Since when did we become a nation of ‘haters’? My best friend Chris is dramatically opposite to me, public school educated, teaching in an affluent girls’ grammar school, he is generous, caring and his opinion is invaluable. I learn a lot from him. We are lifelong friends who are opposite in so many ways and due to our backgrounds and experiences, a friendship would have been lost if we had kept to our stereotypical groups. After the tragic death of the politician Jo Cox, there appeared to be a national pause in the rhetoric, the post Brexit ‘fire and brimstone’. Yet, this amnesty was so short lived. A variety of MPs are fearful over daily death threats with Diane Abbott the most ‘hated’ MP, rightly sharing some of the daily abusive tweets she receives, comments I thought belonged in the dark ages, which are simply not acceptable. These need to be tackled more rigorously, as any good school would do!
Yet, it is not just MPs who receive regular, horrific, hateful abuse. All those in the public sector are now seen to be fair game for abuse, with parents regularly making ‘false’ abusive comments and coming down to ‘sort out’ myself and or my staff as they believe the messages given by their precious offspring. They simplify and see support of their children and, at times good parenting, as unconditional whatever the circumstances. They are challenged daily but it is wearing and a continual surprise. Since when did this become part of the job, part of Britain?
Worcester 2017, the happiest place to live in Britain, is like many cities seeing an unprecedented increase in the need for food banks, a rise in rough sleepers that populate every doorway and a year on year horrific rise in reported sexual assaults on women. Damningly, in the shadow of the iconic cathedral, drug dealing and homelessness occur of those of my catchment area. Our Boxing Day walk saw my family ‘stumble’ on Max and Darren (names changed), thirty some things, rough sleepers, Max had collapsed and we did not ‘step’ over him like many of the Christmas strollers but called the paramedics. Darren’s story of redundancy, relationship breakdown and dependency was depressingly familiar, made all the more so as he was an ex-student, class of 2003, whose optimistic SIMS profile picture did not prepare me for this reunion. We followed the ambulance to the war zone that was Worcester A & E, drunks, those with obvious mental health, corridors full of elderly. Later that evening in the blizzard we attempted to meet with Darren as prearranged, new sleeping bag and coat on offer. His perhaps predictable non-appearance dampened festivities in the Morris household as we pondered what might be. Darren is 29, five years older than my eldest, his GCSEs are not a protector against the bleak midwinter. The closure of the shelters on Christmas Day and Boxing Day and the opening of ‘Drunk Tanks’ to cope with the festival are damning indictments of our cities and our society and cannot be pushed into the dark, hidden doorways as currently occurs.
At the homeless day centre the next day, a weariness amongst the staff was perhaps understandable as they struggled to cope with a volatile, abusive elderly man who replicated the abusive language we had witnessed a harassed A & E nurse receive. Apparently, Darren is volatile, unpredictable and not to be approached; not the boy I knew or the man who I observed caring for his friend.
Therefore, as one who passionately believes education can and does make an impact, what can we do to make our community more caring, less abusive and more tolerant? We need to protect the Darrens of the future. These two New Year’s resolutions are perhaps my hopeful requirement for Britain, but are my statement as a leader of my school. We will:
- Continue to highlight the vulnerable in our society and support our local and international charities.
- Continue to promote independent careers education and a values and ethics curriculum that is truly valued and will be properly judged externally.
As an educated, prosperous, caring nation we need to:
- Value all who work in the public sector – perhaps even honour a few of the workers in next year’s Honours – a few less politicians and a few more workers would be my wish.
- Stop differentiating between children. This starts with our obsession with results and school league tables. Level 5 good, Level 4 bad is too simplistic a label, which hardly protected Darren whose 6 A*- Cs were deemed successful but clearly did not protect him for his future life.
- Ensure school leaders do not allow students to be taken off roll to become ‘children missing education’. This has coined the new early contender for the most offensive educational phrase, ‘offrolling’, and will allow the Darrens of this world to become forgotten and lost.
‘Take responsibility for all in your diverse community and celebrate their differences’, might be a good positive 2018 mantra and might allow those of us who have the privilege of being in education to enjoy making a lifelong impact. After all, that’s what most of us came into education for. Meeting Darren was a salutary experience that leaves you questioning so much and although Worcester has many attributes, for so many in M&S doorways a happy city was not the phrase I or they would use. A caring community online and in practice is what I hope for.