The announcement of 10,000 new prison places and increased use of stop and search by the Prime Minister made me think about what he might announce for our schools and colleges once he goes beyond the financial carrot necessary to shore up our under-financed education system.
With such an ardent Brexiter in charge, could he direct that the curriculum change on 1st November to throw out any reference to the decimal system and witness a return to imperial weights and measures? Could the government mandate that temperature again be expressed in degrees Fahrenheit rather than Centigrade, and kilometres be banished from the language once again? Any other summer and these might seem silly season stories, but not in 2019.
I have no doubt that schools would rather that spend the £2 billion to build new prison places that this cash was spent on youth services, more cash for special schools and strategies to reduce exclusions and off-rolling by schools. This could include better provision of professional development courses to help teachers educate challenging pupils, rather than exclude them. Such measures might obviate the need for building new prisons.
I do not want to return to the dark days of the Labour government, just over a decade ago, when, at any one time, around 4,000 young people were being locked up: the number now is closer to 1,000 despite the issues with knife crime that like drugs issues is now seeping across the country at the very time when it seems to have plateaued in London.
More police and other public service staff are necessary for society to function effectively, but the aim must be focused on prevention and deterrents not on punitive action and punishment. Criminals that know they are likely to be caught may well think twice: those that know detection rates are abysmal will consider the opportunity worth the risk.
The State also needs to spend money on the education and training of prisoners as well as the rehabilitation of offenders after the end of their sentence; especially young offenders. The recent report from the Inspector of Prisons makes as depressing reading as the study highlighted in a previous post of the background of many young people that are incarcerated for committing crimes. If we cannot even work to prevent the smaller number of young people imprisoned these days from re-offending, what hope is there if society starts to lock up more young people again?
A recurrent theme of this blog has been about the design of the curriculum for the half of our young people not destined for higher education. Here the new government could do something sensible by recognising that schools have accepted that the EBacc offers too narrow a curriculum to offer to every pupil and to encourage a post-14 offering that provides for the needs of all pupils. This might be achieved by encouraging schools and further education to work together.
A start might be made by increasing the funding for the 16-18 sector and identifying what was good about the idea of University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools and why the experiment has not worked as its promoters had hoped.