The boy smashed a bottle right in front of me and then snarled. I thought for a moment whether I should confront him. Then I recognised him; he attended the local school -- the one my son will go to soon -- and so I decided that for once I was going to say that he was wrong to smash bottles on the ground. He wasn't in school uniform -- it was a Saturday. I told him that I knew where he went to school and that I knew the teachers there. Having been rather truculent and cheeky, his whole demeanour now changed. I was no longer an 'alien' that he had no connection with but someone who knew people he knew. He grumbled an apology and he and his mates moved on. It was a telling moment because I've spent years observing such behaviour in my area -- having lived here for fourteen years now -- but never dared to intervene. I intervened because I felt connected to the local school, his school. I knew that they kept good order there and that they would address the problem if I phoned them. He knew that too. There was a sense that the boundaries, the values, the discipline of the institution had some value outside the school gates. I haven't seem him or his mates behave like that again in and around the estate where I live in east London.
It made me see that the local school should be at the heart of Cameron's 'Big Society'; they could be the engines for addressing problems and arriving at solutions. If every child attended the local secondary school instead of migrating to various academies and private schools as those with the know-how or money tend to, the community here would certainly be much the stronger for it. I've noticed that since having my child in the local school that I feel much less fearful on the streets for the simple reason that I know a lot more people; the community is no longer the 'other' -- I am part of it. 'Free schools' will increase social divisions even more here; religious and social groups will seek to set up their own schools, taking their children away from the poor children in the area, and thus ghetto-ising things even further.
I think we need to be even bolder and make local schools entrepreneurial hubs, locus points for innovation, ideas and regeneration.