Friday, September 25, 2009

School seeks dinner lady. Humans need not apply.

This brilliant article in today's Guardian by Jenni Russell brings home how New Labour have enormously empowered petty dictatorial bureaucratic authority and poisoned the relationship between adults and children in the public space with suspicion and fear.

'It was never in any election manifesto, and yet it will be one of this government's most disastrous legacies. The transformation of the relationship between adults and children into one of caution, suspicion, confusion and fear will outlast many other Labour reforms. Stealthily, and without open political debate, we have moved from the assumption that all adults have a role in socialising children, towards a new and uncertain world in which contact with children is increasingly regulated by officials and the state. It is a kind of collective madness, in which the boundaries of what we are allowed to do shift too fast and too secretly for us to keep up.

This week a dinner lady at a village primary school was sacked for telling a child's parents that she was sorry their daughter had been attacked in the playground at school. Carol Hill had found seven-year-old Chloe David tied up by her wrists and ankles, surrounded by four boys, having been whipped with a skipping rope across her legs. Hill had rescued the child and taken the boys to the headteacher.

That night she bumped into the parents, who were friends of hers, and offered her sympathy. It instantly became clear that the parents had not been told the story by the school. Their daughter had arrived home traumatised and refusing to talk about what happened, with a note saying only that she had been "hurt in a skipping-rope incident". As soon as the school discovered that Hill had told the parents the truth, she was first suspended for several months, and then sacked by the governors for "breaching pupil confidentiality".

This is a new world, in which schools may effectively lie to parents about traumatic events affecting their children, and yet where the only offence committed is by a person who unwittingly breaks that official secrecy. It is no longer the proper role of adults, even those in a tiny village, where everyone knows everyone else, to discuss the behaviour of children. It is for the state to define who may speak and who must be silent.

To officialdom, this is perfectly acceptable. What happened in Essex isn't an aberration, but evidence of a new philosophy in action. It's one that expects people to act not as concerned adults, but as automatons. Yesterday morning the chief executive of the National Association of Headteachers was asked what he thought Hill should have done in the instant that she realised Chloe's parents were in the dark. His response? That she should have refused to comment, and then followed "proper procedures and processes" within the school if she was unhappy with what the family had been told.'

Read the full article here.

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