Politician speaking sense on schools – Some disruptive children can only be accommodated at the expense of other pupils. David Cameron grasps a nettle.
August 1st 2007
How readily would you hand your children over into the care of strangers? Would you expect to dump them unceremoniously into the hands of a doctor or a police officer and get the best for them? That’s what happens if you send your child to a state school. Yes, there are open evenings, but no requirement for you to give any convincing assurances about your support for the school. However much you may enquire about the school and what it may provide, the school may not seek assurances from you until your child has a place.
Which may be fine where there are effective state schools, supported by responsible parents. But if your local school is disproportionately populated by children whose parents do not care and are ineffective, how would you feel about your child joining them in an institution which has no say about the terms on which it admits pupils and which has great difficulty in moving on those whose presence proves destructive of education?
Interviewed on Radio 4 yesterday, David Cameron spoke with more constructive sense on education than any politician I have heard over the past three decades. He is the first politician I have heard grasp the nettle of what to do with disaffected children whose presence in schools is inimical to education.
Firstly, and most importantly, he wants to put the onus on parents to accept a school’s expectations of its pupils, and their parents, before a place is made available. Cameron’s confidence that parents should be expected to accept the discipline that schools require in order to be able to function is striking. It is a commonplace frequently ignored that the quality of the home affects the ability of children to benefit from education.
Compensating for failed parenting is both difficult and expensive. Both the present Labour government, and before that his own party in government, have taken fright about children who are expelled from school and have colluded in the convenient pretence that, if only enough money, or a certain kind of teacher, or a different curriculum were provided, all would be well. They have all ignored one crucial truth: that some disruptive children can only be accommodated at the expense of others.
At the very least, all parents should expect the schools to which they send their children to have control over their pupils. If they do not, what is the point of their existence? The mere fact that all parents would have to acknowledge and accept a school’s expectations of them would provide a much better starting point for a child’s time at school and a proper contract from which an aggrieved party, in the case of disruptive pupils, the school, would be released.
For once, I can hear a senior politician facing a truth which the politically correct find uncomfortable, that dragooning young people together in large numbers can create powerful antisocial forces which, in schools, can detract from effective teaching. To his credit, Cameron has not adopted this view without having considered the political consequences: young people on the streets during school hours without educational provision. He is not deflected. His argument follows logically, and, having suggested a way of ensuring that state schools are better able to function, he addresses the next problem, the children who are not in school.
Mr Cameron wants to keep open special units for children for whom ordinary schools are too demanding. He acknowledges the difficulties and expense for the state in providing for excluded pupils. By retaining, and perhaps adding to, smaller units for children for whom large schools are difficult places, children who would benefit from closer academic attention and fewer sources of distraction, he will make effective provision for some of these children. Mr Cameron also wants to encourage voluntary bodies and organisations to play a part. It is the voluntary basis of these bodies that enable them to function in ways that are difficult for schools. No one has to be there, so compulsion is not an issue, and they are not open to direction or coercion in the way that state schools are.
Mr Cameron’s main proposal would also involve reversing Tony Blair’s capitulation to his left wing last year when he outlawed the interviewing of parents before allocating school places, something by which the governors of his sons’ school set much store. What Mr Blair grabbed for his boys, he was not prepared to insist upon as a minimum standard for the rest of us. On this showing, Mr Cameron will do far more than Mr Blair, both for children in schools and for the poor wretches for whom school is just too much.