantaged students; she recognised the power of positive mantras and that success breeds success in learning; she refused to accept damaging labels like “bottom set” and “low ability”.
But some of her ideas were definitely more Oprah Winfrey than edu-guru ED Hirsch: lavish praise given when pupils had scored poorly on tests, public apologies to her pupils for significant areas of weakness in her subject knowledge, a general belief that if we only believe then it will happen. A “build it and they will come” pedagogy.
We all know that kids learn from people they don’t like – I had an A-level teacher who I despised
What is most wrong about the quote is that we all know that kids do learn from people they don’t like. I had an A-level teacher who I despised (the feeling was certainly mutual) who nonetheless taught me to appreciate the nuances of prosody in the poetry of Tennyson (I didn’t much like him either, but it stuck). I had a French teacher who I adored because of his humorous digressions about his schooldays and his witty anecdotes about getting lost in the Pyrenees, yet I learned a lot more when I moved to a different class where the teacher was dull, dry and repetitive.
Anecdotal experience aside, what does the evidence say?
Well, Professor John Hattie prescribes an effect size – we need to be cautious about some of the data – of 0.52 (roughly an increase of a GCSE grade) to teacher-student relationships. But apart from using the word “positive”, the exact nature of these relationships is unclear.
Teachers who I admire have positive relationships with their pupils. They talk to them politely. They offer praise when it’s earned. They build up a rapport over time in a non-intrusive way, getting to know things about their pupils’ hobbies. They tend to say “thank you” rather than “please”.
But when it comes down to it – and in teaching it always does come down to pivotal moments of instant decision making – they make it clear who is the boss, that they are the adult and they make the calls. Especially when unpopular decisions have to be made. Invariably, this will include:
- * Refusing to accept sub-standard work, even if the student has put quite a bit of effort into it.
- * Doing an assessment on the last day before the Christmas holidays because the group has an exam the first week back.
- * Sitting pupils away from their friends.
- * Making pupils practise key exam questions until they get them right, even though they are really fed up with doing them.
- * Telling pupils when their answers, ideas or interpretations are just plain wrong.
How do we gain respect?
So after my initial dalliances, there were no more “free lessons”. Every last ounce of learning was squeezed out of each lesson; no opportunity to develop knowledge wasted. Rather than dancing with popularity, I pursued something much more worthwhile: respect.
Respect is hard. How does one gain it from pupils? To begin, it’s probably easier to list ways that will quickly lose pupil respect by alienation and exasperation. These include:
- * Poor subject knowledge.
- * Group punishments – keeping the whole class behind owing to minority behaviour.
- * Not following the school’s behaviour policy.
- * Indecisiveness, hesitancy and changing the goalposts.
- * Continually getting pupils’ names wrong.
- * Inappropriate humour, sarcastic attitude, deliberate attempts at humiliation.
- * Generic feedback at parents’ evening.
Pupils do not respect the detached teacher who, going through the motions, sees them as a homogenous personified spreadsheet. Pupils don’t respect the draconian teacher who bans them from ever asking a question or uttering an opinion. I had an art teacher like this once. We were all terrified of him. We worked in silence. Forever. Nobody knew what they were doing. Nobody dared to ask.
Pupils don't respect the overly friendly teacher who blatantly sidesteps the school rules in a display of maverick tendencies
Pupils do not respect the overly friendly teacher who, winking, blatantly sidesteps the school rules in a display of maverick tendencies. Pupils usually find this amusing to begin with but soon find the excessive familiarity and intrusions into personal space creepy and tiresome. These days, the worst insult anyone could ever say about my teaching would be “he’s too busy trying to be the kids’ mate”.
Ultimately, the most productive relationships, to my mind, are when the teacher combines a) firm discipline, b) high expectations and c) an obvious care for the pupils’ progress. They will demand very good behaviour and effort and in turn will provide challenging lessons and high-quality feedback.
Then, and only then, will they gain respect. They will not be motivated by a desire to be liked. They will, of course, eventually end up being loved by their pupils. This is explained by my first and final law of the Popularity Paradox:
“The teacher who seeks popularity shall never find it; only the thick-skinned, self-assured educator will gain the status of the adored.”
Spread it wide and far.
Mark Roberts is an assistant headteacher at a secondary school in the South West of England. He tweets @mr_englishteach
Coordinates: 51°33′54″N3°19′26″W / 51.565°N 3.324°W / 51.565; -3.324
Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen/Garth Olwg is a Welsh Medium comprehensive school in the village of Church Village near Pontypridd, in the county borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales. It was the first Welsh language comprehensive school in the south of Wales.
Attention was brought upon the school recently[when?] with the revival of a campaign to retain the name of Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen over the local council's decision to rename the school Ysgol Gyfun Garth Olwg, for reasons of historical significance. Though many believe the decision was actually taken because the council linked the Rhydfelen name with John Owen.
