Resistance is Useless

In these dying days of New Labour, it seems likely that their most lasting legacy will be the triumph of form over content, spin over substance and the First Law of Blairism, Thou Shalt Be Seen To Be Doing Something.

For example, child protection. There’s been no real progress on the meaningful prevention of further "Baby P" type tragedies among the underclass. There are many kids being horribly abused in infancy and growing up into the little terrors who make life a daily misery for their decent and law-abiding neighbours, and the usual response from the social services is to shunt the problem around from agency to agency until a horrible tragedy occurs and the papers are filled with hand-wringing and calls for resignations. However, what we do have is the most ludicrous, draconian and intrusive legislation imaginable about to be enacted in the name of "child protection."

Brought in on the wave of public reaction to the admittedly horrible deaths of Holly and Jessica, two young girls who were murdered by a school caretaker who never should have been in post if the agencies responsible for keeping an eye on him had done their job properly, we are about to see a law brought into force that will mean anyone who so much as offers a lift to a football match or a girl guides meeting to a child not their own, more than once a month, will be expected to register at their own expense (of around £65) to be vetted by child protection agencies. Yes, nice middle-class mums and dads who help out with ferrying around their primary school football team or take it in turns to drive their daughter’s friends to camping trips, that means you. Pay to prove you aren’t a child molester, or you’re breaking the law.

Of course the effect this will have on the safety of our most vulnerable children is minimal. If anything, it could isolate them even more by driving away sincere volunteers from working with young people. How many students or small Brownie Packs can afford to spend £65.00 on vetting somebody who may only be around for a term?

But this culture of appearances goes deeper than that. For example, for complex reasons that may be expensive to solve, a school goes into special measures, as my daughter’s did a couple of years ago. A new team is brought in and almost invariably they tighten up on uniform rules. As a child of the liberal Sixties, where even to order a little girl to wear a skirt was considered to be an assault on her creativity and freedom, I’m continually amazed by the complexity and strictness of school uniform rules for even the smallest children these days (and remember, in England they can be starting compulsory education well before the age of four). Because school uniform is an easy target, a very obvious way to create the illusion of control.

Yesterday my daughter’s most intelligent, independent and capable friend – someone we hold up to her as a role model, spent the entire day sitting alone in silence outside the Headmaster’s office, missing an entire day’s lessons at the start of her GCSE year. She comes from a professional home, her mother works in a far more demanding, deprived school than my daughter’s, and because she refused to walk away from the class she was teaching in order to collect her child and voluntarily exclude her, this cruel and unusual punishment was inflicted – to the extent that the girl wasn’t even allowed to see her friends at lunchtime.

Her crime? She turned up in grey and white striped socks, instead of the regulation black.

Thus is Blairism pacified. Thou shalt be seen to be Doing Something, and in the interests of same, it is perfectly all right to pick an easy target and let the real trouble-makers go their merry way.

My son is offering to organise a mass rebellion, and have everyone turn up in grey socks and V masks on the appointed day. I am so very proud of him.

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6 thoughts on “Resistance is Useless

  1. That is indeed a ludicrous if small-scale injustice. If they really felt it necessary to punish her, they could have let her stay in class but made her eat lunch alone. Take away the purely fun and non-essential part of school, but let her get the important parts.
    Or — but this would be sensible — they could have given her black socks to change into, and sent her parents the bill.
    I’m a bit younger than you, but not by much, and if my school had a dress code other than “shirts, shoes, and some kind of bottom-half covering”, I never knew what it was! (I don’t know what they would have done if a boy had ever turned up in a skirt: discussed it a lot, but let him do it, I suspect.)

  2. That’s pretty nuts. Of course, school uniforms in general seem like an odd idea to an American (and child of the 70s) like me.
    But regardless of the exact form these things take, it seems to be SOP that all of these things designed to “protect” (especially children) end up punishing the innocent without ever so much as touching the true problems/threats.
    Good for your son, BTW. The lad has excellent priorities. 🙂

  3. I’ve been fuming about the register-to-take-a-kid-to-Brownies thing, too, and spent a while wondering whether I was just being terribly middle-class selfish because suddenly here comes a piece of legislation which could impact annoyingly upon me. But I’ve been reflecting, and I can see at least two things genuinely, frighteningly wrong about it:
    a) Along with other similar recent strictures such as the requirement for all authors who ever go into schools to be CRB checked (cue fulmination by Philip Pullman and others), I think this is sending a really worrying message to children (who aren’t stupid, or blind, or deaf): Adults Are Not To Be Trusted. Not even your friends’ dads or mums. Adults are out to harm you.
    Now, I know it’s true that virtually all kids who are abused suffer it at the hands of known, trusted adults. But that is not the same as saying that the vast, vast majority of adults are not trustworthy; because they are. Without in any way wishing to diminish the experience of those who are abused, the proportion of children who suffer abuse is very small, and given that most abusers are serial, the proportion of adults who do it is even smaller.
    Surely children are more at risk in a world in which they think all adults other than their parents are potential evil monsters? I really worry about a society in which a child who, say, gets lost in the street will not approach any adult for help, or accept help from an (almost certainly genuine) adult who offers it, because surely that leaves them more vulnerable and more prey to harm. My husband has at least once seen a small and apparently lost child crying in a busy shopping street and asked me to go and speak to the child instead of him, because he worried that if he did so it could be misconstrued. I don’t like the position that leaves children in.
    b) I got really worried when I found myself fulminating about Interfering Big Government, because it makes me sound like the madder end of the Republican Party, and it’s ever so convenient to claim that the state has no place, for example, stopping one beating one’s wife or one’s kids… But I still think this is both unwarranted and really dangerous interference. It’s disempowering us as communities; it’s saying “you parents are incapable of deciding which adults among you are to be trusted with each other’s children”, and it’s not a long way from that to “I won’t bother taking an interest in the adults in our community who are doing things with the local kids, because it’s not my role; the Government says so and they’ve done the vetting and They Know Best.” There is a lot of guff talked about empowering communities by government when it is convenient, but this is actively working in entirely the opposite direction.
    Oh, and how un-green is it too? since it’s going to lead to four whopping great people-carriers turning up to every kids’ activity for every one that could actually suffice.
    I suspect it will be almost universally ignored and almost entirely unenforceable. And governments which push through that kind of legislation are usually in Deep Trouble. (Poll tax, anyone?)
    Oh, gods, David Cameron is going to point out how utterly stupid this is, and I am going to find myself having to agree with the Tories again. Hell. Bloody Labour, how can you?
    Sorry, comment probably longer than post! My rant button got pushed!
    And tell your son from me he rocks. I’m not surprised you’re as proud as punch, you should be. Schools like that tend not to know they’re born.

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