Nick Clegg spoke out strongly yesterday against the lazy idea that the recent riots are all the fault of the schools and all that is needed is for the teachers to be tougher (hence fast-track in some former soldiers), teach traditional subjects in the traditional manner and and make the kids behave.
"Teachers are not surrogate mothers and fathers," said Nick. "They cannot do it all."
Blaming the schools for perceived social ills, from bad spelling through teenage pregnancies to hooliganism and rioting, is nothing new: in fact it has been around throughout my career, and possibly longer. I well remember, in the 1960s, when I was a keen union representative for the NAS (now the more politicly correct NASUWT) our general secretary, the formidable Terry Casey, forcefully pointing out that schools are often oases of virtue amidst deserts of immorality. (Mr Casey put it rather better than that: he had a way with words.)
However it is put, the truth remains. With or without the statutory act of "broadly Christian" worship at the beginning of each day (and what other organisations other than parliament attempt that?) schools try to develop the concepts of integrity, modesty, honour, loyalty, endeavour, reliability, tolerance, respect for others, sportsmanship, teamwork, the pursuit of truth, justice and the appreciation of beauty in a world motivated principally by greed,sex and self-promotion.
A respected deputy head for whom I worked used to ague, in relation to length of hair, dangly earrings and other items with which deputies are required to concern themselves, that "the school cannot be too far in advance of society." The same applies to the more important aspects of life. If society expects the young to behave honourable and decently then it must adopt those values itself.
Nick deserves another cheer for trying to block the idea that free schools could become "for profit" businesses. A pity he didn't stick the Liberal Democrat neck out even further and try to block the largely self-serving free schools altogether.