Discipline, Tories and special schools

This morning they were talking on the Jon Gaunt show about the issue of black boys and the problems they face, and present, in British schools. The whole thing was touched off by Trevor Phillips, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality, proposing that they be partly segregated, so that they receive special attention. This is because Carribean boys have the lowest achievement rate of all the ethnic groups in the UK - just over a quarter achieved five or more good (that is, C-grade or above) GCSEs last year. The Government has rejected Phillips’ idea.

The content of this morning’s discussion was about discipline and integration. There has been a trend for children to be sent back to the Carribean for education, because of the more old-fashioned methods in use there. One woman who called into the show, a single mother whose son has Asperger’s Syndrome, says her son is doing well at a school in Jamaica. The school has no special treatment for his condition; it does, however, have firm discipline and parameters. He got the ruler across his hand for talking while a teacher was speaking, and told his mother. She says he hasn’t got the ruler since.

Trevor Phillips also suggested that black fathers (as if white fathers are never guilty of this) who don’t attend parents’ evenings be denied access to their children. This seems to miss the important fact that it takes two to make a baby, and I know for a fact that some women do not want an involved father. I have an acquaintance who is a Barbadian convert, who is married to a Pakistani woman. I was at this man’s house when an “old friend” of his turned up. I thought the man was a vile character, although I can’t remember what his offending was. Afterwards, my friend told me that this man was an old friend he’d tried to lose by not giving his new address when he moved, and that a certain woman kept sleeping with him despite the fact that he didn’t treat her very well. Why? Because he gets her pregnant. She wants to be a mother; she doesn’t want a father around. I’m not sure how widespread this is, but it’s significant that the terms “babymother” and “babyfather” are considered black English.

Is it any wonder a lot of young black (and even white) boys don’t have male role models, and see learning and school-work as a “sissy” thing to do, given that nearly all the teachers (particularly in primary school) are women? The thing is that nowhere in this discussion was it mentioned that women shouldn’t be having children out of wedlock as young boys need fathers, and having children out of marriage is a likely way of ensuring that the child won’t have a proper father. The usual calls were made for the cane to be brought back, as if this would solve everything. The fact is that some youths won’t respond to it. They will say, “you hit me with that and I’ll break your face”. The reason school discipline is breaking down everywhere is because of society itself breaking down, and the huge number of women having children outside marriage, raising boys who don’t have a model of responsible manhood and girls who know only the irresponsible men around them, has to be a big contributor to this.

They were also talking about special schools; a mother who was fighting to get a place in a special school for her deaf son was interviewed. The mother had succeeded in getting the place (about 20 miles away) she wanted, but had to fight on to get the local council to pay for transport costs, and enlisted the help of Iain Duncan Smith, the former leader of the Conservative (Tory) party who was ousted last year when the party decided he was an electoral liability. It seems that pressure was put on the council, and they agreed to pay for transport for the time being. The Tories are now reported to be promising greater protection for special schools against closure, and also promising to end the “presumption” in favour of children with special needs being sent to mainstream schools.

Well - if I remember rightly, when the Tories were last in power, they were the party associated with cutting services, particularly in health (and they’ve recently been having a go about the state of hospitals). The constraints in which the present government operates are a legacy of the Thatcher-Major era, in which low taxes were seen as much more desirable than public service improvements. When Labour were promising service improvements in 1997, they had to promise to fund it through greater efficiency; if the content of the right-wing press is anything to go by, it seems that the Tories will threaten to cut services to asylum seekers in order to fund services to the indigenous community.

And during this time, several special schools did close; some of these weren’t very good, like mine, but others had a good reputation. I’m not entirely sure that the closures were brought on by the recession, as some of these schools had survived far worse circumstances. Special schools, particularly boarding schools, went out of fashion because parents didn’t like sending their children away, and children didn’t like going, often for very good reasons. The lady interviewed said her son was born deaf. But can you imagine losing your sight or hearing, and then on top of that being torn away from your family a month or so later? Families fought tooth and nail against this arrangement in the past. Special schools (and even boarding schools) will benefit some children, but I don’t think the demand for them will return any time soon to what it was in the recent past.

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