Nothing I have ever written has produced a reaction like the Guardian series on schools which is now being published as a book – a torrent of readers’ letters spilling over with passion, more than a hundred invitations to speak at public meetings, a couple of journalism awards and a personal denunciation from the prime minister and the secretary of state for education. The current editor says the response was of a different order to anything else he has seen since he took over the paper (and this is the editor who presided over the demise of Aitken, Hamilton and Mandelson). What was that about?
Stories from 2000:
A year after Bristol police finally started to unravel the ring of paedophiles in the city who had been abusing children for up to twenty years, they came across an informant who opened up a new and alarming line of inquiry.
A little way south of the centre of Bristol, there is a neat and peaceful patch of suburbia called Brislington. In amongst its red-brick rows of Victorian terraced homes, there is a street called Churchill Road – just an ordinary collection of two-storey houses with patches of grass out back and a couple of For Sale signs in the front. The door to number 49 is painted cream.
One good thing about spitting is that it helps to pass the time. It’s morning, about nine o’clock, and down on the streets of south London the school buses have dumped their loads and the playgrounds have gone quiet. Up here, on the top floor of the tower block, the day has started, as it always does, with Karen and Philly and Annie May and the others, sitting slouched on the black-tile floor by the liftshaft, staring at the scorch mark at the top of the rubbish chute and smoking fags and watching the minutes go by and practising their spitting.
In the bizarre world of Britain’s target-driven schools, it is not only teachers who have joined children in cheating to get good results. The Department for Education are in there, too.
If Tony Blair can do it, then so can we. Let us think the unthinkable. Repeatedly.
It is no longer shocking to hear of secondary school students becoming involved with drugs. It would be shocking but not unprecedented to find primary school students doing the same. However, this is the story of a primary school headteacher who was sacked last month for stealing from her school after becoming embroiled in paying off drug debts to a gang of armed crack dealers.
There were eighteen children in a classroom. All of them had three things in common: they were all studying Macbeth for GCSE English; they had all turned in essays to be assessed as part of their GCSE; and not one of them had written a single word of any of the essays, because their teacher (with a little help from her husband) had spent the weekend writing the whole lot for them.
The lost American nods into his beer and says that the Greeks are different. He should know. He came here, he’s not sure, maybe 20 years ago – he just dropped out and never came back – and he’s been here ever since, mostly writing poetry, and for all that time he’s been illegal, no kind of papers at all, and the fact is that it’s never caused him a moment’s hassle.
There are many mysteries in David Blunkett’s Department for Education, but the greatest of them all is this: where has all the money gone?