February 27, 2003
Consent is what matters

Should teachers be obliged to teach violent pupils? Personally I'd like a world where teachers could refuse to teach a pupil if they didn't like the colour of the pupil's eyes, and in which pupils could reject teachers for similarly subjective reasons. In short I believe in the consent principle being applied to education, as to everything else.

So I'm heartened by this report in today's guardian.co.uk:

Law lords told teachers today that they were within their rights to refuse to teach violent pupils even if the children were legally entitled to be in school.

In a landmark ruling the House of Lords held that such action was legal under trade dispute laws relating to teachers' terms and conditions of employment.

The lords also decided, by a 3-2 majority in a related case, that an expelled pupil allowed back to school on appeal had been properly "reinstated" even though he was taught in isolation from other children after teachers, backed by their unions, refused to have him in the classroom.

The two youths whose appeals were rejected today were expelled from different comprehensives in the south of England, but reinstated after their parents took the cases to local authority independent appeal panels.

Meanwhile, blazing from the front page of yesterday's Daily Mail is a story about alleged bias by some British universities, most especially Bristol, against "middle" (odd usage that – I've always thought "upper" would be more accurate) class children from private schools with good exam results, and, usually, good offers from other universities. Bristol University doesn't like junior toffs with the trick of passing exams, it would seem.

Well I say: Bristol University is entitled to its opinion. You could argue that children who've been to good schools which encourage academic attainment may not do as well at university, where a more self-propelled attitude is required, and that children who've had to fight for perhaps more modest exam success in a discouraging environment may do better at university. You could also argue that the fighters, if that's what they've been, deserve a crack at a degree course at a good university, rather more than their luckier rivals.

You could argue, and of course the Guardian does so argue:

For too long, universities have been over-endowed with brilliantly qualified, wonderfully personable private school pupils who turn out, once left to their own devices, to have been stretched to the very limits of their mediocre ability.

If this attitude at Bristol is but the tip of a national iceberg of prejudice against academically successful children from posh schools, centrally imposed or at least "encouraged" by the government, then that's bad. That would mean that Bristol is taking these lower class strugglers not because it wants to, but because the government wants them to, and that's not consent. But if Bristol truly wants this sort of student rather than some other sort of student, for whatever reason, then it should be their right to act as they want.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:19 PM
Category: Examinations and qualifications