Insane Teacher Bothers the Prime MinisterApril 6, 2008
My time as a pillar of the community paid off this week. Well sort of. A friend of mine invited me to a meeting where a number of “community leaders” and assorted leading lights from voluntary organisations and local agencies were to meet a visiting minister.
I may have mentioned before that I used to be quite political, but since becoming a teacher I have found it too depressing for words to hear politically motivated people talk about education from a position of ignorance. I managed to start the day in exactly that fashion. A student activist told me how in many other countries children didn’t learn to read and write at school until they were seven (true) and there were schools like that in this country (not really true, or at least not true by intention). I suggested that a lot of this was explained by complexity of the writing system (you will need to start learning Chinese a lot earlier than German) rather than there being a natural age for writing. Another young activist (this time sixth form age) told me how his school was “seventy five per cent working class” apparently unaware that it was by far and away the poshest state school in the city.
For the main ministerial visit I was seated with a police inspector, some representatives of residents’ associations and somebody from a housing association. We were encouraged to discuss, around our tables, a number of questions about local issues and it soon became clear that there was a lot of sense being talked around the table (which in my experience is not common for these sorts of events). Lenient sentences for repeat offenders and juveniles who break their ASBOs were roundly condemned and the police inspector spent plenty of time answering criticism of the local police and apparently showing a general interest in improving things. I had quite a long talk with a local politician, who also works for an MP, about how the schools locally work and was pleased to find that he was generally interested. He was particularly curious as to why students now seem to do half as many subjects as they did when he was sixteen.
It soon emerged that our special ministerial guests included the Prime Minister. He came round and asked what we’d discussed in our groups. Naturally, people were keen to talk about the problems with anti-social behaviour and repeat offenders in their area, as ever this focused on the young.
“So do you think there needs to be earlier intervention?” he asked. People half-murmured their agreement but stuck to pointing out the importance of what needed to be done now. One of the representatives of local residents, Ray, finally raised the obvious issue when discussing young criminals: “What I don’t understand is what schools are doing about this?” He recounted how children in his family had been bullied at local secondary schools only for the schools to do nothing and claim “we don’t have bullying here.” As the least important person at the table, probably least important person in the room, I hadn’t been talking at all previously. Now was my chance:
“What you describe is quite normal” I said. “I’m a teacher. It is normal for schools to fail to deal with bullying or behaviour problems. They make a real effort to cover them up.”
“Who do?” asked the Prime Minister.
“Senior management in schools. It’s very common for schools to ignore the fact that kids don’t feel safe there, or even staff.”
“Yes,” interjected Ray, “and this sort of thing can scar a child for life”.
At this moment one of the Prime Ministers’ aides came over and said it was time to finish off. (I assume this was true and she hadn’t just decided that the Prime Minister was being bothered by an insane teacher.) She asked if anything interesting had come up.
“We were talking about the importance of early intervention,” said the Prime Minister.
The politicians then said their goodbyes to the room, summing up what they had heard. Apparently what the Prime Minister had heard from our table was about the importance of early intervention. I knew it had been raised in the discussion, but I could have sworn the person who raised it was named “Gordon Brown” and hadn’t been at the table when we sat down.
Anyway, I thought I’d better share that with you. Blogging is a very good way of putting across a message that can be ignored by everyone who needs to hear it. I decided I’d let you know that I’ve at least made the effort to be ignored in real life too.