Taking the rough with the respectables

Penny Ward

Thirty years ago, in a sociology of education lecture, a very earnest woman talked about "working-class respectables", and "working-class roughs".

Over the holidays, it struck me forcibly that not much has changed. We were staying in a hotel in Turkey - very cheap. We met nice people there, mostly; they talked about their grown-up families, and I suddenly realised that these were "respectables". It has since occurred to me to wonder what they made of us, but I enjoyed hearing the pride in their voices as we heard how one daughter was a deputy head, while a son had a music scholarship. A couple with small children were patient, but insisted the toddlers behaved. It mattered that their children had done their best.

Then all hell let loose, when the "roughs" arrived. They looked at the Turkish food and pronounced it crap, took over the tables nearest the "all-inclusive" free bar and kept us awake at night, either singing or screaming at one another while their kids ran amok.

School seemed quite far away (luckily), but it did make me appreciate why some pupils are so pleasant there and why some are not. It also struck me that it is nothing really to do with income any more, or where you live in the town, or even what you do. Respectable parents will have couthy kids; the chances are the roughs will not.

But that seemed too simple. If you look at some of the more obnoxious pupils in any school, you'll realise that they can't just be given a label. It's not just families who do not provide proper boundaries; these kids come to school and find none there either. They can produce careless work, answer back, disrupt others and wear whatever they damn well please; no one can or will stop them.

We can't just blame the parents nowadays. On the flight back, and to my relief, the child behind me slept. "What a well-behaved person you are," I told him as we waited for our cases. "My dad's a prick," he replied, kicking him very accurately where it hurt most. His dad's eyes watered as he gazed fondly at his boy, and I was able to thank my lucky stars I'll be retired before his son reaches secondary school.

Penny Ward, is a secondary teacher.

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