Lesley Ward, the new head of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, claims that her members are seeing evidence of deprivation that would be familiar to Dickens.
"I am talking about perfectly healthy children who enter school not yet toilet-trained. Children who cannot dress themselves, children who only know how to eat with a spoon and fingers, and have never sat around a table to enjoy a home-cooked family meal. Children who think that the word 'no' means if you throw a wobbly it will miraculously turn into yes.
Children who get themselves, and sometimes their younger siblings, up in the morning. Children who bring themselves to school at very young ages. Children who sometimes don't know who will be at home when they get home – if anyone. Children who don’t know exactly who the father figure is in the home from month to month.
I know of a pupil who actually saw, from the classroom window during a lesson, his house door being kicked in and his dad being led out of the door in handcuffs – this was during Sats week. He did not achieve the level he should have.
Are we surprised?
Teachers all over the country are working in areas like this. Areas where often more than half the children receive free school meals, where one in ten of the school population is on the at risk register, where 10 per cent, or more, of the children in each class have some form of special need.
These children come from some of our poorest communities, starting school with the huge weight of deprivation on their shoulders, and it can be next to impossible to counteract the effects of such deprivation. I would like to stress I am not talking about the whole of our school population, but a small, significant and growing minority."
She is right to highlight these issues.
However, whilst "poverty" may exacerbate certain issues, she is wrong to blame "poverty" specifically for them:
1 Even animals (our 5 month old cat for example) manage to work out how to use the toilet. The lack of toilet training has nothing to do with poverty, but incredibly abysmal parenting.
2 Poverty does not equate to lousy behaviour. Certain members of the Bullingdon Club have on occasions behaved like yobs in public places, yet the poor of Dickensian Britain tried their best to behave with as much dignity as was possible under the circumstances.
3 Poverty does not compel you to have children.
4 Poverty does not compel you to not read to your children.
5 Poverty does not compel you behave like sub humans.
6 Poverty does not prevent you from using the toilet.
7 Poverty does not prevent you from being able to use a knife and fork.
8 The collapse of "human behaviour" and "social skills" has been mirrored by an opposite increase in the activities and encroachment of the state into private lives. The state is taking away people's self responsibility for the their lives and removing the need for them to worry about the consequences of their own actions.
The state is causing the expansion of the so called "under class".
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