Saturday, 29 October 2016

Calling out misogyny

On Saturday 22 October a number of friends were involved in the counter-protest against fascists who had organised the first 'White Lives Matter' demo in Margate. Following a recent operation I wasn't able to attend, but I followed the event carefully on social media. The hijacking of the fascists' #WLM hashtag by those opposing them was very effective and was even covered in the Washington Post. Protestors turned the hashtag into We Love Margate and posted pictures and reasons to love the town.

I was really shocked to find the picture below (of a friend and key local anti-racist campaigner) tweeted by Canterbury-based photographer Graham Mitchell using the #WLM hashtag There was nothing wrong with the picture - the campaigner in question looks determined which is a reflection of her character. She's one of the best people I know and is a an superb organiser and activist. So I was angered to see that the caption Mitchell had put on the picture (a close-up of her face) was "Not by the hairs on my chiny (sic) chin chin".

I tweeted Mitchell to ask for clarification.

There was no response so I kept asking:

I even sent him a message via his website. On 23 October shortly before 1pm I sent this,

"Dear Graham,

I have been trying to contact you via Twitter. I am seeking an explanation of a picture you tweeted of a colleague of mine at the anti-fascist mobilisation in Margate yesterday. I can't attach it here but it was a close-up of a woman's face and the caption is "not by the hairs on my chiny chin chin". I am at a loss as to how to explain this other than as a comment on that women's appearence, which would clearly be misogynistic. I am giving you an opportunity to explain and/or apologise before I take this matter further. Kind regards, Bridget Chapman"

I've given Mitchell ample opportunity to explain the caption on the image that he tweeted. Since he has chosen not to respond I have to assume that the intention was to make a misogynistic comment on a woman's appearance.

In making such a comment Mitchell is aligning himself with the fascists. They too are obsessed with making derogatory comments on the appearance of women. 

Here's the thing, we may have to put up with this crap from fascists who, by definition, are poor excuses for human beings, but we shouldn't have to put up with such comments from members of our community.

It's shameful that Mitchell felt able to put out such a comment on his business account. He clearly feels there's nothing wrong with doing so. I'd remind him that among the many local anti-racist campaigners are marketing professionals, advertising executives, fellow professional photographers, graphic designers, people who work in PR, etc. There are many people in our group who may be his customers in the future, and there are certainly many people who influence decisions within the Kent community. If he can't behave appropriately and apologise then we will make sure we bear that in mind when choosing which local photographers to use. 

Misogyny isn't OK and we shouldn't have to put up with it. 

Monday, 13 June 2016

Keynote Speech for School Revision: Trans Inclusion in Education

This speech was given during the opening session of School Revision: Trans Inclusion in Education on Saturday 11 June at Larkhall School in Lambeth.

Hello everyone, my name is Bridget Chapman. I’m the Assistant Branch Secretary of the Lambeth branch of the National Union of Teachers, and I’m extremely proud and honoured to welcome you all here today to Lambeth, to School Revision, and to a glimpse of what the inclusive school of the future might look like.

I’m delighted to see that the audience today is so diverse and I am particularly delighted that a number of students are here. I apologise to them if what I am about to say is slightly teacher-focused.  I want to point out to them that the voice that really matters today is theirs and not mine, and that their input is what will make this day brilliant.

A little bit about me: I’ve been teaching for 13 years. I worked in London secondaries for over 10 years then, two years ago, I moved to the Kent coast where I work with unaccompanied asylum seekers (also known as young people) teaching them English and providing pastoral support.

Teaching is my second career. I spent 10 years working in the music industry before that. Believe me, dealing with 30 teenagers is a breeze compared to corralling band members and record company executives with egos inversely proportionate to their talent.

The music industry was fun though and I enjoyed the ten years I spent working in it. But ultimately I came to find it stifling. As a woman there were very few role models in the upper echelons of the industry. So I saw no place for myself there long term. Because it’s important isn’t it, to see yourself in your environment? To know that there’s a place for you, that there are role models to aspire to, and that you, and all you bring, are valued. If you can’t see that, then it’s very difficult to stay.

