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Britain is not Broken

10 August 2011

Human beings are good, wonderful actually. There is an inbuilt programming that makes them be good and kind and respectful to one another. Stand back and watch any group of people in any given location and circumstance and it will be only moments that you will have to wait to see someone smiling and laughing. Complete strangers will go out of their way to accommodate the needs of others, workmates will form supportive groups, one hundred thousand concert goers will somehow manage to arrange themselves in a field without impinging on their fellow revelers. Human beings are lovely.

For reasons that stretch my imagination there is a movement in Britain that wish to promote the notion that the above is not true. It permeates the media and some irritating parts of politics. You will see news headlines designed to shock, telling us that Britain is broken. This is utter nonsense.

David Cameron has just spoken about the violence that has sprung up across England over the last few nights, and in a strong and passionate speech he made some excellent points. Unfortunately, the spin doctors have insisted on the use of the broken Britain rhetoric. And in questioning, he alluded to better discipline in schools as being a part of the solution.

Let's take a school. Let's say there are 1000 students aged 11 to 18. They need to conduct themselves in such a way that this micro-community can operate successfully. Squeezing down tight corridors in between lessons, gathering in large groups for assembly, waiting for long moments in lines to enter rooms. These are all opportunities for the students to act in this Broken Britain manner. Do they? No. They are patient, understanding, helpful, courteous and thoughtful. They conduct themselves with the same automatic, inbuilt system that the rest of us do. They are inherently good people.

So where does this myth come from and why is the movement so prevalent? I am absolutely aware that some reading this will be thinking I have completely lost the plot. That the school that you work in does not reflect this at all. There is chaos and unacceptable behaviour. So have I just managed to be incredibly lucky and only worked in fantasy schools? Absolutely not. Let's take our school again with the 1000 happy, smiley children. Sounds perfect, doesn't it? The thing is I am deliberately missing out one important fact. It isn't quite all of the 1000. In each school of 1000, there can be as few as five or six children who tip the balance of behaviour. To non-teachers, this might sound ridiculous, but as a teacher I have heard so many times about the one child in a year group who makes the difference and, if only the school could remove them from the mix, the year group would settle down. The dynamics of a group of human beings can be extraordinarily swayed by the influence of one.

Look at the streets on London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol over the last few nights. Combined their populations are in the many millions. And how many people are thieving and damaging property: a few hundred.

There are people in our society, a tiny fraction of a percentage, for whom the inbuilt programming is not operating. Unfortunately we can't just switch them off and switch them back on again like a computer. It is entirely wrong to think that these people are from a certain part of town, or that they are from socially deprived families or have divorced parents or any other of the numerous, ill informed beliefs held by some. The movement would like you to think they do, but it simply isn't true.

The influencing factor is parenting.

It is those early years of development and the norms that are laid down by parents then that make the difference in this tiny proportion of individuals. I'm not saying that these are the only people who will be naughty, of course that isn't the case. Plenty of good kids will do bad things or get mixed up in something terrible. But inside them, they retain the inbuilt instinct to be a good person and can be brought to see the wrong in what they have done.

For this small number of school students, the broken if you absolutely must, there is no recognition that the world could be any other way, that they could have the choice to become a good person.

Schools deploy countless strategies for addressing poor behaviour and teachers personalise their approach to dealing with situations to best suit their needs. As I have said above, almost entirely all human beings have the instinct to be good. So these strategies work and the school micro-society prevails. The problem with strategies though, is that they are designed around previous experience and the predictability of the response to the strategy. But when faced with an outlier, an event so beyond the conventional wisdom of the statistical model, strategies fall apart.

These exceptional children are outliers. The strategies do not work. This is why their influence can be so strong and devastating. So what should be done? Firstly, it is important to state that the education system should not be held responsible for the upbringing of the nation's children. It is not for teachers to fix these broken children, although we try our best to do so because we care greatly about each child that we work with. Outliers, in all circumstances, require unique solutions. Perhaps even draconian ones. For me, my overriding principles tell me that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. All across the country, these exceptional children are stealing away the education and life chances of other children. This cannot be right. This situation is reflected elsewhere in society and it is the reason that we are seeing the damage being caused by the scum on the streets.

These are the same few who are terrorising estates up and down the land, the same few who are striking fear in to other people's lives. This cannot be right. When looking at this problem some years back, the government resolved to create a unique solution – in that case, the response was the creation of the Anti-social Behaviour Order (ASBO). The situation is again reflected in the adult world, with the same miniscule number of thugs committing repeat offences and the most serious crimes. New York, famously, was the first to promote its zero tolerance policy as a unique solution to the problem. These people are the outliers and have been allowed to become a dominance in some circumstances. Because their behaviours are so outrageous, so beyond the norm, it is easy to write news articles that will draw in a readership and enhance profits for the media. It is not quite such a hot off the press topic to announce that the overwhelming majority of people are good, decent and law abiding. That almost everyone is simply getting on with their lives without hurting anyone else, with causing a fuss, with shouting from the roof tops "Look at me! Look at me!" So the media becomes populated with the scare stories, they gain momentum and without much provocation we end up with the ridiculous situation that we have now that people's perception of the number of crimes being committed and their fear of being a victim of crime far outweighs the actual amount of criminal behaviour.

What we are seeing on the streets has nothing to do with government cuts, it has nothing to do with poverty, it has nothing to do with youth services or schools. I grew up in what is now referred to as poverty. But my parents instilled in me a sense of purpose, a sense of self-respect. An understanding that I have responsibility. Those around me who were unemployed (many long term) did not use that as an excuse to steal from others or destroy peoples' livelihoods.

Many years now of a nanny state approach has removed the stigma of being a bad parent. Has numbed some people in to thinking that the State is responsibility for raising their children. Has propogated the notion that everyone has rights but no responsibilities.

And teachers in schools are fighting against this day after day.

For me, learning and growing as a person is far too important to be allowed to suffer because of the exceptions. I would remove these children from the system entirely and make specialist provision for them. There will be an outcry at that remark from the intellectual-left, but it has been shown time and again that exceptional situations call for exceptional responses. And I am absolutely open to being told that I am wrong, to being told that there is a better solution. But only from those who are actually proposing a solution that will work in practice and not from the wishy-washy types who, knowing it should offend their sensitivities, will simply say that removing the children is wrong on principal without ever having to face the real pain of working in a system where these children are beyond the capabilities of the strategies. These types would allow the rest to suffer because of this group of outliers and that is not the type of society that I would want to live in. These types would allow the violence on the streets to continue because their PC attitudes would not condone strong policing.

We should not, must not, allow the tiniest proportion of outlier children and adults to influence and dominate our schools and society. They are not the majority. They are not in control. Look at those on the streets tidying and sweeping, caring for each other, condemning the scumbags.

Britain is not broken. Young and old, blue collar and white collar, male and female, black and white, rich and poor, people are good.