Joe Cotton: a product of our teenage wasteland?

The National Union of Teachers, Lewisham chapt...
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Today many look at our country and see it as something of a Teenage Wasteland… Students, often fired up by adult activists, bemoan the removal of financial allowances or incentives for study and, they vociferously protest about the increase in university tuition fees. Academic ‘experts’ say that education will be far less available, that the poor will be denied their right to education and that society will ultimately suffer because, the current system is actually failing our future generations. I’m not sure that I agree?

In a rather cute move this week, a 15-year-old boy was given a standing ovation at the National Union of Teachers annual conference, after his speech on the axing of the education maintenance allowance (EMA). Although the speech was well worded with a witty delivery I have to wonder, is Joe Cotton actually indicative of the majority of today’s youth? I would suggest probably not. I also suspect the NUT had ulterior motives when they selected Joe. There was an obvious element of self-preservation relating to their chosen careers i.e. student reduction equals reduction in teaching posts.

The lad’s family (and Calder High School) will no doubt be justifiably proud of his performance however; the NUT were simply grinding an axe with the government. They should however also be mindful of the fact, their profession has benefitted from substantial ring fencing of current funding, unlike many other areas of the public sector.

There are many social issues that impact upon the quality and availability of education, it is far too simplistic to only consider the financial ones. How profound those additional impacts are, is also somewhat dependant upon how much trust we place in figures produced by our government. Add the subsequent media spin and is there any wonder that confusion abounds about the reality of our education system.

Impacting factors:-

  • Educational Standards (Primary) – quality of provision is lower in areas of high deprivation; the more deprived the area, the lower the proportion of good and outstanding providers. Just over half (52%) of childminders in the most deprived areas are good or outstanding, compared with 71% in the least deprived areas… (
  • Educational Standards (Secondary) –  in 2009/10, 56% of maintained schools provide their pupils with a good or outstanding education where as, the quality of education was good or outstanding in about two thirds of the non-association independent schools inspected. (
  • Parenting issues – Teachers say that parents cannot “abandon responsibility” for their children’s behaviour at school… (
  • Teenage pregnancies – falling since 2002 and now at their lowest for more than a decade, according to research by the Office for National Statistics… (
  • Alcohol abuse – an  investigation has revealed as many as 8,227 under-18s are in alcohol rehab. This is almost double the number five years ago… (
  • Drug abuse – you don’t have to accept my observations on this area of growth – Go Talk to FRANK.
  • Youth Crime – There is an inextricable link with crime and drug abuse and they often go unpunished ( Combine both these factors with the constant failures in our legal and social care systems and you have a recipe even greater problems.
  • PoliticsNASUWT teachers’ union recently passed a “no confidence” motion in government policies for education in England… ( Even the academics are divided about the problems involved in educating our kids.

You may well find Generation F – (Winston Smith) to be an interesting read… It reveals the unvarnished truth about how the author spends his working day wrestling with the problems of damaged youngsters, violent thugs and teenage criminals. He is confronted at every turn by irresponsible parents, incompetent police officers and pointless, expensive bureaucracy. His writing may be controversial, angry and edgy but it made him the runaway winner of the 2010 Orwell Prize. I also have a friend who works in the social care of ‘problem’ children and he will tell you; yes there are many who are the genuine product of abuse, neglect and/or social poverty however, there are also the odd one who is simply ‘evil’.

In my experience one of the most profound impacts upon a child’s education, and finding their place in society has been the interest of or input to that process, shown by the parent(s), or not as the case may be. That said, I also know of many examples where the child has still gone adrift, through no fault of their parents. We have to accept that much of the enthusiasm (or apathy) displayed by each individual child, is actually down to them. Despite the age-old parental adage of “school days are the best days of your life” you also need to be minded of the other that says, “you can leed a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”.

Even the recent Jamie Oliver’s Dream School reality TV experiment, with its “well cool” celebrity in charge, only had limited success in bringing education to those who professed they neither wanted or needed it. It also didn’t pass off without its critics (see At least Jamie was actually prepared to try something new, unlike politicians and academia, to help our disenfranchised youth.

I believe we often fail our younger generations, both as parents and society as a whole. Simply by allowing them far too much freedom of choice and self-expression, long before they have acquired the ability to deal with it in an informed manner. We fail to set boundaries, all be they flexible ones, whereby we explain and point out the consequences of their actions when/if they step over that line. Some will understand, but unfortunately many won’t, especially if they don’t receive the guidance they actually need.

Perhaps the time has arrived whereby we adjust the accepted ethos of mainstream education between 5yrs and 25yrs? Enforce a ‘reality’ break in the educational process between 16yrs and 20-25yrs perhaps and make our children do something productive, other than academic. We now live in a society whereby our children live in virtual worlds much of the time and, their first experience of life on their own two feet doesn’t come until well after leaving university. In addition, given the state of today’s housing market, many children are still living with parents well into their thirty’s. Given these factors, can we realistically expect them to have any cognisance of life issues?

I think the same choices (and even more opportunities) are just as available today as they were to my generation. It is a fact, irrespective of any ‘dumbing down’ argument, that more children then ever before progress through university education. Often our kids simply choose not to take advantage of those opportunities, for varying reasons… With the exception of Joe Cotton of course!