At the Labour Party Conference, on the 1st of October 1996, Tony Blair said:
“Ask me my three main priorities for Government, and I’ll tell you: education, education and education.”
A statement he repeated in 2001, at the launch of Labour’s education manifesto, at the University of Southampton where he said:
“Our top priority was, is and always will be education, education, education. To overcome decades of neglect and make Britain a learning society, developing the talents and raising the ambitions of all our young people.”
That was the opening to a recent talk I gave at the university of Gloucester. The video below is not the actual event, but it does provide an opportunity to show you all about the RENYO project.
Almost NINE out of ten young people had dropped out of school in the six months prior to their incarceration.
Recent figures from Glasgow also provide evidence of the school to prison pipeline and the impact school exclusions has not just on the individual but on society as well. Ten years ago, Glasgow began to decrease the use of school exclusions. They had become the go to option, habit! Over the past ten years school exclusions have dropped by 88%. The impact this has had has seen youth crime in Glasgow, over the same time, drop by 50%.
Not every child who goes to school comes from a loving family environment, and through no fault of their own. Some children have no family to speak of, but again, through no fault of their own. What child asks to be abandoned?
If two of your children got into a fight, usually over nothing, at home, would you kick them both out for a week? Or for good?
I see our education system as the secondary care giver. An extension of an individual’s circle. For some children, school friends become family, and teachers surrogate parents to a degree. Let’s be honest, it isn’t a bed of roses being a child, and that’s before anything else is thrown into the mix such as poverty, trauma, and multiple disadvantages. With a little over eleven million people in this country with a criminal record, one of the issues for a child to face could be a parent in prison. Statistically, children with a parent in prison are six times more likely to follow their parent into custody. Sixty-five percent if the child is a boy.
Now think of the figures from Glasgow again. How many of those children not excluded from school will go on to have their own children and so on. The stats regarding having a parent in prison shows the connection of the school to prison pipeline to the generational pull of the criminal justice system. It isn’t just the children of today, and the society of today, who are impacted by school exclusions and the school to prison pipeline. Generations are impacted upon. Children continuing to carry the mistakes, and possible reputation, of those who went before.
I closed my talk with the following:
We need schools.
A principle that cannot, nor should be changed.
In fact, we need schools like never before.
We CAN! change the practices and use our schools to unlock talent, not suffocate it with the one size fits all blanket.
Or we’ll just carry-on locking talent up.
A rose is a rose, a fish is a fish, a lion is a lion.
Humans, however, can be who WE want to be.
I believe we are all born with an innate purpose.
And I come today with a call to action.
Let’s use the education system to teach our children who THEY are and who THEY can become.
Don’t leave it to the criminal justice system to do it.
The horse may have already bolted before the cell door is shut.
I’d like to close my speech with one more quote.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens is a name few may be familiar with. Samuel wrote under his pen name, Mark Twain. He also coined my favourite quote of all time:
“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
I took that one too literally.
If each person has natural gifts and innate talents, then the true nature of education must involve the awakening, inviting, and blessing of the inner genius and unique life spirit of each young person.Michael Meade, The Genius Myth
Over 43% of adults in the prison estate were excluded from school at some point in their schooling.
It is time to stop the school to prison pipeline for the children of today’s sake and for the sake of future generations.
It is also the right thing to do.