The young people I work with currently are from countries which are war torn, where there are oppressive regimes, or where poverty has driven people from their homes. They are extraordinary people who have made journeys of thousands of miles by themselves, and survived terrible experiences en route. They are all unique, ingenious, and inspiring individuals. The press – and the local press in Kent are particularly bad – usually portray them in a negative way as if they have nothing to offer because they are ‘other’.  To counter this I do all I can to offer the young people I work with role models that they can relate to – people who look like them, speak their language or share experiences with them. That’s not always easy, but it’s important. All young people need to see themselves reflected in their environment. This is just basic, isn’t it? I need it. You need it. We all need to know that there is a place for us and that we are valued.

I’ll give you an example. Many of the existing resources for new learners of English have topics like ‘My Summer Holiday’. Can you see an issue here?  A worksheet about choosing between a luxury camping holiday in France or a skiing trip in the Swiss Alps seems like a horrible joke to put in front of students who may have spent months living entirely unwillingly in a refugee camp in Calais. More importantly it feels as it’s setting them up to fail. How can they possibly give of their best; how can I access the rich seams within them, if I offer up tasks based on experiences they have not had and cannot relate to.  So it requires work to include them - but not much. The same tasks are transformed when focused on the subject of taking a journey, rather than going on holiday. Now my students can relate, comment and contribute. Now I am mining their seams of experience. The lesson has become inclusive, or at least much more inclusive, and we are all richer for it.

I mentioned pastoral support a moment ago. For me that’s a small but key part of what we as educators can do to support any young people we work with who identify as trans. There’s a lot more, and today we will unpack what it means to be inclusive across the curriculum, but I want to take a moment to talk about pastoral care because it’s a part of the school day that has been under attack for some time.

Research shows that success at school is inextricably linked to the positive relationships students develop with their teachers, and as a form tutor I know that I played a hugely important role in supporting my tutees to succeed at school by being there for them. We used to have time together in the mornings to laugh, chat and catch up. It was my opportunity to check in with them all and that regular precious time together meant that I knew when they were having an off day or when something was bothering them.  That meant we could sort stuff out, or at the very least begin to sort stuff out, and sometimes just having someone to listen to them in a non-judgemental way was exactly what my students needed to ensure that their day at school was a positive and happy experience, and that they were set up to succeed and be able to learn effectively.

Those opportunities have become fewer and farther between as that precious tutor time is seen as yet another space to ‘make teachers accountable’ and to pile extra pressure on young people. Once I was trusted to make a professional judgement as to how to use that time to support my students. Now that time has been massively eroded and, in some cases, disappeared completely. Now tutor time is seen as additional teaching time and how we spend it is dictated to us. We may be told that we have to spend it checking homework, or doing book scrutinies. We may be told that we have to use it for revision or testing of subject knowledge.  The message that sends out to our students is that time spent supporting them isn’t valuable.

Here’s one message I’d like to send out to all the teachers in the audience at the beginning of this day. Any time spent supporting our students is monumentally valuable and we have to fight to protect it. We have to reclaim it where it’s been lost. We do not accept the narrative that says that only things that can be measured are of value. We say that what is valuable is our students and their well being – and that comes first. Because learning can’t happen effectively when our young people are unhappy or in distress. This is absolutely non-negotiable.

For me a key part of today is to ask ourselves what is our job as educators? For me being a teacher means giving the young people I work with the best broad and balanced education possible, to nurture them socially and emotionally, and to make sure that they are aware of all of the choices available to them and have the confidence to make the choices that are best for them. They need to know that there are no right or wrong choices, just ones that are right for them, that will enable them to go on to live happy, healthy and productive lives.

Trans equality matters. Our education institutions should be places where all can learn or work with dignity and respect. Once they have left school trans people have high levels of unemployment and self-employment and, for those who are employed, incomes are well below the national average. These high levels of workplace discrimination across all sectors give schools an additional and significant responsibility to ensure that trans students’ needs are met and that they feel supported and safe in our classrooms.

