Everyone has their views on Brexit, but secondary teacher Calvin Robinson was surprised to see the referendum result treated by his school as a national catastrophe. Notices went up saying, ‘We are all unhappy about this. If you need to talk about it come to the Chapel.’
‘It was as if they required pastoral care to deal with it,’ he says. ‘Some children wanted us to leave the EU but they kept quiet in case they were chastised by the teachers. One pulled me aside the day after the result said, ‘We are all upset so don’t mention it in front of staff or students bearing in mind we have a lot of European children here.’
It was not the first time Calvin had rubbed up against the ethos of British schools.
‘I ‘came out’ as a Tory before the 2015 election,’ he told me this week. ‘When I confessed my politics to other teachers I was met with hostility. There are so few Conservative teachers, I felt very isolated and oppressed.’
Despite his political allegiances he remains a successful teacher, Head of Computer Science at St. Mary’s & St John’s C of E School in Hendon, London. His smiling face and recherché Afro hairstyle is now on show to millions on posters, newspaper advertisements and internet promotions as part of the Department for Education’s, ‘I Chose To Teach’ drive to recruit more teachers.
‘The ad agency reached out at the end of March,’ he said. ‘I can’t remember if it was a phone-call or a tweet, but they asked me to email them back if I was interested. They were looking for six young teachers who love what they do and want to share their early experiences in the profession.
‘There is a desperate shortage of teachers because state schools can’t compete with the private sector. Now that all teachers have to be graduates they head off to Goldman Sachs instead.’
He thinks this lack of teachers is connected to a disastrous lack of skills. ‘I was in industry for seven years in computer science,’ he says. ‘I saw how we outsourced everything we did to East Europe and Asia. That is wrong. We should have the skills here. When local talent did come along they often lacked knowledge and basic skills. The new National Curriculum introduced computer science, which includes coding and developing software, but they don’t have anyone to teach it.’
After a phone interview and a Skype session, he was chosen for the campaign at the end of April.
‘I ticked a certain box of course,’ he says, ‘being mixed race. They wanted representatives of each ethnic group, including a Northerner.’
They can hardly have been prepared for his views about the current teaching profession. Three years ago he got a bursary to become a teacher, determined to increase his students’ skills, then discovered that his main challenge was not going to be his ability in the classroom, but expressing his political views in the staff-room.
‘After I ‘came out’ as a Tory,’ he says, ‘people would say to me, ‘how can you vote Tory when they are destroying education?’ But Michael Gove started to tackle the digital skills deficit and he is the only education secretary to take on the teacher unions. They have forgotten that they are there to support teachers rather than undermine the government.’
He was deeply worried by the effect of left wing indoctrination on the children he was teaching. On the Conservatives For Liberty website, he wrote that schools were training kids, ‘Into a lefty way of thinking… from a very young age…pretty much throughout their entire educational career, young people are being trained into a lefty way of thinking. I’ve seen this first hand on too many occasions and it leaves me constantly concerned.’
Even in supposedly ‘open’ debates he says he saw questions always coming from a left-leaning stance. Twelve-year-olds were presented with, ‘Should Israel exist?’ He went on a trip with his school class to political hustings during the London mayoral election, an outing organised by Citizens UK, a left wing group which calls for ‘Citizen powered action across the UK.’
Supported by the Institute of Education, it has just joined forces with NAS/UWT a teaching union with 300,000 members, to accredit schools that have welcomed the most refugees. It has recently also launched a, ‘Refugee Awareness Plan’ for schools.
‘Most of the children assumed that everything they were told that day was the truth,’ he says. ‘But it was totally biased towards Sadiq Khan’s agenda. One student was uncertain about it and spoke to me privately. He’d also been worried by our left-leaning assemblies.’
He’s disgusted by what he sees as a basic lack of tolerance in the politics of most teachers. ‘I’m not talking about the obvious party political biases of Labour = Good, Tory = Evil’,’ he says, ‘although that does happen. But most teachers take a less obvious approach along the lines of tolerance being a good thing, so long as you agree with their way of thinking.
