“Flattening the grass” and the ethics of behaviour management

It sounds like the sort of thing the servants might have been tasked to do before a nice picnic on the lawn in gentler times, but the metaphor conceals a more sinister practice. In the last week, allegations have emerged of Academy Chains using this tactic to establish new zero tolerance regimes in recently taken over schools. John Tomsett, Headteacher of Huntingdon school in York, posted, “ Later in the week I heard of a MAT-endorsed behaviour ethos-setting exercise called “flattening the grass” rolling assemblies. Allegedly, this involves the MAT executives visiting the school, en masse, to stand around the edge of the assembly hall whilst the head of school outlines, in emphatic terms to year group after year group, the MAT’s expectations of students’ behaviour. Before the assemblies begin, individual students are identified for the head of school to single out in front of their peers until they cry. If the head of school is not emphatic enough, the MAT CEO walks forward, replaces the head of school and concludes the assembly in a more suitably emphatic manner. The students are the “grass” which is “flattened” by the experience.” https://johntomsett.com/2019/02/03/this-much-i-know-about-behaviour-management-flattening-the-grass-and-mary-myatt/

This allegation, condemned for a while on Twitter until it all went quiet, has resurfaced in Schools Week in an article by John Dickens which accuses The Outward Grange Trust and the Delta Academies Trust, both of which run many schools in the north of England, of routinely adopting these practices. The article quotes unnamed employees of the OGAT trust and the allegations are backed up by testimony from parents and students. When the TES asked OGAT to respond to the allegations they were not denied and subsequently they have employed a “political and media relations firm”, Abzed, to handle the fallout.

What madness is this? How have we got to this point? The response to these allegations by critics thus far has been wholly inadequate: mild, tentative and questioning. A raised eyebrow rather than a full-throated roar of condemnation. “Flattening” students until they cry? This is a practice with more in common with psychological torture and interrogation techniques than with school behaviour management. They are children for goodness sake, children for whom the organisations in question have a duty of care. I’m sure that every member of staff in these schools wears their ID lanyard (too fearful of being “flattened” themselves, no doubt) and they have been granted the Ofsted tick for safeguarding. But I have no doubt that the pupils at these schools are far from being “safe”.

The real tragedy here is that we have constructed a culture where this is no longer remarkable. The smack of firm leadership is de rigeur these days. The “I make no apologies for insisting on the highest standards” brigade have been allowed to chip away at civilized norms of institutional practice so that just about anything goes. The end justifies the means it seems and anyone who challenges that is dismissed as a bleeding -heart liberal. And so these ghastly practices spread slowly and insidiously until the fabric of the system is riddled with them.

It has to stop. Now. There needs to be an immediate official enquiry and a statement from the DfE condemning these practices in the strongest possible terms.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s