Primary Barbie can save society

9th November 2007 at 00:00
The wisdom of Henry Walpole

My wife seems to think that where we live is a bit rough. Despite the fact that our locale featured in Channel 4's best areas (and was introduced with a montage of cafe scenes rather than footage of broken windows and dog turds) she will not be persuaded. Last week she came home triumphantly from a shopping trip. She had witnessed a touching scene of a boy no older than 11 sharing a cigarette with his mum at the bus stop.

Perhaps I'm being presumptuous but I imagine him sitting in his Sats answering the annual science paper's "smoking is bad" question. I imagine him looking at the question: "Is smoking a) bad for your lungs b) bad for your heart c) like really, really bad for every bit of you?", coughing a globule of undigested nicotine on to the page, then closing the booklet pausing only to mark "X" in the name box.

I should hold my hands up here and admit that I currently teach somewhere so pleasant that we consider calling social workers if a child brings only enough money for one book at the school book fair.

However, I have taught in schools where children's names sound like something from the Dulux colour range ("Princess Tiaami" anyone?) and some pupils have, by the age of eight, allegedly committed crimes which would have got an adult five to 15 years in prison.

In one school I worked in recently teachers couldn't help but notice during PE changing time that girls in Year 4 were wearing thongs, and I know primary heads who have to deal with dope smoking and far worse.

The scariest thing is that lots of teachers reading this will be thinking: "Lightweight. Most of our nursery children have tattoos, navel piercings and electronic tags." But then somebody has to work in Hull.

So how has it come to this? One of my colleagues thinks that too many parents want to be their children's friends. Some parents I've met seem to regard children as an inconvenience that prevents them from getting on with their lives properly.

Like most columnists I always plump for an easy target and I blame the toy manufacturers. Last week I was in a toy shop and I saw a doll aimed at seven-year-olds that came with an accessory set of a handbag, pink mobile phone and a packet of contraceptive pills.

Now you read that thinking it must be a joke but you're not sure. At least when we were young Barbie dressed as an air hostess and looked like a high-class call girl. The latest dolls are dressed ready for a night on Streatham High Street.

Children need better role models. Look out for my new primary teacher doll, which should be in the shops by Christmas. Pull the cord and hear her talk: "I spent all Sunday planning"; "That's five minutes off golden time"; and "Boo-hoo, I can't stand it any more".

More from Henry in a fortnight.

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