A vandalised political party poster from the 2010 campaign.
We’re terrifically excited at Tallis. We had a Community Day before Easter on Protest and taught our young people about democracy and participation. We’ve got posters up all over the yard, showing the parties, their leaders and the Woolwich and Greenwich candidates. We’ll have an election on 5th May so will confidently be able to tell the nation what awaits us all before the actual day.
Talking this through at Governors last night, one suggested that we should make the children register to vote before they actually put the cross in the box. I think that’s a great idea, because the issue isn’t so much persuading people that democracy is a good thing or the least worst thing, but in getting them to stir their stumps and fetch up to the polling station. We like campaigns at Tallis. We had LGBT month which was very successful with special assemblies, t-shirts, lanyards, posters all over the place. I heard a child explain to another, as if to one of surprising density, ‘Its Gay Week, innit?’. Not a single poster was removed, defaced or misappropriated.
I’m not surprised that the Get Over It campaign was more respected than some politicians. Young people cannot fathom the ways of the old. It is blindingly obvious to most of them that inclusivity is the right way to live. They’re interested in people’s struggles and would like to understand the world and change it for the better. Prurient prejudice is incomprehensible: why would you be bothered about sexuality? What is the matter with you people?
Politics, however, is encouraged by a bad press which gives an excuse for not voting. Young people and non-voting adults believe that politicians lie and can’t be trusted. One reason is that it’s hard to make a political promise – an economic promise - that is simultaneously easy to understand and true. Politics involves compromise, and you need a clear understanding of the flawed possibilities of human life to keep cheerful about it. Being outraged about inequality and politicians’ refusal to tackle it is reasonable and understandable: not voting is unreasonable and nihilist. Decisions are made by those who show up. We do the best we can.
However, one does sympathise with despair at political pronouncements. The government have decreed that all year 7 students who didn’t meet the expected standard (what we used to call level 4) in reading, writing and maths in year 6 will have to take the tests again. That was 21% in 2014. 21% of Year 6 students have SEN and are mostly exempt from the proposed re-sits. So who’ll do the tests? When? Will secondaries keep these little ones out of the timetable until they pass? Will that help them get cleverer? How will Ofsted measure it?
And so to #2 in an occasional series of Things Overheard That Make Me Want To Bang My Head Against A Wall. A renowned prep school was being discussed at a small hotel to which I betook my weary bones after Easter. Thus: ‘It’s wonderful, so very child-centred. They value childhood and even teach some of them how to be children. Oh, and they all swim across the river with their clothes on.’ Try that in a state school and count the days until the Head appears in the paper and her job in the TES. I hope that none of the children frittering away their time learning to swim were under par in the KS2 tests. Oh, I forgot: they don’t have to do them in the private schools. Endless testing: good for other people’s children. Learning how to save your own life and have fun too: good for rich people’s children.
Sometimes at school we have hard messages to impart which help young people grow up. We tell them if they generally tell the truth, try hard and act honestly that they will be believed. If they generally behave unfairly or thoughtlessly they are less likely to be trusted when it matters most to them. Children understand that so most of them learn that honest error is forgivable but sustained deception makes community life unsustainable. We teach them to make up their minds about people based on how they treat others. And then we tell them to vote.