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Friday, February 17, 2006

Politically correct?

It is not often that the Welsh Assembly makes National UK news but today is an exception. New guidance published by Education Minister, Jane Davidson, has made headlines in all the tabloid press, including the Mirror and the Sun.

CHILDREN are to be BANNED from kissing in school plays.

The barmy new rule could mean productions of classics like Romeo and Juliet being axed because of love scenes vital to the plot.

Education watchdogs said the measure was designed to prevent abuse of pupils.

But teachers and MPs blasted it as yet more daft interference by officials. They said there was no point in staging a romance unless pupils could act the love scenes.

The history behind this new guidance is important. It was drawn up and issued as a direct result of the Clwych report, published by the Welsh Children's Commissioner after an extensive public inquiry. That inquiry looked at the way that a drama teacher in a Welsh school abused his position by forcing children to act out inappropriate dramatic scenes for his own sexual gratification. The report made a number of recommendations including one that called for Government guidance to prevent drama lessons being abused in this way again.

Rather typically, the tabloids have picked up on one point in that guidance and taken it out of context. They have also translated it into their own inimitable language so as to imply that teachers have no discretion in how it is to be applied. Teachers are of course able to apply different interpretations to different age groups in accordance with their professional judgement.

It is worth noting that none of these tabloids covered either the Children's Commissioner's inquiry or the publication of his report. All of them pretend to be very concerned about child abuse and paedophiles, but when it comes to the crunch it seems that they are prepared to allow loopholes in teaching guidance to remain even though such gaps may benefit child abusers.

On a lesser point it is evident that The Sun is still struggling with devolution. Faced with an education story that relates entirely to Wales and which falls wholly within the powers of the Welsh Assembly they automatically go to the English Education Minister for comment and are happy to take her assurances about the curriculum as if they apply to Wales as well, even though she has no say in those matters.
But it is daft, isn't it?

If this all arose from one individual teacher abusing his position and as you say:

'Teachers are of course able to apply different interpretations to different age groups in accordance with their professional judgement'

then nothing's been done about the supposed original problem, has it? Because an abusing teacher could still abuse couldn't they?

Unless of course the new guidelines really are more proscriptive than you imply.

In which case it's all barmy again - preventing perfectly normal, acceptable and appropriate behaviour in the context of a school play because of the unlikelihood of a pevert seeking vicarious thrills through students' acting is nannyish, idiotic, overcompensatory and doesn't begin to address the real problems of child abuse.
So, according to the guidelines, can a schoolboy Romeo kiss his Juliet, or will it have to be a hug from now on?

Because if it's a hug it will make a nonsense of the preceding lines.
Let me just say that these are draft guidelines and are out to consultation so if both of you wish to submit your views to the Education Minister then you are welcome to do so.

David, it is not daft. It is about protecting children from abuse. The whole point of these guidelines is that they create a sensible environment in which children can develop their drama skills safely. Do you think it is really appropriate that teenagers act out roles in the nude or semi-naked? That is hardly normal, acceptable or appropriate in the context of a school play.

Once these guidelines have been finalised following any amendments arising from the consultation then they will create a framework within which teachers can work, using their judgement as to how to interpret them. More importantly, they provide a reference point by which parents, guardians, pupils and other teachers can scrutinise that work and question its appropriateness. That is their real value.

I would be intersted in your take as to what the 'real issues of child abuse' are. My view is that these guidelines are there to reduce opportunities for someone to abuse children and to enable others to identify behaviour that may be unacceptable. Often that is all you can do until an abuser is identified. If there were common issues that could be addressed then we would have done so before.

Banksy, I would suggest that how a teacher interprets Romeo and Juliet depends on the age and maturity of the children he or she is working with. As I said these guidelines will be put in place to help identify unacceptable behaviour. I am sure that most drama teachers can work with them without compromising the text or its meaning. Besides the passage about kissing is not the key one, nor might it survive unamended from the consultation.
Surely most drama teachers can figure out, for example, that having a mixed class of hormonal 15-year olds doing a production involving copious nudity and copulation may not be the most sensible idea ever.

Isn't this all tremendously obvious and common sense? Why does it require government regulation/guidelines?
Teachers should work this out anyhow if they're sufficiently sensible to be trusted with a group of children... unless they have dubious intent in which case I'm sure they can find some other way of expressing it.
I don't suppose too many schools have put on 'Romans in Britain', but I think it's fair to say it won't get past the guidelines.
You may be overstating your case somewhat Vivienne with the reference to copious nudity and copulation. After all, as Banksy says it is not often that you see a school production of 'Romans in Britain'.

You are also right that these guidelines are commonsense. The problem is that John Owen got away with systematic abuse through his drama classes at Ysgol Gyfun Rhydyfelen for over ten years, which leads us to conclude that these guidelines are needed for the purpose of defining what is and what is not acceptable. In this way we can ensure that those parents who complained and who were not listened to at the time, and others like them, have a standard by which they can judge what is appropriate in such classes.

See this for more information
All teachers are police checked. All teachers come into contact with evidence of child abuse and they're trained to notice it and to take appropriate action.

Occasionally there will be a mistake.

The report suggested the WAG issues appropriate and clear guidelines. The exact content of the guidelines was left to the WAG. You can't refer back to the report to excuse a thoughtless overreaction.

I'd suggest better PHSE teaching - teach students to alert senior or trusted members of staff at the first sign of anything untoward. This was a clear problem - from the report: children at the school were given no guidelines on what constituted improper sexual and physical conduct by any adult.

The fact that this is my view doesn't mean I approve of unsuitable behaviour. That insinuation might have been better left out of this discussion, Peter.
David, I am not sure what thoughtless overreaction you are referring to. For a first stab the guidelines seem to me to be measured and reasonable. No doubt they will be amended following consultation but I believe the essence of what needs to be in there is already present.

I would agree with you on PHSE teaching but that should be in addition to these guidelines and other measures not instead of them.

I do not believe that I suggested that you approve of unsuitable behaviour nor did I intend to. I merely used examples of behaviour that the guidelines are intended to cover to illustrate their pertinence.
Ok, apologies for my touchiness.

Take a look at the behaviour in any school's 6th-form centre and then try telling Y12 and Y13 students that a peck on the cheek will adequately represent Romeo and Juliet's passion.

It's bowdlerisation by bureaucrats, and doesn't solve any problems.

It's deeply, deeply silly.
I think what I have been trying to say throughout these comments David is that this is draft guidance and it is out to consultation. I do not believe that it is meant to be as prescriptive as you state but rather to be taken in context. I cannot see Romeo and Juliet being bowdlerised as you suggest, especially if being performed by sixth formers. I really do believe that people have overreacted to this draft guidance. It is not meant to regulate the behaviour of pupils but to prevent adults exploiting them.
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