We were delighted to receive a very good follow-through report after a full inspection by HM Inspectorate of Education in 2004. A copy, with an impressive glossy cover, was provided for all our stakeholders, and staff were alerted to look out for a press piece.
We made it into the press alright, but with no mention of the report. Its release coincided with a sexier story about 22 of our windows having been smashed in.
The reaction of parents was interesting. I had not one comment about the positive follow-through to our inspection. But I had several unexpected visits from those who were shocked at the vandalism. They assured me they would be putting out feelers in the community and that, when they had identified the culprits, I would be the first to know. What they expected me to do, I'm not quite sure. As it turned out, the police seemed to have a good idea and an ex-pupil and his mate were soon in court.
If we put aside the issue of why 17-year-olds get their jollies from wandering around at night smashing windows, there is the other one about why they target a school.
In his TESS column on October 27, Ian Smith asked: "How affiliated are your pupils to the school?" Statistics on school vandalism could provide part of the answer.
Education for citizenship has been part of the curriculum for a while, its introduction following the poor turnout by voters in the last general election. Had that particular ex-pupil been leant upon to recycle paper in an eco-school, taken part in planning entertainment for senior citizens as part of an enterprise project, or been encouraged to choose Fair Trade bananas, would he have become a more responsible citizen in his teens?
When you talk to teachers about education for citizenship, they are more likely to groan than to enthuse, but they have come up with the goods through rebadging activities and highlighting specific events. Use of specially-produced resources has helped to give appropriate emphasis to issues such as racism and sectarianism. However, I feel more and more uncomfortable about the element of deceit in the way that we challenge pupils to participate actively as citizens.
Our pupil council suggested installation of CCTV as a practical way of reducing vandalism costs to the school. I had to explain there was little chance of the authority forking out a fair part of the budget for the city to tackle our problem. What does that tell them about their role in decision-making?
The success of education for citizenship cannot be judged solely on behaviour in school, where political correctness has been learned by most pupils through a combination of direct teaching and promotion of an inclusive school culture. They can parrot the expected responses to questions such as: "What should you do if you think someone is being racist?". But that can't be taken as an indicator of any future attitude towards diversity in society.
Other factors, such as the perception of family and peers about their place in society's pecking order, are more likely to influence young people.
Values education would have to have taken a very firm grip for them to withstand pressure to conform to the anti-social mores in their immediate community.
The measure of success surely must be the extent to which people see themselves as a meaningful part of, and not an adjunct to, decision-making about politics, society, economy and culture. A long game, then.