Both Boris Johnston and the recent report by the Riots Communities and Victims Panel have placed a large measure of blame for last year’s riots on poor schooling. But how far is this a fair or accurate analysis of the causes of the worst civil disturbances for decades.
First, the emphasis on schools seems to have led to other possible factors –social,cultural and economic - to being downplayed or ignored altogether. Crucial as education is, it is easy to forget that children spend considerably less than half the time they are awake between the ages of 5 and 16 in school.
A significant proportion of those arrested had been excluded from school – at least a third permanently. This, many would argue ,merely confirms the failure of the schools concerned. But politician views have not always been consistent in this area. As Estelle Morris pointed out in the Guardian this week
‘Over the years, schools with high levels of exclusions have, in turn, been criticised for abandoning pupils and praised for being tough on discipline... national policy has never been sure whether success would be more or fewer exclusions'
Some of those arrested in the riots may well have been excluded from good schools which had succeeded with many children from backgrounds and with problems just as challenging as those they may have been forced to exclude and who later took part in the riots.
Moreover, how many of those who took part were long-term absentees from school? As with exclusion, this has often been seen recently as the fault of the school. This wasn’t always the case in the past or in many countries today where responsibility for attendance is placed entirely on parents.
And what about the schools in those places where riots did not take place? If we are to condemn the schools in cities where people rioted should we not logically be looking at why schools in Sheffield, Bradford,Hull,Leeds,Newcastle, Southampton and other cities stopped their pupils taking part?
Above all. shouldn’t we be asking why there were entire countries of the UK – Scotland and Wales - which were unaffected? We might note that neither Scotland or Wales have free schools, academies or grammar schools and have a lower proportion of children in fee-paying schools than England.
The reality is that over recent years London,where most of the disturbances took place has had , as Henry Stewart pointed out in his most recent piece on here, many of the most improved and effective inner city schools in the country.
Estelle Morris went on to refer to ‘a national accountability system that gives too schools little recognition of the progress they often do make with children with poor behaviour’ Blaming schools for outbursts of mob violence which historically have recurred every twenty years or so over recent centuries is glib and ill-informed.
There are many other issues which need to be considered from support for families in crisis through youth unemployment to the shocking example given to the young in recent years by the most powerful in politics, business and the media.