Schools in the riot zone: beacons of hope in the darkness

Francis Gilbert's picture
Gladesmore Academy is a community school situated right in the heart of the area where the riots in Tottenham took place this week. As the leader of Haringey Council pointed out on Radio 4's Today programme it's a brilliant school which gives an outstanding education to its pupils. An Ofsted report says:

“Gladesmore Community School is an outstanding school. It encourages students to 'reach to be a star', and the acronym REACH (which stands for respect, enthusiasm, achievement, cooperation and hard work) is prominently displayed throughout the school and permeates all that it does. There is a real sense of a community working excitedly and successfully together to improve academically and personally. One student summed this up saying, 'When I came to Gladesmore, I expected it to be exciting. It's much better than that. It is exciting, but I also learnt to be helpful and more confident, and the importance of honesty and trust.' Students from different backgrounds mix and work extremely well together. Relationships between students and with staff are excellent; all members of Gladesmore treat each other with respect. Students' personal development and well-being are outstanding. Students enjoy school immensely and exude enthusiasm for learning, the excellent curriculum and the outstanding range of extra-curricular activities that they keenly take part in.”

Clearly, this kind of school is a place of safety and learning for many pupils who attend it and is doing a great job: the wider society could learn a great deal from it about how to maintain order and motivate our young people.

But schools can’t solve every social problem. The Radio 4 debate was a good one because it did show that the reasons that lie behind the riots are complex. Social deprivation, poor parenting, an inadequate police response, envy, inequality and even the good weather may have played a part.

Schools have become very adept at dealing with difficult teenagers, but just because our young people are better educated doesn’t mean that they’re suddenly going to become “nice people”. Indeed some of the most intelligent pupils I’ve taught from socially deprived backgrounds have been quite disaffected; they see all too clearly the glaring inequalities in our society; they are aware of how the “other half live”; they’re aware that they’ve been stuck at home all summer while the leaders of the country have been jetting all around the world. They know that if they go to university now they'll be saddled with huge debts and, without the support 'networks' that many richer children have, they'll really struggle to get good jobs.

Our schools are delivering the goods, but is the rest of society?


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Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 12/08/2011 - 13:47

The Times Ed editorial said that “Schools could teach the politicians a thing or two about crowd control” and draw a comparison between criticism of police tactics and criticism of teachers: “Whatever lessons need to be learnt, whatever the failings displayed by some individuals some of the time, politicians cannot expect a profession to perform or the public to have confidence in it if they refuse to back it or, worse, undermine it. Sound familiar?”

Meanwhile, the Mail argued that the riots were the fault of the “liberal establishment” which include, among others, those who oppose selective education.

Shame anyone who rushes to make political capital out of this situation, whether its left-wingers blaming the cuts or right-wingers blaming the “liberal intelligentsia”.

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