A hard core exists within our country of seriously dysfunctional families: around 130,000 or so according to a recent government-commissioned report.
Children from these families can best be described as ‘feral’, and they account for a disproportionate amount of the crime in their communities.
Their parents are simply not cut out for the hugely responsible job of care and parenting, with all the sacrifice and commitment which this entails. The truth is they cannot even manage their own lives, never mind those of their often many offspring. As a consequence, these children receive no parental guidance and in many cases no love either. Their lives are doomed from the very start, and it is difficult to know what can be done in such a situation.
A suggestion has been put forward by the head of Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) to pluck these children from their hopeless home environments and bestow on them the very considerable benefits of a boarding school education.
Although nothing can compensate for an abusive and loveless setup at home, what could go a long way to giving these unfortunate children a chance in life is to give them a first-class education – something to which their own parents attach no importance.
Regardless of what has gone on at home, a mind that has been stretched, educated and, yes, disciplined, can still break free from a hopeless family and go on to better things. Such a cultivated mind might return to their families during term breaks and talk some sense into their feckless, couldn’t-care-less parents.
At the very least, if they did not succeed in this – although some might – they would be later able to present themselves to the world of work as potentially valuable assets to their company of choice.
The newly appointed head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, deserves to be praised for being prepared to address this difficult issue.
Britain has always been admired around the world for the quality of its boarding school ethos. They turned out to be the elite that made it possible for us to hold our worldwide empire together. It was very much the model on which Plato himself said would make for an ideal education.
Not long ago, the children’s charity UNICEF released figures concerning the life chances of British children who passed through Britain’s current care system; they were truly shocking and dispiriting. Based on historical evidence, the figures stated that 30% would likely grow up to become criminals, 20% homeless and 10% suicidal.
Such statistics caused me to wonder why it was that such a large majority of my own peers in the Foundling Hospital made happy and successful lives for themselves. They had, after all, been very much in ‘the care system’, and in their case did not even know who their own parents were.
But the new school which replaced their 200-year-old one in central London was a truly splendid affair with top-draw facilities; it occupied around a hundred acres and had its own farm which provided fresh produce for the children. The teachers and housemasters were, for the most part, kindly and sympathetic people who had themselves been well educated. But there were red lines and they were crossed at your peril.
Children developed a respect for authority along with a love for their country and were sound in the three Rs. There was an emotional deficit, just as there is in today’s troubled children, but the ordered life, three square meals a day and sound, if basic, education allowed them to overcome their other difficulties.
Why I am so convinced that Sir Michael Wilshaw’s has got it right is that the removal for a large part of the year from the mayhem and inadequacies of their home life will introduce them to another world. They would be free to realise their full potential, learn to treat others with respect and eventually step out into the world as cultured, educated human beings. What is not an option is that in the face of such appalling figures from UNICEF we do nothing. The whole situation shames us.
Sir Michael Wilshaw is to be lauded, not vilified, for his brave intervention in this perilous field of what to do with our problem children. If he is successful, the country will owe him a debt beyond measure. Pilot schemes must be set up without delay and the results carefully monitored.