Dear Mr Gove,
Earlier today, you laid out your new reforms for state schools. I can see that you’re clearly very concerned about the state of our schools, and with good cause – there are some real problems in some schools and that needs addressing.
I was, however, somewhat alarmed to hear your solution to these problems. Making state schools more like private schools.
Now, I’m sure you have good reason for this. You yourself went to an independent school. You can see problems in schools in the country and so you think to yourself “I know! I went to a good school! I should make schools like my school! What a jolly good idea!” I see your thinking there, Mr Gove. I do have to take some issues with it, however. Now, in the interests of transparency I must admit; I am not a teacher. I have never been trained as a teacher and I have never worked as a teacher. I have, however, worked as a youth worker in many secondary schools – somewhere in the region of four years in total. I know this is not a lot, but that’s four years more education experience than you’ve had.
I’ve worked with all kinds of kids, Mr Gove. I’ve worked with kids from broken homes, kids who don’t see one or other of their parents because they’re not allowed to. I’ve worked with kids who don’t know which house they’re going to be going home to that night, or who get told by Social Services during their maths lesson that they can’t go home to live with mum again, and dad will be picking them up.
I’ve worked with kids whose parents don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Whose only means of getting cooked food is their free school dinner. I’ve worked with students, Mr Gove, who are so hugely clever and intelligent and bright but because they’re worried about their mum being beaten by her new boyfriend, or if dad will have sold their telly for cash again, that they find it really difficult to concentrate on their Geography lesson. That stress, that worry that no teenage kid should have to go through, means they get cross, Mr Gove. They get cross and angry and they start fights with teachers and they get up and walk out of school.
If you’re worried you’re going to find the police outside your house when you get home arresting your older brother, you can’t concentrate on learning about Pythagoras.
You talk of falling behaviour standards in schools, Mr Gove and you’re probably right. But that’s because there are students in these huge, overcrowded schools whose lives are falling apart, and your government is taking all their support out from under them. Youth services, youth support, crisis centres, social care, all cut. How do you expect kids to achieve in school if their home life is falling apart? Behaviour and attainment and the general happiness of students is not going to be raised by getting them to do lines, or clean the dining hall.
Mr Gove, I can think of a lot of students I’ve worked with where if they’d been asked to clean the dining hall as a punishment, they’d have laughed in your face and walked out of school for the rest of the day.
These reforms are a class war, Mr Gove. A class war. Your reforms smack of middle class, private school, Enid Blyton dreams of jolly hockey sticks, writing lines, going to orchestra and masters in cap and gown. This might have been your reality, Mr Gove, but it is far from the reality of thousands of students going through the education system in 2014. And because you seem to care so little about those students – the ones who need so much more help than a slap across the knuckles and being told to “straighten up and fly right” that I’m going to assume that you’ve forgotten about them. You’ve forgotten about them and you don’t care.
I was sat in the library earlier today reading a copy of Children and Young People Now, which had an article about the “reform” of the probation service. I’d been marginally aware that something was happening but hadn’t looked at it in any particular detail up to this point, but when I did I was struck by something (that wasn’t my head hitting the table at the ridiculousness of it all).
This is exactly the same as the youth work reforms. Pretty much down to the letter. Here are some choice quotes from the Guardian’s article on the changes:
“The public probation service is to be scaled back and “refocused” to specialise in dealing only with the most dangerous and high-risk offenders and public protection cases.”
“Unions expect that as much as 70% of the work currently done by the probation service in working with offenders in the community will move to private and voluntary sector providers under the plan, including the supervision of nearly all medium and low-level risk offenders.”
It’s all so familiar. Generic services will be shipped out to private and voluntary sector orgs while the public sector only deals with the high-risk, and removes most of its (trained, highly knowledgeable and experienced) staff in the process.
Compare this to the youth service restructures that have happened in Local Authorities all over the UK over the past couple of years – generic “Youth Services” have been disbanded, save for a few case workers now working with specific high-risk young people, generic youth provision has been left to the private and voluntary sector – and it’s a horrifyingly familiar story.
So not only have the government removed all responsibility for the more generic provision of services for young people from themselves, they’re pretty open about not wanting to have it back either. “Youth policy is not a priority for central government and should be developed by local authorities rather than Whitehall, the Education Secretary has said.”
That’ll be the same local authorities who have just removed most of their youth provision, then. It’s a catastrophic pass-the-parcel of responsibility for our young people. Central government don’t want it so they fob it off onto local authorities, local authorities can’t do anything about it so they throw money at the problem and hope the vol orgs will deal with it.
Young people are not a problem to be dealt with. They are not a service that you can fob off onto a young people’s organisation and hope they buy some footballs with the pot of money you’ve thrust at them. They are the future of a country, the MPs and doctors and teachers and parents and the ENTIRETY of the next generation. What kind of message are the government sending to young people in the UK?
So far, young people have been told they just don’t matter enough. And we wonder why young people feel disenfranchised. The way the government has been treating young people has been nothing short of shocking. They have been the first to lose out on services, on access to their education and on making sure they have a solid future ahead of them. I am left to draw only one conclusion: that this government just does not care about its young people.