Royal Grammar School

Newcastle

All kicking off

All kicking off


Well, it’s started. Not the second half of term: I’m referring to the Brexit/EU debate.

On reflection, using the word “debate” rather dignifies what has already become a slanging match. Last night I watched the BBC’s Question Time in dismay. Observing the Scottish Referendum from afar in 2014, I was struck by how much scare-mongering and how few facts were presented on both sides of the argument. It seems even worse as we consider our membership of the EU. One thing’s for sure: I don’t think I shall be watching Question Time until after the vote.

Alas, bad examples come from the very top. After Tuesday’s PMQ spat between David Cameron and Labour Leader Jeremy Corbin about what their mothers would say, and the gratuitous insult from the PM, Radio 4’s Today programme asked schoolchildren about their view of Prime Minister’s Questions. One of them, I think, used the words “childish”: out of the mouths of babes … 

Only the students in the top year of the RGS will vote this summer: I was reminded while speaking in Assembly on Monday that I first exercised my right to vote in the 1975 referendum on EU membership. What goes around comes around, as they say. Two things I am certain of. First, if this nation is to make a sensible decision, we need reasoned debate and provision of proper facts instead of assertions and distortions.

Second, those leading and contributing to the debate should set an example to the young: or, rather, a good example, rather than the disgraceful displays at present. That really is important: unless, that is, our leaders and policymakers have a cunning plan to teach the young how to run the country in their turn by setting the worst possible example, in the hope that they’ll learn that the opposite is the best way.

The conduct of this non-debate engenders dismay and anxiety for our political system and for our society. I wonder what it is about entering public life that seems to remove, as if surgically, all capacity for negotiation and respect for those with whom we disagree. And why does it seem to be spreading to some (not all, I think) university campuses?

I’m worried by the way university student bodies seem currently so ready to “no-platform” contentious speakers instead of engaging in debate with them. That is a development which should cause us great concern: when the highly educated start to behave in an ignorant, closed-minded way, the problems threaten to become still worse: intolerance first, book-burning next, perhaps? 

Fortunately, when I get back into school, I see amongst our students a prodigious wealth of reason, of courteous and informed debate and of willingness to find out the facts before leaping to judgement. 

They’re well taught: but I think they are also innately reasonable people. 

As so often, it seems to me, those still in school have more to teach their elders than the other way round.

Bernard Trafford
Headmaster