Have we forgotten what schools are for? I ask because this week one headmaster was forced to remind parents: Jon Boyes, headmaster of Herne Bay High School in Kent, wrote a letter telling them to take responsibility for their children’s arguments on social media because they are ‘almost impossible for the school to police’.
He makes it clear that pupils in years seven and eight, aged 11 to 13, should not even be on most social media platforms because most have a minimum age of 13. I don’t even understand why parents today are so irresponsible as to allow children that young to have phones on which unsavoury pictures or insulting comments are passed around and cause untold misery.
Modern parents might say that I’m behind the times but I strongly believe that no child needs a phone. An old-style mobile that offers nothing but calls and texts is almost understandable if a parent is anxious, but surely even that is barely necessary?
My northern grammar school was safe. There were no distractions apart from a good book or a chat with a mate, and I knew about discipline. School meant detention for any misbehaviour or avoidance of hard work. Punishment at home was withdrawal of privileges and no pocket money. Home was also where comfort could be expected if someone had hurt or upset me. That was not the job of school.
My school had only one purpose, and that was to teach me about a range of subjects and prepare me for a law-abiding transition into adulthood. I was to learn how to question, how to think for myself, have my talents identified and encouraged and be forced — often against my will — to put some effort into gym class.
Daily Mail columnist Jenni Murray: Modern parents might say that I’m behind the times but I strongly believe that no child needs a phone
In other words I was to be educated and sent into the big wide world with a healthy mind and body. Anything else — private life, grief, nerves, upset — was for my parents to deal with. Simple.
I don’t remember any teacher talking to me about anything personal. Sex education came about rather by mistake, in a religious studies lesson about the Ten Commandments. We were told we could write down any questions we might have, particularly on ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’, and the teacher would do her best to answer them.
One girl claimed to know nothing about adultery, although I knew she did. Miss Pullen was asked for all the details and ended up drawing an erect penis on the blackboard. It rather resembled an ice-cream cone.
An old-style mobile that offers nothing but calls and texts is almost understandable if a parent is anxious, but surely even that is barely necessary?
Not sure what impact her lack of artistic skill had on a class of giggling 13-year-old girls, but that was our sex education and no more was ever said about it.
How different it is today. It’s no longer enough for a highly qualified teacher to know everything there is to know about English, French, maths, physics, history or geography and be able to communicate their knowledge.
Today’s teachers are expected to include PSHE — personal, social, health and economic education — in their skill set as well as pastoral care. As Mr Boyes stressed in his letter: ‘We invest an inordinate amount of time supporting young people through the trials and tribulations of life and education.’
No wonder there are currently 376 secondary schools rated by Ofsted as either inadequate, in special measures or having a serious weakness. Two years of the horrors of the pandemic and school closures can’t have helped, but surely now is the time to put education at the top of the list and leave pastoral care to the parents?
The teachers who taught me were there to teach. They were encouraging but were not afraid to be brutally honest if need be. I will never forget my maths teacher, Mrs Aveyard, telling me I was rubbish at calculus and had clearly been learning too much poetry again.
Don’t buy smartphones for kids. Know what they’re exposed to. Protect them. That’s a parent’s duty, not the teachers’
Then there was the music teacher, Miss Bridges, saying she couldn’t understand why a girl of my intelligence couldn’t get her head round theory. Hurtful, yes, but important lessons to learn before entering a world that rarely concerns itself with soft-soaping.
Interestingly, teachers are striking again today. It’s primarily about pay, but it’s also about ‘long hours’ and, I think, being generally devalued. They are not expected only to teach but to be social workers, psychologists, conflict referees in loco parentis. Nor are their skills as educators valued as they should be.
A teacher is highly trained and is expected to communicate information that can be verified as fact. When it comes to PSHE classes, facts seem to have fallen by the wayside. This week the Isle of Man government launched an independent review of a school’s PSHE curriculum after a drag queen, invited to speak to a class there, told year seven pupils that there are 73 genders.
When one child made the point that there are only two, the guest speaker allegedly responded, ‘You’ve upset me’, and made the child leave the class. The real teachers must be tearing their hair out at such nonsense.
Job dissatisfaction must be terrible for people who feel called to a profession and love to teach but see their commitment to doing it right so undermined. Let’s have no more of it. Parents must trust teachers to teach and teachers must trust parents to care.
Don’t buy smartphones for kids. Know what they’re exposed to. Protect them. That’s a parent’s duty, not the teachers’.
Don’t ignore breast check
The number of women turning up for a mammogram when invited has plummeted.
Part of the problem may be that you’re no longer given a time when you’re called and have to book it yourself. And we all know how time-consuming that can be. But don’t neglect it. I failed to turn up to mine nearly 20 years ago. Too busy. I found the cancer nearly a year later myself.
If only I’d caught it earlier. Make the call when you are invited. Mammograms save lives.
In my Oddbox fruit and veg delivery this week — radicchio, aubergine, blood oranges, passion fruit, potatoes (now, we know, fine to store in the fridge) and, oh joy, four tomatoes.
I’M ONE big bruise at the moment, having lost my balance on my doorstep. A neighbour helped me and suggested 999. ‘Don’t bother,’ I said. ‘Nothing seems broken.’ But suppose it had? Would I have got any help? It doesn’t bear thinking about
They don’t make ’em like Betty any more
Woman’s Hour replayed one of my interviews with Betty Boothroyd, above, this week. We laughed about her demand for MPs to ‘Call me Madam’ when she took the Speaker’s chair
Woman’s Hour replayed one of my interviews with Betty Boothroyd, below, this week. We laughed about her demand for MPs to ‘Call me Madam’ when she took the Speaker’s chair. What a delight to hear her voice again and remember her passion, her determination, her humour, her support for other women, her constant flouting of anti-smoking rules. ‘Nobody’s going to tell me I can’t smoke,’ she once said when we met for lunch.
She lived to 93 and I doubt we’ll see her like again. They don’t make ’em like Betty any more.
Michelle’s my tip for the Oscars
Well done to Michelle Yeoh (pictured above) for her Best Actress win at the Screen Actors Guild Awards
Well done to Michelle Yeoh for her Best Actress win at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. I got a bit confused at the complexity of her film Everything Everywhere All At Once but her stunts, command of martial arts and ability to fly through the air are nothing short of amazing. Oscars next…