Welsh medium education
Education in Wales differs in certain respects from the systems used elsewhere in the United Kingdom. As Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen is a Welsh medium school, all subjects apart from English are taught in the Welsh language, with pupils encouraged to speak Welsh with one another outside of lessons.
Background and History
Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen/Garth Olwg (1962 – Present day)
Rhydfelen (Now Ysgol Gyfun Garth Olwg) was established in 1962 in the village of Rhydyfelin near Pontypridd. It was the first Welsh language comprehensive school in the south of Wales and the second to be established in the country. In the first year 80 pupils were on the school roll.
Gwilym Humphreys was the first Headmaster of Rhydfelen. He was born in Wallasey, England, the son of a Presbyterian Minister and raised in the mining village of Rhosllannerchrugog, Denbighshire.[unreliable source?]
As the school grew a house system was developed to group the children. In Welsh they were called llysoedd (plural; llys singular). Up to 1973 there were three Houses: Dinefwr (dark blue), Ifor Hael (red) and Sycharth (yellow). In 1973, when the school had grown to nearly 1,000 pupils, the number of llysoedd was increased to six. They were named Dafydd (dark blue), Gruffydd (light blue), Hywel (yellow), Iolo (red), Llywelyn (purple), and Owain (orange).
The school had its own magazine called Na Nog, which was published annually.
The buildings were grouped roughly into three blocks and named after the Welsh kingdoms of Gwent, Powys and Dyfed. The buildings in Gwent were the oldest and dated from the Second World War. Extensive use was made of portable cabins (portacabins) as school rooms and these were mainly in the Gwent block of the school. Powys was a three-storey building with classrooms a canteen (called y ffreutur) a staffroom a swimming pool and it also housed the 6th form area the main staffroom, the school reception and the headmasters office. Dyfed was a two-storey building with classrooms a large hall and it also housed the school library. The school gymnasium burned down and was replaced by a new gymnasium in approximately 1977. This gymnasium survived intact until 2007, when the school site was demolished. The old school site also had a large on-site Rugby Field, and tennis courts.
In 2006, the school moved to a new site as part of the Gartholwg Community Campus complex in Church Village, which consists of Ysgol Gynradd Garth Olwg Welsh medium primary school, Church Village library, Garth Olwg nursery, Garth Olwg Lifelong Learning Centre and the replacement building for Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen.
Today approximately 1000 students are on the school roll, including 160 students studying at sixth form. About ninety-two percent of pupils come from homes where the main language is English as against eight percent from homes where Welsh is the main language. A new school magazine, Bytholwyrdd, has been published every quarter since 2006.
The school itself consists of five blocks: Berthlwyd, Celyn, Drysgoed, Maendy and Pentwyn.
The school currently has six feeder primary schools. They are:
Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Castellau (Beddau), Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Evan James (Pontypridd), Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Garth Olwg (Church Village), Ysgol Gynradd Heol-y-celyn, Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Gwaelod y Garth, Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Pont Sion Norton.(Pontypridd)
In 2011, the school received a Band Five (lowest) rating by the Welsh Assembly Government.
When the school re-located to the Garth Olwg campus in 2006, Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council stated that a name change, to Ysgol Gyfun Garth Olwg, was logical. However, this change was met with opposition from pupils, parents, former pupils, and staff at the school, who wished to retain the old name, Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen, in order to retain the identity of the school and the historical associations that its name held.
Some pupils expressed strong opinions on the matter, with letters published in local newspapers, including plans to boycott the school uniform if it contained the new name of the school, demonstrating the strength of opinion amongst the pupils.
The petitions committee of the Welsh Assembly heard a petition, presented by the acting head teacher Dr. Philip Ellis, in October and November 2007.
On the 16 March 2009, a letter was released, from the chairman of the Governing body, informing the school's parents and pupils of the recent decision by the Governing Body in relation to the name of the School. In a meeting of the Governing Body with representatives of the Local Authority in the Autumn Term of 2008 (with no pupil representation), it was pressed upon the Governors that the legal name of the school was Ysgol Gyfun Garth Olwg and that it was required to recognise this. Realising that it had no real choice in the matter, the Governing Body voted to recognise Ysgol Gyfun Garth Olwg as the Official and Legal name of the school.
Although the name of the school continued to be Garth Olwg officially, events at the start of 2009 meant that the school’s name be re-considered, again. Certain Rhondda Cynon Taf councillors supported the continuation of Rhydfelen, including Jane Davidson (AM) and Dr Kim Howells (MP). Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council considered the issue in a meeting held on the 22 April 2009.
But in 2011 following the Band 5 result and demonstrations by pupils within the school, one of the school's governors – Martyn Geraint [a former pupil, head-boy and parent of 3 pupils] – asked if it would be possible for the name to be looked at again. Mr Geraint asked for the LEA's help in the hope that results would improve if everyone could work together – but his request resulted in his suspension as a governor in 2012.
