Remember : August 2006

When looking at articles published some time ago, it is interesting to see what has changed and what stays the same. In July 2001, Terry Hoon was looking at the impact of the release of the two young men who, as boys, had murdered Jamie Bolger. According to the Sunday Times Supplement on 23 July, they are now living quiet and settled lives. Then, however, a lot of strong feelings were being expressed, and Terry argued for a cooler more rational approach, rather than gut reactions, in an article entitled Seeking Justice.

Today, there are moves to introduce Megan’s Law into the UK under the title Sarah’s Law, and those advocating this approach argue that there has been no vigilantism in the United States and there will be none in Britain. The reactions to the release of the Bolger two suggest otherwise. There is a minority of people, which may be small but is still significant, who feel very strongly that they are being failed if serious offenders are not put away for life, meaning the offenders’ lifetimes. Any such offender has every justification for feeling uneasy about his or her safety on being released into the community. While the majority of the community might take no action, it only takes one or two stupid or crazy people, whipped up by anger, drink or drugs, to kill or maim.

As for the things that have changed, Terry was hoping that the new Home Secretary, David Blunkett, might prove to be enlightened, and he deplored the fact that there were about 60,000 people in British prisons. Now, five years later, we are a couple of Home Secretaries further on, there are nearly 80,000 people in prison, and a major expansion of the system is being planned on the basis that we need to put more people away for longer. So much for the hope for an enlightened political lead.

The item we’ve picked from the August 2001 issue is Gathering at the Waters, Kathleen Lane’s report on an international Congress in Milwaukee. Kathleen wrote a series of pieces under the heading Footloose in FICE, about her times as one of the UK delegates at the meetings and Congresses of the Federation Internationale des Communautes Educatives. Her accounts tended to focus on personal stories and travellers’ tales rather than high policy and comparative studies of child care systems, and they make entertaining reading.

Of course, for the sake of international amity, some of the stories have been omitted. It was at Milwaukee that one speaker referred to the “extinguished guests” (were they put out?) and thanked the Vice Chancellor of the University for his “hostility”. Wars have been fought over lesser mistakes, but the congenial atmosphere in FICE glosses over such glitches. Maybe Kathleen will publish the full unexpurgated stories when the participants have passed on.

The September 2001 issue was focused on education, and Keith White wrote about Education and Children in Care. In recent years, the problem of poor attainments on the part of children in care has been recognised and steps are being taken to do something about it. When Keith wrote his piece, it was a newish subject, but his message is still relevant today.

He put the educational failure of children in care down to a number of factors – the lack of a philosophy of education in Britain, with the emphasis being on a sort of utilitarian preparation for work; the dominance of the middle classes; the stigma attached to being in care; and the split between care and education.

As Keith pointed out, children in care can succeed educationally if these points are addressed. At present the figure is still 1% of children in residential care getting to university. There is a long way to go.

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