Children of the database

April 30, 2007

Henry Porter on CiF:

If Labour feels so strongly that liberty is part of the British story why hasn’t the government made it part of the national curriculum? One answer may be that if you bring up an entire generation to understand the extent of individual rights under the unwritten British constitution, it is far less easy to remove those rights.

Ha! Some hope. The citizenship curriculum doesn’t mention the existence of the European Convention on Human Rights, far less the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (that we ratified 16 years ago – shhh, I think it’s a secret).

Far from bringing up a generation to understand rights, the opposite is happening: they’re growing up to accept constant monitoring. As Andre Bacard said:

“If I wanted to build the surveillance society, I would start by creating dossiers on kindergarten children so the next generation couldn’t comprehend a world without surveillance.”


Do fish have civil liberties?

April 30, 2007

Time to set up Action on Rights for Fish, perhaps.

Official: 16 is too old for play

April 29, 2007


Two teenage girls were fined £80 for drawing chalk pictures on a pavement in Bangor, Gwynedd. Hazel Mercer and her friend Charli Lyth, both 16, were given fixed penalties when a police officer saw them drawing hearts and rainbows.

They might as well have used spray paints.

What public interest?

April 29, 2007

Last week, Angela Mason was up before the General Teaching Council for filming children’s misbehaviour for a Channel 4 shockumentary, under cover as a supply teacher. According to the BBC:

Over a period of about six months, she went into 18 schools in London and the north of England … and secretly filmed in six of them.

She says she saw chairs being smashed, pupils fighting in class and that she was sworn at by pupils and was falsely accused of touching them. Other bad behaviour by pupils included verbal abuse, general rowdiness and the use of mobile phones or CD players.

Teaching sometimes became impossible, she said.

The day before the film was shown, Leeds City Council applied for an injunction to stop it, but they lost. Coincidentally, the judgment has just turned up on Bailii, and although it’s a relief to see that Mr Justice Munby did at least assert children’s rights to privacy, it’s astonishing that he believed there was an overriding public interest in letting Channel 4 go ahead.

The film did its job in adding fuel to the fashionable moral panic. Everyone agreed that the youth of today are abhorrent and their parents despicable: music to the ears of those who want to see the state step in to micro-manage the upbringing of children. I’m sure I don’t really need to spend time here digging out quotes dating back to St Augustine and beyond, bewailing the parlous state of the nation’s young. In any case, far too many people seem to believe that ‘it’s different now’. This time, we really do have A Crisis – an inexplicable epidemic of badness; bad children and bad parents.

I don’t know where Ms Mason was teaching back in those good old days when children behaved themselves, but I suspect it wasn’t Islington, home to two of the schools that featured in the Channel 4 documentary. In the East London schools of the 70s, immediately post-ROSLA every classroom had its share of the sons of the Kray henchmen, there was a running gag about augmenting furniture supplies by nipping along to Islington Green School and catching chairs and desks as they came through the window, and a couple of my friends gave up teaching altogether when the deputy head was stabbed in the back by a pupil he’d just excluded. (Note to the Vice Anglais devotees: corporal punishment wasn’t abolished until 1987. Go figure.)

What really is extraordinary is that someone who has not taught for 30 years can simply sign on with an agency and walk straight into a classroom as if she had only left it the previous day. Would anyone want to see a locum GP or solicitor who hadn’t practised for even one decade, let alone three?

Why did she only film in one third of the schools? Given that her agenda was to provide evidence for the documentary in order to prove that children really have gone feral in the UK, one would have thought she would film in all of them. Could it be that there wasn’t enough in the other twelve schools to merit the attention of her little camera, cunningly disguised as a button? And did she, or the film-makers, have any moral qualms about the observer-expectancy effect?

Yes, there are serious problems in the education system. Attempts at reform have been resisted and fudged. Too many schools are dependent on supply teachers (even ones who haven’t taught for decades) or even classroom assistants. The SEN system is a nightmare. Children (and teachers) are hemmed in by tests and targets, but protest is ignored. It’s a mess – and that’s without even considering whether a factory-sized school, or any school at all, is the right kind of place for some, or all, children. And now the government is planning to prolong the agony even further.

Quite how any film that shows children behaving dreadfully contributes one iota to the education debate is beyond me. It’s not bad children we should be worrying about; it’s the victimisation of children and teachers alike through the state education system.

Update: Talking of factory-sized schools

A new generation of “super-size” schools is being created by the Government, sparking fears that they will lead to alienated pupils.

Wasted opportunities

April 27, 2007

Nice comment piece on Spiked about the use of IT to reinforce the same old agenda rather than to explore new horizons:

New Labour has for a long time taken a keen interest in technology. Various schemes for using new technologies have addressed a wealth of issues, from social inclusion to promoting e-Government and tackling low voter turnout in local and national elections. But the extent to which many of these ‘schemes’ actually improve people’s lives is debatable – especially if they come at the expense of addressing the underlying causes of inequality, exclusion and poor service.

The focus on IT as a cure for social ills seems to be driven by politicians’ distrust in, and fear of, the public. They want to keep the public in check and monitor our behaviour, creating ever-more complicated and dysfunctional database systems and surveillance schemes, yet they also want to do it from a safe distance – through technology rather than anything like direct engagement.

I remember blogging briefly about the narrowness of IT use in education last year. Here we have one of the most exciting resources imaginable, and what are we doing with it? Using it to prop up the wonky leg on an old table.

HAC submission

April 26, 2007

Finally finished ARCH’s submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry “A Surveillance Society?” Since they’ve waived the rules on non-publication, it’s on the ARCH website.

The trouble with statistics

April 26, 2007

Such is the eerie silence hanging over the world of politics at the moment that the only sound is of barrels being scraped for news. Research into business leadership reveals such fascinating statistics as:

44 per cent of today’s leaders were school prefects
34 per cent of today’s male leaders were Boy Scouts
42 per cent of today’s female leaders were Girl Guides
11 per cent of today’s leaders were in an orchestra

At the bottom of this list of exemplary conformity, though, we find that:

68% didn’t go on to further education
7% left school with no qualifications at all
12% left school before they were 16

Bit of a blow to the ROSLA and 50%-university-attendance agenda, I should have thought?