A week in a special needs primary school “requiring improvement” in London

Heaven knows what a school must be like that is ranked as “inadequate”.

Background: after a great 2 months working in a college for young adults with autism and LD, (labels/categorisations of course), the author of this site is now spending a week in a primary school for young people with autism and LD. The school is ranked as “requiring improvement” by OFSTED. But I didn’t need to read the government web page to realise that. It was obvious from the first few minutes that something was badly wrong.

Continue reading “A week in a special needs primary school “requiring improvement” in London”

Breaking people on the wheel 21st century style

Foucault’s Discipline & Punish starts with a harrowing description of someone being broken on the wheel in early modern or medieval France. If I’ve understood correctly the point Foucault is making is this: we consider our modern criminal justice system with its near exclusive use of imprisonment as enlightened – a progressive and humanistic development from the cruel Middle Ages. But, this is not the case. There is a kind of inner cruelty in this disciplinary system which mirrors the vivid cruelty of the Middle Ages. Continue reading “Breaking people on the wheel 21st century style”

Some thoughts about democratic education

The possibilities for democratic education, an interview with Professor John Schostak, Manchester Metropolitan University.

[su_vimeo url=”https://vimeo.com/250980254″%5D

John Schostak, Professor in Education at Manchester Metropolitan University, interviewed about the possibilities of Democratic Education, September 2010. The interview took place in the context of a meeting of the campaign group ‘In Defence of Youth Work’. For some background reading, a copy of John’s paper can be found here: http://www.enquirylearning.net/ELU/Issues/Education/defenceofyouthwork.htm

Youth Justice

The papers on this page concern what is known as ‘youth justice’. They used to be available on a ‘youth rights’ web site which has now closed. They are not directly part of the theme of this web site (critical thinking in the tradition of Illich and Foucault) but we are happy to give them a home. They detail the state of affairs with New Labour’s (1997 – 2010) high-publicity campaign to do something about feral youths. Needless to say the trend for the management through disciplinary techniques of awkward behaviour has continued without a change of course under the present (2012) administration, who have recently launched an initiative to make ‘parenting classes’ freely available for all. Thus we see how we are moving from a situation where people are free unless they infringe the freedoms of others, when the law will intervene, to a situation where, it is not wrong-doing (contra the law) which needs to be addressed by the courts but where all behaviour, at first that of miscreants, but subsequently that of everyone, is managed by the authorities. The country is indeed turning into a giant prison. There is also a paper on the death of 15 year old Gareth Myatt in custody in 2004.


A paper detailing New Labour’s ASBO regime. The current administration has signalled that ASBOs will be replaced with a new regime of Criminal Behaviour Orders and Crime Prevention Injunctions. At first sight (White Paper) the new (ahem) ‘simplified’ regime seems to be a massive expansion of the powers. The Crime Prevention Injunctions, which replace civil ASBOs, can be obtained on the ‘Balance of Probability’, (ASBOs have to meet criminal standards of proof though hearsay evidence was allowed) – and include ‘support to change behaviour’. That is, on the balance of probability, that you have behaved ‘anti-socially’ ( = behaviour likely to cause alarm or distress to another) you may find yourself undergoing compulsory retraining. Whoa-hey North Korean re-education camps just round the corner. The Criminal Behaviour Orders which replace ASBOs on conviction also contain compulsory ‘support’. A review of the proposed new legislation will be published here shortly.
Pub: November 2005 (original publication date)

Parenting Contracts and Orders

An account of the parenting orders and parenting contracts regime set up by the last administration. These are measures to send parents of young people who have been missing school, have been awarded an ASBO, or have been given a referral order to go on courses to learn the official way to parent your son or daughter.
Parenting Orders and Contracts
Pub: May 2007 (original publication date)

Curfews and Dispersal Orders

An account of the dispersal order regime set up by the last administration.
Curfews and Dispersal Orders
Pub: December 2005 (original publication date)

electronic monitoring of young people (tagging)

Identification of the relevant legislation and some figures for how prevalent this practice is.
Electronic Monitoring of Young People
Pub: August 2008 (original publication date)

Gareth Myatt

An account of the killing of 15 year old Gareth Myatt in one of Jack Straw’s child jails in April 2004. And an account of how, surprisingly, no one was found responsible.
Gareth Myatt
Pub: 2007 (original publication date)

Local authority cover-ups

Something about UK local authorities – unable to grasp any notion of serving anyone’s interest but their own – that is the interests of the ‘managers’ who run them.