This isn’t optional. Gender reassignment is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, meaning that trans people are protected from discrimination and harassment in the workplace and in the provision of education and training.

Research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that 91 per cent of trans boys and 66 per cent of trans girls experienced harassment or bullying at school. The EHRC stated that this has led to many gender-variant children "hiding their identity to the detriment of their self-esteem".

Those are shameful statistics. But let’s be honest with ourselves. The curriculum at the moment is heteronormative, cis-gendered and mainly white. All students are trapped by a narrative that only recognises one way of being!  We need to embed gender variant issues across the curriculum. Let’s celebrate trans identities. Let’s make today the point at which we commit to a fully inclusive curriculum that works for all students, not just some.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Ballot papers are out. Vote!

Attention all!
Ballot papers were dispatched on Wednesday so they should start dropping through letterboxes any minute now. Please vote Bridget Chapman 1 & Jane Nellist 2. Every vote will count so please return your ballot papers as promptly as possible and encourage other NUT members to do the same. Thank you so much for all your support!

Stop The Agency Rip-Off!

I was proud to speak at the rally before the NUT lobby of supply agencies earlier this week. I've been asked to post up the speech I made, so here it is:
Good morning everyone, and welcome to what I hope will be the first in a series of lobbies of rip-off supply teacher agencies.
My name is Bridget Chapman and I’m Chair of the NUT Supply Teacher Network, a group of supply teachers working within the NUT to highlight the appalling working conditions of supply teachers and to push for measures to improve the situation.
First of all can I say that this is not just an issue that affects supply teachers. The amounts of money being siphoned out of the education system by these agencies are huge, and that is money that isn’t being spent on education but is instead lining the pockets of fat cat agency bosses. At a time when education budgets are facing further drastic cuts this is of greater concern than ever before.
Agencies will charge schools as much as possible – often in the region of £250 a day – while seeking to maximise profits by paying teachers as little as possible. I have personally been rung up by an agency and offered just £60 for the day. That difference, between what the schools are charged, and what teachers are paid isn’t benefitting teachers and it isn’t benefitting students. It is public money into private pockets. It is a scandal!
And of course the government is currently legislating, through the draconian and anti-democratic trade union bill to use supply teachers to break strikes. Well let us send a clear message now. All teachers, regardless of employment status, stand together. We will not be used to undermine strike action.
Supply teachers are on the receiving end of relentless poor publicity and negative judgement from the national media. All supply teachers are, in fact, qualified, experienced teachers; often working in schools where there are significant problems and high staff turnover.
Agencies do not pay into the Teachers' Pension Scheme. Teachers working through agencies are actually barred from access to it. We have a ludicrous situation where a teacher at Eton has access to the Teachers Pension Scheme, and a supply teacher doing vital work every day in a state school is barred. Let the injustice of that sink in for a moment.
We are increasingly employed on long-term placements, in restrictive contracts, with no access to sick pay, maternity pay, holiday pay, and subject to dismissal without notice. There is now a hidden, privatised layer of teachers in our schools, which is further dividing and undermining our profession by casualising the workforce.
We have less chance of being employed full time due to prohibitive agency transfer fees. These exorbitant finders or introduction fees of four to five figure sums are charged by agencies, creating a barrier to finding permanent, sustainable employment.
Furthermore, an increasing number of NQTs work for up to five years as supply teachers. If they are unable to find a post suitable for induction, they are forced to leave the teaching profession.
In many areas of the UK, schools have no choice but to do business with agencies as there is no alternative source for temporary staff.
So what can be done?
We believe that the NUT should urge local government to establish a central register of supply teachers which would be publicly accountable, non-profit making, paying teachers to scale, with access to TPS. Schools would thus be able to hire supply and temporary staff directly as is already the model of practice in Northern Ireland.
We all need to be working locally after the lobby, writing to LEAs, MPs and school governors, letters to newspapers, social media, interest groups like mumsnet etc.
We need to ensure that supply teachers are co-opted onto NUT branch committees as supply rep. Every branch needs a supply rep. Every one.
We need to support the NUT Supply Teacher Network priority motion for Conference, get the word out and keep the pressure up. More people are realising that this issue affects us all. More supply teachers are realising they are not alone. Make them feel that they are valued by the Union even if their employers are ripping everyone off.
Stand up for education. Stand up for our profession. Stand up for supply teachers!

