What are school heads and governors most concerned about, these days, when it comes to so-called pupil ‘well-being’? According to a recent survey by “The Key”, a company that provides a support service for school leaders, mental health, domestic violence and cyber bullying top the list, with over two thirds expressing concern. Next in line comes obesity, followed by drugs and ‘sexting’. We can also throw in gang culture, youth violence and female genital mutilation. School leaders in inner-city school, especially London, see all three of these as significant issues. In addition, the radicalisation of city youngsters is beginning to emerge as a real concern.
The burden of responsibility being placed on schools is growing ever broader, weighing ever heavier and being added to with ever-greater frequency. The Government’s recent imposition of its ill-thought-out “British Values” agenda, for example, has left many teachers confused, over-burdened and resentful. Some teachers have welcomed it, of course, but not necessarily for the reasons intended by its architect, the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan. Requiring pupils to ‘tolerate and understand’ those with whom they, and most people, may profoundly disagree carries the kitemark of DfE naivety. The initiative is positively dangerous in creating a veneer of acceptability and respectability for those who wish to subvert or destroy our society in the name of ‘value relativism’.
Meanwhile, enveloping and infusing the entirety of school life – within subject teaching and well beyond – we have the whole apparatus of ‘political correctness’. The edifice of the education we provide for our children must be presented through a distorting lense of this ‘correctness’ with regard to gender, race, language, culture, sexual orientation and so on. This is well illustrated by the Church of England’s new discussion paper on education, “The Fruits of the Spirit”. It proposes that individual subjects should be seen as vehicles for promoting what it describes as “character education”. This turns out to be camouflage for ‘right on’ indoctrination in the commandments and sacraments of ‘political correctness’.
One case study lesson it publishes is illustrative. Entitled, “Banana Maths”, it uses maths to teach child how “facts and figures can make us think about important issues.” A teacher of “Banana Maths” is quoted: “I wanted them to see how relevant maths is, as well as making them aware of issues of justice… We looked at how much of what we pay for bananas goes to the grower, and what goes to other people involved in the process… We then looked at the difference Fairtrade made to the percentages and the grower’s life …We talked about how our buying choices could affect other people’s lives a long way away, and how our choice could affect whether justice happens. The students invited their parents – who came to collect them – to taste the fair-trade bananas.”
Should a teacher’s choice of topic be dictated by the need to promote “issues of justice”? And in the case of Fairtrade should the teacher not have a responsibility to explain that some economists regard it as enhancing rather than alleviating poverty? What we have, here, is a corruption of the curriculum for political purposes.
Small wonder, perhaps, that the pupils in our schools are not the only ones who are suffering from a mental health crisis. Teachers, too, are beginning to ‘crack up’. The job is no longer so much about teaching as about acting as agents of state to promote a socio-political ideology.
The Government is about to launch Britain’s first national campaign on teenage mental health and, over the next few years, will undertake an investigation of the state of mental health across the entire 2 to 19 age range. Personally, I welcome any initiative to address this issue and to raise it from its current Cinderella status amongst health issues. The notion, however, that schoolteachers can act as psychiatrists is as misplaced as relying on them to police nascent terrorism or remedy a host of other social ills.
Last week’s Times Educational Supplement carried a piece by the general secretary of the ATL teachers’ union. She recalled how she had been “silenced”, recently, by a young man who was worried about his primary school teacher partner. “Increasingly, when he came home from work, he found her crying on the kitchen floor.” Was this a one-off exception being used by a union boss to make us feel sorry for teachers? Don’t bet on it!