The mixed blessings of Island mentality

By Charlotte Hofton

Friday, February 7, 2014


THE VIEW FROM HERE ISLAND Mentality is the title of an article published recently in The Economist, a not altogether flattering profile of our educational results and the students who continue to fail to raise these results to any sort of glittering standards.

A story in last week’s CP gave a resume of this article, with comments from Cllrs Chris Whitehouse and Richard Priest.

Cllr Whitehouse was swift to pounce upon what he saw as The Economist’s laying part of the blame on the Island’s transfer from a three-tier to a two-tier system.

"A fascinating article which concludes that, as well as the mishandled school reorganisation, the Island has fundamental problems, which are quite surprising," he said.

It is true the article states: "In 2011, the Island endured a muddled transition from the sort of three-tier school system common in America … to the two-tier one that is standard in England."

Yet (and Cllr Whitehouse omits to mention this) it goes on to say: "But its results were bad even before that change."

So, although we could argue into eternity about whether the system should have changed, the fact remains the results were bad, are still bad and may quite possibly continue to be bad, unless we address other root causes of our failure to educate our children properly.

Cllr Whitehouse describes the problems detailed by The Economist as "surprising." Really? Let’s have a closer look at them.

First, the article gives an outline of our financial and social state. We don’t have a large city; we have some, but not many, poor children; we are almost entirely white.

Now, a lot of Islanders will nod their heads in approval at this state of affairs, particularly at the fact we have neither a large city nor substantial numbers of black people.

What could be nicer? Just how we like it. And if there aren’t actually too many kids who are poor, well, that’s good, too.

Yet the very fact we score neither very high nor very low on the poverty scale, combined with our lack of cultural diversity, means we are largely ignored both for extra funding and for programmes aimed at tackling truancy and at raising educational standards.

Not very poor, overwhelmingly white and, crucially, lacking much interest in education as a means of improvement. Career options on the Island are, as the article points out, "limited … the jobs pages are filled with advertisements for care workers, barmen and cleaners".

The Economist spoke to one woman who moved to the Island from east London. She suspects, "the IW’s lack of diversity is itself a problem".

The article concludes, "she may be right about that" and suggests we might "look to east London for inspiration". Schools in Tower Hamlets ran programmes through mosques to tackle absenteeism and benefited from the good jobs and first-class mentors in nearby Canary Wharf.

You can hear the synchronised thump of a mass faint as Islanders keel over at the thought of mosques getting involved in their children’s education. But the article’s conclusion is stark.

"The levers of change are less obvious where poor children are scattered thin. And there are fewer obvious institutions through which to try to improve the lot of the godless white majority."

The "godless white majority" on the Island may well bristle at The Economist’s cheek of barging in on our affairs. What do they know? We like things as they are.

Cllr Richard Priest is typically sanguine. Improvement is possible, he says.

"The Island has the capacity to do the right thing for our children but we must be vigorous in securing our common goal."

The findings of the article are not, in fact, "surprising". Anyone with an ounce of nous could have come to the same conclusions as The Economist.

But it’s not enough to say "the Island has the capacity to do the right thing for our children". It’s a tremendously complex problem and one that is not solved by mere determination to be vigorous.

There are social, financial, and cultural implications to be faced, not to mention the distinctly mixed blessings of that "Island mentality".

Many issues will have to be addressed before the Island has the capacity to do the right thing but one thing’s for sure. We shouldn’t just drift on forever thinking the Island way is the right way.

Overwhelming evidence noted by the prince

PRINCE Charles must have been delighted with all the publicity he engendered last week when he launched an attack on climate-change deniers, denouncing as the "headless chicken brigade" those who refused to accept what he described as "overwhelming scientific evidence".

Well done, Your Royal Highness. Scientists one, airy-fairy ideas nil.

Just a tiny query before we move on. Is this Prince Charles, I wonder, in any way related to the Prince Charles who refuses to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that homeopathy is a load of charlatan baloney?

Surely not.

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