September 23, 2003
"… lay that baggage aside …"

You can't just stroll into Prospect magazine. You have to register. In fact if I understand the situation correction, you have to pay. But if someone else (like Arts & Letters Daily today – an invaluable source – thank you Lileks today, "I jest because I care", for the reminder) gives you the link, you're in, right?

Anyway, this piece by James McLeod on violence in the classroom is an excellent read.

Pamela Coward, head of Middleton technology school in Manchester, (who became a Dame of the British Empire in the June honours list for services to education) expresses the problem tersely: "The challenge really is to eradicate street values from the school." Bob Carstairs, of the Secondary Heads Association, stresses home environment as the biggest problem: "There is a significant increase in the number of children not supervised by family adults." This, he said, means that many children do not know how to behave. Public money to tackle poor behaviour was welcome, but the basic problem, he said, is "cultural."

This attitude is understandable but depressing. It makes the situation appear impossible to tackle. Fortunately there are several examples of teachers who took on a school filled with children from the worst social and emotional backgrounds and succeeded. Ex-headmistress Marie Stubbs, for example, was encouraged out of retirement to tackle the problems of St George's school in west London. Since an earlier head, Philip Lawrence, had been fatally stabbed outside its gates in 1995, the school had deteriorated. In early 2000, just before Stubbs joined, the local authority closed it for a week. They felt unable to ensure the safety of either staff or pupils.

Stubbs has written a book, Ahead of the Class, about her 15 months as head of the school, after which time the school received a glowing Ofsted report. She describes her central principle thus: "A child may come to a school of mine with baggage, but at 9am they should be able to lay that baggage aside and be their best selves for the rest of the day. None of us can control what happens to them outside school, but inside it they should have the best experience they can."

Many will dislike the self-righteous missionary attitude of all this. But if you really are stuck in the heart of darkness …

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:45 AM
Category: Violence