Getting older, the mores of one’s own country can start to look strange, if not inexplicable. Such was the effect of the case of Mandy Copper, a head teacher, as they are now called, at Wimbish School, Essex. She was attacked eighteen times by one pupil, despite her warnings that the un-identified child’s ‘needs’ were too complex for her small village school to cope with and pleas for help from her employers.
After the child, referred to in the Times as ‘They,’ arrived in 2018, for two years, Mandy, 47, was reportedly attacked, headbutted, spat at, throttled with her scarf, kicked in the torso, pulled from her chair by the hair and punched and kicked in the head until she was concussed, suffering severe bruising and hair loss. Last September, her husband who worked part time at the school, spoke of his horror at ‘having to watch’ as his wife, who is five foot two, was being attacked.
‘I could not intervene,’ he explained. ‘There are specialist staff with the necessary training who take over in these situations. They are taught specific grips and techniques that ensure no harm comes to a pupil.’ If they aren’t there, as a contemporary man he apparently felt it was correct to keep out of it. She had time off work after that attack, suffered nightmares but returned to the school, where the pupil attempted to stab her with a screwdriver and the police were called.
This story made me realise how far removed I am from current thinking. I pictured what I would do, also a middle-aged woman of five foot two, in that situation; living in daily fear of serious physical harm, my working life blighted by the sight of that child in my school, constant physical abuse without any support from my employers, the local authority, Ofsted, or anyone close to me.
It might be something like; a mighty kick to the juvenile testicles. If they’d recently descended, they’d go back up again at speed. As he folded, I’m assuming that ‘they’ are a ‘he,’ I’d follow up by grabbing the hair and dragging he/she/it over to the no doubt large and gleaming classroom windows.
They would be sealed shut for reasons of ‘health & safety,’ as according to contemporary thought, all children, students, old-folk and hospital patients will automatically throw themselves from any window negligently left open. With a mighty heave, worthy of any Bohemian reformer, I would defenestrate the pupil, leaving him bleeding on the playground beyond, if there was one that hadn’t been sold off for building.
‘Hold on, he, she, it’s not worth it! Apart from the moral problem pertaining to murder, especially to you as a vegan, and the possible distress to ‘parent, carer or guardian,’ what about the whacking prison sentence you’d get?’ I hear you cry. Of course, I might have only resorted to a pepper spray, but in defending myself in any way I would have been in deep trouble. Or would I?
In 2009, teacher Peter Harvey, 51, shouted at a teenager, ‘Die, die, die,’ and hit him with a 3kg (6.61b) dumbbell, fracturing his skull. He received a two-year community order at Nottingham Crown Court after pleading guilty to grievous bodily harm. The judge described him as ‘a decent man’ suffering from ‘depression, stress and a serious lack of confidence.’ In other words, a typical modern- day teacher.
It emerged during the four-day trial that pupils had been deliberately trying to provoke him in order to secretly film his reactions on a camcorder. The footage was to be passed around the school as a way of ‘humiliating’ him. The married father-of-two was banned from teaching which no doubt came as a great relief to him.
The judge and jury showed an almost subversive sympathy for a helpless teacher who like Mandy Copper had suffered years of abuse. In a list of incidents, the brother of a pupil he’d reprimanded had turned up at his house to threaten him. He was also assaulted by a pupil when he confronted him over the way he had treated a female teacher.
I started school in the 1960s when we still had a variety of teaching experience; those newly out of training college with ‘child centred’ ideas from the US. With them we spent our time picking the daisies, were rarely taught facts and never learned anything by rote. History and geography were jumbled into one and mainly learned through making papier mâché objects.
But there were still a few ‘old-school’ male authority figures about who we feared. Corporal punishment was still legal, although not much used. The last case of it I remember was at my comprehensive in the 70s, when our well- liked art teacher who’d been goaded by one student for months, began banging the boy’s head on a desk. The pupil suffered no long- term effect, or it wasn’t noticeable, and there were no repercussions. As the offending boy was Asian if that happened now, that teacher would be imprisoned for ‘hate crime,’ and the boy would retain his contemptuous view of art and art teachers.
This abandonment of control over children in our schools is surely just one of many ways in which the public is now baffled by the attitudes of our state institutions. The majority of us just do not share the opinion of the BBC, civil service, the CofE, or academia, about marriage and family, the teaching and presentation of our history and heritage, immigration, ‘hate crime,’ and policing. Many of us are now asking how it was that a common sense which we all once shared, was somehow hurled out of the window and no one stepped forward to save it?