Sunday, March 28, 2004

"Not actually doing anything wrong" - but Miliband wants our kids locked up


David Miliband, the quintessential Blairite (he was the head of the No.10 Policy Unit before feeling - y'know - a need to get back to the, ah, communities - and getting himself elected for South Shields, a Labour fortress so safe that it is usually the first seat in the country to announce its election results) and School Standards Minister, has issued a rant in which he heaped praise on Swanlea School in East London for keeping its pupils in the school at lunchtime. Not an astonishing leap of policy, you might think, but Mr. Miliband attributes all kinds of good things to this simple measure.
" end to the tipping out on to the streets at lunchtime. Pupils here are in school all day, no exceptions, end of story.....A culture of high achievement helps to reinforce good behaviour. Of course, children need a break at lunch. And they need something healthy to eat to set them up for the afternoon. But they don't have to be out of school, roaming the streets, to do it."

Mr Miliband said that at Swanlea, in Bethnal Green, "students stay on the school premises, and the school provides an enriching lunchtime programme of mentoring by local business people, reading groups for support with literacy, sporting activities supervised by youth workers, as well as a wide range of language classes.

"That is the kind of innovation I support. Good for pupils. Good for the school. Good for the reputation of education in the local community."

So - it makes them cleverer! Wow! We shall note a couple of points regarding this speech. First, notice the fingerprints of our most tiresome and usually wrong politicians. "All day, no exceptions, end of story" - feel the hacked language, the unconvincing tough-guyisms, and the hectoring tone. Smell the cliches - roaming the streets! There's one I haven't heard in years. In fact, I haven't heard it since I was a teenager myself, in the defunded paint-peeling years of Major when it rained every day (at least that's how I remember it) and the government was trying to make "music characterised by repetitive beats" illegal. It seems positively antediluvian now, on the other side of a cosmic cultural chasm. Were we really that lame? But suddenly, it seems that the mid-90s are with us once more - the decade of revival fashion is itself about to be revived. Michael Howard, the icon of the time, is back on the front bench and pages. Malcolm Rifkind is back in the Commons. The government is quite evidently a bunch of bunglers with the credibility of a fortune cookie in a weather station and the morals of a crack-riddled goat. This time, it could even be worse - after all, the first bunch of goatish incompetents are the alternative! And the music is so much worse this time! Listen to the headteachers' association president has to say:
"Sometimes people, particularly old people, feel intimidated even when the young people are not actually doing anything wrong."

By 'eck! This is so familiar as well! Let us recap - Mr. Miliband feels that children ought to be kept in school grounds - locked up, I suppose - in case they do not actually do anything wrong. Great. I remember Howard being very proud of legislating to give the police powers to stop "youths" and take their names and addresses, and inform their parents. Why was never made clear, but it at least gave the police another reason to alienate the citizenry in case they ran out. Instead, Mr. Miliband wants the little buggers to be subjected to "an enriching lunchtime programme of mentoring by local business people, reading groups for support with literacy, sporting activities supervised by youth workers, as well as a wide range of language classes." I'm sure the reading groups are all very laudable, even if you may wonder what they do in class if they have to have classes at lunchtime. But I strongly suspect that an enriching lunchtime programme of mentoring by local business people translates as "being forced to give up your lunch break to absorb the platitudes of unwilling small-town car dealers". And what kind of sense does it make to have compulsory voluntary sport at lunchtimes if you can't have it in games lessons because Mr. Miliband's previous advice to the prime minister on finance means that the school doesn't have a playing field? What is the point of preventing kids who might otherwise play football in their lunch break from doing so, in order to force them to (after, of course, an improving talk from your friendly local dealer)?

Which answers, I suppose, the question of why Mr. Miliband found it necessary to tell us that he supports innovations that are "good", presumably as opposed to bad ones. You might have been forgiven the mistake. One day, could we possibly have a policy initiative that doesn't involve somebody being locked up?

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