Following on from the Social Farming post yesterday, today we have a report from the government’s ‘new behaviour tsar’ (what?!), Charlie Taylor, a ‘leading head teacher’ who is presumably well-qualified in the fashionable mores of state
The numbers involved are mind-boggling. Our fearless tsar has produced 50 pages of guidance on dealing with bad behaviour, a reduction from the 600 page document produced by the last government – has pupil behaviour improved so much or do we indulge ourselves in too many pointless rules and regulations I wonder?
Yet again, we are given a report that deals with symptoms rather than causes: if the Telegraph‘s interpretation is to be believed, many of the problems in schools are the result of our children not dressing in a neat, tidy, uniform manner… although its own story indicates that in addition to badly knotted ties, other problems allegedly include violence, pupils making false allegations and carrying weapons, alcohol, drugs and stolen goods. Schools are a pretty fair representation of society as a whole, it would seem.
It turns out that the solution to schools’ ills just happens to be much the same as the solution to society’s ills despite the fact that said solution appears to producing Airstrip One rather than the new Jerusalem. Schools are now to have the use of reasonable force, the abandonment of ‘no-touch’ policies and airport-style security scanners – this headmaster jumped the gun on all three counts by introducing handcuffs and an extremely rigorous scanning system. How long it will be before schools get full body scanners to complement the CCTV cameras in the toilets and changing rooms is anybody’s guess.
The Telegraph goes on to breathlessly report, “The document even claims alcohol being carried by pupils can be poured down the sink or “sold at the school fair.” Yeah, right.
My favourite suggestion invokes the current benchmark of our caring, sharing but completely clueless governing class. The tsar suggests that “…schools in the toughest areas should consider recruiting therapists to work with the most problematic pupils who fail to respond to normal punishment.” (At last – an admission that therapists are in the punishment business). Do we have any ‘problematic’ readers who could venture an opinion on the validity and likely success rate of this proposal?
I repeat, the behaviour tsar, in common with most bureaucrats before him, is dealing with symptoms: symptoms of an education system that treats young people as a commodity rather than as the individual persons they are. Education is meant to be enabling and we should recognise that its value is directly proportional to the willingness of the individual to engage. Measures such as fiddling with school-leaving ages to massage unemployment statistics treats the student population as social ballast: it insults the intelligence of young people who are in most other respects, deemed to be capable of making considered, adult decisions for themselves. The difficulties in schools arise from this central tension – schools are supposed to be places of learning; instead, they are becoming more like detention centres.
As with so many of our social policies, I fear that we are blindly following the American lead. We are moving away from education as liberation of the intellect to rush headlong towards the American solution of containment as depicted in the documentary ‘The War on Kids’.
It’s a shocking film. Whatever you do, see it. If you have an ounce of humanity, you cannot fail to despair at the sight of a distressed infant girl being manhandled and handcuffed by several burly, tooled-up cops… Coming soon; to a UK school near you…