At 7.30am, I slouched into my speed awareness course like a disengaged year 10 student who was already in a defensive mood for his lack of homework. Having sprawled into the seat in the furthest corner, I started to share my crime with my neighbour. 36 mph in a 30 zone in Trefor, a little village in North Wales where I believe there were more sheep than cars. The class was becoming mutinous as we began to elaborate on our speed crimes; caught at 1.00am on empty roads, cameras hidden behind bushes and a general muttering that this was a pothole tax. My mood was not helped by Mrs C, mother of Chloe, also a disengaged year 10 student, who plonked herself down next to me and announced, “this is my daughter’s headteacher” and “I’m surprised you did not follow speed rules”. My last conversation with Mrs C had been about Chloe’s flouting of uniform rules, body piercings and the importance of all in a community following rules. Her surprise was, I believe, an ironic observation of our situation!
I was therefore prepared for a very long four hours with the first four questions being predictably asked of ‘Headteacher Neil’. No stereotyping or hatred of teachers there then. However, what ensued was fascinating, skilful control of a mutinous, defensive group with a range of abilities and ages. Over the course of the next four hours, all were cajoled, nudged and persuaded to be more speed aware. The instructors managed the four hour lesson skilfully, ensuring all knew the purpose, controlling interaction and immediately showing up our lack of knowledge. I was a great help in this, getting two of my four public questions wrong, though even the ‘smug’ professional lorry drivers also got them wrong. The skill of the instructors, like any good teacher, was in persuading us that this was worthwhile, an investment of our time that should be taken seriously. They did this in a variety of adept ways:
- Immediately showing us the value for money. £88 fine with no points and no insurance premium increase as opposed to £100 fine and three points on the licence.
- Allowing us a controlled time to moan – one minute of ‘show and tell’ than move on to why we’re there.
- Immediately showing us, despite some obvious skill and experience, that we did not know all the rules and regulations. Their knowledge and the fact that they had clean licences to run the course, straightaway gained my respect as did their flexibility in keeping the lesson moving with controlled questions and answers.
- A variety of tasks, from Q&A to realistic frightening videos of the dangers of speed and the skilful use of the updated Highway Code, last seen thirty years ago when I undertook my test!
Reflecting on the course, I learnt something and am now driving better with an increased knowledge and awareness. 30 mph equates to third gear, 40 mph to fourth gear, i.e. take off the 0 to have your chosen gear, was a clever soundbite in response the question ‘how do you control the modern fast cars?’, or crucially, increasing speed rarely saves time but increases danger. The comparisons with successful mixed ability teaching are numerous and worth consideration:
- Good preparation, knowledge and a variety of tasks always pays off, keeping the lesson on track.
- Rushing to get there is dangerous, unfulfilling and is a negligible gain for too big a risk. How often do we rush through a course, rush to get there and have to revisit the route as we have got lost on the way, would be my analogy.
- Reviewing past papers, the rules and the handbook are always productive. How many staff keep producing beautiful new PowerPoints, new resources and forget to review the past, the rules and the exam specification on which they are going to be judged and appraised on?
Human nature is always to seek to deflect and blame others, when perhaps when caught, personal honesty and honest reflection are the most productive, educative ways forward. All were on that course because they had driven too fast for whatever reason.
This last point was not one I mentioned to Mrs C, her own body and facial piercings a sharp morning reminder of possible reasons for Chloe’s choices of uniform defects. Somehow, I have to sell the rationale for school rules and uniform rules to Mrs C. Perhaps a school rule awareness course for parents, costing £88, is a productive way forward, a means of communicating rules and improving our dire finances. I am surprised Lord Agnew has not included this in his cost cutting advice for schools but that’s for another blog.