If we are civilised let's behave like it

7th September 2007 at 01:00
Having taught for eight years in a pupil referral unit (PRU) where most of the attendees had been permanently excluded and many had criminal records, I have been following the recent developments in the Learco Chindamo case with interest.

This is not perhaps the time or place to dwell on the terrible tragedy of Mr Philip Lawrence, the headteacher Mr Chindamo murdered. As human beings, we can only feel the utmost sympathy for Mrs Lawrence and her family.

At the PRU where I was based, it was a great privilege to work with a group of professionals who were prepared to give young people another chance, and yet another, if required. It was also a privilege to see many of these young people, very often with the odds stacked greatly against them, make a tremendous effort to re-engage with the educational system and wider society.

Many achieved successes in public examinations and went on to an FE college. Others, sadly, were not so successful, but the ethos of giving youngsters another chance remained undimmed. One could safely say that it was a civilised educational community to be in. Many young people have had life experiences that would destroy most of us. On the streets they become prey to all sorts of negative influences. Fagin-like characters are still out there, organising crime and duping vulnerable young people into delinquent acts.

I'll never forget the words of one boy we taught at the unit which were addressed to us as teachers: "It's all right for you lot, you all come in cars, we've got to walk the streets to get here."

When teenagers carry and use knives and guns, something has gone horribly wrong in our society. In Learco Chindamo we have another human tragedy.

The response in the tabloid press to the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal's decision not to deport him has been typically reactionary and devoid of any reflection. The language used has been incriminating and hateful. They seem to thrive on stirring up base hatreds and encouraging "a tooth for a tooth" mentality.

In what is presented as a Christian society there isn't much evidence here of turning the other cheek, forgiving or walking the extra mile. To deport Mr Chindamo, as the Home Office is incredulously trying to do, to a country he hasn't lived in for more than 20 years, would surely render him prey to the worst possible influences.

Prison officers who have worked constructively to rehabilitate him are full of praise for the progress he has made. When released he needs to be given the opportunity, under a new identity for his own protection, to live a better life.

To do otherwise would be to undermine all the hard work of not only the prison officers who have worked with him but also of those who work hard with young people in PRUs, schools and social services. It would give a very negative message to staff and students alike.

For David Cameron, as leader of the Conservative Party, to talk of abolishing the Human Rights Act is disgusting. If he achieved power he would be turning his back on so many of the children and young people whom we teach and their families.

Constructive and far more effective programmes that are adequately resourced need to be worked out in genuine partnership with schools and units, parents and the wider community. The government needs to counter this destruction of young lives.

A society that cannot forgive and offer people an opportunity to change their ways has forfeited the right to call itself civilised.

Rhydwyn Ifan is a supply teacher with more than 30 years' experience in England and Wales

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