We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control, no dark sarcasm in the classroom – teachers leave them kids alone
The Daily Telegraph column today echoes Pink Floyd’s 1979 classic single “Another Brick in the Wall”
Labour needs to be taught a lesson
Even if you have no children yourself, you have only to read Lord of the Flies to know the reality. There can be few experiences more terrifying than to stand before a crowd of juveniles and to try to command their respect and their interest; and as soon as you do it, you are lost in admiration for the daily achievement of teachers.
It was only a few months ago that I found myself before a large crowd of 11-year-olds. Perhaps they were especially big six-year-olds. It doesn’t matter. They were on cracking form, to the extent that every word I uttered seemed to make them boil with laughter.
“You’re full of beans!” I said brightly, smacking my fist into my palm. Instantly they convulsed in pant-hoots and horse-whinnies of excitement. “Full of beans!” they said. “He said we were full of beans!”
Was I in control? My friends, I was not; and in that instant I had a Nam flashback, to the time I was briefly a teacher in Australia, and how I tried – for the better part of an hour – to interest a bunch of huge, surly, steak-gorged hormonal 16-year-olds in the work of William Shakespeare.
They stared back at me, open-mouthed, and the longer I churned the air, and the more sweat ran down my brow, the clearer it was that not a single concept had penetrated the vast anti-magnetic force field of their indifference. At the end of it all, as they were filing out, one of them strolled up to me, clapped me on the back and said: “Good try, mate.”
And my problems, of course, are chickenfeed next to the ordeals of teachers at schools up and down the country. It has got worse, far worse, and we are all indebted to Sylvia Thomas, the former teacher who teamed up with Roger Graef to make last night’s documentary, Classroom Chaos.
In case you missed it, we saw that the quotidian experience of the British teacher now involves: classrooms being vandalised in the break, with windows smashed and glass thrown around the room; books destroyed and desks overturned; boys openly using mobiles to download porn, accessing obscene websites on school computers and making sexual suggestions; teachers having to stand guard by the classroom door to prevent their pupils walking out.
As Sylvia Thomas explained: “If I tried to stop him leaving by taking his arm, it would have been his word against mine that I hadn’t abused him, and I would be suspended while the incident was investigated, which could take three years. My name would be in the local press and my reputation as a teacher would be destroyed. The children are very worldly-wise: they know they have this power.”
Her case may be extreme; not every classroom is like that. But far too many are, and we must seek the causes in deep changes in society. It is true that this Government does nothing to help teachers with discipline, and to restore them as figures of respect – a problem that would be eased, as we Tories propose, by giving head teachers far more autonomy in the matter of discipline and exclusion.
But we must also confront the profound revolution that has taken place in the relation between children and adults. Whatever we think the factors are (family breakdown, women going out to work, the malign influence of trash television), we do not, on the whole, seem to provide our children with the kind of discipline we received at the same age; and children do not, on the whole, treat us with the same respect that we gave our own parents.
In some ways it is of course a good thing if children feel less bullied, ground down and tyrannised by adults. But if you take children’s lip, and add in the whole new human-rights-Esther-Rantzen-children’s-commissioner nonsense, then you have a recipe for disaster. We see it in the thuggish incivility on our streets, where cowled, swearing, spitting children can make life hell for everyone, and we see the results in schools.
With indiscipline so rife, it is no wonder that it was recently decided that 16 per cent merited a C grade at GCSE maths, and no wonder that so many 11-year-olds are illiterate. The solutions are not easy, of course. It is no use blaming teachers when they must deal with some very difficult raw material, and when we are all, frankly, far too timid, cowardly and selfish to try to exercise authority ourselves.
But then, nor is it right to blame other parents when they decide to take matters into their own hands and to protect their own children from the baleful influence of the miscreants. It has been one of the great under-reported stories of the past 10 years – mainly because it does not suit the Left-liberal agenda – that a truly astonishing number of state school parents are now using private tutors. About one in four British pupils now receives some additional private tuition, and it is impossible to resist the conclusion that this is because of parental dissatisfaction with what goes on at school. In some cases, the numbers receiving private tuition can be as high as 65 per cent.
What we have, in other words, is a massive and unacknowledged extension of private funding into education – but in a way that is not only exhausting for pupils, but also flagrantly means-tested and discriminatory. It is all right for Tony and Cherie Blair, who displayed their “principles” by using the maintained sector, and yet hired teachers from Westminster School. What about those who could not afford it?
What makes me sick is that it is these very people – the Blairs, Polly Toynbee, Margaret Hodge – who secretly use private education, and yet who scorn Tory suggestions for vouchers that would give millions the choice and opportunity they have themselves. For 30 years, they have promoted a one-size-fits-all model of education, and furtively used another. The consequences have never been more obvious, and it is time they paid a price.