Editorial - Schools could teach the politicians a thing or two about crowd control

12th August 2011 at 01:00

See what happens when teachers go away for a long break leaving only the politicians, parents and police in control - society collapses. The politicians who were shamed into forsaking villas and beaches to deal with this week's riots have not yet made that connection. When they do, perhaps they will see that the lessons teachers have learnt grappling with behaviour can be usefully applied to our riot-torn cities. Or perhaps they will just shorten your holidays.

The sight of police who felt powerless to intervene to stop rampant thuggery, for instance, must strike a chord with teachers. Talk of giving police extra kit and capabilities is eerily similar to the debate over teachers' powers to discipline. And as with schools, the issue is less about equipping those on the frontline with new powers and more about allowing them to use the ones they have. As teachers can attest, it doesn't matter how many metaphorical plastic bullets you have if you fear the consequences of using them more than not using them. That entails sanctioning professionals to employ reasonable force when the situation calls for it and, crucially, allowing them to determine when that situation has arrived. If parents and politicians kick off every time the police make that call, their job becomes impossible. Ask a teacher.

Schools could also help politicians understand that curbing disorder and considering its causes are not the same things and best not done at the same time. Teachers can appreciate why a difficult child is naughty without being deterred from disciplining it. Churchill didn't comfort bombed-out Londoners by reminding them that the Nazis only came to power because of the injustices inflicted on pre-war Germany. So why do politicians think that bemoaning the loss of the education maintenance allowance is an appropriate response for people whose homes and lives have been trashed? It would be foolish not to seek explanations at some point for why this hooliganism erupted. It would be equally foolish to do it now when the priority is to stop the riots and punish the rioters.

It boils down to trust. The most catastrophic consequence of this week's anarchy was the public's complete loss of faith in the ability of the police to control our cities. When mobs in Croydon brayed that they owned the streets, we realised with horror that they were right. They did. But the correct response of politicians is not to blame the police, as the mayor of London shamefully did, but to support them. Again the similarities with teaching are apposite. Whatever lessons need to be learnt, whatever the failings displayed by some individuals some of the time, politicians cannot expect a profession to perform or the public to have confidence in it if they refuse to back it or, worse, undermine it. Sound familiar?


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