By the Fly in the Ointment


I SUPPOSE it’s the prerogative of a Secretary of State for Education to interfere in, well, education, and Michael Gove, the current incumbent, is certainly doing just that.

His latest offerings include advising teachers they can literally go all ‘old school’ on discipline, bringing back writing lines, endless jogging round the playing fields and picking up litter as punishments for miscreant pupils.

He says there are no health and safety issues involved and teachers shouldn’t be afraid to punish pupils who step out of line.

He has assured them they will get the full backing of his department as they crack the whip (this time not literally, that would be going a little too far).

He also sees nothing wrong with after-school detentions, although given the recent call to increase the length of the school day, some naughty boys wouldn’t be getting home much before bedtime.

And Mr Gove also insists there is no reason at all why the standard of education in state schools can’t be just as good as private schools.

Over the years, I’ve been a guest at a number of secondary and junior schools in Northwich and Winsford and I can honestly say I was never treated with anything but respect and courtesy by both pupils and staff.

It may be, of course, that everyone was on their best behaviour because there was a guest on the premises but it’s hard to change the culture of an organisation just because there’s some odd bloke in a suit wandering round.

I found the pupils I came into contact with to be confident, personable and keen to learn. Perhaps I was just lucky but somehow I think not.

What did strike me as odd, though, was the length of the school day.

I may have touched on this before but a number of schools I visited had deliberately skewed the day to make the morning session longer and the afternoon very much shorter.

The logic for this, according to the teachers I spoke to, is the youngsters in their care were more receptive to learning before lunch and the day had been tailored to accommodate this.

To be honest, when the bell went to signal the end of the school day, to me it felt like an early afternoon break.

After popping into the staff room for a chat with the teachers, I went back to work and did another three hours.

Anyway, back to me and Mr Gove. Regular readers will know that I am of a certain age.

My wife says it is the ‘grumpy old man’ age, although I consider myself to be young at heart.

But I am old enough to remember a time when teachers were allowed to use corporal punishment in school.

And being completely honest, I was on the receiving end of six of the best on more than one occasion. And yes, it hurt like hell.

This was also back in the day when Saturday morning detention was a regular occurrence, as was being forced to spend your break running round the school playing field or sanding down graffiti-inscribed desks in the woodwork room.

So, what good did caning, detention and other physical punishments do for me?

Nothing whatsoever.

Looking back, the sole effect on me was to build up a wall of resentment towards the school.

My teachers weren’t sadists or tyrants.

With one or two notable exceptions, they were just men and women trying to do the best they could, using the tools which were then at their disposal.

I was taught at an all-boys Catholic grammar school and to be honest, I struggled with all of the number-based subjects.

I wonder if both the school and I would have been better served with a little extra tuition in my break times rather than running round the field.

In any event, it very much feels like the discipline pendulum has swung back too far the other way.

I have a number of friends who work in education, some in fairly rough areas, and they have complained they are now almost powerless to impose even the most moderate discipline.

The main fear, it seems, is the reaction of parents and more than one of my friends have been confronted by irate mums and dads when their precious offspring have been told off.

I honestly have no idea where you go with that.

I really hope Mr Gove has thought this one through.

My parting thought relates to Mr Gove’s laudable aim to make state education the equal of private schooling.

Where’s the money coming from to do it?