The Tory Education Secretary’s unevidenced claim that discipline in English schools has “inevitably” worsened after a year of lockdowns has been dismissed as nonsense by people who actually work with school pupils.
Gavin Williamson intends to impose a national network of “behaviour hubs” to spread “best practice” among schools and teachers.
But it seems there is absolutely no need for them. Why is the Tory minister so keen to force them on our schools, and on our children?
Is it anything to do with his new network of “secure schools” – prisons for youngsters – to be run by private firms as “charitable” enterprises?
But Mark Russell, the chief executive of the Children’s Society, told The Guardian:
“We are not aware of any evidence that their behaviour is worse, and our practitioners report that on the whole young people have been relieved to get back inside the classroom.”
Mary Bousted, a joint leader of the National Education Union, said:
“With all the challenges currently facing schools, playing to the gallery by talking tough on behaviour is the least useful approach the education secretary can take.”
Wes Streeting, Labour’s Shadow Schools Minister, also said something – but we are already aware that he is an extremely suspect character himself so it is best to pass him by.
Stuart Lock is chief executive of the Advantage Schools trust, which includes one of the 22 schools named as hubs. Even he disagreed with Williamson’s claims:
“I don’t believe classroom behaviour has got worse than it was before the pandemic. It is probably a bit better.”
Even the man leading the new project – Tom Bennett, the DfE’s lead adviser on behaviour – has said there is no evidence of worsened behaviour:
“To be honest, the picture on behaviour we’re seeing is reasonably consistent with the behaviour we were seeing before the pandemic.”
So why has Williamson suddenly falsified a claim that our kids have all gone feral, and started wasting our money on a project to correct behaviour that hasn’t gone bad?
Well, there is this new “secure schools” aspect of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill:
Secure schools are essentially a re-branding of Young Offenders Institutions that allows private organisations to run them.
The government says it is building “schools with security, not prisons with education” but as Zahra Bei wrote in 2019, “the policy of rebranding youth jails as ‘secure schools’ provides a thinly-veiled disguise for what in essence marks the start of the biggest children’s prison expansion programme in Britain”.
Members of the British Association of Social Workers have called the plans “a penal approach rooted in the past”.
The contract for the first secure school was awarded to academy chain Oasis, which has one of the highest rates of personal exclusions in the UK.
It will be on the site of the former Medway Secure Training Centre in Kent, which was described as “a site of violence and abuse that prevented the young people who were held there from accessing learning and freedom”.
After a dispute arose over whether running a child prison could be considered a suitable activity for a charity, the government wrote clauses into its new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to ensure that running a child prison can be considered a charitable activity in law.
The change will encourage more academy chains to be providers, creating what the Tories no doubt hope will be a profitable market. And the use of charities will put distance between the Tory government and anything that happens there.
You can read further information on the “secure schools” project here.
With a new market opening up for the detention (and mistreatment?) of children, it seems clear that the organisations running it will want a supply of children.
And suddenly Gavin Williamson is talking about poor behaviour in schools. Convenient?
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