Baking hot day. For once starting to feel part of the community at The Blue. ‘World of Work’ day is happening. A confident Wells police officer (I immediately think of ‘Hot Fuzz) shows off his kit while 200 year 7s and a smattering of staff swelter in the main hall.
‘This is where I keep my taserrr and this is where I keep my spare taserrr cartridge. And this here is where I keep my baton.’ There’s an excited murmur around the room as the local PC pulls out and extends his telescopic baton to its full length. Cue: a Q and A session with some predictable and entertaining questions:
‘Do you like your job?’
‘Best job in the world.’
‘Have you ever shot anyone?’
‘I’m not allowed to carry a gun so no I can’t do that.’
‘What if someone shot someone else and you saw them running away could you shoot them in the leg and then go and arrest them?’
‘Well, as I said, I’m not allowed to carry a gun but I’d try and arrest ‘im.’
I’m getting used to thinking of Wells as a sleepy Somerset idyll and obviously Edgar Wright, the director of ‘Hot Fuzz’ and sometime alumnus of this very school, got it just right setting a story where the villains are the mainly elderly members of the parish council trying to keep their streets clean of petty villains or graffiti artists or anyone who doesn’t fit in to their community, in other words who aren’t part of ‘middle England’. Wandering round the town earlier today, it’s hard not to think of Wells, with its cathedral and cloisters, neatly rowed houses and neatly mowed lawns, as a quintessentially English, picture postcard town. However, it’s not that obvious.
I also interviewed the head teacher here this morning, Mark Woodlock about funding cuts and their effect on the school. He didn’t hold back. He was keen to stress how serious the situation is with key agencies that work with young people outside of schools having much reduced capability to cope with young people’s needs. He made reference to how CAMHS cannot deal with as many cases, how a doctor had referred a student with mental health issues to the school to be dealing with it. Also a case where a student might have taken their own life if a member of staff had been worried enough to follow that student home. These anecdotes point to the idea of schools becoming like a 4th emergency service where teachers are expected to fill roles that are beyond their remit.
Even more dramatically, Mark made mention of evidence of ‘county lines’ in the area and students in our care being deliberately targeted to be drug runners or sellers. The trouble is that we’re not eligible for the funding that is allowed for noticeably poor areas but pockets of poverty do exist. With a large sixth form relative to the area and a high pupil to teacher ratio it’s hard to budget and resources are tight. The number of staff has decreased by 10 since last year. This means bigger class sizes and worsening behaviour although – relative to other schools I’ve been in – this still isn’t too bad here. Whatever the case, it’s clear in Somerset that there is a funding crisis and it’s having a noticeable impact on the education system in the county. This will be the focus of my first proper education article which I hope to finish researching next week.