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Friday, 03 July 2015

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If schools are so full of feral rioters – how do teachers maintain the calm that I see?

This summer England was burning – and not with seasonal sun – but literally, as a result of the rioting in many of our cities.

Afterwards the courts were apparently bulging at the seams and prisons rapidly filling to capacity to accommodate the culprits; the media preoccupied with analysis and blame.

Amidst the general moral panic, the failure of schools was identified as an almost self-evident, critical, cause.

Can schools really be to blame that so many people took part in such rampant criminality? I don’t think so. I’d like to turn this question on its head.

How is it that schools routinely maintain such orderly communities, containing and managing these same people who, given half a chance, seem to have such a destructive disregard for authority that they will pillage shops and vandalise homes? They are present in our schools day in, day out. Yet very rarely indeed does their behaviour descend into the uncontrollable excesses we saw this summer.

We are told the successful recipe for schools is a mixture of discipline, rigour and high standards. I’d like to see the school which is not striving for this.

However, whilst all schools strive, some are faced with significantly greater challenges than others.

In most, students are readily sympathetic to these precepts. In others, a majority are unreceptive.

But even in these, schools will struggle, often quite heroically and against the odds, to provide the boundaries and structure which they know are essential to enable worthwhile learning to take place.

For many of our so-called ‘feral’ young people, school provides the only orderly experience in their lives.

Confiscate a mobile phone from a young person who has been texting illicitly at the back of a class and the reaction is emotional and viscerally angry to an extent which far exceeds the simply disobedient.

To confront such a response is not only exhausting and emotionally draining, it can be physically very intimidating.

A 16-year-old boy or girl having the temper tantrum of a toddler is not a pretty sight. Yet teachers do it, in order to maintain the positive social codes which every school promotes.

They do it because they know that such experience is perhaps the most fundamental learning that some students will ever experience and, as such, absolutely critical to the future well-being of both these individuals and our society in general.

They also do it because others will see that rules should be obeyed and that when they are not, sanctions will be fairly and consistently applied.

It is a major distortion to suggest that schools neither maintain discipline nor foster respect for the law of the land. Perhaps we are fortunate in Cumbria.

In my experience, our schools are havens of calm, characterised by an atmosphere of purposeful learning.

They are populated by happy, positive, young people confidently going about their business.

Please, don’t tell me these young people don’t know the difference between right and wrong. They do.

Don’t tell me that schools don’t teach and reinforce fundamental moral values every day. They do.

And the students, almost without exception, go on to lead blameless and law-abiding lives.

So, please look elsewhere for the causes of this summer’s events.

May I suggest that a good place to begin might be the recently-published UNICEF report Child well-being in the UK, Spain and Sweden: The role of inequality and materialism. It should give us all food for thought.


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