Tuesday, 15 February 2011

'School is somewhere that every child needs to be every day'

This made headlines, didn't it? It changed flavour over here. Children missing an education; the abuse; calls for a national database.

Well, I'm sure it's the start. Of something.

It's such a catchy beginning, too. 12,000. People love factoids don't they? Especially ones that are easy to remember. They're best if they come with emotion, a sense of urgency, or a note of alarm.

Anyway, I see this figure everywhere now, and the more it's repeated, the truer it is.

I bet the TES is not unhappy with the repetition. It helps advertisers feel safe to know their ad budget is in a paper with clout.

But I can't help but wonder about this story.

Apart from the stats, check the language. Interchanging school and education as if there is no difference? Is that deliberate? Or incompetent? Maybe education writers at the TES haven't read any education law. That doesn't reflect well on the TES. Surely, can't be that. But if it's deliberate, maybe the author is under a brief to deliver a particular impression, even if it's wrong. That every child must be in school, and this is the law.

Then get some of the 'charity' quotations too! Complete tripe! Take this one. 'School is somewhere that every child needs to be every day' says Martin Narey.

So Martin, you must include Saturday, Sunday, every public holiday, every school holiday and maybe all children too, from hour zero, thanks to the nappy curriculum. That sounds like prison too! But I think that's well beyond the legal requirement of even a dutiful and law-abiding school-choosing parent, isn't it?

You might think I'm taking what he said to ridiculous limits, and of course he didn't mean it like that, he just said it like that. But I assume he did say it; the writer chose to report it. Even if it's complete nonsense.

But how am I to understand him now, after he said that? Should I not take him seriously? Perhaps I should imagine he's just a big delusional joker with a loose mouth that flaps about in the wind.

So the education writer didn't do him any favours. Made him look a bit foolish, maybe. But still, she reported these words, unchallenged, and uncritical. I wonder why she didn't ignore them, and pursue more accurate words, ones that more sensitively addressed and identified the issues that I'm sure are in this story too.

It's true, I would have preferred to read an article that took more care over statistics, used more sensitive language, and relied on better quotes.

I'd like to have seen a recognition that education is compulsory; school is not. That most schools require attendance Monday-Friday, but flexischooling may not. That alternative provision for children of different abilities, needs, ages and aptitudes does not necessarily take place on school premises. That Children Missing Education statistics should not include home educated children. That some children, registered at school, are not deregistered promptly by parents. That some schools may be slow at deregistration procedures. That some areas probably need a shake up in placing traveller children and the families of casual migrant workers. That some children do 'disappear' from school, but probably not 12,000. That local councils have a suspicion they find difficult to voice about some families within ethnic minorities who persist in forced marriages, or who regard the education of female children more problematic than the male.

I didn't get those ideas from this article. Just a big blast of moral panic. And the 12,000 who should all be in school.

But there's more that worries at me here; more than easy stats, misleading words, and crap quotes. What I really want to know is, what happened to bring this article about? What's the background?

I'm suspicious, because the TES is as good a place to start as any.

Maybe there are various interests - commercial, charity-business, political, corporate, undesirable individual - right now coalescing behind the scenes; people who would benefit from a little moral panic.

Perhaps some social alarm would make it easier to introduce a compulsory, national registration system, one for all children, regardless of who they are, whether they are schooled, educated otherwise, home educated, moved house, or packed off for a forced marriage. Parents, by law, would be obliged to front up information about the kids.

You can almost hear it now. We simply need to know. We are concerned about the twelve thousand disappeared. This will help us identify children who are genuinely missing. If we know where all children are registered as receiving education, then it is easier to identify when children are not where they should be. This register is simply to help us focus our support on the children who need it most.

Then the TES article might make sense. It might have a specific intent to scream some scary figures, yell some thoughtless quotes, plough ahead with mishmashed information, ignore the law, and whip up a little social anxiety.

I can't decide. Whether the TES team hears whispers in government, and this article is a tiny particle kick-starting a sinister scheme of things. Or whether it's just another badly written article from someone who's not sure of the law and doesn't choose their soundbites well.

Oh, I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I'm just old, and I look at the world with a brutal eye.

But if I was Martin Narey, I'd ask for a favourable full page to redress the damage. Maybe an interview with me as Important Person. I'd ask for a different journalist and then I'd check the quotes, in case anyone took me for a complete idiot, all over again.


Firebird said...

Isn't Martin Narey's background IN the prison service? So maybe he does think ALL children should be in school EVERY day, just like a prison? Just saying ;-)

NikkiiH said...

That quote, quite singularly, stuck in my head too after reading it. I suspect it's what he said and the intention was to make him look a bit of a berk. I like to think that anyway!

It did go on to say that only 10% or so of those are truly missing - I hate Daily Fail scary headline tactics... unbecoming of TES, I mean, we'd read it anyway... no need.