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Report from the NUT Supply Teacher Conference - 27 June 2015

“We are all only a term away from being a supply teacher” Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary, NUT speaking to NUT Supply Teachers’ Conference 2015

This was positive day in so many ways.  First of all, it was full weeks ago, and there was a great turn out on the day with around 150 supply teachers giving up a Saturday to attend this important event which is now in its third year.

I was personally delighted to see that a number of the Executive had also given up their time to attend.  I’m not sure how many were there last year, but I’m pretty sure the numbers had at least doubled this year. That’s great because it shows supply teacher issues are starting to be taken seriously.

The date for the lobby of supply agencies was agreed as 28 October. This has been the subject of much debate, owing to the lack of movement in promoting it before the onset of the summer holidays and there was a suggestion that it should be moved back to February. However the clear view of the conference was that we should stick to October. It is now up to the Executive to work with the staff at Hamilton House, and associations and divisions around the country, to ensure that this important lobby, which will highlight the poor pay and insecure working conditions of supply teachers, is given the full weight of union backing. This is an event for all teachers, not just supply teachers. It’s time we all showed solidarity with our supply teacher colleagues.

A highlight of the conference was hearing from Tony Carlin, of INTO, the Northern Irish teaching union, who came to speak to conference about the supply teacher register run in Northern Ireland. It is mandatory to be on the register, and all supply teachers are paid to scale AND have access to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. The software used to run the register is so effective that only two people are needed to organise supply teachers for the whole of the region. This keeps running costs low which means that the savings can be passed back to schools instead of lining the pockets of the supply agency bosses. It’s a win-win, and is a model that we need to be using this side of the Irish Sea too.

However, while there were many positives to take away from the day, there were also concerns with the way the conference had been organised and these need to be addressed.

It was strongly felt by the NUT Supply Teacher Network (NUTSTN) that a supply teacher should chair the conference. I don’t think the first session, where out of six people on the panel only one was a supply teacher, lessened that feeling. While the Supply Teacher Network was grateful for Alex Kenny of the Executive stepping in to chair the conference, I don’t think anyone felt that “Kevin asked me if I’d do it” was a democratic way of picking a chair.

There were also serious concerns that Kate Shoesmith of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), the body who represent supply agencies, was given 20 minutes of conference time to give an unimpeded sales pitch for their services, and to defend the absolutely shoddy way supply teachers are treated. The NUTSTN had asked that the REC representative appeared as part of an Education Question Time-style event to close the conference. The only forum Kate Shoesmith should have been allowed to appear in is one where her assertions could be properly interrogated and examined.

While Tony Carlin speaking about the Northern Ireland Supply Teacher Register was a highlight, ETeach, the company that provide the software for the register, were not at the conference, despite the NUTSTN asking for them to be invited. This is another example of how an opportunity to move things forward was missed and how the organising voice of supply teachers is being ignored.

I personally felt that a conference which should have been used to motivate and empower supply teachers to organise and take action was, yet again, reduced to a very controlled talking shop. The presentation which started the conference was highly technical and appeared to be setting a context in which the NUT couldn’t be blamed for not taking action to support supply teachers because, hey look, the way they’re employed is so darned complicated. Supply teachers already know that they exist in the dark netherworld of education privatisation where employment legislation doesn’t seem to reach. This seemed to be a fairly demotivating way to start a conference and it was really odd that, although absolutely massive amounts of information was given about the way supply teachers are contracted, none of the information was available as a hand out.

