The Riots Communities and Victims panel has produced 63 recommendations aimed at preventing a repetition of the riots of August 2011.
It is time to act. Who is going to do so?
The riots were dramatic. They were, according to people who are in the know, expected. Tension had been growing for some time, and the Arab Spring and the student demonstrations had made young people feel as though it was their time to speak out.
Nobody condones the looting and violence that took place. Yet, as a society we do need to look at why this behaviour took place, and it is never as simple as one catalyst and one reason.
Some of our young people feel disheartened, dejected, useless and without hope. If young people have no hope, then they often have no concern for what might happen should they disobey the law. If there is no concern for others and the community in which they live, then there is often a continuous undercurrent of anger. Emotions that are not contained or positively channelled become destructive. Collective destructive emotions that are not contained or used productively can and do create havoc.
Poor housing, economic deprivation, lack of qualifications and jobs, lack of ‘schooling’, gang culture, unfair treatment by police, lack of community – all of these have been suggested as possible reasons why young people rioted. None of these issues is a single causal factor – which is why it is so important that there is some serious coordination in how these recommendations are implemented. Fragmented action will not work.
We know this because we have seen this happen in the past.
For example, let’s look at teenage conception rates and the strategies which were adopted for lowering them.
Money was provided for borough-based Teenage Pregnancy Strategies, but the appointed coordinators were given no authority to direct colleagues to act. Schools were expected to implement quality-assured Sex and Relationship Education, but a great many didn’t. Housing departments were often not engaged in discussions. Youth and health services were desperately trying to develop support for young people but the coordination was impossible without the appropriate directive from those at the ‘top’ in local authorities – the Chief Executives, the Directors of Children’s Services and the Directors of Public Health.
We must learn from these errors and ensure that there is a coherent plan to implement the recommendations from this report because it’s quite evident from what they have recommended that the panel are not even aware that there is a current PSHE education programme that could be effective if it was given the priority in schools that is clearly needed.
The recommendations come under seven categories;
1. Children and parents
2. Personal resilience
3. Hopes and dreams
5. Usual suspects
6. Police and public
7. Community engagement, involvement and cohesion
To read the executive summary in full, please follow this link.
The recommendations are too extensive to comment on every single one of them in this blog , but certain issues need to be pointed out.
The recommendation about “Children and parents” says that local authorities have a coordinating role, particularly with vulnerable children and families.
This is not new. Look at any Children and Young People’s Plan and it is all there. What isn’t always there is the action! Plans remain plans if they are not acted upon. Some years ago, a Common Assessment Framework (CAF) was introduced to ensure that there was cohesion and coordination between parents, children and all professionals working with them. They were not used appropriately because of the onus and the additional workload on the first professional to complete the form, and the bureaucracy involved.
It simply needed effective coordination – which is NOT rocket science!
The recommendations about “Personal Resilience” are important and clearly indicate the need for PSHE education and Citizenship education in our schools, and therefore require further comments from 3Di Associates.
The first recommendation in this section (7) suggests that schools should “publish their policies for building the character of their pupils by September 2013”.
Precisely WHO is going to look at these policies with any knowledge and understanding – when so many local authority PSHE advisers have been made redundant? On the same point, who is going to assist schools in developing these policies? And after submitting a policy, as has been seen in the past with Equalities or Anti-Bullying submissions, this does not mean the policy is implemented. Who is available to support the implementation following the current government’s decision to massively reduce public sector spending?
The next recommendation (8) suggests that “character building” should be a central part of the government’s review of PSHE.
A significant review of PSHE has been done in the past and recommendations ignored. The current review of PSHE does not include the need to make it a statutory subject, despite the existing duty on schools to “promote the wellbeing of pupils”. Outcomes relating to “character building” are already in the PSHE education curriculum BUT IT IS NOT BEING IMPLEMENTED.
Apologies for the capitalisation but for those of us who have tirelessly been pressing the need for PSHE over a number of years are exceedingly exasperated, and fear that we will be further exasperated by the government’s reluctance to implement this recommendation.
Recommendation 9 says that schools should “undertake regular assessments of pupils’ strength of character”. How are pupils going to be graded on whether they are a decent human being?
3Di Associates has answers to this, which avoid making children feel labelled. Will anyone approach us to consider effective means of tracking pupils’ development – their wellbeing and their resilience?
Recommendation 10 says that Ofsted should review how schools “build character in their pupils” by October 2013. We wonder what the outcomes of that might be? Perhaps they might recommend that schools teach PSHE, even though they are not obliged to do so under current curriculum legislation?
The next sets of recommendations are about “Hopes and Dreams”. Many recommendations concentrate on the role of the Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) where pupils who are having difficulties in mainstream schools are referred to. These are the institutions that Mr. Gove, our minister for education, would like to become academies – taken out of control of local authorities, working independently and therefore with no obligation to coordinate with local schools and services.
The “Hopes and Dreams” recommendations also suggest that schools should receive financial penalties for producing “illiterate” pupils. Precisely how is that going to help schools who are already under the cosh to help their needy pupils in climates of increasing financial cutbacks?
And that’s before we consider what “illiterate” actually means.
There are further numerous recommendations about “Usual suspects” (– nothing like a Velcro label to help determine a child’s future!) and “Police and Public”.
Once more the themes are focused on coordination, collaboration, community cohesion – all buzz words that have been touted around previously but have never been acted upon.
The final recommendation says “The Department of Communities and Local Government should work with public services and neighbourhoods to develop community involvement strategies, with neighbourhood volunteering at their heart”.
Very Big Society!
Once more though, we have to ask the question – what public services? What local authority?
The current cuts have devastated youth service provision. The ‘localities’ and ‘neighbourhoods’ have never been fully developed to be effective, and have never properly engaged with young people.
And who is going to pay for these vital services that the government keeps on slashing, or which local authorities feel compelled to slash, depending on your point of view?
It’s a depressing and frustrating read because nobody needed a crystal ball to predict this kind of disaster.
Our children and young people are not given sufficient opportunities to develop intelligently.
A PSHE education lesson is only part of it.
PSHE and the aims of developing multiple intelligences (personal, instinctual, social, emotional, etc) should be an integral part of every lesson in every school. It should be about every interaction between people, every policy, every relationship with those outside school too.
If we are truly going to make a difference to the lives of our young people and build resilience or “character” then we have to do this everywhere and not in token designated ‘lessons’. It must be embedded within the culture and ethos of every school, and preferably within society as a whole. But that’s another very big question.
This needs to be coordinated. It needs all people in a community to be engaged.
And it CAN be done.