‘Many British people seem obsessed by tolerance, but they don’t really understand what it means. In my first school I was shocked to find all the food in the canteen was Halal even though Muslim children there were in the minority. The ‘full English’ had no bacon and no sausage, and it wasn’t a Muslim school. I saw a teacher beating herself up because she’d offered a child some cake during Ramadan. For me tolerance is about accepting others but doesn’t mean a wholesale taking on of their views.’
He says the kind of indoctrination he saw is now ‘systematic.’ ‘Heads are writing letters against the government. I’ve seen children out protesting with their teachers. Schools are part of the public sector ethos and I don’t know how we can separate them. They are about hatred for anything right of centre, there is the assumption that only left wing people care. You can only teach if you subscribe to one set of beliefs.’
Due to this intolerance he resigned from one of the first jobs he held in west London. ‘I nearly quit teaching,’ he says, but he was offered a temporary job at St Marylebone School which he calls, ‘A truly tolerant school.’
‘I loved it there as there was a proper learning environment,’ he says. ‘Children turned up ready to learn.’
He still attends an Anglican church nearby and is comfortable and successful in his present job where the head is supportive. But it is surprising that he has survived the animosity of the British school staff room thus far. Just as being mixed race might have helped him get the promotional contract, he admits it might also have constrained his oppressors. At least it often made them patronising rather than aggressive.
‘They had to be a bit careful,’ he says. ‘But as a BME (Black & Minority Ethnic) they also thought they could help me. Corbyn says he will, ‘Unlock the talents of the ethnic minorities,’ but I will unlock my own talents, thank you.’
He was born and brought up in Mansfield, east Midlands, and attended a comprehensive. He has a white mother and black British father who left when he was two.
‘As a mixed race boy I felt I lacked role models,’ he says echoing what many in the black community say, usually as an excuse for failure. But there is no self-pity in Calvin.
‘I was a geeky boy,’ he says, ‘the only BME in my school and I was bullied for being, ‘a Paki’ by white working class lads who were very ignorant. I didn’t fit in at all. The teachers said I wouldn’t pass my GCSEs. They assumed I was stupid. They did focus on me, but in the wrong way, with low expectations. I did well in my exams and I left school at sixteen as soon as I could to go to college.’
After A Levels he got a BTEC National Diploma in multimedia and an Honours Degree in Computer Science from Westminster University. His sister now works in Buckingham Palace, while a half sister has a Masters in Psychology.
Being a bright, ambitious ‘BME’ has given him an astringent view of British life. ‘I grew up with a Mum who had to do two jobs to support us, while her friends were getting more on benefits. I saw that there was something wrong with the system; if she’d stayed at home on benefits I dread to think what my life would have been like.
‘She started out as a nursery nurse and ended up a lecturer. I believe in hard work, a hand up not a hand out. British people used to be known as hard working and polite. We dropped our standards somehow, but if you raise expectations people will live up to them.
He sees his role as teacher as crucial for changing attitudes towards work and politics. ‘Academia used to be about thinking,’ he says. ‘We need to take that back, forget about safe-spaces and drop the fear of giving offence. I want to be the kind of teacher I never had in Mansfield.’
This week it was revealed that he Government plans to spend £10 million on hiring hundreds more foreign teachers. Many of them are likely to have conservative, traditional ideas about teaching. Perhaps Calvin Robinson will feel more comfortable in their company, but aged 31, it’s likely that he will leave the profession soon, for politics.
He’s youth officer for Hampstead and Kilburn Conservatives. He founded ‘Conservative Friends of the Caribbean,’ to get more members of the Afro-Caribbean community interested in the Conservatives, and he’s also part of ‘Conservative Way Forward,’ a group dedicated to the ideas of Margaret Thatcher. They espouse small government, strong civil liberties and independence, both individual and national.
‘In teaching you can help thirty people,’ he says.’ But if I get the opportunity I will go to Parliament to try to change things. We need teachers and MPs who’ve had proper jobs in the real world to be truly representative.’