For the past year we have been told that the reason that the Supply Teacher Conference can’t elect its own chair and be organised and planned by supply teachers is because we don’t have an Advisory Committee within the union structure. When we asked if we could have one we were told that we couldn’t because they weren’t effective and a review of the whole structure was taking place. However, at the conference, Kevin Courtney announced that, by next year, there would be a Supply Teacher Advisory Committee. We knew nothing about this and I have mixed feelings. If it means that supply teachers have an input into the policy making and policy implementation of their union, and are better able to organise, that’s great. But if these committees are ineffective as we’ve been told repeatedly, how does that take us forward?

So how can things be improved?

Well first and foremost, if the union is serious about improving the working lives of supply teachers then it needs to work much harder to empower them. If the structures in place are unable to support that, then they need to change, and quickly.

No one in the NUTSTN is afraid of democracy. We welcome any developments that enable as many supply teachers as possible to get their voices heard.

Next year the Supply Teachers’ Conference needs to have a) seen real commitment from the Executive to improving their pay and conditions b) be run bottom up, not top down to ensure that it’s the genuinely proactive, empowering and developmental event it should be.
I will personally be doing all I can to ensure this happens.                                                             
Bridget Chapman

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

New forced academies legislation - What should we do?

Nicky Morgan has just announced legislation which will sweep away any last shreds of democracy in converting schools to academies. Since parents at Downhills School very nearly stopped their school becoming an academy (and almost brought the academies programme down in the process) and parents at Hove Park actually did stop their school being converted, Gove, Morgan, and their fellow ideologues have been determined to stop those pesky parent and community voices being heard at all. 

As far as I can see there is no time to waste. Now is the time to fight. If we don't hit back hard now, we will be culpable in the destruction of our state education system. We owe it to generations past, present and future to fight to protect it.

So what can we do? 

1. The NUT needs to be talking to the NASUWT and the ATL and agreeing in principle that the unions will work together and support joint strike action in ANY school where forced academisation is proposed.

2. Union groups in schools likely to be affected should be calling joint union meetings NOW and taking indicative ballots for strike action in the event that forced academisation is proposed.

3. The NUT should work with the Anti-Academies Alliance to fast-track a public inquiry into the performance of academies. 

4. We have to be working towards announcing a calendar of national strike action, starting later this year and coordinated where possible with other unions. 

Please share if you agree. 

Sunday, 15 April 2012

The problem with the C word...

For a long time now I’ve been debating about the use of the word ‘cunt’. I say it’s not OK when it is used as a derogatory term, that it is demeaning to women and misogynistic. Other feminists disagree, arguing  that we have bigger problems to deal with, that they don’t use the term in a gendered way, and that it is unfair to make others out to be ‘bad feminists’ for using the word. For example, Anna Fleur (@magiczebras)  wrote a blogpost on this subject: ‘Can we check our cunting privilege?’:

I hold my position firmly but, rather than keep arguing it in 140 character bite-sized pieces (damn near impossible, not to mention time-consuming) I decided that I had to write something explaining my position more fully. What finally prompted me was Melissa Ben (@Melissa_Benn) tweeting a link to a piece in the Independent on the huge impact low self-esteem has on young women ( ), for it is this effect I seek to counteract.

First of all, let me be clear. I have no problem at all with the word cunt when it is not used in a derogatory manner.  I have had several people genuinely ask me if the word can be used in any other way? Well, I have a cunt. There, that’s not derogatory, although I have had people physically recoil from me when I’ve said it. Strangely, they’re often the same people who would think nothing of using the word cunt as an insult.  I love the word cunt, I think it’s a great, powerful term and completely agree with much of what Laurie Penny (@pennyred) says in this piece where she argues that alternatives like ‘pussy’ are hopelessly inadequate:

So why do I object to the word cunt being used as a derogatory term?  Well, I believe in a Derridean approach to language that says that language has a value that constantly changes, depending on the experiences the person hearing or reading it brings to bear.  The value we attach to a word, a phrase, or a sentence in our head, is hardly ever the same value someone hearing it will attach to it. We cannot simply say, “well I didn’t mean it in a negative way, I wasn’t using it as a gendered term, etc”, and wash our hands of it. Language is extremely powerful, it can have a tremendous impact, and we have to be aware of that when we use it. 

