Most young people deserve our praise

21st September 2007 at 01:00
The autumn term is well under way so it might seem late to congratulate schools, pupils and teachers for all their successes in the recent examinations. However, I believe praise can never be late.

The successes of the young today are frequently overshadowed by negative press reports. The media, though, has quite rightly reported widely in recent weeks on the tragic killing of 11-year-old Rhys Jones, who was shot and killed in Croxteth Park, Merseyside.

The newspaper world also rightly reported on the alleged attack on 56-year-old Peter Matthews by youths that left him fighting for his life, lying unconscious outside his own home in the town of Pontarddulais, Swansea Valley.

But I was amazed to read that this terrible attack on Mr Matthews was being so closely linked to the shooting of Rhys an article in a national paper placed Pontar ddulais in the same "category" as notorious gun crime areas such as Croxteth, Brixton and others.

So I decided over the recent August bank holiday, to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Pontarddulais or, as it is widely known, the Bont. I have always enjoyed trips there and I wasn't disappointed. The day included an enjoyable walk in the surrounding hills, followed by an evening barbecue. As we walked, we agreed that clearly for some young people across the country, irrespective of class and area, appropriate encouragement from traditional sources is often unavailable.

Due to reasons that include the changing dynamics of the family, the dilution of religious influence and parental absence, often caused by long working hours and a poor work-life balance, there can be an absence of effective life guidance, support and the need for accountability.

These are not excuses for these atrocities. But that said, both the young and individual communities can be misrepresented for the sake of an "exclusive" in a newspaper.

There was no evidence in the Bont of the town portrayed in the article I had read. The graffiti I saw was on a rock on the mountain and was dated 1936.

A little research also revealed that in 2007 the town's secondary school achieved 95 per cent attendance for Year 11 students, pupils scored a 100 per cent pass rate in vocational subjects, and GCSE results are at a record level (62 per cent of pupils gained five A* to C grades).

People believe it is high-achieving young people who reflect the community, not the minority who carried out the vicious attack. So, with the school year now under way, the community supporting Pontarddulais Comprehensive School finds itself uniting to promote all that is good in the area.

Meanwhile, in Merseyside, the communities around Norris Green School where Rhys attended are united in mourning.

Andy McCann is a former assistant head and now director of AMCAN consultancy and training

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