Lesson 43 Shelter from the Storm

Lesson 43 on How things are never that simple

It’s trendy to self-review nowadays by asking “What are the three best things about our school?  Then “What are the three things we would most like to improve?”  Notice we don’t use any negative terms. Perish the thought that we should use the word “bad”, let alone reprehensible or criminal.

At Mandy’s school it was easy to draw up the “bad” list – in the words of Mr Blair – “Education, education, education!”. Nobody learnt anything much.  Nobody had ever gained a GCE, except in Urdu and that was because it was their first language.  Everybody sat the second-class CSEs or else no exam at all.

There were a range of reasons for this.  The school was in an area of low expectations and high employment.  It was possible to earn good money without an exam to your name. Housing was cheap and plentiful.

Nobody cared much about bad schools in bad areas.  Their results had always been bad.  It was expected. Some local authorities did wonderful work, but more didn’t. There was no standardised nationwide recording of results.  Inspections were few and far between.

Then, as now, bad schools attracted bad staff. (You need to be hard or highly motivated to survive, so bad schools attract bullies, sadists, misfits, paedophiles and the poorly qualified.  Good staff stay for as short a time as possible, then move on.)

There were rigid rules for staff at Mandy’s school.  Nobody was allowed to see a child alone behind a closed door.  Even Nurse had her door ajar, or me in as chaperone when necessary.  Classroom doors had windows and teachers were expected to be in full view.  The head patrolled regularly and had her spies.  She made sure her pupils were protected.  This was a “Best Thing”.

Another best thing was that any accident, injury, sign or even suspicion, of injury was meticulously recorded and followed up.  I was employed to ensure this was done and to liaise with all the relevant agencies. 

One day Marlene came in with a black eye.  Immediately I got in touch with the primary school her many brothers and sisters attended. A check there confirmed assorted marks, bruises and scratches. The Education Welfare Officer was despatched to the home.  All the children of course denied anything had occurred.

Mother was beside herself.  “I knew this would happen!” she raged. “I told Marlene to stay at home!”  But no way was Marlene going to miss the diversion of school.  She had run off in defiant attendance.

In the end the truth came out.  Separate interrogation of the victims uncovered a major incident amongst the siblings the previous evening concerning a dispute over the TV remote control.

Still, better safe than sorry. Everybody on the estate knew the school was looking out for the children. In those days we didn’t have child abuse.  We had incest, cruelty and neglect. Pupils and families knew we were on the watch, and we weren’t nice credulous do-gooders who would nod sympathetically and go away.

But the very best thing about the school was it provided a place of practical advice, information and support.  It fed you, kept you out of the cold, listened to your problems, stopped you feeling alone and made sure you got taken to hospital when you were sick.

Like the title said- a shelter in the storm.



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