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What do they mean...

Peer alienation could mean all sorts of things. It is of course what Tony Blair is causing in the House of Lords just now, but that need not concern us here. It might explain why when you go into the staff room everybody shuffles up to the other end.

Well, no, it is neither of the above. The phrase refers for our purposes to those rather melancholy children who don't seem to have many friends, and it is buzzing around at the moment because somebody has found out what happens to them later. They are liable to join things, such as church groups, charities, or, and this is where it gets scary, political parties.

The idea that, say, Charles Clarke or David Miliband spent their formative years loitering forlornly in the corners of playgrounds is strangely moving. But to look around the playgrounds of today and spot their modern counterparts is to be faced with an awesome responsibility.J Should we target all children with fewer than three friends for special lessons in economics, moral responsibility, and why teachers deserve more money? Or should we pick out the ones we definitely don't want to see at the despatch box and bribe all our other pupils to make friends with them?

It is a sobering thought that, if we manage to send all our students out into the world as emotionally well-rounded and socially adept people, we will be responsible for the subsequent shortage of politicians. There might be nobody to give us ridiculous targets, send us sheaves of new initiatives,and generally imply that we aren't doing our jobs properly. And that would never do.

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