The school system in England, and presumably across the rest of the United Kingdom, is essentially based upon trust. Parents trust schools to educate their offspring and schools trust parents to make sure those attending school know the difference between the basics of right and wrong. Is this trust in danger of breaking down?
The Report today from ATL, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, about violence towards teachers and others working in schools makes for uncomfortable reading, at least at the headline level. I wasn’t able to find the details of the report on ATL’s website when I came to write this blog, so cannot comment further on say, the proportions kicked against those shoved around by their pupils.
The implications are that many of the pupils come from homes where parents have not set appropriate boundaries. Are these clustered in specific areas or spread widely across the country; were they primary and secondary pupils or mostly just antagonistic adolescents?
The concerns over metal health are especially worrying. I think it is clear that a high proportion of long-term mental health issues develop during the time a young person should be in education. The cuts to CAMS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) must be reversed and such services must be adequately resourced for an increasing number of young people in the at risk age-groups. Many readers know that I write this having personally experienced violence in a classroom, albeit many years ago now.
The need for schools to have good working behaviour policies is vital if we are to aid retention of teachers in our classrooms. It isn’t about metal detectors at the doors, but about sensible timetabling, vigilant staff from the senior leadership to the contract cleaners and a policy that is enforced.
At the same time, parents and society in general must trust schools are able to find ways of educating everyone in society. Before the ATL Report appeared I was going to write of my concern that some schools seem to be exploiting the fact that schooling is a voluntary activity by asking parents of disruptive Year 11 pupils to withdraw them from school and, as is their right, state that they are educating them at home or otherwise than at school. With a Year 11 student, it is highly likely that nobody is going to investigate what is actually happening and there is a risk that they can fall into anti-social behaviour and even sexual exploitation.
If I tie all this back to the report earlier this week on Regional School Commissioners it is only to make the point that without coherent planning across the whole sector issues such as the development of special education and support services risk becoming fractured and like CAMS unable to deal with the problems thrown at them despite the very high quality of staff working to tackle everything thrown at them.
In the 1990s the Lib Dems recognised that tax cutting had gone too far under the Conservatives and called for a penny on income tax for education. Perhaps we are reaching that point again. Putting up the regressive Council Tax isn’t an answer: putting up the fairest of the taxes we have may be; the trouble is it is also the most visible.