The curious case of the Castle Vale ‘tinkle card’

If you live in the West Midlands you may already be aware of the minor kerfuffle generated the other day at Castle Vale Performing Arts College. If you aren’t, then to sum up a large number of children (up to a hundred according to some estimates) were sent home on their first day of term by their new head for failing to comply with the school’s strict uniform requirements (i.e. they were wearing the wrong shoes. Not trainers. Just the wrong sort of black shoes…….)

There was a bit of a Barney outside the school gates as it became clear that so many children were going to be sent home. A few eggs were allegedly thrown (did someone bring them with them on the off chance it was going to go off?) and the police were called. As far as I’m aware it hasn’t actually been established yet who threw the eggs.

It also appears a number of the children who had broken the new shoe rules were sent back to empty houses:

Mum Wendy Simons said she her 11-year-old son Connor had been sent home in “floods of tears”, on what was his first day in Year 7 at the school.

The 43-year-old said branded the decision “disgusting”.

She said: “He was sent away from school because of his shoes and they didn’t even check if anyone was at home.

“I’ve just gone to Asda to buy him a new pair of shoes.”

Dad Aaron Dean said he returned home from a doctor’s appointment this morning to find 12-year-old daughter Emily on the doorstep.

The 35-year-old from Castle Vale said: “We came home and our daughter was on the doorstep with a friend saying that the school had sent her home because of her shoes.”

If you don’t know Castle Vale it isn’t one of the wealthier parts of the West Midlands, to put it mildly. And the school in question has a long history of problems.

The new head, one Charlotte Blencowe, has some other novel methods to improve standards:

Pupils were also allegedly told their bags would be searched to ensure their mobile phones are switched off and that they have the required number of pens and pencils.

But the change which has outraged parents the most is issuing every pupil with a “tinkle card”. It states: “I am missing a super important learning opportunity because I need a tinkle.”

Another card given to pupils explains how they will have to “track” the teacher rather than talk to them, through a series of hand gestures which have specific meanings.

The bizarre signals read:

Holding up three fingers – I need to go to the toilet.

Holding your nose with one hand and raising the other hand – I need a tissue.

Raising one finger in the air – I need a pencil.

Clasping your hands over your chest – I need paper or a book.

Putting two fingers to your eyes and then pointing – Telling the teacher the pupil cannot see them.

A curious mixture of Dickensian reaction and new age bullshit. The ‘tinkle card’ in particular is almost beyond parody and I’m still inclined to think that it must be a wind-up.

Even for those who support the principle of school uniforms (and I can see both sides of the debate), this is an insane over-reaction by Blencowe, who appears more interested in getting headlines than actually improving matters at a school that has had its fair share of issues over the years. It is outrageously negligent for a headmaster to send young children home when there might not be anyone there. Even if we assume that such rigorous enforcement of the uniform code was necessary, and I don’t, could there not have been a period of grace for a week or two? Or exceptions made for kids with medical reasons for not wearing ‘appropriate’ footwear? Isn’t it more important for children to be getting an education than to be wearing the ‘right’ sort of shoes?

It’s also ironic that a performing arts college, which one would assume to be a centre of creativity and relatively free expression, is demanding such Stalinist conformity.

So what of the new head, Charlotte Blencowe? Well her story bears a quick look, as one starts to see all the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place before one’s very eyes:

She has previously stood unsuccessfully for the Conservatives at council elections in Rotherham in 2010.

She has had a stunningly successful acting career.

One of her previous forays into the world of education was a failed free schools project she attempted in Rotherham with one of the Chuckle Brothers as a patron. Considering some of the other schools that have been waved through by Gove, you can imagine how shambolic her proposal must have been.

But you can’t keep a good woman down. She went off to Sunderland for a bit and has now popped up at Castle Vale. For someone so committed to improving educational standards, she never seems to stay anywhere for very long, although one would assume that rescuing failed schools and setting new ones up things take time, a couple of years at least, I would have thought.

So either she’s a miracle worker or gets bored easily. Or, maybe, she’s just on-message with the new educational consensus being established by the Conservative government and therefore can do no wrong. After all, if they let Toby Young set a school up, they’ll let anyone, won’t they……..

Now of course stories like this are liable to get the hordes of right-wingers one finds on the web foaming at the mouth. They just love the idea of someone restoring discipline, taking us back to a golden age where children were seen and not heard, and most importantly, cracking down on the feral underclass that is dragging the country down. A local discussion board contained comments of this sort:

  • Everybody knows that slovenly standards around uniform correlate with poor behaviour and discipline in general. Well done to the headmaster. Protesting about a uniform is bad enough. Throwing objects at teachers is a complete disgrace. What lowlives. Maybe some of these parents should be sent back to school.  

(The correlation in question is highly debatable, to put it mildly…..)

  • We all have to abide to rules in this world and if we decide to break the rules we must accept the consequences no matter how little the rule or how silly we feel it is. What is disgusting is that parents and children decided to lay siege to the school and attack teachers with eggs, as what does this show the kids for later life.

(Not that there is any actual evidence that parents “laid siege” to the school.)

  • We’re talking about Castle Vale here, an area I know well and not far from the sink comp I attended. Rigorously enforced uniform rules are entirely the right sort of discipline that should be imposed on pupils. With the reaction to today’s events it would appear that any form of discipline (or self-restraint) is sadly lacking at home. God help us if this is the example being set by parents.

(Seems like Owen Jones was right. The working class are being demonised.  Again, this version of events bears no relation to what actually happened at the school but just provides the commenter with an opportunity to tell us how out of control the entire population of Castle Vale is.)

I could post more but you get the picture. Ignorant bigotry rather than any serious attempt to address the issues. As I suggested earlier there is a legitimate discussion to be had over the merits of (and a coherent left-wing case for) school uniforms, but Blencowe’s spectacularly misguided actions have contributed nothing to that.

This whole story is a heady mixture of futile attempts to re-impose Victorian era morality on young people who quite rightly have been brought up to expect better treatment than that, giving people who clearly don’t know the first thing about schools free reign to do as they please, with little in the way of accountability, and the consequences of this government’s disastrous education policies that are fast becoming an unquestionable orthodoxy. Worrying stuff.

NB: Liberal Conspiracy are running this, finally! You took your time, comrades…….

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ianrobo
    Sep 09, 2012 @ 15:41:53

    you mention new age in regards to education but I am seriously worried at what is happening. the heads have never been so powerful and it seems they with now unfeted powers and installing their own thoughts on our kids.

    Education is simple really, make it interesting and kids will respond, not sitting tehre preparing for a memory test at the end of the year.

    Reply

  2. Robert
    Sep 11, 2012 @ 07:09:10

    School should be interesting of course your 100% right, uniforms or shoe styles is ridiculous . I was lucky in that one of my sports teachers was very good at making sport interesting, my head teacher use to walk around with a cane, he use to smack it against his leg, to scare us, and he did and kids hated him.

    Then we had a few teachers who were in school waiting for retirement, and they did not give a dam about about anyone or anything.

    I do not know the power these people have , with little understand of the problems parents are facing

    Reply

  3. Trackback: Can’t use the toilet! Students forced into a ‘tinkle pass’ | Liberal Conspiracy

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