Although the school’s name changed to Ysgol Gyfun Garth Olwg in 2008, the school badge retained the name Rhydfelen until the 2008–2009 term. There was a competition held during April 2009 to create a new badge for the school. The competition was open to every pupil and also the pupils in the final year of the feeding primary schools. The chosen design enabled the winning pupil to follow her design from conception to seeing the final product. Unfortunately, the competition to decide on a new badge was not deemed fair by many pupils and parents – as the chance to keep the old badge was somehow removed between the meeting to decide on the entries for the competition and the ballot paper – this led to a feeling of unfairness.
The old school badge depicted a coal tip or a mountain of coal which was once a common sight in the locality and the green is the grass growing down below. It was supposed to symbolise that the Welsh language will one day grow over the people like the grass will one day grow over the mountain of coal.
The new badge depicts a mountain range in the shape of a 'G', for Garth Olwg and Gymraeg. The "Gymraeg" justification is extremely tenuous, since "Cymraeg" is the de facto name of the language, and "Gymraeg" a mutation, normally prefixed by 'Y'. The mountain is, of course the Garth Mountain, where the school derives its name.
The School uniform was re-launched during the Autumn term of 2009. It consists of a black jumper with the new school badge, white shirt, green and gray striped tie, black trousers/skirt and black shoes.
At GCSE, the percentage of pupils gaining at least five grades A*-C, including English/Welsh and Maths is 57%.
Notable former pupils
See also: Category:People educated at Ysgol Gyfun Garth Olwg
The notable alumni in the following list attended 'Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen' pre 2006:
Actors include Richard Harrington, Ieuan Rhys, Jeremi Cockram, Daniel Evans, Richard Lynch, Lisa Palfrey, Gareth Potter, Maria Pride, and Geraint Todd.
Computer scientistRob Hartill who is best known for his work on the Internet Movie Database website and the Apache web server. Notable for playing a key role in the initial growth of the World Wide Web.
Engineers include Matthew Edwards, part of the Swansea University's efforts with the Bloodhound SSC rocket car.
Entertainers include Martyn Geraint, children's entertainer, Geraint Benney, and TV cook Dudley Newbury.
Entrepreneur: Ian Jindal, former Head of Online Operations (1998–2000) at the BBC.
Broadcasters and Journalists include Magi Dodd, presenter on BBC Radio Cymru's C2 show; Catrin Beard, former presenter of S4C's "Hel Straeon" (sister of Emyr Lewis, Chaired and Crowned poet), BBC television and radio broadcaster Alun Thomas and BBC political reporter and presenter Ciaran Jenkins, (brother of Bethan Jenkins AM), Dudley Newbury, presenter of cookery programmes on S4C
Politicians include Jon Owen Jones MP, Bethan Jenkins AM, Delyth Evans former AM, and Dafydd Trystan Davies, former Chief Executive of Plaid Cymru.
Sports-players include footballers Owain Warlow & Matthew Maksimovic who both went on to play Welsh League football for Llanelli & Merthyr respectively, the latter suffered a career threatening leg break while on field which resulted in his release soon after. Welsh international rugby player Kevin Morgan and Welsh international netball player Carys Rowlands who is now a teacher at the school. Mr Wales 2011 body builder Nathan Rose. Rhydfelin RFC local legend Gafyn Wilde also attended the school with a glittering school career, including a pivotal role in winning the Welsh Schools Cup. He harbours real hopes of making the Welsh Rugby Squad for the 2015 World Cup.
Writers and poets include Gwyneth Lewis first National Poet for Wales, Emyr Lewis, Chaired and Crowned poet of the Welsh National Eisteddfod, dramatist Ian Rowlands, Gwyn Morgan (writer), writer Richard Harris author of "Closets are for clothes", novelist Nia Williams and Gavin Courtney, author of the New York Times Bestseller "How Asian are you?".
Notable former members of staff
Huw Bunford guitarist in the rock band, Super Furry Animals was former Head of Art at the school.
John Owen, creator of the Welsh Television children's series. Pam Fi Duw? and author of the series of books of the same name, was a Drama teacher at the school. He committed suicide in 2001 after having been arrested and charged with serious criminal offences against children.
Clywch Report on Child Abuse
The Clywch Report on allegations of [child sex abuse] at Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen was published in June 2004 following a Public Inquiry chaired by the late Peter Clarke, Children's Commissioner for Wales. Clywch is the Welsh word for listen.
The Report highlighted serious failings within the school and Education Authority which allowed the teacher John Owen to abuse pupils over a number of years. Complaints about John Owen dated back to 1983/4 but were ignored.
After the publication of the Clywch Report, nine former pupils of the school brought a legal action to claim damages for the injuries caused to them. All nine cases were settled before trial by December 2008.