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May 20, 2022

PRIMARY education used to be a lovely little sinecure for ex-servicemen who extended their service pensions by taking a teaching post at the local school where they could bark orders and shepherd children in much the same way that officers used to order and shepherd them.

Former Private Jones or Able Seaman Williams would share the occasional treasured memory from real or fantasy battle exploits and offer you basic instruction in maths and English broadly as if you and they were on drill parade in the classroom to instil discipline and order but outside you were largely left to your own devices to play British Bulldog or fight.

Messrs Jones and Williams treasured the free meals, long summer holidays, short days and warm, convivial atmosphere in the staff room where they could smoke and drink tea after meeting first in Assembly, where the singing of hymns and the saying of prayers set a tone of blind obedience and fear of a judgemental God meant to keep you on the straight and narrow.

Not today.

Primary education – like primary care in the NHS – has now been radically disciplined in a radically different way without the fear of God or the militaristic modelling of children by a bare complement of redundant servicemen.

Peer into the grounds of one of these schools at playtime and you now see a vast army of yellow high-viz – but not, significantly, masked – relatively young formidable “teaching assistants” supervising activities rather too stridently working to a template set by Welsh government which will almost certainly produce a radically different future generation.

But what kind of a generation will we get with so much active supervision (I imagine that all classrooms now contain a teacher and a large complement of assistants) and so many ideological templates?

My class of 1967 was parochial, crime-free, unaffected and untainted by politics, dependent upon the Church in Wales and local dignitaries as governors who fought broadly to keep things the same for as long as possible to maintain and reinforce the myth of a restrictive and defining prosperous, progressing people under one God and a headmaster’s cane.

Boys were all similar white sons of tradesmen and blue-collar workers with limited horizons and opportunities who would depend more on local networks for future employment than on the education they received and girls were all similar white daughters who would mainly seek a good marriage with one of the boys rather than a good career and an independent life.

Children in the class of 2022 may not have changed very much and their horizons and opportunities may not have but everything around them has.

To make sense of it all, teachers and school staff offer them their only hope outside a home which may have been converted into a cannabis factory or is housing desperate stealers, dealers and reelers.

But what, I wonder, are these new playground paragons actually doing so stridently and what is the desired outcome of all this marshalling of minds?

Are they being conditioned to obey rules and regulations rather like we all were forced to during COVID-19 when the adults were suddenly infantilised – hypnotised into clapping a woefully inadequate NHS which they were to be banned from using – and treated like naughty tots or are they being encouraged to fight back with spirit and spunk?

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