Check before getting heavy;Opinion

22nd January 1999 at 00:00
LOOKING back now I can see where I went wrong. For the past three weeks I've been listening to Sarah's horror stories about The Comp, a building I'd hitherto regarded as a place of learning, a temple of values so liberal they verged on the Politically Correct.

But over the past few weeks my daughter's dramatic accounts convinced me that this is not so. Sarah's school may be only a few blocks around the corner but it seemingly exists in a parallel universe of cruelty and violence. Here drinks machines vend weapons - cans of fizzy drink - to be hurled like grenades at innocent first years. Here the primary function of dinner money is to bribe third formers not to steal your satchel. The common language is verbal abuse.

And into this nightmare we had unwittingly committed our oldest child: Sarah Jane sentenced to seven years for the crime of being in need of education. Seven years of what sounded like the worst kind of penal servitude. Worse Sarah was refusing to appeal to her teacher for help or letting me speak to Mrs Blowsy, the head of lower school, who was clearly, and dangerously, out of touch.

Was it not time to step in? I asked myself. In France they are now prosecuting bullies. Last week the city of Brest handed out suspended sentences to those who victimise first years. Why in Britain must we parents stand by as our young are scarred for life? With this in mind I decided to collar Mrs B straight after last night's school concert.

Like any conscientious parent I put on my best leather jacket and polished the knuckle dusters, just in case there was trouble as I entered the school hall. To my surprise no pupils spat at me, no cans of Cola were being drunk let alone thrown. The only violence I encountered was the school orchestra scraping Tchaikovsky's Sugar Plum Fairy to death.

"Very nice," I said to Sarah as we walked home. I'd even wiped away a sentimental tear at the sight of my daughter singing with the choir.

"Not always like that," she replied.

"No," I conceded.

"You didn't speak to Mrs Blowsy?" Sarah asked nervously. I shook my head.

She was relieved. As was I. Even in parallel universes a good journalist benefits from checking the facts first.

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