If a 14 year old takes drugs and/or gets drunk on school premises or during school hours whose fault is it? According to Stuart Whincup, whose daughter Jamie-Leigh did exactly that at University Academy Holbeach in Spalding, Lincolnshire last week, it is partly the fault of the school.
Mr Whincup appears not to accept that his daughter might just be plain in the wrong or that he, as her father, should take the responsibility for her misbehaviour. He was quoted by Daily Mail, which apparently sourced its story from the Spalding Guardian, part of the Lincolnshire Free Press, as saying that ‘There’s not enough teachers. They can’t keep an eye on them all. Girls will be girls won’t they. She’s at that age.’
The story - and its alarming assumptions and implications - took me back some years. When one of our sons was about 15 he went home with an older boy who lived near the school. Together they raided the boy’s parents’ drinks cabinet. By the time our son reached the railway station near home, still quite neat in his school uniform, other passengers had sought help because they thought he was ill. Station staff called an ambulance and phoned us. We ended up at the hospital where he was - when they eventually worked out what the problem was - treated for borderline alcohol poisoning and was lucky to escape the stomach pump.
We were mortified, ashamed and angry. And our son had to know how seriously we viewed it. He had inconvenienced many people and wasted valuable NHS time. He had also let down both us and his school. So I reported it to the Headmaster just as I would have done had it been any other boy I’d, for example, seen on a train. The Head made enquiries and, eventually our son was – with our support and agreement – suspended from school for three days. The older boy was suspended for longer because the Head regarded him as the perpetrator of the incident and old enough to know better.
I mention and remember all this now (with apologies to my son who, I’m sure, would rather forget it) because I know exactly how it feels to be in Mr Whincup’s position. But when your children do unacceptable things it is down to you. You cannot blame the school or anyone else. In Jamie-Leigh’s case the vodka, which seems to have been very dangerously spiked with ecstasy, was passed to her in a mineral water bottle – but she apparently drank on, out of bravado once she realised what it was.
Children who have been well brought up do not behave like this. That is why I felt so ashamed of my son. It had to be, to an extent, a failure in parenting. And of course, we didn’t for a moment blame the school or even the other boy. Our son should have known better. So should Jamie-Leigh. But if parents defend their children in instances like this it gives - to impressionable young people - a very distorted view of just who is responsible for bad behaviour and, indeed, what good behaviour is.
And it can’t possibly be the school’s fault. All schools have rules about drink and drugs not being brought onto the premises by students. But rules - any rules - work only if the majority are compliant and in support of them. Teachers do their very best to be vigilant but they cannot have their eyes on every single student at every moment of the day. Teachers have an impossible job if parents abdicate responsibility and defend miscreant children by trying to shift blame.
We all have, ultimately, to take responsibility for our own actions. It may take a long time to learn but it’s probably one of the most important things parents and teachers should be teaching children and young people.