Why Cameron Went Back to School: The Tories' Education Policy Focuses on Discipline-And Their Inspiration Came from an Unlikely Source

By Hamilton-Miller, Tara | New Statesman (1996), April 14, 2008 | Go to article overview

Why Cameron Went Back to School: The Tories' Education Policy Focuses on Discipline-And Their Inspiration Came from an Unlikely Source


Hamilton-Miller, Tara, New Statesman (1996)


"Behaviour, behaviour, behaviour," said David Cameron this past week (no doubt regretting the clumsiness of Tony Blair's original catchphrase)--it's the foundation of education. The Tory leader admitted to colleagues he had been shocked by his short spell teaching at a school in Hull; the discipline had been a challenge. On 6 April, the Conservatives launched a discipline-heavy education policy, ending the right to appeal against exclusion, promising new powers to search and confiscate, and after-schools clubs with an academic and life-skills vision.

The current Conservative education policy has two strands: structural--forcing schools to do things that parents want, building on the principle of the money following the pupil; and the standards agenda--phonics, discipline, methods that work.

Cameron stated when he became leader that his education policy would not be about helping a minority of middle-class people escape the state system. With 93 per cent of pupils in the UK enrolled at state schools, the Conservative gaze is focused on that sector. This is where the discipline policy is crucial, and it comes from an unlikely source--a former prison governor and church minister named Ray Lewis.

While working as the governor of a young offenders' institution, Lewis went to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to visit an after-school tutorial programme called a young leaders' academy. It was run by a former marine who understood that these young black boys had a problem with discipline. It was tough, but the pupils developed skills and confidence; it worked. Having firsthand experience in prison of what often happens to those who have no education, Lewis realised there had to be something better than locking young people up and he believed he had found it.

He returned to London and, with minimal funding, opened the Eastside Young Leaders' Academy (EYLA) where, with parental agreement, local schools send pupils who may be disruptive or violent after school. It has a military feel about it. The children march in line; Lewis barks high-decibel orders at them; there is mentoring. They read classics and poetry, but most importantly, they achieve self-worth and they pass exams. Many pupils were the most badly behaved at school, but 100 per cent of Lewis's students achieve at least two A-levels and 75 per cent of them are offered a university place.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Shortly after the academy opened it was approached by the then Tory leader, Iain Duncan Smith, who was curious to witness how it worked. …

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