Friday, 27 February 2009


Isn’t it sad that institutions seem to gain a life of their own and the individuals staffing these organisations (especially in the higher echelons) somehow come to see the survival and aggrandisement of the organisation as more important than the people that it was set up to serve or the people who work in it.

I have repeatedly seen this in schools. My own school, a catholic grammar school was quite transparent about it. Lectures were given in morning assembly about how we pupils were representatives of the school when in the outside community and therefore it was important that we behaved well and most especially wore our hats in order not to bring the school into disrepute. Our own moral development as responsible conscientious citizens and even good Catholics was definitely very secondary to that.

Well No actually I did not then and do not now care about the well being of institutions if that is at the expense of the interests and well being of the individuals they are meant to serve.

I experienced this attitude repeatedly during my children’s primary education. The head teacher of the school they attended and the school I eventually withdrew my youngest from addressed me very patronisingly when towards the end I managed to get my distressed and distraught daughter (more shame me) to the school gates late.

‘Mrs Stafford this will not do’,

(she was policing the gate to shame latecomers).

I am sure you can all imagine it, hear a voice designed to make you feel four years old, three feet high and thoroughly disrespected.

I explained the stress my daughter was feeling, the trouble she was having coping with school. Did I get concerned questions, and a promise to help sort the problem out. No of course I didn’t. I got a demand to consider the needs of the organisation and ignore and override my daughter’s distress for the benefit of said organisation.

‘But what about all the other children Mrs Stafford, they cannot be made to wait for the benefit of your daughter’.

Well actually they can, at least until appropriate modifications have been put in place. Did I say this, of course not, I was too gobsmacked at her sheer impudence, though not surprised.

The thing is there are no otherchildren just individual children who could all have neglect of their needs and difficulties justified and dismissed as unimportant when compared to the good of the imaginary otherchildren, for which you may read, the convenience of the school.

The NSPCC is no different, in order to extend its remit, possibly to get more money from the government or at least keep what it has, it’s policy adviser Mr Vijay Patel is shamelessly spreading false rumour in support of the government’s spurious review into the possibility of home education being a hot bed of child abuse.

Be clear, this man has on national radio admitted that there is absolutely no evidence for his claims. But still he continues to slur home educators trying in the Independant yesterday to associate them with the sorry case of Victoria Climbie, a child who was actually badly let down by (amongst many others) the LEA who refused her a school place and by the NSPCC who decided no further action was needed in her case as they had a party to organise.

The Victoria Climbie Foundation have refuted this claim.

It makes me very sad and very angry.


Carlotta said...

"The thing is there are no otherchildren just individual children who could all have neglect of their needs and difficulties justified and dismissed as unimportant when compared to the good of the imaginary otherchildren, for which you may read, the convenience of the school."

I agree with you so furiously, it almost hurts.

And as to the moral development of children in schools - no wonder they are so often so muddled about how it really works.

To take your example, how can a child honestly act as proper representative of an institution that they have not freely chosen to represent, and which will often directly contradict a child's own nascent standards of morality?

I was elected a prefect of a school whose approach to discipline appalled me even then, even without being able to formulate an argument as to why it was so awful. I would now describe it as being appallingly oppressive, almost all-encompassingly coercive and as such, it acted as a break on any proper growth of knowledge.

However I wouldn't have been able to explain this, let alone actually do anything very constructive about it at the time. Instead I just shut down. As far as I possibly could, I didn't fulfil my role as prefect but all the while I felt acutely ashamed that I seemed unable to buy into the system.

I now think that short of handing back my tie and badge, I did as much as I possibly could have done. I only wish I had walked, but have largely forgiven myself in this regard, not least as I was largely a lone voice at the time.

It does seem though that I am no longer alone. I opened a recent school mag to find that the head girl from the year above mine who had apparently bought completely into the system, and who applied the disciplinary regime with gusto, has issued a retraction and admitted along with other girls who have written similarly elsewhere, that the place was different from a prison camp in many ways. No privacy, no rights to see parents, having to do as you are told 24/7, and don't you dare walk out with your coat buttons undone or wear anything other than the regulation pants!

Sorry...that spiel is always on the tip of my fingers, but you are the first to get it Maire. Apologies.

All in all, school isn't a good place to learn about ethics.

Maire said...

'I didn't fulfil my role as prefect but all the while I felt acutely ashamed that I seemed unable to buy into the system.'

I think this sort of confusion is an intentional result of such a system, and is especially effective if you are a sensitive and caring person.

Certainly it took me a long time to sort my head out after I left school, and yes I think you did what you could in the circumstances, and at the very least prevented someone who had swallowed the rotten system whole from wearing your badge.

At my son's admittedly much better secondary school(no uniform, and on the whole respect for the child and the parent) they created houses and allocated the children to them then asked them to work for the glory of the house.

My son could definately articulate his feeling of being bX*&@ if he was going to work for a group he had not chosen to belong to and for a system he fundamentally disagreed with and left the school in no doubt about his feelings.

My children have always been permitted to talk to me about anything and express their opinion honestly, not something I experienced. I have also been honest about my opinion of some in authority and fought their corner in the school environment. By home educating my last child, something she pleaded for, I have I hope even more powerfully supported their right to their own opinion and their own choice.

Maybe in allowing our children a voice and not letting petty authority silence us we will make a difference, and they will make a greater one.

We are not very far distant from a time when authority was almost worshiped, my 82 year old mother will bow to any authority however petty or riduculous, she is absolutely terrified of being told off, despite the fact that she has a first class degree and was head of infants at the school she taught at.

Our kids will be very different.

So speil away, i have many speil at the tip of my fingers too.

No school is not a good place to learn about ethics nor about a lot of other things.

I really enjoy reading your blog by the way.

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