Insane Teacher Bothers the Prime Minister

April 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.


  1. And there, in a nutshell, is why the country is screwed.

    A moron who either refuses to listen to people, or is incapable of taking in what they’ve said. Either way, he’s unfit to run a whelk stall.

    Not interested in what anyone else thinks, all he can hear is what he thinks the solutions are ; more meddling.

  2. That’s the way focus groups/policy forums work. I’ve been to loads and I’ve never heard a ‘facilitator’ correctly sum up the discussion of a group yet. Indeed, I have regularly heard them conclude exactly the opposite of what was being discussed!

  3. This all sounds so typical, and shows how meaningless it is when a minister calls for a ‘national debate’ about an issue, when it has already been decided behind closed doors. Worse, participating actually legitimises what they tell you you’ve decided.

  4. I must be working at one of the only semi-honest schools in the country. Our Head sets out our anti-bullying policy at the open evening for new Year 7 parents. Last time I was present, several parents expressed shock that the Head had admitted bullying takes place in the school. It wasn’t at all what they wanted to hear.

    However, I don’t think our bullying policy works. It’s too namby-pamby. Despite PSE sessions etc kids in my form have said they would never tell a teacher they were being bullied, because if they do, they get bullied even worse afterwards. The only couple of cases I’ve been involved in resulted in: the bully’s parent(s) brought into school for a meeting; the parent(s) refusing to comply with the school and instead siding with their child; no more action taken against the bully. In one case the mother of a Year 9 girl who, along with at least one other, had been bullying a new girl, told her daughter to hit the new girl in the stomach, because it wouldn’t show there.

    The only solution I can see is to give Headteachers / governors more power to punish bullies – how, I don’t know, but if parents blame schools and schools have no support from parents, somebody has to break this deadlock.

  5. What exactly does ‘early intervention’ mean? Ante-natal asbos? Ritalin with their bottles? Social contracts stencilled onto their Silver Cross buggies? Or does it mean yet more ‘support staff’ in every secondary school’s special unit (because we know how useful they are)?

    Actually, it means anything, it means everything, and it means nothing, but it sounds good. So it’s bound to be Gov’t policy in the near future.

    I think we should expect ‘early intervention’ criteria, targets and monitoring soon…

  6. […] Andrew from Scenes from the Battleground met Gordon Brown and tried to discuss bullying with him – go see… why do governmental types never seem able to hear anything past their own current […]

  7. […] Net result of a UK gathering where Gordon Brown used a community meeting to get the preconceived outcome he was hoping […]

  8. It seems like if it is not on the political agenda, what you say goes in one ear and out the other. But it shouldn’t stop teachers from telling it like it is. I applaud you for taking time to tell what life is really like in the schools.

  9. If you Google “Kirkcaldy High School” and “HMiE”, you should get the most recent reports on the P.M.’s alma mater. There are three issued fairly closely together, because the school has not been “signed off”.

    The most recent one hit the tabloids in Scotland. Gordy hasn’t commented, to my knowledge.

  10. You’ve been Delphied.

    Look up the Delphi technique.
    Public meeting, split into tables, a table discussion,table reports back to panel…….strangely seems to be only ideas the panel wants that are included.

  11. Having just read this post again, it occurs to me that you were the prototype Gillian Duffy (the woman Gordy labelled a “bigot” during the General Election campaign). What a shame that we will never know what he said about you as he sped away in his ministerial car.

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