I give you this example.  I’m a secondary school teacher and the word ‘gay’ is in constant use as an expression of derision.  I constantly challenge students on its use and the response is often the same. That the person using it is not using it to mean homosexual, but uncool or stupid.  So, is that OK? Should I just let it go?  I think not, and for this reason: research shows that around one in ten of the young people I work with are likely to be gay, and they may come to realise this during their time at school. What impact will the constant use of the word gay used negatively have on them as they come to terms with their sexuality?  I don’t think it will have a positive or healthy impact, which is why I continue to challenge the young people I work with, getting them to think about their language choices and the potential impact they could be having on others.

So, how does this impact on my stance on the use of the word cunt? Well, whether you use the term in a gendered way or not, cunt is absolutely a female word. It’s used frequently in porn films as a synonym for vagina, and porn, unfortunately, is where many of our young people get their ideas about what sex should look like, and what bodies should look like. Women in porn these days are all too often stripped of natural body hair so they look like prepubescent girls. 

Saying I don’t use cunt to mean genitalia, or I don’t use it in a gendered way, does not mean it’s not heard that way. Young women absorb it as meaning genitalia, as surely as they absorb the messages about body hair being unacceptable on their cunts, the appearance of their cunts not being up to scratch (think of brazilians and vajazzles) and their cunts being unpleasantly smelly (think of the ads for scented ‘feminine hygiene’ products and schoolyard insults that buy into this such as “fishy fanny”).

I worked in an inner-city school recently, in a very deprived borough, where we ran a well-being survey to see how our students were doing. One of the questions was about what you had for lunch, and where you ate it; in the playground, in the dining hall? I asked a group of young female students this question, and they looked at me aghast. “I don’t eat lunch!” one said. All around her there were nods of agreement. “Why not?” I asked. “Because I’m fat!” came the reply, and again, vigorous nods signalled agreement from the group.  Now, these young women were not overweight at all, and yet they had picked up the message from the media that their normal, healthy shape was unacceptable, and must, even at the expense of their health, be changed.

When cosmetic companies are being fined for airbrushing supermodels almost beyond recognition ( ) we must accept that young women are being constantly bombarded with images and standards that are actually impossible to achieve. They will spend their lives struggling to meet a completely unattainable physical  ideal, and be manipulated into constantly feeling that they are not up to scratch, are lacking in some way.

It is against this background that I set my argument. I believe that the young women that I love working with so much have enough misogyny on their plate without us adding to it. In the same way that I don’t think a young gay student can come away completely unaffected by constantly hearing the word ‘gay’ used in a negative way, I don’t think that young women can come away from constantly hearing the word 'cunt' being used in a negative way without being affected.

I know people argue that words like dick and cock are used as insults. “What’s the difference?” they say. First of all I would say that it’s all about the power balance. The use of these words has to be seen against the backdrop of our society, one in which women are oppressed and men are not. The other difference is that dick and cock sound almost friendly and ‘matey’ in comparison to cunt. There is a level of vitriol and hatred behind the word when it is spat out that ties into a misogynistic hatred of women.

I completely take Anna’s point that there are other issues facing women, but I just don’t think it’s either or. You can argue about language AND fight against truly awful practices like ‘honour’ killings and female genital multilation. To me it’s all part of the same fight anyway; normalising the hatred of women through language creates an atmosphere in which people feel freer to continue with practices like FGM.

And as for speaking from a privileged position? I agree, I do, I am definitely guilty as charged. But I can’t change that, and it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t work as hard as I can towards helping to create a better, more equal place for the young women I work with to grow up. And language is a huge part of that.

More blogposts on this subject: