First: what could we improve about school? Sadly, this stumped them because they think it’s great. When pressed they said that they’d like to have their own week in the Library, that the water fountains could be cleaner and that the bridge got a bit crowded at lesson change. Oh, and on the matter of lesson change, how could they get from one to another without any travelling time? How indeed. A conundrum of school life. We need another library, cleaner plumbing, a wider bridge and, I believe, physics. (We don’t give travel time because it encourages loafing.)
Second, what did they think we did well? Clubs, trips and visits. The opportunity to do extra things (like Latin), the food, rugby. And subjects, they’re really interesting.
Having expected the first question to take longer, which it certainly does by year 9, I hastily invented a third. If you ruled the world, and who’s to say you won’t one day, how would you make it a better place for young people? They talked to one another – quite loudly – and wanted to solve the following. Ending knife crime so fewer young people die. Lowering the voting age so old people don’t make bad decisions they won’t have to live with. Better free facilities in local areas, like swimming pools and wildlife parks. Ending discrimination and racism so that everything is fair. Stopping littering. Helping people with rent and food costs. Not cutting down trees. Teaching black history. Sign language a compulsory part of the curriculum. More poetry. More food banks so that everyone can get what they need.
Hold on, I said, trying not to be too tough on a young altruistic thinker. Wouldn’t it be better to live in a world where we didn’t need food banks. He had to think a bit. Yes, obviously, he said, with the air of youth kindly tolerating dotage. But ... It doesn’t have to be like this, I said. Food Banks used to be very, very, rare, for people on the very margins of society. Not in every community, not for people in work. Note to self: remember this conversation.
Later the same day I read the Leading in Practice review by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, just published last month. Ethics remain in the news, with the report on the former Secretary of State and his subsequent departure from his subsequent role, and there’s at least another one on the stocks. One would hope that the Committee for Standards in Public Life was buoyant.
Page 15, however, is terrifying:
for some civil servants, working at the centre of government on policies that are pushing at the boundaries of legality, this presents more of a challenge than they have experienced under previous governments [...] the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case noted: ‘The government of the day are not remotely afraid of controversial policies. They believe that have a mandate to test established boundaries.'
Last week I tried to write something serious on the day that Donald Trump was allowed back on Facebook by Nick Clegg. A global platform for a man who proudly can’t tell truth from lies facilitated by a man who couldn’t keep a promise.
I’m sure boundary pushing is a jolly jape, a wonderful debating point, and feels very exciting in the corridors of power. Iconoclasm, a mention in the history books and all that. But where do the boundaries go? Right into the head of an intelligent and good-hearted 11-year-old who’s going into adolescence thinking that food banks are normal and should be more widely available.
If I ruled the world I’d want to change it for the better.