At the chalkface: London Calling

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Cities are good for you. Any fule kno this. We’re a mongrel island, a mongrel city. Of course there are tensions and anxieties, but we must surely be true to the better angels of our nature and not be seduced by a Farrago of fear. There’s too much good to

They’re shrieking high, talking trash and checking their cells, as they walk past Nail Bars, Tattoo Parlours, Polish builders, a Latvian Computer Garage, a Moroccan fishmonger, an Italian Coffee bar – “sixth cup free” – and an emporium peddling Jerk Chickens to the music of King Tubby. Many pupils munch on culinary catastrophes.

Delivery boys flirt in vain with the girls at the bus stop by Sainsbury’s. Small boys josh, push and put each other in headlocks, before storming the 52 bus. Their ties are skew whiff, their trousers too long and their sentences unfinished and mostly in Martian. A doe-eyed 10th year girl moons over a floppy locked 6th form boy. They’re the only ones not laughing.

Mirth seems invincible.

Welcome to the inner city. Why does it seem to scare so many? It’s so-called “urban blight” prompts White flight to market towns or leafy boroughs or the countryside, where their offspring can get a better education, where “you can swap illiteracy for racism” as that wicked Stewart Lee has it.

Well, not quite so, Stew.

Check Professor Simon Burgess of Bristol University, whose research last week concluded that “the best place to be educated is London”. Its pupils are doing better academically than the rest of the country. Their GCSE results are the best value-added.

What good news! London’s state schools are where’s it at.

Why? The London Challenge? “Teach First”? More Money? More teachers? Better teachers? Rich folks in dire straits? All of these? Perhaps.

But that’s not the main reason. It’s “ethnic diversity”, says the research. Immigration – or is it integration? It’s good for you. What good news! In these drear times! I’ve always thought this. The pupils in my school had 85 languages and the place just buzzed. Mix it up. Mash it up. Big cities do.

Cities are good for you. Any fule kno this. We’re a mongrel island, a mongrel city. Of course there are tensions and anxieties, but we must surely be true to the better angels of our nature and not be seduced by a Farrago of fear. There’s too much good to win.

A girl in a hijab shares a huge headphone with her giggling chum under those gun-metal skies. I wonder what they’re listening too? The sounds of the city? The Clash? 

“London Calling! Won’t you give me a smile?”

The academic centre of the known universe.

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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