Daily Bulletin


Daily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by The Conversation
imageAs welfare cuts bite, a growing number of schools are feeding and clothing and pupils. School cafeteria via Monkey Business Images/www.shutterstock.com

“Please, sir, I want some more,” pleaded Oliver Twist in the fictional workhouse depicted in the 1837 novel by Charles Dickens. The infamous response of Mr Bumble to Oliver’s modest request for another plate of gruel has passed into folklore. This is the heritage of the Victorian approach to welfare – a dangerous place for children to grow up in.

The contrast with a recent survey by the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) could hardly be greater. It shows that schools are providing around £2,000 to £3,000 a year to support children as a result of social, welfare and health budget cuts. Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, concludes that schools are now acting as “mini welfare states”.

So are the schools of the 21st century safe havens or dangerous places for our children? The answer is that they can be either, depending on how we use them. Some of the recent child abuse scandals coming to light are a horrific example of this. But the NAHT survey shows that a series of reforms begun in the early 20th century to support the welfare of children are having a continuing effect – to such an extent that schools are increasingly designed as safe havens to protect children from the dangers of the outside world.

British schools are fundamentally protective in their aims – not yet the mini security states that we see in some countries such as the US, where pupils may be frisked for guns before they can enter.

The welfare reforms began in earnest in the early 20th century under a Liberal government – the introduction of free school meals for the poorest children (1906), medical inspection for school pupils (1907), and a Children’s Act (1908). They helped to stimulate a new approach to social welfare that was later expressed in the Beveridge report of 1942 that underpinned the modern welfare state. Hobby’s reference to “mini welfare states” is close to the mark, as they once helped to inspire the maxi version.

imageThe welfare state has moved on a bit since Dickens' day.El Bibliomata/flickr, CC BY

The Dickensian tradition would have schools as very unsafe, alien territory for children, institutions that could only too readily control, punish, exploit and abuse the children in their care. This was not only the case for working class schools. The elite public boarding schools of Victorian times found many ways of forcing their pupils to watch their step, the better to build their character.

Regimented conformity was the start of it, moving on to bullying and flogging. “Such, such were the joys”, as George Orwell recalled in an essay about his days at the prep school St Cyprians. Orwell also remembered the squalor and neglect of upper class schools. Personal hygiene was poor, epidemics frequent, hunger widespread, with fear of epidemic diseases such as scarlet fever a constant torment. The school universe of Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown was hardly less dangerous than the world of Oliver Twist.

Lower down the social scale, Victorian day grammar schools were often decaying structures with outdated endowments in which pupils and teachers froze in their classrooms in winter and fried in summer. There was no room here to wash the clothes of pupils who walked for miles in the same attire that they wore during the school day, or to clean the boots of mud picked up along the way.

Unsafe surroundings after World War II

In 20th century schools, in buildings dating from the 19th century, such conditions were often still to be endured on a daily basis. After World War II, the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) reported that over 700 schools had been “blacklisted” two decades before but were still in use.

Many of these schools did not have proper lighting, had inadequate heating, primitive sanitation, no inside water, a single washbasin and towel for scores of children, defective ventilation, with old fashioned furniture unsuited for children, cramped classrooms, small playgrounds, no playing fields and few books. The WEA found the situation was: “So serious that teachers are to be found in desperation supplying the lack as best they can out of their own pockets”.

Today, that tradition of the welfare state, long at the centre of the state school system, is still alive and kicking. There will be some who fret about the prospect of the mini-nanny state and the NAHT’s new evidence of growing poverty. Yet maybe we can take some comfort in the fact that there remains a space for care, compassion, and a social conscience, and that it exists, despite it all, in our schools.

Gary McCulloch does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Authors: The Conversation

Read more http://theconversation.com/schools-havent-always-been-the-safe-havens-of-todays-mini-welfare-states-41413

Writers Wanted

Coronavirus disrupted my kid's first year of school. Will that set them back?

arrow_forward

What are manufactured home estates and why are they so problematic for retirees?

arrow_forward

Things to Ask To Your Removalists

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Prime Minister National Cabinet Statement

The National Cabinet met today to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response, the Victoria outbreak, easing restrictions, helping Australians prepare to go back to work in a COVID-safe environment an...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Ten tips for landing a freelance transcription job

Transcription jobs are known to be popular in the field of freelancing. They offer fantastic job opportunities to a lot of people, but there are some scammers who wait to cheat the freelancers. ...

News Company - avatar News Company

How To Remove Rubbish More Effectively

It can be a big task to remove household rubbish. The hardest part is finding the best way to get rid of your junk. It can be very overwhelming to know exactly where to start with so many option...

News Company - avatar News Company

4 Tips To Pass Skills Certifications Tests

Developing the right set of skills is valuable not only to your career, but for life in general. You can get certified in these skills through obtaining a license. Without a certified license, y...

News Company - avatar News Company



News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion