Says who? Ofsted, in a recent report. Said boys’ alliterative proclivities nourish failure in comprehensive schools. The three Fs are, apparently, not conducive to three As and consequent Russell Group entry. So know we know.
Some might deem these observations a rather toxic mix of condescension, ignorance and insult and give Ofsted a whopping “unsatis”. Whatever, we can’t duck this thorniest of problems. Why do comprehensives fail too many working white class boys?
No-one’s ever cracked this. Not Richard Hoggart on literacy, Basil Bernstein on speech, nor Owen Jones on “Chavs”. So many theories claim our attention – it’s our post-industrial, post-crash society or the demonisation of the working class – or absent fathers, lousy housing, Turkey Twizzlers, Wayne Rooney. The lot. Whatever. Take your pick. And now David Willetts, University Minister weighs in.
“Treat white working class boys like an ethnic minority!”
This may ruffle a few tender gender sensitivities, but I’m nearly with him. Though it is, once again, all a bit vague.
So let’s look at the living article – Dave Mania. White, bright and working class. There he is, standing on a corner in the endless English rain and in much unquiet desperation. He’s 30 and stoned again on Stella or worse, with a mastiff munching vigorously on a traffic cone. I mustn’t go too Dickens here, but someone’s surely failed him. You? Me? Who knows? I once taught him.
Well, we shared a classroom for five years. I tried to make him literate. He tried to make me bonkers. Did he need a better teacher? Probably. I could never do that tough love, those unambiguous boundaries – or that Sir Alex hair-dryer stuff. So Dave bunked and went to PRUs and shrinks and courts and then left and did short time on sites and in jail and kept raging vaguely with nothing left to lose or hope for. He pursued his fate. An extreme exemplum? Not at all. Dave Mania is on every corner of every English city. Check him.
Like me. I give him the urban, dead eyes. He gives me some back. I’m a just another tosser with DMs and a Guardian. Then he clocks me clocking him. He gives me a half smile – and then cancels it. It’s all too late. It’s enough to make you weep. I walk on.
So enough of Ofsted. Here are my three initiatives. Small classes. More working class male teachers like Phil Beadle – and Sir Alex to replace the Gove.
• Ian Whitwham is a former teacher in inner city London.