Yesterday afternoon I spent engaging in a series of events that skilfully blended the modern with the traditional. Oxford as a city seems quite good at such activities. The afternoon started with the Oxford Law Lecture. This was instituted some 14 years ago by the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire to take place on the same day as the Court Sermon. This year’s lecture was provided by Lord Igor Judge and discussed the ’rule of law’: a very appropriate topic in these times of constitutional upheaval.
Linking the lecture and the sermon later in the afternoon is the ceremony of the gloves, where a visiting high court judge is presented with a pair of gloves by representatives of the City of Oxford and the longer-operating of the city’s two universities. The actual ceremony takes place in the Dean of Christ Church’s lodgings, so is not open to the public. Interestingly, the Lord Mayor in full ceremonial robes and chain, preceded by the City mace, walks almost unnoticed from the town hall to Christ Church College along a most undistinguished route, past rows of people queuing at the city’s main conglomeration of bus stops.
All well and good, I hear you saying, but what has this to do with a blog that is about education? Well, I firmly believe that as public institutions schools are required to understand the concept of the rule of law and to apply it wherever possible. My campaign about the time it takes for some looked after children to be offered a school place is a case in point. Are they being denied their right to education for a responsible reason or because of procedures set up to benefit the school? Now, I am sure that the school might argue its procedures are for the benefit of the many and not the individual. But, every individual has the right to access education and to discriminate against those that move into an area mid-year by making it harder for them is to place an unfair burden on children for whom the move may not have been their fault.
I also believe that the draconian discipline measures reported as being introduced by some schools also flout the principle of the rule of law. A detention for reacting to a noise behind you with no right of appeal may be necessary in the short-term to regain control in a school that has descended into chaos, but should never form part of a discipline code that relies upon fear of making a mistake more than on an understanding of the need for order in classrooms as part of a long-term strategy. What sort of citizens are we trying to produce in our schools? Indeed, what type of teacher does such a system also produce? Rules should be kept because they are sensible for all and, thus, accepted by all.
Helping children internalise the understanding of why there are rules and laws is important. Developing an understanding of the purpose of laws, whereby adults don’t need to create rules obeyed just because, I say so, is to help young people to grow and develop. We warn the young child off for knowing the dangers of a hot stove; we expect adults to internalise the dangers. How we in education carry out our rules so that they are fair to all is a mark of a society that understands the rule of law as well as the rules of law.