This is one example – but there are countless.

In this story a judge has found that Gloucester County council had erred in removing a child from his or her mother. Note the strong language used by the judge. This was not a small error.

Note then the response by the Council:

Gloucestershire council said it apologised “to the court unreservedly that in our attempts to safeguard the welfare of this child, members of our children’s social care team breached the terms of a previous court order.

Well – not just a previous Court Order but also the law. So that is a little fib for a start. Then notice the attempt to claim that they were acting in the ‘safeguarding’ interests of the child. This is called ‘putting it onto the other’. Teachers use this tactic a lot. And of course they are playing the ‘Safeguarding’ card – a well-worn get out of jail free card.

Local authority managers set new standards in cynicism and dishonesty even by the already low standards of the times.

Child abuse in the name of Safeguarding

It has been a theme of this web site that Safeguarding is insincere. Its primary purpose is to protect officials from liabilities that arise from being linked to child abuse. Underlying attitudes towards young people, put simply, a tendency to turn young people into objects, have not changed at all.

A real change in attitudes would mean a change towards valuing young people as subjects. This hasn’t happened yet.

The world of schooling is filled with examples of abuse of young people – or at least extreme objectification – which pass unnoticed. The same schools where these abuses happen no doubt hold many ‘Safeguarding’ training courses and events and believe they are havens of… something. This is an example – a school makes young people wear ‘lanyards’ around their necks if their uniform is out of shape. This is an example of isolation, internal exile, par excellance. From the school’s point of view it is a development of the (horrible) practice of internal isolation – when a student is sent to study at a desk alone in a corridor or room. In this example the student continues to mingle with their peers but are marked out by the sign they are forced to wear. Shaming and humiliation are the emotional effects. But really this is about an extreme ‘docilisation’ in Foucault’s sense – a training of the subjects.

However; the main theme of this post concerns an even more disturbing trend. It is now considered normal to discuss child sexual abuse even with quite young young people – primary school age. These discussions are not proposed as something delicate and serious a parent might have with their child – to warn them about possible dangers, but in a way that doesn’t alarm them. These discussions are proposed as explicit and routine and delivered by ‘professionals’. All this amounts to the sexualisation of young people. We have commented before – there are two groups of people who see school-aged children as sexual objects; paedophiles and Safeguarding advocates. Like any other disciplinary system the first move of Safeguarding is to normalise the behaviour it claims to be opposed to. It does this so it can manage it. In reality this probably increases the behaviours.

The following takes this to a new level. This is an advert for someone to manage a team of ‘youth ambassadors’ – themselves young people – who will talk to other young people about child sexual abuse:

This is an exciting new opportunity at Step Out, we are seeking to recruit an innovative and passionate practitioner to develop our Youth Ambassadors Programme. Youth Ambassadors are young leaders and your role will be to support them to deliver early intervention and preventative work within primary education settings to other young people, focusing on raising awareness around CSE prevention and protective behaviours. [from a youth project job advert in Oxford]

This is the exact analogy of how paedophiles sometimes like to use an already groomed and compliant young person to help them groom and manipulate even younger victims.

This is in effect the mirror image of paedophilia. It passes as normal.

The stocks are back

This is a story about a school in Bristol where they make the students were a ‘lanyard’ round their neck if they are wearing the incorrect school uniform.

Something straight out of the worst kind of Victorian schooling.

Hard to believe that it can happen in the 21st century.

This sort of thing shows conclusively that all the fuss about ‘Safeguarding’ is so much froth and front.

The abuse continues.

There is another aspect to this. Reading the article we can see that one reason the school gives for this cruel policy (based around, isolation, shame, humiliation, differentiation) is that it means that teachers don’t have to pull a student up several times during the day about a uniform violation. What is happening here is the school is institutionalising avoiding student-teacher interactions. Because the student is wearing a sign there is no need for there to be any interaction between teachers and student on the question of uniform (other than the first interaction when the student is ordered to wear the lanyard). This avoidance of interaction is characteristic of a therapeutically inspired trend in education. The ‘rough edges’ of interaction, “Oh come on Johnny get some proper school shoes. Oh; you’ve already been told. Well; I’m telling you again” are too much for then over-sensitive and fragile personnas of the therapy generation.

It’s completely chilling. And doubly so because it goes unremarked and unchallenged.