I was called a racist c**t today.
I admit, my attention had been wandering until she said this.
– This young Turkish kid. I told him three times to stop messing with his mobile. He kept playing with it, and –
– hang on. You told him three times? Why was he playing with his mobile anyway?
– three times. They all play with their mobiles. You have to go on and on at them to get their attention. Anyway, I told him three times to put it away, and he wouldn’t, so the rest of the class is descending into chaos, so I called for Patrol, and they came to –
– Patrol? What?
– We can’t put them out the class ourselves. Too much grief. So you call “Patrol” and they come and witness what’s happening, and deal with the kid. So they came, and I took the kid’s mobile off him, and he’s, like, “You racist c*nt”, and then he’s out the classroom, and we sort of get on with the lesson. But I know there’s gonna be grief from his parents, which means grief from the school. I don’t know how much longer I can put up with it.
- A de-socialised child has failed to grasp any of the consequences of turning his back on education.
- His life chances are effectively over.
- Around him is a class of children whose own chances are being curtailed as a result of his behaviour, regardless of their own desire for schooling.
- A school has suffered so many legal and quasi-legal repercussions from the families of excluded pupils that it has had to resort to a patrol system so that no teacher can be accused of mistreating a child.
- Even with this system in place, a young and idealistic teacher has to suffer physical and verbal abuse of the sort that would lead to any adult being arrested.
- How many years before another excellent professional is burned out?
[Interlude. How often has a bar-room bore told you that there’s no difference between Labour and Tory politics these days? Try telling that to the teachers living with Labour’s exclusions policy.]
How many circles of hell have we passed through? We’re not finished. A liberal might stop here, because their primary concern would be with the contract between state and parent. A socialist would shrug, and then send her son to one of the most elite public schools in London (yes you, Abbott, you hypocrite).
A Tory would pause, however, and recognise that the negative impact of this daily war of attrition in the classroom has effects on a borough, on a community, that stretch far wider. Maybe because I’m in my late 30s this is becoming self-evident to me: all my friends with children are starting to leave London. Who can blame them? Not everyone has Diane Abbott’s salary and contacts to fall back on. But a borough like Hackney becomes almost by definition failing because it can’t keep young families in it. The whole borough becomes an anti-community for families, with a child-free, young-parent-free void where its heart should be.
OK so solutions. Well we could spend billions building one or two flagship academies per borough to act as “beacons”. Not a bad start, though if there’s been a beacon effect in Hackney it must have passed me by. I don’t actually think it’s Richard Rogers architecture that leads parents, of whatever social class, to choose a school for their child. Or we could open a few more grammar schools, so that there was some sort of safety harness for a few, a very few, of the more academic children in a borough. Since places will always be exceeded by demand, I think this brings only the sort of hysterical competition for those places that leads to both sweatshop cramming for ten- and eleven-year olds (you may not agree with me, but I find this repulsive) and ultimately to the farce of randomising allocation of children to schools. Randomisation is one of the classiest contributions of statistical reasoning to the empirical sciences: but it should have no place in determining the school for your child. What a mess, what a failure of Labour educational policy.
The Tory education policy, so ably finessed by Michael Gove, is the only way forward. Let parents, churches, communities, philanthropists open as many schools as are sustainable in the face of parental demand, regardless of the local education authorities’ assessment of “surplus places”; a surplus place in a failing school is no place at all, after all. Focus on rigour in education and higher standards of discipline. Let children be schooled in old office blocks or church halls or village community centres, let them be schooled anywhere that they can be given the education they need. What you are taught is so much more important than flattering the ego of some uber-architect Labour peer. Let no good school be closed down because it’s too “small” to fit some county plan while there are parents who want their children to attend it.
Countries which have adopted this approach have seen a supply-side revolution that enables parents to choose the education they want for their child, which has to be better than the state-sanctioned rationing we have at present (there has been the predictable, welcome consequence that state-run schools have also improved).
I didn’t understand the fuss about grammar schools at all, I’m afraid (perhaps because I went to one of those excellent bog-standard comps in Scotland). Selectively rationed education for the few, while great for the few who get it, doesn’t do anything to open up provision of excellence to the levels needed if we’re to end the farce of randomised allocations, middle-class house-price manipulations, fibbing about religious beliefs, the burning-out of excellent teachers, or the flight of families from our inner cities. It’s this last point that I think is the most important. The Tory supply-side revolution in educational provision is the last best chance for a borough like mine.