We need more money - and clarity on cliping

7th February 1997 at 00:00
Not a happy Parents Forum today, on matters great or small. I'm full of foreboding for state education; and I'm griping about cliping.

The only good thing about savage funding threats to our local schools is that they unite parents, teachers and pupils in a common cause - and help those relationships to last. But however stirring the rallies, whatever small concessions we wring from councils that are caught wretchedly in the middle and forced into varying degrees of villainy, years of chronic underfunding can no longer be disguised.

Some of us will get to keep the music teacher; a few leaking roofs in crumbling buildings will be patched. But nothing less than a major injection of national cash will restore the system's infrastructure, let alone fire optimism and pride. Bright New Labour's education agenda feels worse than inadequate: its vaunted promises to tinker at the edges feel insulting just because they're presented as signs of deep commitment to urgent action. Easy vote-catching populism (more and more homework) is a substitute for substance.

Do most worried parents want to hear how very prudent Labour will be with our taxpayers' purses? Or do they want to hear an honest admission of the depth of need and the time it will take to put that right, with a timetable for long-term funding?

As parents, we expect that we will have to be prudent and patient. What we don't expect is a government-in-waiting to take pride in stealing the clothes of the party with 17 years of responsibility for the state of our education system.

Now, telling tales is a lighter matter. But it still matters to kids. Once upon a time it was easy to advise poor clipes how not to be despised and ostracised, how to avoid having their heads forced down the loo. I think it's one of the hardest, most confusing things for children to get right these days - and my gripe is that teachers must stop giving mixed messages.

Today we insist: tell at once if you get bullied or abused, if a boy flashes at you, if anyone at school does anything dangerously unsafe. But inside our heads adults despise the whingers even more than their classmates do. We still think: stand up to the bullies, don't be a feartie, don't make a fuss about silly rude sex play, and don't be a clipe about who pulled off the door handle. It's incredibly difficult for modern kids to grasp the nuances. I've watched my own daughter suffer for getting it wrong, and I've struggled in vain to explain the subtleties to her. It may be unfair to ask for more clarity from teachers, but I think we must.

Because it's more unfair and hurtful to children when teachers call them clipes in front of a class, which has happened to quite a few kids I've heard of. This is a recipe for humiliation and confusion, and an invitation to bullying - enough reason alone to ban it. Please accept just how contradictory the messages are nowadays; ask yourselves if, as teachers, you share the muddle. Take time to explain kindly just when you would like them to tell - and when it doesn't matter.

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