Monday, June 13, 2005

Kelly wants schools open from 8am to 6pm so parents can stay at work

Greying Britain is ludicrously obsessed with its disaffected, binge-drinking, teenagers. It worries about them hanging about in shopping centres wearing "hoodies" and looking intimidating. It gets into states of anguish over stories such as the three teenage sisters who all had babies under the age of sixteen (one at the age of twelve). It is reluctant to acknowledge (but secretly rather suspects) that burgeoning divorce rates and children therefore brought up in what used to be called "broken homes" have something to do with it.

In binge-drinking stories one reads about the lamentable fact that our children are not, like Continentals, taught to drink in a "civilised" way - a glass of wine with meals etc. Rather they learn to take successive doses of alcohol in the macho culture of our pubs - a culture increasingly and confusingly adopted by "ladette" females.

So how does Education Minister Ruth Kelly propose to rebuild our "fallen" youth? She is going to arrange for the successful British State to replace the country's failing parents. With such hours, our children will certainly not be learning table manners, family values or the proper use of alcohol from their parents. They will see less of parents slaving the longest hours in Western Europe to fund Gordon Brown's plans to arm Africa's dictators. Any misconceptions they may develop about sexual matters will certainly be the fault (as the hapless mother of the aforesaid pregnant teenagers alleged) of poor sex education in schools.

All of the additional activities are to be provided, not by teachers who already know the children, but by an ever-changing cast of contractors. It's back to the hippy communes, essentially, with the nearest person to hand looking after the children.

Until a few years ago, teachers were happy to provide - as part of their normal duties - after-hours activities such as sports, drama or chess clubs. The political onslaught on the dignity of that most important of all professions resulted in their refusing to do so. Blamed for society's ills by politicians; their professional discretion removed by political directives as to how to do their jobs, they revolted. They are underpaid, undervalued and subjected to constant abuse by out-of-control pupils they are not allowed to expel. They are also liable to be sued or prosecuted for any mishaps that occur during out-of-hours activities. They gave up. Who can blame them?

Yet those out of hours activities were the best part of my education, largely because not only the teachers but the other children there were volunteers. I acted in plays at my school, in my local community theatre and in my County Youth Theatre. All were organised by volunteer teachers, whom I forgot at the time to thank, but have remembered with gratitude ever since. The enthusiasm of those activities was in marked contrast to classrooms of unwilling pupils in nonsensical "mixed ability" groups. For once, we could leave the sullen losers behind and approach something with vigour and delight.

These enforced "Kelly hours" will not be quite the same, will they? The idea of making such opportunities available again is admirable. I would support Ruth Kelly with all my heart if I thought she was going to make that happen. But I fear that this is more about winning votes by taking children off the hands of over-worked British parents and gaining more State control over young lives. The majority of British children, pace the popular press, are good kids who want to learn and get on. They don't need to spend yet more time with the cadet branch of the militant losers for whom modern Britain is ruled.

Telegraph | News | Kelly wants schools open from 8am to 6pm so parents can stay at work

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